Personal Trainer Salary: Online vs In-person; who earns more?

Times have changed big time, and with that comes the need for many to pivot their career aspirations towards different directions.

One area many are looking at plying their trade nowadays is the health and wellness sector, especially within the fitness industry.

A pertinent question you might be asking yourself if you do happen to be one of these people is how much would you earn as a personal trainer in the first place?

Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to look at in this article, so buckle up, we’re going in.

Personal Trainer Salary 2

The Average PT Earnings

The earnings you can expect as a fitness professional vary tremendously across the board.

There are so many factors and variables that influence earning potential for personal trainers, so it’s important not to get fixated on a number before working out the actual inputs and outputs.

According to a market survey conducted by ACE. average earnings for personal trainers have gone up by 12% since 2010.

In the same survey, statistics indicate that personal trainers earn $52,333/year on average, with an average hourly rate of $26/hour.

Other job titles such as Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach show an annual average of $52,848 and $51,219 respectively.

As I mentioned, there are so many variables and factors that influence these figures.

So what factors and variables do end up affecting income figures for personal trainers?

Location

Location, location, location.

You’ve heard that one before. In the case of PT income, it’s one of the most crucial factors.

That’s because your location will determine several factors that all play into how much you could make as a fitness pro.

The first thing a location will decide is population size.

The number of people in your area will affect how much money you can make, its certainly a numbers game.

When it comes to population, you aren’t just looking at the headcount, you also want to look at population density.

Population density is the number of people per given area. This figure is measured as people per square mile.

It’s more useful to look at areas form a density perspective rather than a total number.

Another thing location determines is the income bracket of its inhabitants, and the income bracket will influence how many people are likely to pay for your services as well as how much you can realistically charge them.

So the more affluent your area is, the more people you’re likely to nab as clients, and the more they will be able to fork out.

In fact, the ability to charge more goes up exponentially with the level of affluence or LSM (Living Standard Measure).

That’s because wealthier people with more assets and disposable income tend to take pride in being able to pay for the best and most exclusive service, and they usually determine how good something is based on how much it costs.

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According to ACE, the top-earning location is North Western United States ( Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana) with the Southwest coming in a close second (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, and Texas).

Across these regions, we see an income split based on qualification an specialization.

In the Northwest region, average annual earns are:

  • Personal Trainer: $56,281
  • Group Fitness Instructor: $76,565
  • Advanced Certification: $47,162 

In the Southwest:

  • Personal Trainer: $60,120
  • Group Fitness Instructor: $56,331
  • Advanced Certification: $58,884

From this data, we can tell that average income location stats also vary based on credentials and scope of activity.

Being a PT is most lucrative in the Southwest while being a group fitness instructor is the go-to career path in the Northwest.

That then brings us to the actual qualifications, which ones you need, and what the income looks like for each type.

Credentials that affect one’s PT salary

Before you even think of becoming a personal trainer, you need to train to qualify as one.

And your qualification should be one that is accepted and industry-recognized.

Credentials allow potential employers, clients, and collaborators to verify and authenticate your value and trustworthiness as an experienced trainer.

Having the right qualifications also allows you access to important insurance, legal protection, and business resources.

So what sort of qualifications or credentials should you look at as a trainer?

Well, to answer that question, you first need to think about what you actually want to accomplish in the fitness world.

Are you simply a fitness instructor, someone who will monitor and correct workout sessions, or are you a full-on coach who will design programs, track progress over time and also do the same from a nutritional perspective?

You might have bigger goals, such as working with special population groups like elite athletes or special needs individuals.

Whatever the case, you need to get your paperwork up to code. There are 4 basic types of paperwork you should look at before you embark on your journey as a PT. these will also determine how much you can expect to earn. Let’s take a look.

Prerequisites

Prerequisites are credentials you need to have before you can get the main qualifications.

In fitness, your main qualification is typically a personal trainer certification, and in order to be able to get that, you would normally need a highschool diploma or higher along with being at least 18 years old.

You will also need to get or renew your first responder certificates. These will be your first aid and CPR/AED certs. 

As a caregiver, which is what personal training essentially makes you, you need to be able to deliver the goods as well as deal with the bad, that’s why first aid and CPR are necessary.

Certifications

The next type of credential is certification.

Personal trainer certification is the most common and accepted form of qualification for fitness professionals, but you have to use some discernment when going for a cert.

Firstly, it needs to align with what you want to achieve career-wise. That means not only looking at the certification specialization but also looking at the institution that administers it.

For example, you will need to decide if you want to do group fitness, be a bodybuilding coach, or a rehab specialist. Most certifying agencies have choices within these areas, but some leam more towards certain specializations.

For instance, if you decide you want to be a rehab coach, you would be best off with a NASM certification, and if you wanted a group fitness career, ACE would be the best.

Which cert you go for will also need to take your current circumstances into consideration.

If you are on a tight budget, something like Action CPT would is useful. If you are based outside of North America or do a lot of traveling, a cert from ISSA would be more ideal.

Lastly, a cert needs to come from an accredited institution. Accreditation is the seal of authenticity a certification gets from a governing panel of experts and institutions.

In the US, you should only concern yourself with certs that bear an NCCA or DEAC accreditation. Anything else will likely not be recognized or accepted in the industry.

The highest-earning certification type is a group fitness instructor.

The national annual average for group trainers is $52,848. This is probably due to the mutual value for both trainers and clients, especially with small group fitness.

That’s because, if you decide to go down this route, you can charge individual clients less, while making a higher margin based on volume. It’s a win-win situation.

So if you ask us, we suggest you go at the very least, add group fitness to your repertoire.

At the same time, being a group instructor, especially with small groups doesn’t necessitate a separate cert focused on group fitness.

Where getting a specialized certification might be necessary is when dealing with special population groups.

College/University Degree

The next type of credential you can get is one earned from tertiary education like going to college or university.

These types of qualifications are more in-depth and provide you with the tools and credibility you can expect to find at the top of the fitness food-chain.

A college or university degree is considered an advanced qualification.

Common examples of higher-level degrees include kinesiology, human movement sciences, physiotherapy, sports medicine, nutrition science, and dietetics.

Having an actual degree will set you apart. It shows a level of dedication and commitment that many will see as a mark of reliability.

It will also be necessary for certain situations such as dealing with sensitive population groups, and as a prerequisite to some of the top flight certs such as the NSCA CSCS.

Of course, just like any other college degree, it will be a time and resource-intensive pursuit.

A cert can be obtained in a matter of months or even weeks, but a degree will take you at least a couple of years and a small fortune.

Trainers with college degrees do tend to be at the top of the earning bracket, so its certainly worth considering.

That’s because advanced qualifications give you access to some of the most important jobs in fitness.

The average earnings for Advanced cert holders are $50,833.

Now it’s important to note that while having an advanced qualification presents the opportunity and potential for top earnings, it doesn’t always lead to that as the data shows.

That’s because a lot of people who graduate with health and fitness degrees don’t even enter the fitness industry as we’re describing it. They may go into research, academia, or apply their fitness knowledge in other indirect ways.

That’s why only about half (52%) of advanced cert holders claim it allows them better income opportunities.

Supplementary Qualifications

Supplementing your credentials with useful, but non-essential qualifications can give you an edge.

You can go for something that adds to your repertoire as a trainer as well as something that equips you with the administrative know-how of running a successful operation.

For your trainer bag, you can add a skills specific certification such as a martial art or sport-specific credential. 

For the business end, you can do a course or diploma in marketing, sales, or business management.

These will add value and give you the ability to create viable unique selling points or USPs.

Dance (Zumba), pilates, yoga, and kickboxing are some supplementary qualifications you can pick up owing to the entry barrier in terms of skill and competence, with their relatively high popularity ratings as we’ll see now…

USPs and Niche

On the topic of USPs, it is important that you find an authentic way to stand out from the crowd.

A USP is a unique selling point. a trait, quality or strength that is unique to your business and valuable to the market.

The fitness industry is saturated, that’s an ever-present fact, so in order to make it big, you need to make it different.

Playing to your strengths is one way you can approach building value through differentiation.

If you’re a good writer, provide value through informative, value-driven, and science-backed copy. Maybe through blogging or even publishing books on health and fitness.

Another way of creating a niche is through studying the market carefully, finding a gap, then filling it.

There are many new trends popping up as the appetite for new and exciting ways to do the same thing increases.

Science and research in health and fitness are also unlocking new areas of understanding, exposing unmet needs in health and fitness.

Keep an eye on trends and adapt.

Some of the most popular trends in fitness include:

  • Dance 76%
  • Pilates 70%
  • Kickboxing 69%
  • Resistance Strength Training 61%
  • Aerobics 41%
  • Circuit Training 34%
  • Aquatics 34%

These are more popular in the group fitness setting than on a one-on-one PT basis.

If you look at these popularity ratings, then take into account how group training, especially with small groups, has the potential to skyrocket a PT income, it would be wise to consider this option when figuring out your career path.

How Do Personal Trainers Earn?

Salary

A salary is a fixed monthly income that adds up to a yearly total.

This means you are guaranteed a certain amount of pay no matter what.

As far as salaries go, you will have the possibility of a full-time salary and part-time.

Employment usually happens when you work for a commercial gym.

Full Time

Full-time employment, what you will earn depends on your employer.

Commercial gyms have varying pay structures.

You have gyms like LA Fitness and Planet Fitness paying minimum wage for non-training hours, while upmarket gyms such as Equinox might see trainers pocketing over $150k per year.

Another thing to consider when gunning for a full-time position is what sort of benefits you want.

  • 401K: 17%
  • DENTAL (FULL/PARTIAL COVERAGE): 31% / 27%
  • DISABILITY (LONG/SHORT TIME): 35% / 39%
  • EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM : 29%
  • HEALTH (FULL/PARTIAL COVERAGE): 41% / 27%
  • LIFE INSURANCE: 40%
  • MATERNITY LEAVE: 31%
  • PAID SICK LEAVE: 52%
  • PAID VACATION: 64%
  • VISION (FULL/PARTIAL COVERAGE): 24% / 24%

With most full-time positions, you will get a minimum wage floor salary, then once you actually train members or run classes, your pay will go up based on the commission structure.

Part-Time

Part-time trainers will earn less from their place of employment, but having the extra time means there is a potential to supplement your income.

As far as benefits are concerned, here’s what you can expect as a part-timer:

  • 401K: 5%
  • DENTAL (FULL/PARTIAL COVERAGE): 2% / 4%
  • DISABILITY (LONG/SHORT TIME): 2% / 3%
  • EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM : 3%
  • HEALTH (FULL/PARTIAL COVERAGE): 4% / 6%
  • LIFE INSURANCE: 3%
  • MATERNITY LEAVE: 2%
  • PAID SICK LEAVE: 4%
  • PAID VACATION: 6%
  • VISION (FULL/PARTIAL COVERAGE): 1% / 3%

Self Employed

Self-employment in the fitness world means treating yourself and your skills as a business, a one-man or one-woman operation.

The one big benefit of having self-employment status is that you make your own rules and set your own prices.

That means your income potential can be much greater than if you were employed.

Being self-employed does have its tradeoffs, however.

Firstly, you’ll have to say bye-bye to any employee benefits. You’ll be responsible for your own perks and on-the-job amenities.

Secondly, self-employment means you take on the administrative burdens an employer would normally handle such as marketing, tax, accounting, insurance, legal, and any other day to day admin.

When it comes to self-employment in the fitness business, you will still need infrastructure and equipment to conduct your training.

The most immediate go-to solution is to rent the use of a gym.

Renting a gym means either paying a fixed monthly fee or paying a commission off your earnings.

Another way you can work around facility and equipment access is to do house calls. Have your clients gather the necessary equipment, or have a small inventory of portable essentials like resistance bands and suspension trainers.

1099 Model

The 1099 model sort of sits somewhere between being a self-employed private contractor and being employed by a gym or facility.

How this works is that the gym will contract you as a PT to run sessions with existing members, and instead of paying you a salary, they simply charge a commission based on an agreed split.

Unlike self-employment where you get to set your own pricing structures and service packages, the 1099 model means you have to adhere to the gym’s price points and training models.

All you need to do is show up, conduct the relevant training, then earn your commission.

Because you won’t actually be employed, you would also need to take care of your own taxes and other admin, just as a self-employed trainer would.

Online Coaching

We’ve decided to address online coaching as it’s own separate topic, despite it having relevance in all aspects and job descriptions within the fitness world.

Online coaching entails creating and delivering prescribed health and fitness solutions through and online platform.

There are many ways to do this. Either through a dedicated website, a fitness client management platform or through social media and emails.

As it stands, trainers with an online presence net a higher average income than those without.

The entrepreneurial nature of online coaching means you can earn more by essentially doing less.

On average, an online trainer can make up to $72,436/ year.

This of course depends on many factors, including pricing strategy and brand presence of your training business.

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The average cost of a custom program is between $100 and $200 and the average sales figures range between 5 to 10 units per week.

If you are more popular or your brands are more established, you’ll be able to sell more of course.

Another important factor in the success of online training is maintaining your in-person, offline duties, and clients.

Doing this is often referred to as hybrid training. Either by having online clients and separate real-world clients, or integrating your client’s services with both online and real-world components.

Trainers in this category earn more, approximately $108,436/ year on average.

Since the average in-person earnings are around $58k/ year, you simply need to adjust for the time diverted towards online program design and voila, you have an average income of $36,000.00 for real-world coaching + $72,436.00 for work done online.

Fitness Business

You don’t have to limit yourself to personal training as a fitness professional.

As someone coming into the fitness world, your income and salary can either be something that is predetermined, or something you decide for yourself.

We’ve already seen how this is possible as a self-employed trainer.

But what if you take this a step further?

What if, instead of just working for yourself, by yourself, you could create your own empire and have a whole team help you operate which extends your reach.

Running your own business can be taxing… literally, so in order to set up a fully operational commercial entity, you will need to get your books in order, just as you would as a self-employed trainer, but at a larger, more meticulous scale.

For instance, if you become a gym owner, you will need a slew of administrative fixtures in place to ensure your business is up to code.

These include:

  • Admin Hardware and Software solutions (up to $2,500/year)
  • Commercial Licenses and Business Permits (cost varies)
  • Equipment Costs (approx $50,000 for a fully equipped gym)
  • Facility Costs(approx $3/sq ft)
  • Legal and Insurance ($200/hr up to $15,000.00)
  • Marketing, Sales, and Advertising (varying recurring costs)
  • Payroll (dependant on payment structure and staff number)
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As a business owner, you are no longer self-employed but rather employed by the company you are running.

That means you are back to a fixed monthly income, albeit one you can determine.

That’s why fitness business owners, such as health club owners, net the highest average annual income of any other fitness professional, clocking in at $82,514/year.

According to IHRSA, there are approx 111,055 fitness businesses in the US.

As far as commercial gym franchises, there are about 9,997. In this capacity, fitness has seen $36billion in revenue in 2019, with franchises accounting for $4billion.

If you want to get into the business of running a gym or business, there are some serious pros and cons to weigh out and its something that requires more down the road experience than just working as a trainer.

Passive Income

Passive income is the idea that you can release a product or service that generates a self-sustained revenue by virtue of the fact that it’s a renewable commodity that doesn’t require any active work past initial production.

This is something you can achieve by selling courses, ebooks, and other information products.

The thing you are not really told about passive income is that its not really 100% passive.

Sure, past the initial work required to create and publish an information product, you will require less direct input, but you will still need to market and promote your product in order for it to get the traction it needs to generate the sales you want.

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Passive income may sound great, but it still actually is a lot of work to get the ball rolling and to keep it rolling.

Having a passive income stream should only come as a complement to your existing business model or employment position, since having influence and reputable status count heavily towards the success and value of information products.

In other words, you need to have an existing and valuable brand presence in order to create the right level of exposure to make passive income earning products popular enough to generate a significant income.

With that being said, when it comes to monetizing your ideas and knowledge, fitness is one of the most lucrative sectors of the information product passive income market, so it’s definitely one to keep tabs on.

Is Personal Training For You?

So now that you know some of the facts and figures behind being a fitness professional and what you could potentially earn, it’s time to think, is it really for you?

From a personal perspective, what is it you actually want to achieve?

Sure, the aim of this read is to introduce you to the money-making prospects of professional fitness, but the truth is, money can’t and shouldn’t be your main focus.

A major one for sure, but not the main one.

Some of the main factors influencing a career path towards fitness include:

  • Passion (70%), 
  • Caregiving (44%), 
  • Self-employment (27%), 
  • Desire to work with people (26%), 
  • Job flexibility (22%)

Where there’s no passion, there is no profit, so you need to figure out where your passions and strengths lie, and if those align with a career in fitness.

If you have a care-giving disposition, then fitness might be for you, but as a caregiver, the type of health and fitness jobs you will go for will need to align with that trait.

This would make you best suited to work with sensitive population groups such as kids, the elderly, and disabled people.

You would also lean more towards the more therapeutic, rehabilitative, and corrective forms of exercise instruction.

To this end, a degree in sports medicine, exercise, or nutrition science would be a good call, and you might find yourself working more in community-focused organizations than your bog-standard commercial gym.

If, however, you’re more of a go-getting entrepreneurial person, you will find that high volume, high impact, fast fitness solutions are your niche.

In this way, you will be catering more to the young, body transformation crowd.

The people who want to shed and shred for that perfect beach bod, or the ones who want to add pounds to their PB.

This mindset is suited to a self-employed lifestyle with a prominent reliance on online services.

A combination of both caregiver and entrepreneur is what it takes to build a larger scale fitness business with a team you direct and a facility you operate.

You need the killer instinct that allows you to go big or go home, but you also want the ability to deal with diverse groups of individuals in a cohesive way.

Some of the key traits that can help you be successful in fitness include:

  • Communication and negotiation skills
  • A social status that provides access to clients
  • Good reputation, 
  • Good technical knowledge of fitness and fitness prescription 
  • membership of a reputable organization

Whatever the case may be, you need to have an underlying passion and experience with health and fitness.

Conclusion

Your income as a personal trainer can take many shapes and sizes and is influenced by many factors and variables.

Once all is said and done, it all boils down to how you see and value yourself, and what you’re willing to do to confidently secure that value.

Personal training is valued as the 18th best job in America in terms of quality of life.

It certainly brings a lot of fulfillment and allows you to maintain a healthy lifestyle yourself.

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