Become a Personal Trainer

What you need to become a personal trainer

How to become a personal trainer
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Do you enjoy ordering people around? Do you have a passion for exercise, health and fitness? If so, maybe you've thought about becoming a personal trainer, but didn't know where to start. Becoming a personal trainer is fairly easy, but being successful at it is an entirely different matter. Do you have what it takes?

Characteristics of a Personal Trainer

While anyone can be a personal trainer, it helps if you have some of the following characteristics:

  • Outgoing personality
  • Endless enthusiasm
  • Patience
  • Charisma
  • Knowledge
  • Teaching and listening skills
  • Energy

It also helps if you're flexible, like being around different types of people and are willing to work hard to market yourself.

Getting Certified

Before you start torturing people with dumbbells, you'll need to get certified through a professional organization. This certification identifies you as a legitimate trainer and indicates you've been through some type of workshop, seminar or home study course. Many organizations certify personal trainers, so you need to consider a number of characteristics when choosing your certification organization.

The most important factor is whether the organization has been accredited. The accreditation process requires that certifying organizations have their certification procedures and protocols accredited by an independent third party, such as the NCCA. Aside from that, other questions to consider include:

  1. Is it a national/international certification? Is it universally recognized?
  2. What are the prerequisites for the exam? Most require, at minimum, a high school diploma, a CPR certification and that you're at least 18 years of age.
  3. Does the exam require attendance at a workshop or seminar? Is it offered in your city or nearby? If seminars aren't an option for you, do they offer a home study program?
  1. How much does it cost?
  2. What are the continuing education requirements to renew the certificate? Completing a certain number of continuing education hours is a requirement of most certifications and will be an extra expense to consider.
  3. Is there a specific club you want to work for? If so, find out what certifications they require or recognize before taking the test.

How do you find this information? Most organizations have websites that detail the different certifications they offer, along with exam locations and dates, prices, home study options and other crucial information.

Below is a list of accredited and well-known certification organizations along with their website addresses and basic certification requirements.

  • ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine)
    Home study available? Yes, the exam is taken on location.
    Cost: $219 to $279 for exam, workshops and study materials are extra
    Prerequisites: A high school diploma or equivalent, 18 years of age and a current adult CPR certification
    Accredited by NCCA
  • ACE (American Council on Exercise)
    Home study available? Yes, the exam is taken on location or online (cost is extra).
    Cost: $219 to $249, review course and study materials are extra
    Prerequisites: 18 years old, CPR/AED certified
    Accredited by NCCA
  • AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America)
    Home study available? Yes, the exam is taken on location.
    Cost: $469 for a 3-day workshop that includes certification.
    Prerequisites: N/A
    Accredited by Vital Research, going through accreditation with Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
  • AFPA (American Fitness Professionals and Associates)
    Home study available? Yes, the exam is taken at home.
    Cost: $370
    Prerequisites: 18 years of age and high school diploma
    Currently going through the accreditation process with DETC
  • IFPA (International Fitness Professionals Association)
    Home study available? Yes, the exam is taken on location.
    Cost: $349, study materials extra
    Prerequisites: N/A Accredited by NCCA
  • ISSA (International Sports & Sciences Association)
    Home study available? Yes, weekend seminar also available.
    Cost: $595
    Prerequisites: CPR/AED certified
    Currently going through the accreditation process with DETC
  • NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)
    Home study available? Yes, the exam is taken on location.
    Cost: $549, study materials or workshops extra
    Prerequisites: Must be 18 years old and have current CPR/AED certification
    Accredited by NCCA
  • NCSF (National Council on Strength and Fitness)
    Home study available? Yes, the exam is taken on location.

  • Cost: $549
    Pre-requisites: Must be 18 years old and have current CPR/AED certified
    Accredited by NCCA
  • NFPT (National Federation of Professional Trainers)
    Home study available? Yes, different exam options.
    Cost: $450 (Cost depends on study option chosen)
    Prerequisites: High school diploma
    Accredited by NCCA

There are many other accredited organizations including the Cooper Institute, NESTA, NETA, NSCA and the US Career Institute. It pays to do your research to find what works for you. For help in making that choice, you can find an excellent comparison tool at Personal Training Certification School Comparison.

Personal Training Job Options

Once you become certified, you have a variety of job options available including working at a gym, a studio or working for yourself. Other options include:

  • Cruise Ships. Many cruises now offer personal training for guests. Cruise Ship Job Finders allows you to search a variety of cruise lines for different jobs.
  • Spas/Resorts. All-inclusive resorts sometimes hire personal trainers or fitness instructors to teach exercise classes. Cool Works and are websites that provide job listings for parks, resorts, and spas.
  • Corporate Fitness. One of the fastest-growing areas of fitness and health is in the corporate sector. Many companies across the U.S. offer corporate wellness packages for companies wishing to improve their employees' health. See Corporate Wellness for information on jobs and other industry information.
  • Work for yourself. Most personal trainers work for a club as an employee or work as an independent contractor for themselves or a studio. If you're just starting out, you might want to work for a larger club to get experience while not having to worry about running your own business.
  • In-Home Training. Another option is training clients in their homes. Or, if you have the space and meet the zoning requirements of your city, training clients in your home. In-home training is growing in popularity as people get busy and enjoy the convenience of having a trainer come to them. You'll still need a certification and liability insurance, and you'll have added expenses of advertising and equipment (such as resistance bands, or weights). But it can be rewarding and give you more freedom over your schedule. You can often charge a bit more when you train clients in their homes since you'll need to cover gas and time spent in transit.

    As you can see, personal trainers have many job opportunities and the need is only growing as our nation faces problems with obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Fitness is a big business these days. And we always need new, enthusiastic trainers to get the word out about health and fitness. 

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