How to Become a Personal Trainer

If you’ve got a passion for fitness and a desire to help others, a career as a personal trainer could be for you. Learn how to become a personal trainer.
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Athletic Trainer Career Facts

How to Become a Personal Trainer

Steve Theunissen
Author: Steve Theunissen, Certified Personal Trainer

If you’ve got a passion for fitness and a desire to help others, a career as a personal trainer could be for you.

The fitness industry has exploded in recent years with personal training leading the charge. That presents opportunities for fitness lovers who know what steps to take.

In this article, I’ll outline everything you need to know to become a certified personal trainer. I’ll also provide guidance on getting established once you’ve got your qualification in hand.

Go here to learn how long does it take to become a personal trainer.

Prerequisites to Personal Training Study

Nearly every personal training certifying agency requires you to be 18 years or over to begin a course of study.

Many agencies also require that you have a CPR AED Certificate. Some will require you to have this certificate before you can even purchase the course. Others will allow you to gain this certification before you with the final exam.

Most CPR AED courses last for half a day. They cover chest compression, and how to use a defibrillator.

I recommend doing a CPR AED course through the American Heart Association.

A high school diploma is another requirement to begin studying for a personal trainer certificate.

Choosing a Reputable Certifying Agency

There are dozens of personal trainer certifying agencies. Most of them allow you to study online at your own convenience. Different courses will emphasize specific training styles.

Not all personal training courses offer the same quality of education or carry the same weight in the industry. In weeding out the best course for you, you should only look at courses that are accredited by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

The three most recognized and respected certifying organizations in the United States are:

In choosing your course, think about the type of client you want to target. If you are wanting to train athletes then you should go with a performance enhancement course as opposed to a general fitness one.

The overall cost of the course is an important factor to consider. The average for a personal training certification course as of this writing (July 2022) is $500-600.

You also need to look at the overall length of the course. Most courses allow you three to six months to complete the course and sit the final exam.

Personal Trainer Study and Final Exam Tips

Depending on the course you sign up with, you’ll receive a study package that may include textbooks, lecture videos, whiteboard animations, flashcards, study questions and practice exams.

The majority of courses will also require you to attend an in-person workshop at some point during the course.

Here are some tips to help you successfully pass your course …

  • Do not rush your studies. Make use of all of the allotted time to get the most benefit from the course material.
  • Establish a study schedule and then stick to it. Allocate more time than you think you will actually need. Use the extra minutes to meditate on the information and fit all the parts into a complete whole.
  • Study early in the day. You will be fresh and alert – and there will be fewer distractions.
  • Expect to have to dig into such ‘heavy’ topics as kinesiology, anatomy, and biomechanics. Rather than dreading these topics, embrace them.
  • Schedule an hour per day to read and take notes
  • Listen to audio lectures when you are doing other things such as driving or walking to the gym
  • Complete all the practice tests at the end of the chapters
  • Create fact cards and regularly quiz yourself on them
  • Take practice tests before the final exam
  • Only take the final exam when you are hitting 85% on your practice tests

Find a Mentor

While you are carrying out your course of study, I recommend that you find a personal training mentor. This is an experienced trainer who will allow you to shadow him for a few sessions.

During this time, you’ll just sit back and watch. Once the session is over, ask questions of the trainer about the process you observed. This is also your opportunity to learn about the ups and downs of the business and find out what it’s actually like to do this job.

You may not be able to work with bigger trainers like Ben Greenfield, but you can certainly find someone just a few steps ahead of you willing to help.

Deciding on What Sort of Personal Trainer You Want to Be

Having graduated and earned your certification, you’re ready to begin your new life as a personal trainer. You’ve now got some decisions to make.

  • Will you get a job at a big box gym?
  • Will you become a trainer at a boutique fitness cub?
  • Will you go out on your own?

Let’s consider the pros and cons of each of these options.

Big Box Gym


  • You have access to a steady stream of potential clients. Your average big box gym will have around 4000 members. All you need is 15 of them to come on board with you as regular clients and you have a sustainable business.
  • You will be working alongside more experienced trainers who can guide and mentor you.
  • Good gyms will provide a nurturing environment in which they encourage, incentivize and proactively work toward your success. This may include waiving the rental fee you pay for the first 3 months if you are a contracted trainer to allow you to get a few clients under your belt.
  •  You have access to the best and latest training equipment, along with full-facility showers, pools, and other facilities for your clients that you couldn’t offer if you were on your own.
  • Many gyms offer a base rate retainer, even if it is minimum wage.


  • You will be working in a competitive environment as the lowest rung on the totem pole. The more established, familiar trainers are likely to be more attractive to existing member clients than you.
  •  A large chunk of what the client pays is going to the gym.
  • Pressure can build on you to meet management expectations
  • You can end up as a glorified sales employee who has to constantly hustle to secure paying clients.
  • If you are an independent contractor, you have to know how to run your own small business.
  • There is an extremely high churn rate when it comes to personal trainers in the big box gyms. In fact, I was talking to an experienced trainer at a local gym today and he told me that, in the last 5 years, the gym has gone through 27 trainers, with the average length of service being 3 months.

Boutique Fitness Club


  • They are more intimate than their big-box counterparts.
  • Boutique gyms are often located in more affluent communities and focus on providing a more personalized touch with specialized services in order to compete with the big players.
  • They are nowhere near as busy as the big gyms and usually charge higher rates to their personal training clients. If you’re not keen on all of the hustle, bustle, and pressure of a big box gym, a boutique gym could be the perfect fit for you.
  • The management will generally be more involved with you as a personal trainer than in a big box gym environment. You will probably be one of a small number of trainers so that more time and attention can be given to your nurturing.


  • You will have a much smaller client pool to draw from. This will mean that you will probably have to do your own marketing outside of the gym environment in order to sustain your client base.
  • You will have fewer opportunities to be mentored by more experienced trainers.
  • You may have clients whose busy schedules require you to train outside of your time comfort zone.
  • They will not offer the range of equipment that a big box gym provides.

Your Own Boss


  • Low overheads
  • Can develop a reputation as the local neighborhood trainer
  • You can market yourself in a specific area potentially having clients who are geographically close to each other
  • Higher opportunities for friend and family referrals


  • Limited access to equipment (such as adjustable dumbbells)
  • Potentially plenty of downtime on the road
  • Client cancellations can result in dead time
  • You need to work in areas where people can afford your services – this may require a sizeable commute
  • The atmosphere in a client’s home can be difficult to feel comfortable in
  •  You have no control over interruptions

How to Get  a Job as a Personal Trainer

Here are some tips, drawn from my 35 years as a gym owner and personal trainer, on how to get a job in each of the sectors covered in the last section.

Big Box Gym & Boutique Fitness Club

I recommend working out at the gym with a week-long guest pass before you approach them for an interview. That will allow you to get a good feel for the place and to tailor your resume to what your research has revealed.

Having a professional resume that sells your personality is important as it can get you into the interview room. Often, however, you can score an interview simply by rocking up and presenting at the front desk.

Don’t ask for a job. Tell the manager that you’d love to talk to him about how you can bring in new clientele for the gym. Once, you’re in front of the gym manager, it’s all about your personality. Show him that you’re positive, energetic and willing to learn and work hard.

The manager is interested in sales and personality is what, ultimately, will generate those sales. If you’re lacking in exercise skills, that can be taught – personality cannot!

When you turn up for your interview, dress like a successful personal trainer. The better shape you’re in, the better the impression. Make sure that your hygiene and grooming is on point. That includes your hair, nails and odor.

As a trainer you will be up close and personal with clients every day. If the management gets the impression that your appearance will be off-putting, they’re going to show you the door.

Your Own Business

Building a successful stand-alone personal training business is a subject beyond the scope of this article, However, there is one essential point that I’d like to make …

If you enter the personal training market offering the same thing as everyone else, you are going to struggle to establish a foothold.

Why should a person go with you when there are plenty of other trainers, who can exhibit screeds of testimonials and before and after pictures of the clients they’ve helped transform?

This is an aspect that many new trainers ignore. As a result, they jump into the water, becoming a small fish in an ocean full of sharks – and struggle to attract any attention at all.

Doesn’t it make a lot more sense to, rather than offering to train all comers and enter a huge market that is fiercely competitive, to set yourself up as a specialist in a particular area in a smaller market where you can stand out?

When I started out, I set myself up as an athletic coach for basketball players wanting to develop strength and jumping ability. So I developed a few strength training workouts for beginners.

Within a few months, I had a half dozen teams paying me good money and keeping me very busy.


In order to become a personal trainer, you need to gain the pre-entry CPR AED certificate. Then choose a reputable certifying organization and purchase a study program. Now, work diligently to pass the final exam.

With certificate in hand, decide on what type of personal trainer you want to be. Then, follow the tips provided to secure a position and share your passion with the public.

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