Name: Alex Silver-Fagan
ACE-certified personal trainer
Group fitness instructor-in-training at CITYROW NYC
NPC bikini competitor
Being passionate about fitness and living the fit lifestyle is an amazing accomplishment in itself. For some people, however, it's just not enough! If you want to take that passion to the next level and help others live fit, you may consider becoming a personal trainer and turning what you love into a full-time career.
Life as a certified personal trainer is not only fulfilling, it has a large potential for growth. Personal trainers have flexible hours, do what they love, and get to help individuals achieve their fitness goals and feel their best.
Once you've made the decision to pursue a career in personal training, keep in mind that you have to invest a fair amount of time and money in order to be successful, as is true with most things in life. Clients want to work with trainers who are knowledgeable and experienced in their craft, so it's very important to take the necessary steps to get certified.
These seven steps will help you get your personal training career started on the right foot!
Step 1 Choose a certification
A variety of different organizations and accredited programs offer certifications in the fitness industry. It's important that you choose the right certification for your career goals. Be aware that all of these programs require you to have a GED or high school diploma.
As a place to start, I recommend going with one of the following five certifying bodies:
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
All of these programs are reputable, so the selection process is somewhat subjective. (Check out the comparison chart in this article for more info on each program.) If you already have a gym in mind that you want to work for as a personal trainer, check to make sure the gym accepts the certification you are pursuing. For example, the chain gym Equinox requires an NASM certification, while The Town Sports Corporation (NYSC, BSC, PSC) requires ACE.
Step 2 Choose a specialty
Do you want to work one-on-one with clients in the gym? Would you rather command a room of 20 individuals ready to work up a sweat? The difference between a certified personal trainer and a certified group fitness instructor is pretty clear. Both are excellent career choices in the fitness industry, and your choice comes down to personal preference. You can even do both! You can get certified in one now and the other later. Just be aware that there are costs involved, and there are different certifications for each career path. Make sure to choose the one that best suits your goals.
Step 3 Invest
Certification programs aren't cheap. Most range from $400-$1,000 depending on the package bundle you purchase. It will be more expensive to include more materials you want in a study bundle: textbook, online portal, practice tests, flash cards, and other options. Although these packages are expensive up front, you must look at it as an investment. It's important to gain a certification so you can learn the skills to legally and safely train clients, while earning a substantial income.
If you're tight on money, find a gym to sponsor you. Some have on-boarding programs which might have a certification program included. If you find the right situation, you can land a job at a gym and eliminate the cost of your certification.
Step 4 Study, Study, Study
I cannot stress this enough. Your test date will come around the corner before you know it, and you don't want to be unprepared for such an important exam. Set out a plan and stick to it! Study a little each day so that, when the test day comes, you will be relaxed and know the material like the back of your hand.
When studying, check with your certifying body for online portals to help you prepare. I am ACE-certified and frequented the ACE Exam Preparation Blog regularly. I also took advantage of the ACE Study Facebook Page. You may also want to consult other trainers who have recently taken the exams. They can help you with prep.
Step 5 Find a gym or studio
Once you become certified—congratulations!—you need to find a place to work, if you have not already. You need a place to train clients, and probably won't have a lot of start-up cash to build your own gym.
You have two options:
- Work for a corporation such as Equinox, LA Fitness, Lifetime Fitness, or Crunch
- Work as an independent personal training contractor
There are perks to both choices. When you join a gym workforce, it will have a specific on-boarding and client-accumulation process. If you choose to work for yourself, however, the hustle is a little more critical. Be sure to read your contracts! You can start at a gym, then move out on your own, but be aware of when and if your contract will allow that movement.
You may find a gym or studio which allows independent contractors, where you "rent" time to use the facility. In this case, you will need to network, market, and build your own clientele. The downside to building your own business is a lack of early stability and benefits: health insurance, retirement, and steady pay. But, in this scenario, you may have the ability to create your own schedule, be your own boss, and work with a limitless potential for career growth.
Step 6 Insurance
You can't start training clients until you acquire some reputable insurance. This protects you from liability and covers you against any claims that are possible. When working at a gym, this might be provided, but if you're working for yourself, it's crucial that you purchase insurance before starting your personal training odyssey.
Be safe, not sorry! Check with your certifying body—it should offer insurance. If you're unhappy with the prices, shop around at companies like Markel and IDEA Fit for a price and package that works for you.
STEP 7 Practice what you preach and stay active
When pursuing a career in the fitness industry, it's important to be fit. Your clients will respect you and look up to you as a fit role model, and you'll be physically able to confidently lead individuals through workouts. If you can complete a regimen on your own without difficulty, your rep will be bolstered.
It's also important to try everything. Don't be the bodybuilder who shuns CrossFit or the spin instructor who shuns yoga! Become well-rounded with each new arc of the fitness circle. Increase your own physical-fitness parameters so you can help others to the best of your ability.
But remember that you're a new trainer. Don't walk and talk like you know it all, because you don't—not even close. Be open to learning and gaining new information from continuing education, colleagues, and other professionals in the fitness industry. Pursue more certifications in specific fields like TRX, kettlebells, strength training, and yoga. The possibilities are almost endless as fitness continues to evolve with new methods.
I live in fitness-focused New York City and am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try a variety of fitness styles and boutique studios on a regular basis. Do the same if you can. Check out all the local gyms and studios near you. Don't be afraid to uproot yourself to take an opportunity in a new city.
Talk to experienced trainers. Work out with various coaches. Ask questions! Try as many different things as you can. You will learn a lot early on, and you will eventually discover your niche, your area of expertise, and the styles, spaces, and nuances that work best for your own training.