How to Become a Personal Trainer (In 8 Steps)

According to statistics, working as a personal trainer is the 18th most enjoyable job title in the US based on living standards.

It’s also important to remember that as a personal trainer, you are as much a caregiver as you are an entrepreneur.

In order to jump into the illustrious and potentially lucrative career, you need to have a passion for fitness, the personality traits to deal and care for people, and the business acumen to run a smooth operation.

Before putting these skills into practice, you need to follow several steps in order to cultivate the knowledge and technical know-how essential to personal training and health coaching.

This article is going to guide you through those steps, so with that said, let’s jump straight into it.

How to become a personal trainer

1. Prerequisites

Before you even think of becoming a qualified PT, you need to, well, get qualified… duh!

But even before getting qualified, you need to fulfill some basic obligations known as prerequisites.

A prerequisite, if you don’t already know, is a condition, criteria, or qualification you must adhere to before being granted access to a chosen pursuit.

In this case, the prerequisites we are referring to are the ones that allow you to gain the necessary qualifications, which are themselves, requirements for you to be allowed to work as a PT.

Be Passionate

In our opinion, the first real important prerequisite, and we guess this goes for anything in life, is the desire and passion for health and fitness.

You need to be an example of health and fitness and this shows through your own passion and practical application in your own life. 

If you are out of shape, out of breath, and eat like crap, it makes little sense that you’d immediately feel prepared to pursue a career where you’re fixing those very problems for other people.

So to this end, the first prerequisite, albeit an informal and unofficial one, is to find passion in fitness and apply it to your own life. 

Practice what you preach, walk it as you talk it!

Age

The first truly formal prerequisite is one that concerns your age.

For most PT qualifications, whether that’s a certification, diploma or degree, you need to be at least 18 years of age.

At this age, most people will have developed some degree of adult sensibility and responsibility, and of course, will have learned the basic skills of independent life.

Being of age correlates closely with the next prerequisite.

Secondary Education

The next important prerequisite is that you hold a high school diploma or equivalent secondary education qualification.

This simply means you have the right level of literacy and basic knowledge required to tackle the scientific and technical aspects of health and fitness education.

Having a secondary education diploma also shows that you are battle ready when it comes to hunkering down for studying and taking challenging tests.

Primary Responder Certifications

Primary response certifications are crucial prerequisites when it comes to beginning your journey of certification/qualification in fitness.

That’s because prescribing and directing exercises or any physical activity brings with it a degree of medical risk.

Your clients may suffer an injury or an unexpected medical emergency. As a person who is providing care and elevating the state of other people’s health, it is also important to be in a position to do exactly that in a worst-case scenario.

You also need your primary emergency responder certifications for your own legal and insurance protection.

First Aid, CPR, and AED certificates need to be regularly renewed in order to remain current.

2. Qualifications and Certifications

Now let’s look at the actual certifications that will allow you to gain the authenticity to operate as a fitness professional. We’ll look at the different types of qualifications and where they would be applicable in a career in fitness.

Certified Personal Trainer

The most fundamental, popular, and easy to obtain qualification for a career in fitness is the good old PT cert.

It is often indicated as the “CPT” certification of any given certifying agency, for example, “ACE CPT” or “NASM CPT”, although different institutions may have different ways of abbreviating it.

A CPT cert is typically the tentpole qualification of any institution or agency that certifies trainers.

It provides entry into the fundamentals of health and fitness science and prescription.

Common topics you will gain knowledge in through a CPT cert include:

  • Basic anatomy and biomechanics
  • Cell and tissue biology and biochemistry
  • Exercise science and practice
  • Nutrition and diet coaching
  • Program design

A cert in this category will require recertification every couple of years or so in order to remain current and knowledgeable.

Most employment opportunities will require that you get certified before even applying for a job.

Some of the most popular and industry-accepted certifications come from the following:

  • NASM
  • ACE
  • ISSA
  • ACSM
  • NSCA

Certification will cost you anything between $100 to $1000, making it the cheapest way to qualify.

Vocational College

A vocational college, also known as a trade school, is a college-like, short term course aimed at developing your practical and technical capabilities as a PT.

Unlike a certification, which equips you mainly with theoretical know-how, vocational training delves into health and fitness prescription in a more nuanced way, giving you the skills to operate in all aspects of the trade as a trainer.

Learning at a vocational college happens in-person with an expert in the fitness field guiding you through it all.

Vocational colleges are sort of an in-between of certification and getting a college degree.

This is also true in the way they are priced, often coming in between $10k – $20k per course.

University or College Degree

The University of college degrees is at the top end of possible qualifications as you would imagine.

They are the most in-depth, focused, and knowledge-rich approaches to fitness.

A degree is also the most expensive way to qualify for a job in health and fitness, but it also opens up way more doors than anything else.

Top income earners in the industry typically have a degree such as a bachelor’s or masters in sports medicine, kinesiology, physiotherapy, nutrition science, and dietetics… the list goes on.

But the bottom line is having a degree as a credential is an immediate power play with potential work opportunities.

Some specialist qualifications actually require that you have a college degree before you can obtain them.

Specialist Certification

We’ve gone over the standard CPT certifications and how that’s a great entry point as far as qualifications are concerned.

Now, let’s look at specialization, and what sorts of certifications you can get in specific areas of focus.

One category of specialization is special populations. He is an area in the fitness field that focuses on clients or population groups with very specific needs, goals, and sensitivities.

From disabled people, all the way to elite professional athletes, specialization in a unique population group is a popular way to hone in and niche down on a particular market segment.

Certifications such as the NSCA CSCS are top tier examples of a unique population group specialist certification, in this case, focusing on strength and conditioning in professional sports.

Another common area of specialty and one that we highly recommend is nutrition. Nutrition is an inseparable component of good health and fitness prescription, so we strongly suggest you get some form of nutrition-specific credential in your repertoire.

There are many more specializations. Discipline-specific things like yoga and pilates are an example, then others with broader focuses such as body transformation and group fitness also come into play.

The choice is yours. It all depends on what you are good at and where you want to take your fitness career.

About Accreditation

Another important consideration when discussing certifications specifically is accreditation.

Accreditation is a certification’s certification, that is to say, in the same way, you need a cert to gain authentic recognition, a cert needs to pass the grade in terms of industry standards.

Its a form of quality control and is granted by a body controlled by high-level experts and decision-makers, the gatekeepers so-to-speak.

When it comes to certification, there are two accrediting bodies you need to keep an eye on when going for a certification.

These are the NCCA and DEAC.

Most recognized certs are accredited by the NCCA, with exception to ISSA, which is approved of by DEAC.

Both these bodies hold legitimate weight when it comes to authenticity, but NCCA definitely has the edge due to the number of certifying institutions backed by its seal.

There are tons of non-accredited courses and certs on the internet. You can take these for sure, but you’ll only be able to count them as an educational experience at the most since they will not be industry-recognized.

Supplementary Skills

While you certainly need to have your fitness-specific qualifications in order, we also suggest you supplement these credentials with qualifications that will build you into a complete entrepreneur.

A certification, course, diploma, or degree in a practical field like sales, marketing, or business management will serve you tremendously as a personal trainer.

In most cases, you’re operating as your own business, so best to equip yourselves with all that you can to be able to nail a great business operation.

3. Exam Prep and Date

For this section, we’re going to deal specifically with certification through an accredited agency and the examination process therein.

Once you’ve purchased your course and it’s relevant study material, its time to begin preparing for the big day.

Most courses come with a variety of different study material categories. Let’s break them down real quick:

Course textbook

The main component of any study material package is the course textbook. This is where all the stuff you’re actually learning and will apply in the exam and beyond can be located.

Needless to say, most of your attention should go into understanding its contents.

Practice Tests/Exams/Quizzes

These mock assessments are created to resemble the final exam you’ll be taking once its time to get down to it.

They are either shorter than the actual exam or are full-length exam-style papers.

Most of the questions in these tests are from past exams or modified versions of potential current exam questions.

They are designed to expose you to the conditions you can expect when writing the actual test, and allow you to sharpen your skills and build the mental toughness required to succeed.

Try scoring well above the passing grade consistently, say 85% at least on each attempt to guarantee success when it comes down to it.

Study Guides/Work Books

Workbooks or study guides are summarized booklets based around the key concepts found in the main textbook. 

These books are meant to help you hone in on the most significant aspects of the course material and ensure that you have grasped what you need to grasp from the textbook.

Study guides often assess your competence by using fill-in-the-blank type assessments and often can be seen as gratifying the stud and exam prep process for more engaging retention of information.

Workshops, Clinics, and Virtual Lectures

Many certifications offer more interactive study options that will have you engage in activities such as workshops and even live training.

Most common, however, is virtual lecture libraries such as video or audio guides.

These forms of studying allow you to experience your coursework in a way that resembles in-person training, which allows for an extra dimension of knowledge retention.

Structuring your studies

It is important to try and structure your studying in a way that lets you make use of time efficiently and effectively.

Having a schedule, and breaking up your study into chunks and timed milestones allow you to progress comfortably and avoid the stress of last-minute cramming.

Here at trainer academy, we actually provide study blueprints for most major certifications in order to help you structure your study and prep effectively.

Third-party Study Resources

To be quite honest, many of the study material packages that come standard with certification registration are lackluster.

They provide only the bare minimum, which in some cases, only includes the textbook.

That’s why at Trainer Academy, we’ve taken most of the major exams and broken them down to create the most comprehensive study packages for any major certification.

Flashcards, anatomy guides, mnemonic charts and cheat sheets that allow you to quickly and effectively digest the mounds of knowledge needed to succeed, all structured into a nifty study schedule.

You could go at it on your own, but we suggest you get a little help from experts who have done the certs for you.

The Exam

Now that you’ve waxed all the prep and studying necessary, its time to get to it and take that test.

Different certifying agencies have different exam practices, but the general procedure is that you pay for your exam (usually included in the entire course fee), then you register for it by picking a date within the allotted time frame from registration, then finally, you find a suitable location to write your exam if it is a proctored one.

In some cases, such as ISSA, everything is done completely online, so the only step necessary is payment and registration.

Once writing the exam, the procedure in that also varies based on the certifying agency in question.

The amount of time, if any at all, the number of questions and the passing grade are not a fixed constant, so make sure whichever cert you go for, you are well aware of these specifics.

4. Passing The Exam

Passing the exam is your goal. Most cert exams have a passing grade of 70%, but this can vary, so again, check the specific criteria of the exam you’re chosen.

Different certifications also have different levels of difficulty. For instance, ISSA has a pass rate of 81% while NSCA has one of 54% at the time of writing.

The difficulty of the exam is something to consider as a factor in deciding which course is for you, so weigh this important tidbit out as well.

If you don’t pass the first time around, which is common for the more difficult certs such as NASM and NSCA, you can retake the paper for a nominal fee.

After failing, you will ordinarily need to wait a minimum cool-down period in which you can prepare again and brush up on the areas you were lacking.

On your next attempt, after passing, of course, you are now ready to step into your brave new world as a fitness pro.

5. Designing Your Kick-ass Resume

Job hunting is a job in itself and requires you to extend both your technical prowess as well as your personality in order to get the gig.

One valuable asset you will need in order to get a shot at a job in fitness, or any job for that matter is a killer resume.

A resume is a record of your attributes, accolades, and credentials that stand to qualify you for a given position.

Either as a representation to potential employers or as a testament to prospective clients.

So how do you put together a winning resume?

Let’s take a look at a few simple steps.

Be Brief, But Include Everything

When writing a winning CV, you want to make sure you have all the relevant info, but at the same time, you also want to make it as short a read as possible.

Just imagine, your would-be employer is probably sifting through tons of resumes per day, and the mental will to read long swathes of text probably doesn’t exist given that.

At the same time, you also want to make sure you give them all you’ve got in terms of skills, experience, and credentials.

Make it skimmable but informative.

Make It Modern and Eye Catching

A mistake many people seem to make when putting together a resume is they try and make it too formal and clinical.

The birth of the modern CV is stooped in this tradition of having a formal, corporate document that simply lists skills and credentials with a brief motivational cover letter and perhaps a few references.

Those were the old days. Today, many corporate environments have adopted a more fresh, loose collared approach to the way work culture is handled, including what they look for in new hires. Take that and add the fact that fitness is an inherently fun and upbeat environment.

For this reason, it would be valuable to make your resume pop with some personality and modern flair. Make it attractive and allow it to tell a story rather than just read off a bunch of listed facts.

Use images, icons, and colors just as much as you use words, facts, and figures. In other words, your resume is a personal brand manual as much as it is a list of qualities.

Of course, you still should maintain a degree of seriousness and structure, too much flair and funk and it will just come across goofy and try-hardy.

It might be a great idea to get a graphic designer with some creative copywriting chops to help you put the layout together.

Make It Mobile Friendly

In this day and age, it’s likely that you will be sending your resume in electronic form. It’s also very likely that it will be read on a mobile device.

The days when important documents were predominantly printed are gone.

Electronic reading, especially on more portable devices such as tablets and smartphones is the in thing, make your resume adaptable.

6. Jumping Into The Job Market and Acing Interviews

With your sparkly new resume done and dusted, its time to present yourself.

Once your application has been considered, you will most likely be asked in for an interview with whoever is in charge of hiring at the gym, health club, or performance center you signed up for.

Interviews can be nerve-wracking, so it’s important to keep your cool while also confidently displaying your value.

Here are a few useful ways you can navigate this daunting step.

Do Your Research

The first part of your interview happens before you even set foot in front of your prospective employer, and that’s researching the gym.

Each place of employment has its own unique history, values, principles, and business practices.

Its brand stands for something and its corporate structure has a unique method.

You also need to learn about your potential position and what will be required of you so you can represent clearly why you’d be the right person to hire.

Practice Answering Potential Questions

When it comes to job interviews, there are certain generic questions you will more than likely encounter during the process.

You can put your best foot forward by practicing how you would answer these beforehand.

Here’s a quick rundown of questions you will likely be asked so you can get cracking:

  • Are you willing to travel?
  • Do you believe you are overqualified for this role?
  • Do you work well under pressure? 
  • How fit would you rate yourself?
  • Please talk to me through your resume?
  • What is your best on the job skill? 
  • What do you consider to be good leadership skills?
  • What do you find interesting about this gym?
  • What do you know about the fitness industry?
  • What do you know about us?
  • What is the name of our CEO?
  • What is your conflict resolution strategy? 
  • What is your definition of success?
  • What is your dream career? 
  • What is your greatest personal achievement?
  • What is your work experience?
  • What made you interested in this position?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What value can you offer the company? 
  • When did you find your passion for fitness
  • Where do you see yourself in 5  years?
  • Who are our competitors?
  • Who was your favorite manager and why?
  • Why are you the right person for this job?
  • Why did you choose a career in fitness?
  • Would you be willing to work nights and weekends?

Get Familiar with the STAR model

The STAR model, short for Situation, Task, Action, Result, is a common behavioral aptitude assessment many hiring personnel will use to evaluate your ability to handle common, or even less common workplace scenarios.

You will be presented with a scenario, to which your response will be assessed through how you describe the task you would need to execute, the actions you would take to do that, and the result of those actions.

STAR assessments are usually slipped in covertly as one of your regular old interview questions, so just be alert and watch out for the patterns.

Dress to Impress

Presentation matters when heading into an interview. When it comes to dress-code, you have to match the mood of the job you’re gunning for.

That means your best bet for a job in fitness is smart casual.

You might be tempted to wear a business suit, but this is definitely the wrong crowd for that, 

The key to dressing up for an interview is to dress appropriately, not just smart.

7. Polishing Your Skills and Experience

It’s important to learn that you never stop learning.

Once you get the job, you need to be on a constant path of improvement and development.

Knowing how to coach is more than just understanding scientific principles and applying them to programs or plans. 

There are many other moving parts that need to come together in order for you to deliver the best results and experience for your clients.

Fitness Assessment

Some of these skills include:

You need to develop a keen sense of where each of your clients is in terms of their current fitness levels.

This will allow you to effectively develop the right protocols and plans for the intended results.

Sharpening this skill helps you cut down time and get straight to work on improving lives. 

It also allows you to pinpoint potential weaknesses, risk factors, and contraindications that could result in medical emergencies.

Communication

Being a personal trainer is heavily reliant on fostering good relationships with people, these relationships are heavily reliant on quality communication.

As you engage with more and more clients, pay attention to how you communicate and improve with time.

Your main goal is to listen and then deliver appropriate feedback. From a trainer’s perspective, your role as a communicator is to gather data and offer guidance and support.

Learning rich communication skills such as NLP can also boost your ability to relay information back and forth much more effectively. 

Leadership

This sort of carries forward for communication. Having a role as a PT makes you a leader by default.

In order to be a great leader, you need to be prepared, but also able to react to unexpected situations at the drop of a hat.

Taking initiative, being proactive and conveying confidence is key in instilling the correct sense of authority you will need to push and motivate clients

Another key trait of leadership is to lead by example, not just by command.

Be the change you want to promote in your clients.

Analytical Thinking

As a trainer, communicator, and leader, you must be able to observe on an analytical level. Often, the most important things people communicate are non-verbal.

By paying close attention to your client’s behavioral patterns and non-verbal cues, you can paint a more detailed picture of what needs to be done and gather a considerable amount of extra data.

Nutrition and Weight Management

A common trend within the fitness prescription business is that many trainers forego, or just undervalue the importance of nutrition and weight management coaching.

Simply administering exercise is not enough. Results depend on the habits at home, and as they say, gains are made in the kitchen.

Being able to coach nutrition as effectively, if not more so than exercise is the key to the results both you and your clients are aiming for.

Exercise Mechanism

It goes without saying that as a PT, you need to have a deep knowledge of exercise mechanisms.

That means not just knowing a whole bunch of different exercises, but actually being able to understand the mechanics and appropriate application of each.

8. Maintaining Your Credentials

As a certified trainer, you need to keep educating yourself.

Not only is this a good way to keep your skills and knowledge sharp, its actually a mandatory requirement.

When it comes to PT certs, you will need to renew your credentials every couple of years or so, depending on the criteria of your given cert.

In between the recertification period, you will need to rack up credits that display your continued engagement with your work as a trainer.

These credits, known as continuing education units, or CEUs, are gained through participating in sanctioned activities relevant to health and fitness practice.

These include:

  • Attending workshops and clinics
  • Taking courses or other certifications
  • Assessments and tests

Each cert requires a specific number of CEUs before you can be allowed to renew your certification.

You will also be required to pay a recertification fee at the end of each renewal cycle.

Conclusion

Journeying into the world of professional fitness is not for everyone, but if these 8 steps to success excite you, then you are probably one of the few who has a shot at making it happen.

If you’ve decided to jump into fitness, or are already on your way in and ready to certify, feel free to make use of our awesome study solutions that guarantee success.

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