If you have ever walked into a health club, looked at all of the machines and wondered how to use them, you’ve probably turned to a trainer for guidance. Personal trainers do more than make sure gym members don’t hurt themselves with free weights, though. A professional trainer can be a valuable part of a health and fitness team, helping the facility's clients develop fitness plans and guiding them toward a regimen that ensures they meet their goals and get the most from their fitness efforts. Generally speaking, it takes a two to four years to become a personal trainer, depending on your level of education.
Job Description and Personal Trainer Requirements
Personal trainers are primarily responsible for working with clients to develop a fitness plan and help guide and motivate them to remain on track. This generally includes evaluating clients to determine their fitness levels and select appropriate exercises, demonstrating and teaching clients how to do exercises, and supervising them to ensure correct technique and help prevent injury. Trainers are constantly monitoring clients’ progress and making corrections or adjustments as needed. Some trainers don’t work with individual clients, but instead “float” around the gym to answer questions, give instructions and enforce the rules regarding equipment.
In some facilities, trainers also lead group exercise classes, which requires them to design and choreograph routines in addition to teaching. Others work with a specific population, such as cardiac patients, to provide rehabilitation services through a medical or rehab facility. Depending on the employer, personal trainer requirements might include certain administrative tasks, such as managing the front desk and providing nutrition information and guidance.
Generally speaking, if you want to work as a personal trainer in a health club or for a healthcare facility, you need to be certified. In the past, employers would hire trainers with a high school diploma or the equivalent, but the majority now look for trainers with a two to four year college degree, preferably in a health or fitness-related field.
Employers also prefer trainers who are certified through an organization like the American Council on Exercise (ACE) or another credentialing agency associated with the National Commission for Certifying Agencies or the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, both of which provide lists of credentialed training programs. This requires a specific amount of study (ACE requires from 80 to 100 hours, for example) in a certified personal trainer course and a certifying exam. Certifying agencies also encourage applicants to select an area of specialization and seek certification in that area. Going through an ACE or other program is the fastest way to become a personal trainer.
In addition to certification as a personal trainer, employers look for applicants who are certified in CPR and automatic external defibrillator (AED) use. That being said, if you are only going to teach specific classes, such as Zumba, you may only need to show that you completed courses to become a fitness instructor in that area, and certification may not be necessary.
The majority of trainers work in fitness clubs. Other employers include civic and social organizations, medical facilities, schools and the government. A significant percentage – 11 percent – of trainers are self-employed. Many trainers work in gyms as a side gig during the evenings and on weekends, and hold other full-time jobs during normal business hours. Those who work full-time also tend to work a variety of shifts, including nights and weekends, and may travel between gyms, businesses and people's homes.
Years of Experience and Salary
As of 2017, the median pay for personal trainers was $39,210. The highest 10 percent of trainers earned nearly $75,000, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,000 per year.
The pay for experience in this field is on a positive trend. One projection for pay based on experience looks like this:
0-5 years: $35,000
5-10 years: $48,000
10-20 years: $55,000
20+ years: $60,000.
Job Growth Trend
The personal training field is experiencing significant growth, thanks in large part to the increased focus on employee wellness programs and health benefit programs that include a fitness component. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 10 percent growth in this field by 2026, which is faster than average. Increased interest in exercises like yoga and Pilates, as well as exercise as a form of treatment for pain and other ailments, contribute to growth in the field.