How to become a personal trainer

How to Become a Personal Trainer

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, health and fitness related careers are growing faster than 24% than all over occupations*. Stake your claim in this fast growing, opportunity filled industry and pursue your dream to become a personal fitness trainer."

If you love fitness, constant education, and helping others achieve their fitness goals, then you might be a great personal trainer. Below, we outline the steps necessary to becoming a personal trainer, and the keys necessary to sustaining a successful personal training career.

Step 1: Self Evaluation

Are You the Right Kind of Person to be a Personal Trainer?

Are you self-directed, a great listener, and a people person? Then you might be well-suited to be a trainer. Can you embrace these key concepts? Then becoming a great personal trainer may be in your future:

  • It’s about your client.  It’s not about you.
  • Listen twice as much as you speak.
  • Be a consultant, not a “sales person”. Consultants provide a product or service that solves a client’s problem. Salespeople sell whatever products or services they have to whomever can pay for it. 
  • Be patient.  “X” number of years of your client’s bad choices cannot be “un-done” in twelve or twenty-four sessions.    
  • Your client needs a tailored program. Not a “one size fits all” program. That’s why it’s called “personal” training.  
  • Be goal oriented. Set daily, weekly, and annual written goals for yourself, and for your clients.  
  • Know that you don’t know and pick a mentor who does know. There’s a flood of information and methodologies to understand: Kettlebells, P90X©, small group training, Crossfit©, TRX©, etc.  
  • Be open minded.  Not all training or training tools work for all people.  But “every” thing works for some “one”.
  • Walk the walk. Talk the talk. Be passionate about your health & fitness. You are your own best advertising. 

Step 2: Caveat Emptor (“Buyer Beware”)

What NOT to do - Don’t Waste Your Time or Money Spitting in the Wind

Online Personal Training? - You cannot learn to become a personal trainer online any more than you can learn to play golf online.  Or become a massage therapist online.  Personal training is a hands-on profession and it requires hands-on learning and the biofeedback that comes from learning in a classroom and practical experience in a fitness center environment.  Distance learning or online classes have their place but it’s not establishing the necessary knowledge cornerstone in your personal training career.

Weekend courses - or “short courses” (i.e. 2 - 3 weeks or months) are going to provide a load of information that you are neither going to absorb, practice, question, or truly learn how to apply.  

“Certified Personal Trainer” (CPT) Certification with no continuing education requirements? - is there any profession that should require no continuing education? Training the human body and meeting clients’ unique physical and psychological challenges requires continual education. A certification with no continuing education requirements is appealing to your attraction to “convenience”, and saving a buck, not to the best interests of sustaining a rewarding personal training career and resulting client benefits.

Productive continuing education ideally provides a new set of skills and knowledge that advances your personal training career such that you are acquiring more clients, achieving better results, and making more valued professional, industry personal connections.

Step 3: Become an Expert

Become a Subject Matter Expert (SME) Through Education and Experience

Becoming a truck driver does not start with testing for a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). It starts with learning how to drive a truck. Becoming an accountant does not start with studying for the Certified Public Accountant CPA) exam. It starts with going to college and securing an Accounting degree. Becoming a personal trainer does not start with studying for the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) examination. Your personal trainer career should start with getting a solid, well-rounded personal training education.

Subjects that you must understand to be a true personal training subject matter expert

Science
Anatomy, kinesiology, structure & function of the muscular, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems, stages of change in the human body, biomechanics

Diet & Nutrition
Bioenergetics, metabolism, protein, carbohydrates, fats, hydration, supplements

Special Needs & Special Populations
Morbid obesity, asthma, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, orthopedic injuries (corrective exercise), pre/post natal women, age/sex related differences in training

Program Design
Strength & cardiovascular programming, sports specific training, progressions, periodization, program design tools & technology, small group training, high-intensity Interval training (HIIT), speed, agility, endurance, aerobic / anaerobic training, fitness assessment / screening,  evaluating risk factors

Motivational
Goal setting, understanding and embracing the “Why” of being fit, stages of change, and establishing “actionable”, measurable, healthy changes in your client’s lifestyle choices

Facilities & Tools
Commercial fitness equipment, free weights, suspension training, kettlebells, safety precautions, facility cleaning & maintenance, indoor vs. outdoor training.  Learn the technology tools that aid in personal training execution, client-tracking and measurement..

Business
​Legal issues, insurance (facility, personal trainer), policy & procedure; sales & marketing; technology (websites, social media), credit card transaction processing, employee vs. private contractor, worksite health promotion (a/k/a  corporate wellness),  entrepreneurship, liability (e.g. understanding your scope of practice), time & territory management.

Step 4: Get Certified

Get Certified with a Reputable, Industry Recognized Personal Training Certification

The leading certifications are NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies) recognized and also IHRSA (International Health and Racquet Sportsclub Association) recognized. IHRSA is to the health club industry what the AMA (American Medical Association) is to licensed medical professionals.

The leading certifying agencies are ACE, ACSM, NSCA, and NASM.  Why?  Because the leading Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certifications:

  • Test both the trainers academic knowledge and practical knowledge / application
  • Require testing in a proctored test facility
  • Require 12 - 36 month renewal (varies by certifying agency) through continuing education credits
  • Meet the industry “gold standard” (such as NCCA compliance and endorsement from IHRSA)

How many certifications does a personal trainer need? As a baseline, a professional personal trainer should have these active certifications: 

  • CPT certification
  • A diet and nutrition related certification (such as ACE’s “Health Coach” Certification)
  • A specialty related certification based on the trainer’s focus area (e.g. NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist, CrossFit©, Silver Sneakers (Training Older Adults), etc.

Step 5: Learn Through Experience

Experience and Learning From Other Personal Training Professionals is a Key to Success

Attend a personal training school that includes lots of hands-on experience and instruction from certified, degreed, and experienced fitness professionals who are trained to be teachers.

Seek employment from a health & fitness facility that allows for shadowing and mentorship. Beware the employment opportunity that burdens you with a monthly sales quota without a quick start program. Reputable health & fitness clubs like 24-Hour Fitness, Colorado Athletic Clubs, and Lifetime Fitness allow for a start-up period (that includes helping you find new clients and build your client list).

Before striking out on your own (if you are the entrepreneurial type), you may want to work for one of these national chains to learn the personal training business cycle. 

Step 6: Identify Your Fitness Specialty

Identify Your Fitness Specialty and Focus on What You Will Love Doing Every Day

“Thank God it’s Monday” should be a sign hanging in everyone’s workplace. Unfortunately, most of the workforce is saying, “Thank God it’s Friday” because they are truly unhappy in their occupations.  

What drives you?  What makes you want to LEAP out of bed on Monday morning because you can’t wait to get to work?

Training Older Adults. Training Athletes. Corrective Exercise (i.e. working with chiropractors, physical therapists, and massage therapists). Training Pre / Post Natal Women. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) like CrossFit© style training. There is a world of personal training specialization available to you with multiple business models to suit your preferences: boot camps, training in homes, working for a national health club chain, working for yourself, and being a private contractor.  

At National Personal Training Institute - Colorado, we teach you both how to identify your strongest focus, but also, how to build your business around that personal training speciality.

Step 7: Never Stop Learning

Read what your demographic reads.  If you want to train MMA fighters, read MMA Sports.  If you want to train cyclists, frequent the website, www.Bicycling.com.  Attend events that other health & fitness professionals attend.

Keep your CPT certification current!  You are required to take a specific number of continuing education units (CEU) or continuing education credits (CEC) each year.  Don’t wait until the last minute and take meaningless CEU / CEC classes that only keep your CPT certification active but have little value to your personal training specialty.

Your annual goal setting agenda should include a budget of time and finding for one - two education events.

Question fads. Learn before engaging. Google CrossFit©, TRX©, kettlebells, or P90X© success. Now Google CrossFit, TRX, kettlebells, or P90X injuries and lawsuits. Ask yourself which webpage you would like to be associated with. Always question the latest training tools, methodology, and “fad”.

Step 8: Network

Networking in Professional and Community Organizations Just makes Sense

Recognize that your single greatest asset in business is who you know. Likewise, your single greatest liability may be who you do not know. Join the local Chamber of Commerce.  Attend industry events. Volunteer for high visibility health related events like the 9NewsHealth Fair, Race for the Cure, and the Leukemia Society’s Team in Training.

Don’t operate in a bubble. Join the Colorado Fitness Association, The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition or a similar like-minded organization.

Get involved. The state of Texas Physical Fitness Assessment Initiative or the State of Georgia SHAPE program present a wealth of social networking opportunities for personal trainers.

Step 9: Begin with the End in Mind

This is actually a quote from Stephen Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. What do you want to be? Where do you want to go with your personal training career? Create a vision.  Write down your plan.  Do you want to be the top trainer at 24-Hour Fitness?  Do you want to be a world renowned trainer?  Do you want to run a successful bootcamp? Do you want to open a CrossFit© gym?

To become successful in the health & fitness industry, you will need a strong education as your career foundation, a written plan, an ongoing support group (such as the school you go to), and the self-direction to move the ball forward each day, each week, each month.  


* Data provided by http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Personal-Care-and-Service/Fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm

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