What is a Personal Trainer?

A personal trainer helps their clients achieve certain fitness goals, including but not limited to weight loss, strength training, toning, or overall health management.

Each client's fitness level can be extremely different, so a trainer may be introducing one client to basic exercises, helping a second one with a weight loss program, and assisting a third in advanced training goals.

What does a Personal Trainer do?

Many people think that personal trainers get paid to work out all day. This is definitely a misconception. It would be quite challenging for a personal trainer to work out while at the same time providing useful feedback to their client, offering motivation and encouragement throughout the session, and educating them on the hows and whys about health and fitness. Personal trainers actually have to set aside personal time for their own workouts.

A personal trainer helping their client go over their training schedule.

A personal trainer will work with clients, either in a small group setting or one-on-one, on their fitness goals, which includes improving a client's muscular endurance, strengthening a client's cardiovascular capabilities, and increasing a client's physical flexibility.

A personal trainer may also be asked to create or revise specific workout routines for their clients, in order to achieve extra weight loss, speed, or muscle toning. In some cases, personal trainers will also help clients with health and nutrition plans, such as recommending a food diary, or working with a nutritionist.

Are you suited to be a personal trainer?

Personal trainers have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also artistic, meaning they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive.

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What is the workplace of a Personal Trainer like?

The look of a trainer's workplace can vary widely. Although the majority of personal trainers work out of a specific gym or fitness centre, some trainers specialize in house calls or even travel with their clients. Other trainers work for large companies, offering customized services to that company's workforce. Still other personal trainers work within a college or educational arena.

In general, expect to work with a variety of exercise equipment, including free weights or nautilus machines, cardio machines like Stairmasters or treadmills. Trainers may also be expected to teach or coach their clients through floor work, including stretching, toning, or pilates work.

A trainer generally dresses in neat, professional clothing that may or may not be workout wear. A tucked-in shirt with a collar and khakis will give a look of authority in the gym. Personal trainers who choose to dress in workout clothes should keep them fresh, neat, and clean. Remember that a personal trainer presents the image of fitness and health that the client wants to emulate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I become a Personal Trainer?

People typically want to pursue a career in fitness for the opportunity to inspire and educate others to live happier and healthier lives, as well as to have the ability to make money doing something they love while making a difference.

If this is a career you are considering, but not 100% sure about yet, the following facts may help you decide whether this is the right path for you:

  • It's an incredibly tough industry to make a lot of money in. However, once you develop a reputation as a good trainer, you can start to charge more. Going out on your own is definitely more profitable than working for a gym, however you have to work a lot harder to find clients.

  • Clients often have unrealistic expectations, and it's up to the personal trainer to find a realistic goal and help the client achieve it. Perhaps feeling stronger and more confident may be what the client ultimately wants, but can only express it by saying they want to look like a Victoria Secret model. Once confidence and more self-esteem is achieved, the superficial goals the client came in with eventually become less important.

  • Personal trainers need to be able to pick up on their client's emotional energy right away. If a client is having a terrible day, showing empathy and having a listening ear can often bring up a client's energy and help them forget about their problems temporarily. All they may need is a pair of boxing gloves to release some energy, but ultimately it is up to the trainer to pick up on the needs of the client.

  • Personal trainers must be willing to give up their weekends, as that is when most people don't work and are available to train. Clients generally understand if you need to cancel once in awhile due to personal reasons, but making up those missed sessions is essential.

  • Taking vacations can be stressful for trainers, as they typically need to write out specific workouts for each of their clients to do when they're away. They also need to fit in extra sessions when they get back to catch up.

  • You're not always going to be the best fit for every client. Some people won't want to put in the work, or your personalities will clash. It's good to remember that some relationships simply won't work, and that it's ok to not take on or keep everyone.

The following reasons may be why some personal trainers fail or don’t do very well:

Lack of persistence - The most common cause of people failing to succeed as personal trainers is that they simply give up. This typically happens with new trainers during their first year because they aren’t bringing in as much money as they had hoped. The personal training industry can be lucrative, however it is very competitive. Newcomers have to realize that it will take time and a lot of effort to be rewarded financially. Trainers who work for fitness clubs should always be on the look out for any opportunity to move to a more high-end club with wealthier clients. Working hard, gaining experience, and developing a reputation as a good trainer enables one to charge more, but it takes a lot of time and effort to get there.

Lack of clients - Without enough clients, it can be very hard to be persistent and continue as a personal trainer. Personal trainers based in busy fitness clubs are in competition with one another for clients. The more trainers, the less clients there are to go around. It's important to know that there are some fitness clubs that will rent out their facilities to as many trainers as they possibly can in order to collect as many monthly fees as they possibly can. Trainers should consider relocating to another club if this is the case.

Lack of business skills - The majority of people who go into business for themselves as personal trainers don't know how to run a business. They don’t know how to build their brand, advertise their business, sell themselves to clients, set up a business website or find additional income sources. For self-employed trainers, not knowing these things will either cause them to fail or prevent them from becoming as successful as they could be. The importance of learning business and marketing skills cannot be emphasized enough. The most successful trainers got to where they are by understanding business and marketing as well as fitness and exercise.

Lack of personality - Successful personal trainers are able to make their client's training sessions enjoyable because they have built a trusting and positive relationship with them. No client wants to be trained by someone who is cold, uncaring, or more interested in talking about themselves rather than their client's needs. If a trainer gives off indifferent or negative vibes, they won't find much success.

Clients also need to be able to trust their personal trainer to tell them honestly what they need to improve on. People thrive in a safe atmosphere where they are motivated and are made to feel good about their improvements and their accomplishments. Most clients lack self-confidence and can be quite sensitive, especially those with weight issues. Remembering to make them feel emotionally comfortable at all times is important to success, and mastering the ins and outs of trainer-client relationships is key.

Lack of professionalism - No client likes a personal trainer who says they will do things and then not do them, doesn't show up on time, or gets distracted and doesn't pay full attention to them during training sessions. Even if you’re actually a good personal trainer, it will hold you back in your career. Not only will clients get annoyed with you and go with someone else, but fitness clubs eventually won’t let you work on their premises and won't sell your services to their members.

How long does it take to become a Personal Trainer?

Online Programs
Online personal training programs for those interested in becoming a personal trainer are offered from fitness organizations such as the International Sports Sciences Association. These programs can take from four to six weeks to complete.

Testing Centres
Taking a test at a monitored testing centre is the most popular method for becoming a personal trainer. This process can take about six to eight weeks depending on the individual’s experience, knowledge and the scheduling of the exam.

Organizations like the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America offer these, where instead of studying on your own, you can participate in a three-day workshop that prepares individuals for the certification exam. This method could take less than a week to complete, depending on one's level of knowledge and experience.

Vocational Schools
Vocational schools now offer health and fitness programs for students. These can take up to two years to complete. Students will have enough knowledge and experience to pass the certification exam.

College Degrees
College degrees in a related field like exercise science, physical education, nutrition, or kinesiology will be considered by most gyms and fitness centres as an equivalent to a personal training certification. These typically take three to four years.

Are Personal Trainers happy?

Personal trainers rank in the 79th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.

Seeing people get happy and confident when they become comfortable in their own skin is one of the best things about this career. People come to lose weight, put on muscle, get faster, stronger and healthier. Personal trainers help mothers after they have babies, people with injuries, athletes, and train women and men who want to look and feel great.

Personal training isn't about how great you look in a tight shirt or how much you can lift. It's 100% about your clients, and your job is to be there for them. Just like a good parent puts the needs of their children before their own, a good trainer always puts their clients' needs first. Trainers that remember this key factor are the happiest.

Steps to becoming a Personal Trainer

Getting certified as a personal trainer is theory-based: it involves studying written material and then going to a testing centre for an exam. You'll need a high school diploma to apply for most fitness certifications, and in the case of the NSCA-CSCS, you'll also need a college degree, though not necessarily in a related field. You can also learn by attending workshops at the gym with other interns, participating in classes, and shadowing sessions with their trainers. In the workshops individuals learn about anatomy, corrective exercises, modifications, and body fat assessments. This is excellent as it puts all the things learned in a book into a real-life setting. There are also workshops that target specific areas like kettle bells, TRX, prenatal exercise, as well as group fitness.

There are many different certifications to choose from. ACE, NSCA, NASM, and ACSM are four of the most widely accepted personal trainer certifications in the USA, but different gyms have different affiliations. (If there's a particular gym where you want to apply, first inquire about what certifications they accept.) Most certifications require you to take an in-person closed-book exam. However, there are a few home study and online certifications available. No matter which certification you choose, however, be prepared to spend several hundred dollars between the study materials and the actual exam fee.

In addition to general personal trainer (PT) certifications, most gyms require trainers to be CPR certified and be able to run an AED (an automated external defibrillator).

Personal Trainers are also known as:
Trainer Private Trainer Fitness Technician