How to Become a Fitness Trainer or Instructor
Personal trainers may work with individual clients or teach group classes.
The education and training required for fitness trainers and instructors varies by specialty. Employers usually prefer to hire those with certification, but requirements vary by facility.
Fitness trainers and instructors typically need a high school diploma to enter the occupation. Employers may prefer to hire fitness workers, particularly personal trainers, who have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a field such as recreation and fitness or healthcare and related studies. Programs in exercise science, kinesiology, physical education, or related majors often include courses in nutrition, exercise techniques, biology, and anatomy. Personal trainers also may learn how to develop fitness programs for clients of all ages.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Most fitness trainers or instructors have certification related to the area of fitness in which they specialize. Personal trainers usually must be certified before they begin working with clients or with members of a gym or health club. Group fitness instructors may begin work without certification, but employers often encourage or require them to get their credentials. Most fitness instructors receive certification for their preferred type of training, such as yoga, kickboxing, or strength training.
Many organizations offer certification. For example the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accredits certifying organizations in the fitness and wellness industry, including several that offer personal trainer or general certification. In addition, some private companies offer certification in the types of classes they offer.
Certification exams that have a written portion measure candidates’ knowledge of human physiology, understanding of proper exercise techniques, and ability to assess clients’ fitness levels and develop appropriate exercise programs. Certification also may require the candidate to teach a class for a live or video skills demonstration, which is then assessed by the certifying organization.
Most trainers or instructors also need certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid, as well as in use of automated external defibrillators (AED).
After becoming a certified personal trainer, new trainers may be required to work alongside an experienced trainer before they are allowed to train clients alone.
Training for fitness instructors varies greatly. For example, the Yoga Alliance requires 200 and 500 hours of training, depending on the credential.
Communication skills. Fitness trainers and instructors must be able to clearly explain exercises that they demonstrate to clients.
Customer-service skills. Many fitness trainers and instructors sell their services, motivating clients to hire them as personal trainers or to sign up for the classes they lead. Fitness trainers and instructors must therefore be encouraging, friendly, and polite to maintain relationships with their clients.
Listening skills. Fitness trainers and instructors must listen carefully to what clients tell them in order to determine the clients’ fitness levels and desired fitness goals.
Motivational skills. To keep clients coming back for more classes or to continue personal training, fitness trainers and instructors must keep their clients motivated.
Physical fitness. Fitness trainers and instructors must be able to lead classes and to demonstrate exercises to participants or their clients.
Problem-solving skills. Fitness trainers and instructors must evaluate members’ or client’s fitness levels and create appropriate fitness plans to meet their needs.
Fitness trainers and instructors who are interested in management may need a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, physical education, kinesiology, or a related subject. Employers often require that trainers or instructors have experience in order to advance to a management position, such as the fitness director who oversees scheduling, workout incentive programs, and selecting exercise equipment in a health club or fitness center.
Personal trainers may advance to a head trainer position and become responsible for hiring and overseeing the personal training staff or for bringing in new personal training clients. Fitness trainers and instructors also may go into business for themselves or open their own fitness centers.