How To Start Your Career As A Personal Trainer
If you’re passionate about health and fitness and you like the idea of working with other people, being a personal trainer sounds like the ideal career. In most cases, you’ll be able to set your own hours, choose areas of specialty, choose which clients you take on, and spend most of your hours doing what you love—helping other people get healthier.
However, starting a career as a personal trainer can be challenging, and you’re going to run into competition from other trainers, as well as administrative hurdles that keep you from focusing on the work you’re most passionate about. If you’re serious about being a personal trainer, you need to be prepared for those realities.
Being a “personal trainer” could mean a lot of things, so there isn’t a single official requirement to become one. You could feasibly bill yourself as a personal trainer without any real education, training, or certification, but you probably wouldn’t get many new clients.
You can start by getting a degree in physical fitness, exercise, nutrition, or some related area from a major university. Beyond that, you’ll need to think about getting formally certified as a personal trainer. There are many organizations that offer certification, but those certificates and programs aren’t always worth the money they charge you to obtain them. Make sure that if and when you do get certified, you choose an organization verified by a trustworthy third party like the NCCA.
Areas Of Specialty
Possibly before getting certified, you’ll need to think about your key area of specialty. Are you going to be a one-size-fits-all personal trainer, or are you going to focus on certain types of clients? For example, are you going to help people lose weight? Or help them build muscle? Will you be focusing on young people trying to improve their athletic performance? Or middle-aged people trying to get into shape after many years of letting themselves go?
Your choices here will determine which skills you need to develop, which clients you’ll try to acquire, and how you’ll spend most of your time.
Choosing A Location
Next, you’ll need to choose a location where you’ll provide personal training services. You could hypothetically be a personal trainer anywhere; you could build an outdoor shed or garage where you can keep fitness equipment, or make house calls for clients who have some of their own exercise equipment. It’s more common, however, to become a personal trainer with an existing gym or fitness center, as an employee of that organization or as an independent contractor. Either way, you’ll get access to their equipment, an image of greater professionalism, and ideally, a steady stream of clients that you don’t have to work for.
Before you get too far in the planning process, you should also be aware of the key challenges that face most newcomers to the career.
- Marketing and differentiation. There are probably dozens, if not hundreds of personal trainers in your area already. What makes you different? There are many viable ways to differentiate yourself, such as specializing in one key area or charging less than your competitors, but you’ll need to choose at least one method of differentiation if you’re going to stand out and win clients. You’ll also need to think about how you’re going to market and advertise your business; after all, you can’t get clients if nobody knows you exist.
- Income consistency. You’ll also need to think about how you’re going to deal with the inconsistent income inherent in the job. You’ll probably get a rush of new clients and signups in early January, when New Year’s resolutions are fresh, but by summer, your income will be lacking. Can you handle this inconsistency? What will you do when business is slow?
- Schedule consistency. Personal trainers often have to work around the schedules of their clients, which means working on weekends, in the evenings, or otherwise working inconsistent hours. Are you prepared to deal with that kind of lifestyle?
- Burnout. It’s easy to get burned out as a personal trainer. You’ll be doing many of the same exercises with different clients throughout the day, and may be facing similar motivational and psychological challenges with your client base. How are you prepared to stave off burnout?
Take the time to draft a business plan before you start pursuing this career. Do your research on best practices for personal trainers, talk to existing personal trainers, and look up statistics on things like rates, key demographics, and employment opportunities. The more research you do in advance, the better prepared you’ll be to handle the realities of the business—and the more likely you’ll be to turn a profit in your first few years.