How to make money as a personal trainer in 2022 - Full guide

Welcome to the ultimate Trainer Academy career breakdown on how to make money as a personal trainer.

While making a living as a personal trainer might seem overwhelming when you are just starting out, rest assured, you can achieve financial success through personal training.

In this article, we look at the following aspects of what to to do to make money as a personal trainer.

Traditional employment options for personal trainers
Making money with online training
Marketing yourself as a personal trainer

By the time you are finished reading, you will know all the ins and outs of how to make money as a personal trainer.

Let’s dive in!

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Working for a Gym

Once you’re certified through one of the industry’s best personal trainer certifications, you have officially become a personal trainer. You’ve studied hard and passed an exam from one of the major NCCA-accredited certifications. Now, you need a place to train people. One the simplest and easiest ways to get started is to work for a commercial, or big box, gym.

Commercial Gym

When you train people at a public gym, you are generally working directly for that company (LAFitness, Equinox, Planet Fitness, etc.) and you are hired as a part-time or full-time employee generally (or in some small cases a private contractor). If the gym has insurance they may handle that end of the spectrum or you may have to provide your own basic coverage. For the most part, you have to provide very little except your services, which makes this a great way to get your foot in the door and start working as a fitness trainer. And if you’re wondering do you need a personal trainer certification to work in a big box gym, the answer is yes.

Here are a few pros and cons of working as a personal trainer for a commercial gym:

Pros

  1. Great starting off point

This is a great way to begin your training journey because you are in charge of very little so you can focus on getting good at providing an excellent quality of service to clientele. 

  1. Access to new clients

Commercial gyms have many members who come in every day to use the facilities or take classes. This is a wide pool of possible people to train and depending on the gym, often you will be given new clients. Whoever runs the gym wants you to succeed, because the more sessions you have, the more money they make. 

  1. Free gym membership

A big box gym will be fully equipped with all the equipment you need to stay fit yourself and you can go anytime to workout.

  1. Low level of business skills needed

When you work for another company, they handle most of the business end of things. You still need good bookkeeping, good itemization for your taxes and your own side of your personal training business, but that’s all you have to focus on: yourself. 

Cons:

  1. Price for your training is fixed (and often they get most of it)

The gym you are employed by is going to set the price of your sessions, so there is no way for you to raise your rates as demand for your services skyrockets once people know how good of a fitness professional you are. Different gyms will pay different rates, but they always take some of your income so check the average personal trainer salary of employees at a few different gyms before you go with one. Most commercial gyms will keep anywhere from ½ to ⅔ of whatever the session cost is for themselves, because that’s how they make money. So often you work hard to bring in $6,000 of sales in a week and end up with only $1,980 of that income before taxes. When you take the time to become a personal trainer, you want to keep as much of your earnings as possible, so this can become frustrating.

  1. Pressure to sell and hit targets 

Many gyms have sales quotas you need to meet every week and it can be a competitive atmosphere that may not be right for everyone. Also, because you are only taking home a small portion of the total income you are generating, you will place more pressure on yourself to do as many sessions as you can per week, which over time is exhausting. 

  1. You have to follow their rules 

Whenever you work for a company, you have to follow their guidelines. Sometimes there will be strange rules, especially in larger gyms, that do not seem to make sense. 

Private Gym

If you decide you want to train clients in a gym and want to do it at a private facility, either that’s going to mean you work directly for the owner’s company or you have a private arrangement with the owner to use his space for a nominal fee. 

This too comes with positives and drawbacks. 

Pros:

  1. Generally, you will make more per session.

If you work for the owner of the gym, that means you are on his staff of trainers, which will pay much better than you would make in a public gym. If you are only using the owner’s space to train clients, you just have to pay whatever base fee you’ve arranged and then you take home the rest of the session fee. 

  1. You have a little more freedom than in a public gym.

Private facilities are usually much more open-minded when it comes to you doing your own thing. Because there are fewer people in the gym, you have a lot more latitude when it comes to choosing equipment and workouts. 

Cons:

  1. You have to bring in your own clients

While in a big box gym you can find people to train based on the hundreds of people who show up everyday to workout, in a private gym the population is much more limited and you’re required to bring outside clients in to workout rather than selling on the gym floor or calling leads who’ve come in to use the gym for a day pass. This option is much better for those trainers who already have a good client base. 

  1. Harder to find and you may have to intern at this facility before working there

Whether you are on the official staff list for a private gym or you just train people there this arrangement is a little more complex to set-up. Most of these gyms do not have a ton of staff, and for you to add your name to that list gives you some exclusivity, but also can take some time and effort.

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Working for Yourself (Self-employed) 

If you have the energy and ability to go it alone, there are tremendous upsides to controlling every aspect of your own business. You can set your agenda everyday and become your own boss, but you still need a location to train your many clients. Here are some options.

Open your own facility

This takes a lot of work, unless you rent out a space that’s already a gym. Once that groundwork is laid out, you get to control what happens in your gym, for better or worse, and take home all the income after you pay your overhead costs.

Pros:

  1. It’s all yours. You get to keep all the revenue.

When you work for yourself, you get to hold onto all of the income from your client sessions and any money the business brings in, so the earning potential is huge,  Also, if you build a nice enough business, other people are going to want to come work for you and then you can make even more income than just you by yourself. You can also rent out your space to others and make money that way. 

  1. Unlimited access to equipment.

You get to pick what sort of training gear you want in your gym and there’s no waiting around to use a machine or a rack or set of dumbbells. 

  1. Some clients like the privacy of being the only person in the gym. 

Some people love the atmosphere and community of being in a big large gym with many people, but just as many people find it intimidating or distracting to work out around other people. There’s an exclusivity of being one of the few people in the gym that will make exercisers feel special. 

Cons:

  1. It’s all yours. You have to buy and maintain all the equipment and those costs.

This is a huge responsibility (unless you rent a space) and is going to require a lot of wherewithal and capital to get going. Once you find a space, buy or rent the equipment, you then have to keep all the equipment of your fitness business working in good and safe condition.

  1. It might be pretty costly and time consuming to start.

There are ways to save money at first by getting used equipment, but even just finding a location for your business is going to take a huge amount of time.

  1. You are responsible for everything, including bringing in the clients to make revenue. 

Not only do you have to find, build, and maintain the environment these training sessions take place in, you have to build a base of clientele and do the personal trainer job description basics: sped hours training your clients every week, along with programming your their workout plans as well. This option is only for the more advanced level of trainer who has a good base of knowledge and experience both as a trainer and a small business owner. 

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Train outdoors

This option is a great way to get started with Personal Training clients outside the gym. You find a local park, beach, or public space to meet your clients at and use that location as your “gym” along with any pieces of equipment you bring. 

Pros:

  1. Easy to get started.

Whatever city you live in, there are parks or beaches closeby, they provide plenty of space for your workouts, and often they will already have fitness equipment in them. You may have to do a little bit of scouting to find the best option for you, but after that you are good to go, and the public park services will take care of the space, you just have to train people. 

  1. Training outside is fun. 

Often people who do not like the stuffy environment of the gym will love the open air freedom of outside exercise. Visually, parks are prettier than the gym and it has been shown that access to sunlight improves mood and hormone levels. 

Cons:

  1. Less access to equipment.

Parks may have pull-up bars or some basic machines, but mostly, you have to carry your own equipment, which will limit the workouts you can do. For most average clients, this drawback can be overcome with your own creativity, but if you have a client who wants to work on bringing up his Back Squat, a park is not the right place. 

  1. Less privacy and you have to double-check the safety of location

When you choose a public location for your private personal training session, you have to be cognizant of the fact that you are in a shared space. Parks or beaches attract all sorts of people and that may become distracting to you or your client. As a personal trainer, you are responsible for creating a safe environment for your clients to work in. Be proactive and check the ground you’ll be using and the weather that day. You may need to bring mats, sunscreen, water or even cancel the session if the temperature is unsafe or there is rain or snow. 

  1. Some clients like being in “the gym.”

Every client has different needs. Some love working out outdoors, but others like the atmosphere of the gym and just will not want to train at the beach or a park. 

Train clients at their home 

Another great option is training clients at their actual home. They may have a home gym or access to one if they live in an apartment complex with a shared facility. 

Pros:

  1. Clients don’t have to travel to you.

People love not having to commute any farther than what they already have to do on a daily basis. Especially, when you are working with someone who has a busy schedule, this can be a great option. 

Cons:

  1. You have to travel to clients.

This choice is easier on the client, but harder on you and your commute. It is going to mean more travel time, more gas costs, more risks of you getting into an accident as you rush from home to home, training different clientele. 

  1. Less equipment unless the client has a fully loaded gym.

Most of the people you train will not have a full gym in their basement and even most apartment gyms are limited to a few pieces of cardio equipment and a small rack of dumbbells. This, just like the outside training-option, will limit your workouts to an extent.

Note: If a client has access to any gym that already provides personal trainer services, they will not allow you to train your clients there. 

Online personal training

You can also train or be a fitness coach online via a webcam. If you want to become a successful online trainer, consider these pros and cons.

Pros:

  1. You can train someone anywhere

In this case you can be anywhere and your client can be anywhere. You could train someone while they are in a different country or while you are on the road. This leads you to an endless variety of clients and ways to train them. 

  1. Very convenient for you, travel-wise

There is no commute. This means you can train clients all day with minimal set-up. 

Cons:

  1. Much harder to coach than in-person

This is where things get tricky. When you become an online trainer, coaching cues have to be incredibly tight and on-point when you cannot physically interact with your client. Also both you and the client need to be proficient at setting up the camera so that it has a good field of view so you both can see each other well. 

  1. You are limited by what equipment/space the client has

In all of the other options, you pick and make sure the equipment used in your sessions is well designed and cared for. In this case you can suggest equipment options for your client to purchase, but sometimes you are left with whatever weights or machines the client has available to them. 

  1. Your client really has to trust you and you have to trust them 

When you work with someone one-on-one in person, it becomes easy to learn a lot of information about them really quickly, based on human self-awareness and you have a lot more control of the situation. When you train someone over a video feed, you lose a lot of that information, and ability to react in the given moment. If your client decides to pick a weight that is too heavy for them you cannot jump in to save them.

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Marketing Yourself 

As a fitness professional, in order to make money, you have to attract clients who will pay for your services. Here are some tips to help you find and hold onto business. 

  1. Referrals 

Once you have a few clients who love working with you, ask them if any of their friends, co-workers, or family need any help reaching their fitness goals as well. You can also provide incentives to clients who refer you, like “a free personal training session,” or “a free workout template.” 

  1. Client retention 

This is incredibly important. Once you have a client who you are working with on a weekly, daily, or monthly basis, you have a new consistent source of revenue. This is almost-passive income; money you do not have to go out and find. Make sure that the services you are provided are top notch and that you treat this client well, because the longer you train them, the more you will be able to help them improve their fitness, the more they will want to refer you to their friends, and the more income you will generate as your client base grows. 

  1. Group classes and bootcamps

Personal training can be an expensive proposition for many people, and classes or fitness bootcamps can provide an alternative for those who can’t afford a full-time personal trainer or those who just like working out with their friends. These classes can also be a viable way to attract larger groups of people, potential clients, some of whom will later decide they want to get a more personalized approach and do personal training sessions with you instead. Something to note here is that while the skills of being a personal trainer are very similar to teaching a group class, they are not the same. Being an instructor in a class setting requires a lot more energy than one-on-one coaching and some people do not naturally have the right type of personality to become a fitness instructor who can teach an exciting, engaging bootcamp or small group.

  1. Packages vs sessions method

You can either charge clients per session or sell packages of multiple sessions at once. The packaged deal is generally a better method if you are trying to attract a new client because you can get them to pay for multiple sessions at once at a reduced rate, which guarantees your income ahead of time and motivates them to come back for another training session. The sessions method is much better for clients who you have already worked with for a while, because you know you are going to see them next week because that’s what happens every week, and there’s no reason to buy huge packages at once and reduce the cost of your services.  

  1. Find your niche

There are a lot of fitness professionals out there and it helps to differentiate your skills from those around you. Not only will this attract more clients to you, but it will attract the right type of clients. If you enjoy training people who are new to fitness, then specialize in that field and market yourself that way. The same thing applies if you love working with powerlifters. Plus, when you specialize it will force you to hone in your knowledge on that particular field, how to coach it correctly, which will be of further service to your clientele. The personal trainer job outlook is good, but it’s also crowded so make your mark!

Additional Ways to Make Money as a Personal Trainer

As a trainer you have your income which comes from actual training sessions, but if you want to add in some more passive income, consider creating your own training systems or products and selling them to your client base, either in person or online. 

Sell your products online 

  1. Online programs

Create an online fitness training program that gives people the tools to improve their own health and wellbeing. This takes a fair amount of work to set-up, but once you have it in place, the upside earning potential is unlimited. This can be an individualized training plan or a template for people to follow. 

  1. Create an online meal plan

Consider picking up one of the nutritional certifications to add to your arsenal. You can then be a one-stop-shop for clients, combining your nutrition coach salary along with your training. When you become a nutrition coach you can make a meal plan for someone to follow based on their own fitness goals. Include recipes that you have used to help your clients and guidelines for macro and micro-nutrients. If you want to focus more on working with athletes, you could look into the sports nutrition certifications as well.

Use social media 

  1. Market your training sessions and use social media for referrals

When you help a client achieve a new landmark of fitness, celebrate it on Instagram or Tiktok. Have the people you work with share posts about their own fitness journey. Create a community within your clients through a shared Facebook group. Make posts with quarterly specials or deals. 

  1. Get a brand partnership or sponsorship/affiliate marketing 

Reach out to companies who have products or supplements you would use or like to showcase on your social media. Once you have a greater presence online, brands will want to work with you. Companies are always looking for new influencers who can help them reach a wider audience. 

  1. Start a fitness blog, newsletter, or youtube channel 

This is a great way to put out instructional material for free, or for a low subscription cost, which will help bring more people into your audience. 

Expand your fitness knowledge

Even though each NCCA CPT certification will cover the basics, each certifying organization is going to contain different levels of informational content in certain areas and if you have an idea of what you want to focus on as a trainer it might helpful to pick the right organization for the content you want and read about what people think of their specific fitness certifications.

For example, most NASM reviews agree that this organization has a strong base in correctional movements and is one of the most popular. If you go with that certification, make sure to use a good NASM CPT study guide and NASM practice test, because the re-test fees are expensive.

When you compare NASM vs ACE, remember that ACE has a really good focus on exercise behavioral psychology and motivational techniques.

While ACE does have some good exam prep material through their courses, you may also want an extra ACE guide and an ACE practice exam.

If you’re considering NASM vs ISSA, then look at ISSA reviews, which usually mention that ISSA has really good content regarding building a personal trainer business and marketing yourself.

Choosing NASM vs NSCA is another option, with the NSCA having the most in depth information on training athletes of all the major certifications.

And if you want to really take the extra step and focus on sports training seriously, look into the NSCA CSCS cert. At Trainer Academy we have a good CSCS practice test and CSCS study guide to help you pass that more challenging certification exam.

You may even want to pursue an exercise science career at a higher level and get a masters degree or one of the strength and conditioning certifications or a master trainer certification.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Conclusion

Once you get your personal training certification and decide you want to begin coaching people there are so many unique and wonderful ways to make an income for yourself.

The simplest way to get started and get some experience under your belt is going to be to start working for a commercial gym where you can meet many potential clients and really learn the basics of what it means to be a qualified trainer. After at least a few months of that, you should consider some of the other options available to you as a fitness professional. 

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