So you want to become a personal trainer? You work out all the time, your friends ask for your fitness advice, people in the gym are always complimenting your physique and workouts, so why not? All you need to do is build up your Instagram or YouTube and just like that, you’re a trainer, right?
The regulations on what it takes to be a personal trainer are far from rigorous, but they still do exist. You can’t just call yourself a trainer out of the blue. There are certain certifications and experience required to be hired by a gym or a client. You may be wondering what the difference is between a health coach, spin instructor, group fitness instructor, strength and conditioning coach, sports coach, etc. There are so many different names for trainers out there that it’s almost hard to keep up these days. If you’re feeling slightly confused or even just curious, this article is for you. Below is a comprehensive resource for anyone looking to become a personal trainer.
Deciding to Become a Personal Trainer
Before you jump into a certification process, first figure out your goals and your vision. Decide whether you want this to be more of a hobby or a full-time career. Ask yourself what your ideal day of training or teaching looks like, as well as what your ideal client looks like. Do you want to coach in person or online, or maybe both? Do you prefer leading group classes or one-on-one sessions? These all need to be determined before you lay out the initial steps.
Every trainer should have a “why” in mind. What is it that drives you? For some trainers, they were once unhealthy and overweight, and they learned how rewarding it is to clean up their lifestyle, lose weight, and feel energetic every single morning. This is precisely what they want to share with others. Everyone’s story is different, so figure out what yours is — and let that be your biggest motivator.
The Benefits of Being a Trainer
One of the most commonly known pros of being a trainer is that you’re not chained to a desk or office all day. For the most part, you can make your own schedule and you don’t have to follow the 9-5 routine if you don’t want. You also get the chance to prioritize health and fitness for a living, which is a privilege. Trainers get premier access to facilities, equipment, and information that most people would love to have for themselves.
However, don’t romanticize the job of a trainer. You don’t just arrive at the lifestyle of making $180 an hour, working out whenever you want, and scheduling your clients’ sessions according to your preferences. You have to put in the work to get there. You have to climb the ladder, do some things you don’t love doing (like waking up at 4 a.m. to teach a class at 5 a.m.), and essentially pay your dues. But once you get to the top, it’s a pretty sweet lifestyle.
Should You Be an In-Person Trainer or Online Trainer?
This is the million-dollar question today. Online training has risen in popularity but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s made in-person training obsolete. Each of them has its own list of pros and cons, and there isn’t one that’s objectively better than the other. Let’s go over the benefits of each.
Being an in-person trainer means you have a tangible space to go so you can control the workout environment to a certain extent. You know what equipment is available, you can see your client each time they come in and read their energy, you can correct their form in real time, and you can build a personal relationship easier.
Now for the negatives of being an in-person trainer. You have to pay the facility you train out of, whether it’s a monthly fee or a certain percentage of your revenue. As an in-person trainer, you only have so many hours in the day you can fit in sessions and you’re strictly limited to who you can train depending on your location.
As for being an online trainer, you can work from anywhere, create your own hours, reach a wider pool of clients, and you don’t have to pay rent to anyone to disseminate your programming. However, there’s a low barrier to entry, which means there’s a lot of competition out there. Also, you have to figure out how to translate your knowledge and expertise into photo, video, and text copy. You might also find it difficult to really see and understand your clients’ progress.
Getting Certified as a Trainer
Today there are so many more fitness educational outlets than there were just two years ago, let alone 10 years ago. Yet still you have tons of fitness enthusiasts coaching clients without any formal education on the body, let alone the skill of how to actually coach someone and build a program that creates change.
At least get a base level certification, something that’s nationally recognized. Additionally, you should have an insurance policy. Just like other insurance, you may not want to pay it, but you’ll be happy you had it if something does go wrong.
A CPT (Certified Personal Trainer) certification is a broad overview of the body and the basics, like what’s happening to the body when we install stimulus. You’ll go over basic anatomy, physiology, and exercise science. This will prepare you to prescribe exercises and nutrition guidelines for both common and specialized populations
Courses like the CPT are to provide a good base level of knowledge to work with, especially if you’re someone who didn’t study anything related to exercise science in college. In addition to basic courses like the CPT certification, you can certifications in something more specific, like the Kettlebell Specialist Certification at Onnit Academy or Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) certification.
However, as important as it is to get certified, that’s not the whole picture. These courses don’t teach you regressions, progressions, or the principles of programming. They definitely don’t educate you on the business of fitness or help you get clients. These skills come through experience, mentors, trial and error, and many moments of beating your head against a wall hoping for a miracle.
Or you can go after something that is not only recognized amongst industry side gyms but performance centers and universities as well and that’s the CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) in order to take this test though you will need at the minimum of a bachelor’s degree, not necessarily in an exercise related field but a degree nonetheless.
Learning how to coach takes time, mistakes, and experience. Your style and priorities will change as you venture down a path in the fitness industry. What shouldn’t change is your ability and willingness to connect to your clients. Communication is king. Results are Queen. Put them together and you have a successful training business.
Every trainer has a different brand and business plan. Be specific about what you want to offer and what your ideal clientele base looks like. Constantly keep your specialty in the back of your mind — mobility, sports injury prevention, weightlifting for weight loss, etc. You may not know what this is in the beginning, but make sure you always have your eyes set on whatever your specialty is or will be.
No matter what, throughout your fitness career stay true to this specific brand you’ve created. Even as the fitness experts around you shift their focus as the times change, commit to your values and goals. This will be one of the hardest things to maintain during your career. Ultimately, remember the people you’re touching are in a very different place in their fitness and health journey than you are. Your job is to meet them where they’re at and help them every step of the way.
Take Care of Your Own Health
Time and time again we have seen trainers grind and push themselves so hard trying to build a life in this industry that all of a sudden they look up and they themselves are not leading by example and focusing on their own health and wellness. We’re not saying you have to be super shredded to be a successful trainer, but you need to put in the effort to maintain your health and wellness. Because if you’re not in a good place, you can’t help others improve their lives.