How to Become a Personal Trainer in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a personal trainer. Learn about job duties, education requirements, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Fitness Trainer degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Personal Trainer Do?

Personal trainers work individually with clients to provide fitness and lifestyle advice. They show clients how to perform an exercise, watch the client do the exercise and review techniques on how to prevent injury. They work with clients at various fitness levels and abilities. Personal trainers also must make sure that clients are using the workout equipment safely and be able to give emergency aid if needed. They also supply information on nutrition and weight control.

Take a look at the table below for an overview of this profession.

Degree Required High school diploma or equivalent; some employers prefer an associate's degree or higher
Training Required Length of training varies from short to long term
Key Responsibilities Set fitness goals for clients, demonstrate exercises, create training routines for clients
Certification Required Certification is required for most positions
Job Growth (2014-2024) 8% (for all fitness trainers and instructors)*
Median Salary (2015) $36,160 (for all fitness trainers and instructors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Personal Trainer?

A personal trainer is a fitness specialist who works one-on-one with clients to improve their physical health. Your primary emphasis is on creating exercise programs, setting fitness goals and motivating clients, but you also provide advice on lifestyle choice and diet. Specific duties include demonstrating exercises to clients; monitoring clients during training sessions and correcting their technique when necessary; monitoring the outcome of training and adjusting training regimens as necessary; adding progressively more rigorous or demanding exercises as clients progress; and administering first aid or treating minor injuries.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

A high school diploma or GED may be sufficient education for employment in some cases. Participating in sports and taking classes in health and physical education are helpful for acquainting you with the process of training.

Step 2: Earn a Certificate or Degree

While formal education isn't typically a requirement for fitness workers, employers increasingly prefer to hire those individuals who have at least some level of post-secondary study. O*NET OnLine reports that 36% of trainers have a post-secondary certificate, 20% have an associate's degree and 20% have a bachelor's degree. Many community colleges and 4-year schools offer personal trainer certificate programs that teach you to assess the fitness of other people and custom design training regimens for them. Other courses cover introductory material in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and nutrition.

Bachelor's degree programs in exercise science provide more comprehensive coverage of similar content, with deeper engagement of fitness theory and research along with their practical applications. Courses may include biomechanics, exercise physiology, weight management and sports nutrition.

Step 3: Gain Fitness Training Experience

You can acquire experience several ways. If you haven't taken college courses, assisting an experienced personal trainer or participating in group exercise classes are two possibilities. If you are in college or planning to attempt college, bachelor's degree programs in exercise science often include an internship or practicum. On-the-job training for fitness workers of all types is rare.

Step 4: Obtain Certification

Certification is essential but not legally mandated for personal trainers. Dozens of organizations offer certifications, among them the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

To earn personal trainer certification you must pass a written exam covering such topics as exercise technique and human physiology. Some organizations have both written and practical tests. In most instances you must be at least 18 years of age and have a cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification to be eligible for an exam. Some organizations also require you to have a high school diploma and automated external defibrillator certification.

Step 5: Establish a Clientele

Although employment figures for personal trainers weren't available, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports around 237,760 people had jobs as fitness trainers and instructors in 2014 (www.bls.gov). Employment of fitness workers is projected to grow 8% from 2014-2024.

Gyms, health clubs and recreation centers are among the locations where you can attempt to cultivate new clients. Your opportunities are particularly strong at health clubs that offer personalized training services, among parents who want personal training for their children, and among aging baby boomers seeking to remain fit. The BLS reports that as of May 2015, the median annual salary of fitness instructors and trainers was $36,160.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other similar occupations related to a personal trainer include a recreation worker and physical therapist assistant. A recreation worker requires only a high school diploma, while a physical therapist assistant needs an associate's degree. A recreation worker puts together and leads recreational activities such as dance, sports, music and camping. Physical therapist assistants work under a physical therapist and assist them with patients recovering from injuries.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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