Personal trainers work with clients who need instruction and coaching in the areas of exercise physiology, kinesiology, injury prevention, recovery and rehabilitation, nutrition, supplementation, fitness assessment, exercise programming, sports conditioning, flexibility techniques and more. Personal trainers train both one-on-one and in group instruction.
Observant, detail-oriented personal trainers begin their work with each client by doing an assessment. Through conversation and by completing forms, they gather information about the client’s health and medical status, lifestyle, expectations and preferences. Then they’re able to establish realistic and measurable short- and long-term goals and develop an exercise program. Some trainers set up a series of short-term goals that the client can work toward, and others space the rewards out at greater intervals, coaching clients to reach for the ultimate brass ring and then focus on its maintenance. The choice is yours to make, but one thing is clear: A high emotional IQ, an understanding of basic “people skills” and psychology and the desire to help people are all needed to process the subtle but important signals your clients may give you along the way.
As they work with each client, personal trainers:
- Teach safe and effective exercise techniques
- Monitor, record and evaluate progress
- Make adjustments in the program as necessary
- Provide support and motivation to help their clients stick to the program and reach their goals.
Personal trainers may also serve as consultants when their clients are setting up training equipment in their homes or offices. Personal trainers who’ve studied nutrition may also offer nutrition and weight management counseling. Trainers who are group fitness instructors may incorporate popular group fitness trends into small group training sessions. For example, your clients may not want to participate in a crowded class at the gym but may want you to lead very small classes in areas such as yoga, kickboxing, Zumba® and body sculpting for themselves, their families and friends.
Some personal trainers work with people who’ve suffered an illness or injury and need assistance transitioning back to a physically active lifestyle. This is an area known as “clinical exercise” and is an important part of the rehabilitation process. Trainers work in conjunction with their clients’ medical doctors and physical therapists to establish an appropriate exercise program; then they instruct the client as necessary to implement the program.
Trainers also work with amateur and professional athletes to help them maintain their conditioning during their off season and prepare for in-season competition. And they work with performers who may or may not be celebrities, but who need to stay in top physical form or get back into shape quickly for an event.
Is this business for you?
There are two key aspects to owning a personal training business. The first is being a personal trainer, and the second is being an entrepreneur.
Good personal trainers are passionate about fitness and eager to learn the latest information about exercise, nutrition and healthy lifestyles. They enjoy helping and teaching others about fitness and exercise. They are caring, giving, patient and empathetic. They absolutely love the idea of spending 10 hours per day working with people in a gym or other setting, guiding them through exercises and helping them reach their fitness goals.
As a trainer, your job is to motivate your clients, improve their techniques and keep their workouts fun and effective. You need to be friendly, enthusiastic and have great communication skills to do this. It also helps to be personable, genuine and truly sincere -- you’re not trying to sell anything; you’re helping people, and for that, you get paid.
Successful entrepreneurs have the ability to step beyond doing the service their company offers and deal with the process of building and running a business. To own your own personal training business, you’ll need strong management, administrative and marketing skills -- or you’ll need to recognize what you don’t have and then cultivate them in yourself or be willing to hire people who can provide those skills.
Credibility and credentials
There are no professional licensing requirements for personal trainers. That means anyone can call herself or himself a personal trainer and open up a business. But consumers are becoming increasingly savvy, and most will ask about your credentials before they hire you. That’s why certifications and professional affiliations are critical.
“The big difference between licensure and certification is that certification is voluntary, whereas licensure is mandated by the state,” says Tony Ordas, MA, CSCS, owner of The Fitness Studio. “Certification is a credential that states you have a certain level of knowledge and skill.”
When deciding on the organization(s) you’ll work with to obtain your credentials, consider these issues:
Accreditation. Check to see if the certifying organization is accredited, and by whom. It’s a good idea to also check into the accreditation agency to determine how they set standards and what sort of reputation they have. Although there are hundreds of personal training certification organizations, only a handful of nationally recognized organizations are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. This is the accreditation body of National Organization for Competency Assurance, which sets quality standards for credentialing organizations.
Club requirements. If you’re going to contract with a club or spa to provide their personal training services, they may require that you and the trainers on your staff be certified through specific organizations.
Your goals. Be sure the certification is something you can use and is in line with the goals and aspirations you have for yourself and your company.
Your educational needs. Some certifying organizations offer only testing programs that determine skills and competency; others offer training programs that lead to certification. Your own needs will determine which you choose.
Beyond industry-related certification, many personal trainers have college degrees in health/exercise sciences or related fields. These degrees demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to the field.
Also, once you receive a certification, the organization will likely require you to earn continuing education units (CEUs) on a periodic basis to maintain that credential. Whether it’s required or not, you should always be educating yourself on the latest trends and discoveries in the fitness industry.