Personal trainers, often known as fitness trainers, assist health-conscious people with exercise, weight training, weight loss, diet and nutrition, and medical rehabilitation. During one training session, or over a period of several sessions, trainers teach their clients how to achieve their health and fitness goals. They train in the homes of their clients, their own studio spaces, or in health clubs. More than 65,000 personal trainers work in the United States, either independently or on the staff of a fitness center.
Personal Trainer Career History
For much of the last half of the 20th century, “98-pound weaklings” were tempted by the Charles Atlas comic book ads to buy his workout plan and to bulk up. Atlas capitalized on a concern for good health that developed into the fitness industry after World War II. Though physical fitness has always been important to the human body, things have changed quite a bit since the days when people had to chase and hunt their own food. Before the industrial revolution, people were much more active, and the need for supplemental exercise was unnecessary. But the last century has brought easier living, laziness, and processed snack foods.
Even as early as the late 1800s, people became concerned about their health and weight and began to flock to spas and exercise camps. This proved to be a passing fad for the most part, but medical and nutritional study began to carefully explore the significance of exercise. During World War II, rehabilitation medicine proved more effective than extended rest in returning soldiers to the front line. Even the early days of TV featured many morning segments devoted to exercise. The videotape revolution of the 1980s went hand in hand with a new fitness craze, as Jane Fonda’s workout tape became a bestseller and inspired a whole industry of fitness tapes and books. Now most health clubs offer the services of personal trainers to attend to the health and fitness concerns of its members.
Personal Trainer Job Description
Remember the first time you ever went to the gym? The weight machines may have resembled medieval forms of torture. So, to avoid the weight training, you stuck to the treadmill. Or maybe you called upon the services of a personal trainer. Personal trainers help their clients achieve health and fitness goals. They instruct on the proper use of exercise equipment and weight machines and may suggest diet and nutrition tips.
If you’ve reached your own workout goals, then you may be ready to help others reach theirs. “You have to believe in working out and eating healthy,” advises Emelina Edwards, a personal trainer in New Orleans. For 12 years she’s been in the business of personal training, a career she chose after whipping herself into great shape at the age of 46. Now, at 58, she has a lot of first-hand experience in training, nutrition, aerobic exercise, and stress management. Edwards says, “You have to practice what you preach.”
And practice Edwards does— not only does she devote time every day to her own weight training, jogging, and meditation, but she works with three to five clients in the workout facility in her home. She has a total of about 20 clients, some of whom she assists in one-on-one sessions, and others in small groups. Her clients have included men and women from the ages of 20 to 80 who are looking to improve their general physical condition or to work on specific ailments.
When meeting with a client for the first time, Edwards gets a quick history of his or her physical problems and medical conditions. “If problems are serious,” Edwards says, “I check with their doctor. If mild, I explain to them what I believe will help.” When she discovered that four out of five people seeking her help suffered from back problems, she did a great deal of research on back pain and how to alleviate it through exercise. “I teach people how to do for themselves,” she says. “Sometimes I see a person once, or for three or four sessions, or forever.”
In addition to working directly with clients, Edwards is active promoting her line of “Total Body Rejuvenation” products. These products, consisting of audiotapes and books, are based on her years of experience and the many articles she has written for fitness publications. When she’s not training clients, writing articles, and selling products, she’s reading fitness publications to keep up on the business, as well as speaking at public events. “When I realized I loved training,” she says, “I thought of all the things I could relate to it. So along with the training, I began to write about it, and to give talks on health and fitness.”
Successful personal trainers do not necessarily have to keep as busy as Edwards. They may choose to specialize in certain areas of personal training. They may work as an athletic trainer, helping athletes prepare for sports activities. They may specialize in helping with the rehabilitation treatment of people with injuries and other physical problems. Yoga, dance, martial arts, indoor cycling, boxing, and water fitness have all become aspects of special training programs. People call upon personal trainers to help them quit smoking, to assist with healthy pregnancies, and to maintain mental and emotional stability. Whatever the problem, whether mental or physical, people are turning to exercise and nutrition to help them deal with it.
Many personal trainers have their own studios or home gyms where they train their clients; others go into the homes of their clients. Because of the demands of the workplace, many personal trainers also work in offices and corporate fitness centers. Though most health clubs hire their own trainers to assist with club members, some hire freelance trainers as independent contractors. These independent contractors are not considered staff members and do not receive employee benefits. (IDEA Health and Fitness Association found that 30 percent of the personal trainers hired by the fitness centers surveyed were independent contractors.)
Personal Trainer Career Requirements
If you are interested in health and fitness, you are probably already taking physical education classes and involved in sports activities. It is also important to take health courses and courses like home economics, which include lessons in diet and nutrition. Business courses can help you prepare for the management aspect of running your own personal training service. Science courses such as biology, chemistry, and physiology are important for your understanding of muscle groups, food and drug reactions, and other concerns of exercise science. If you are not interested in playing on sports teams, you may be able to volunteer as an assistant. These positions will allow you to learn about athletic training as well as rehabilitation treatments.
A college education is not required to work as a personal trainer, but you can benefit from one of the many fitness-related programs offered at colleges across the country. Some relevant college programs include health education, exercise and sports science, fitness program management, and athletic training. These programs include courses in therapeutic exercise, nutrition, aerobics, and fitness and aging. IDEA recommends a bachelor’s degree from a program that includes at least a semester each in anatomy, kinesiology, and exercise physiology. IDEA offers scholarships to students seeking careers as fitness professionals.
If you are not interested in a full four-year program, many schools offer shorter versions of their bachelor’s programs. Upon completing a shorter program, you’ll receive either an associate’s degree or certification from the school. Once you have established yourself in the business, continuing education courses are important for you to keep up with the advances in the industry. IDEA is one of many organizations that offer independent study courses, conferences, and seminars.
Certification or Licensing
There are so many schools and organizations that offer certification to personal trainers that it has become a concern in the industry. Without more rigid standards, the profession could suffer at the hands of less experienced, less skilled trainers. Some organizations only require membership fees and short tests for certification. Emelina Edwards isn’t certified and doesn’t believe that certification is necessary. “Experience is what counts,” she says.
However, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that personal trainers must be certified in the fitness field to find employment, and health clubs look for certified trainers when hiring independent contractors. If you are seeking certification, you should choose a certifying board that offers scientifically based exams and requires continuing education credits. The American Council on Exercise, the National Federation of Professional Trainers, and the American Fitness Professionals and Associates are just a few of the many groups with certification programs.
Physical fitness and knowledge of health and nutrition are the most important assets of personal trainers. “The more intelligently you can speak to someone,” Edwards says, “the more receptive they’ll be.” Your clients will also be more receptive to patience and friendliness. “I’m very enthusiastic and positive,” she says regarding the way she works with her clients. You should be able to explain things clearly, recognize progress, and encourage it. You should be comfortable working one-on-one with people of all ages and in all physical conditions. An interest in reading fitness books and publications is important to your continuing education.
Exploring Personal Trainer Career
Your high school may have a weight-training program, or some other extracurricular fitness program, as part of its athletic department; in addition to signing up for the program, you can assist the faculty who manage it. That way, you can learn about what goes into developing and maintaining such a program. If your school doesn’t have a fitness program, seek one out at a community center, or join a health club.
You should also try the services of a personal trainer. By conditioning yourself and eating a healthy diet, you’ll get a good sense of the duties of a personal trainer. Any number of books and magazines address issues of health and nutrition and offer weight-training advice. The IDEA publishes several helpful health- and career-related publications including IDEA Fitness Journal and IDEA Trainer Success.
Finally, seek out part-time work at a gym or health club to meet trainers and learn about weight machines and certification programs.
IDEA reports that there are more than 65,000 personal trainers working in the United States. Personal trainers are employed by people of all ages. Individuals hire the services of trainers, as do companies for the benefit of their employees. Though most health clubs hire personal trainers full time, some clubs hire trainers on an independent contractor basis. Sports and exercise programs at community colleges hire trainers part time to conduct classes.
Personal trainers can find clients in most major cities in all regions of the country. In addition to health clubs and corporate fitness centers, trainers find work at YMCAs, aerobics studios, and hospital fitness centers.
Most people who begin personal training do so after successful experiences with their own training. Once they’ve developed a good exercise regimen and healthy diet plan for themselves, they may feel ready to help others. Emelina Edwards had hit a low point in her life, and had turned to weight training to help her get through the difficult times. “I didn’t have a college degree,” she says, “and I needed something to do. All I had was weight training.” She then called up all the women she knew, promoting her services as a personal trainer. Through the benefit of word-of-mouth, Edwards built up a clientele.
Some trainers begin by working part time or full time for health clubs and, after making connections, they go into business for themselves. As with most small businesses, personal trainers must promote themselves through classified ads, flyers posted in community centers, and other forms of advertisement. Many personal trainers have published guides on how to establish businesses. IDEA offers a book called The Successful Trainer’s Guide to Marketing: How to Get Clients and Make Money, which offers advice on how to attract clients.
After personal trainers have taken on as many individual clients as they need to maintain a business, they may choose to lead small group training sessions or conduct large aerobics classes. Some trainers join forces with other trainers to start their own fitness centers. Trainers who are employed by fitness centers may be promoted to the position of personal training director. These workers supervise and schedule other personal trainers and manage department budgets.
Emelina Edwards has advanced her business by venturing out into other areas of fitness instruction, such as publishing books and speaking to groups. “I want to develop more in the public speaking arena,” she says. Right now, she only speaks to local groups—she’d like to go national. “I’d also like to break into the Latin market,” she says. “The interest is there, and the response has been great.”
The IDEA reports that the average hourly rate for personal trainers is $41. Hourly fees ranged from less than $20 to $70 or more. Personal trainers who offer specialized instruction (such as in yoga, martial arts, or indoor cycling), or who work with their own clients in their own homes, can charge higher hourly rates. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that in 2005 the median annual salary for fitness trainers, which includes personal trainers, was $25,840. The lowest paid 10 percent earned $14,540 or less and the highest paid 10 percent earned $55,020 or more. A 2006 Salary.com survey found the median annual salary for personal trainers was $37,450 with the middle 50 percent earning between $33,424 and $43,149.
Personal training is obviously a physically demanding job, but anybody who is in good shape and who eats a healthy diet should be able to easily handle the demands. Personal trainers who work out of their homes will enjoy familiar and comfortable surroundings. Trainers who work in a gym as independent contractors will also experience a comfortable workplace. Most good gyms maintain a cool temperature, keep the facilities clean and well-lit, and care for the weight machines. Whether in a gym or at home, personal trainers work directly with their clients, usually in one-on-one training sessions. In this teaching situation, the workplace is usually quiet and conducive to learning.
As with most self- employment, sustaining a business can be both rewarding and difficult. Many trainers appreciate being able to keep their own hours, and to work as little, or as much, as they care to. By setting their own schedules, they can arrange time for their personal workout routines. But, without an employer, there’s less security, no benefits, and no steady paycheck. Personal trainers have to regularly promote their services and be ready to take on new clients.
Personal Trainer Career Outlook
Fitness training will continue to enjoy strong growth in the near future. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts employment opportunities for personal trainers and other fitness workers to grow much faster than the average through 2014. As the baby boomers grow older, they will increasingly rely on the services of personal trainers. Boomers have long been interested in health and fitness, and they will carry this into their old age. A knowledge of special weight training, stretching exercises, and diets for seniors will be necessary for personal trainers in the years to come. Trainers will actively promote their services to senior centers and retirement communities.
With the number of health publications and fitness centers, people are much more knowledgeable about exercise and nutrition. This could increase business for personal trainers as people better understand the necessity of proper training and seek out professional assistance. Trainers may also be going into more of their clients homes as people set up their own workout stations complete with weights and treadmills. In the health and medical field, new developments are constantly affecting how people eat and exercise. Personal trainers must keep up with these advances, as well as any new trends in fitness and dieting.
For More Information:
- American Council on Exercise
- American Fitness Professionals and Associates
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association
- National Federation of Professional Trainers