Become A Personal Trainer By Getting Certified

How To Become A Personal Trainer

When I became an adult and looked for my first “big-boy” job I was overly excited. I envisioned sitting in a comfortable office sharing jokes with co-workers and taking home a large check.

Unfortunately for me, and most others, the reality of a corporate career sinks in very, very quickly.

Few professions exist where: a) you get to show up to work in shorts and a t-shirt b) set your own pay rate, hours, and pick who you work with and c) get to positively impact and change lives.

Having been in the gym since I was a teenager, I was already in love with fitness. I admired the personal trainers at my gym that always had a smile on their face as they worked with their clients.

It seemed so far out of reality to consider personal training an actual job.

Is it possible for one to enjoy their work so much?

With a fair bit of jealousy of these trainers in my heart, I set out to see just how difficult becoming a personal trainer was and if it was lucrative enough to support the lifestyle I envisioned for myself.

If you’ve ever considered a career in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, you may want to read on to find out if it’s a real option for you and the steps to becoming certified.

Step 1: Determine If Personal Training Is a Viable Career For You

Let’s preface this entire guide on how to become a personal trainer by stating, clearly, that not every career option is the right one for you. As such, personal training isn’t for everyone depending on their specific needs.

Starting with the most important variable to determining whether a career can support you and your goals, you should consider income.

According to Salary.com, they write:

“The median annual Personal Trainer salary is $56,963, as of March 31, 2017, with a range usually between $41,107-$69,982, however this can vary widely depending on a variety of factors.”Salary.com


However, while knowing the potential income of trainers is important, it is also necessary to understand the hours they work to get a full picture.

Personal Trainers, whether self-employed or employed at a gym, can work both part-time and full-time. Self-employed personal trainers that use personal training as their primary source of income tend to work more than 40 hours per week as the scope of their work extends beyond just client training & acquisition.

Additionally, personal trainers tend to have very odd hours with a wave of clients in the morning, a midday break, and a wave of clients in the evening. Therefore a personal trainer’s day could very well begin early in the morning and end late at night.

Lastly, one of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether or not to become a personal trainer is understanding that the job requires a ton of investment.

To be successful you will need to build relationships, develop trust and respect with clients, and build your business. This can translate to taking work home with you in terms of communicating with clients or preparing their programs.

To summarize whether or not being a personal trainer is for you, determine if you would be willing to accept the points below:

  • Wide salary range of $28,190 to $81,834 and beyond. Expect to start at the low end of the spectrum.
  • For a full-time primary career one should expect to put in 40 or more hours per week and understand work days may be split into two segments. Additionally many clients may only be available on weekends.
  • Your work extends beyond the gym with client acquisition, communication, and program preparation.

Step 2: Choose A Certification

Picking a certification that you would like to acquire is the very first step to becoming a personal trainer.

Certifications can be wildly different from one another in terms of cost, time investment, difficulty, and requirements.

The chart below is a compiled list of the most frequent and popular certifications and other general and important information regarding the certification.

Please note that all the information below was gathered at the date of publishing this article and may not be completely accurate.

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In our findings, most commercial gyms prefer to employ personal trainers that have posses either their NASM (being the most favoured), ACE, or NSCA-CPT certifications or possessed a 4-year degree in a relevant field such as Exercise Science or Kinesiology.

FitProAcademy prefers the NASM certification above others as it establishes a solid foundation for great personal trainers.

We encourage individuals to use NASM as their choice of certification and have additionally created in-depth study materials to assist anyone is passing their certification.

To learn more about our study materials, and instructor taught course, click here.

Step 3: Pay for Exam & Materials

Before paying for any certification or materials it is important to research how much information or help may be out there to assist you in passing your exam.

Many of the certifications listed in the chart above have re-testing fees that can range beyond $200 if you fail your exam the first time.

In our research, we’ve found that the NASM CPT certification tends to build a strong foundation for great personal trainers.

However, we’ve also discovered from independently collected data that roughly 33% of people fail their exam the first time which leads to a subsequent retest fee of $199.

As our recommended certification, FitProAcademy has created in-depth study and comprehension materials to assist anyone in passing their certification exam.

To learn more about our study materials, and instructor taught course, click here.

Once you’ve paid for your certification fees and materials, it’s time to dial in and put all of your efforts into preparing for your exam.

Step 4: Study & Study Some More

Most certifications will set a time limit for which you must take the exam by. NASM for example requires you to take the exam within 6 months from the time  you sign up.

Study for Personal Training Certification Exam

When you receive your study materials from NASM or any other course, do not stress over the volume of information that you need to digest.

You may feel that you are on your own once you receive your study materials and do not have much of a direction to head. Be sure to check the textbook and any online study materials that are provided as there may be a general study guideline for you to follow.

In our NASM study materials (check here) our instructor breaks down topics and categories into easy to understand and digest segments in addition to extra material to ensure that you have everything necessary to pass your exam.

Regardless of certification choice that you go with, most of the certifications will have the same basic principles they test you on, including:

  • Human Anatomy
  • Exercise Science
  • Kinesiology
  • Nutrition / Supplementation
  • Client Assessment
  • Corrective Exercise
  • Programming
  • Business Practice & Etiquette
  • Proprietary Knowledge

Ideally a general understanding of biology, exercise mechanics, chemistry, and nutrition is necessary to really grasp all of the concepts in personal training certifications.

If you feel that you have inadequate knowledge in these aforementioned areas, don’t stress, take the time to research or lookup any terminology you may not understand.

You’ll know you are ready to take your exam when you can confidently and accurately answer questions from any concept in the study material.

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Step 5: Prepare for And Pass The Exam

Most personal training certification exams will require that you travel to a testing center. In these testing centers you will generally be required to show identification, and will not be allowed to take any personal possessions into the testing area.

Most of the exams must be completed within a certain timeframe (ie. 2 hours) and will have a passing requirement of 70% correct or higher.

In the case of NASM you are required to receive your AED/CPR Certification before taking your exam. CPR/AED classes can be found locally most everywhere in addition to CPR/AED classes that can be taken online.

Some of the certifications will have physical segments wherein you will be required to demonstrate your knowledge attained from the study materials/programs to an instructor.

Best test-taking practices recommend that you take your exam first-thing in the morning after having a good night of sleep (7+ hours) and a nutritious breakfast.

Ensure you don’t miss your exam by giving yourself more than adequate time to wake up, eat, get dressed, and drive to the testing facility. Most certifications will not allow you to reschedule or cancel within 24 hours of your exam start time.

On your way to the exam, and before your exam review main concepts and topics of the material and areas of focus.

Step 6: Acquire Personal Training Insurance & AED/CPR Certification

Once again, in the case of the NASM-CPT exam and some others, you will be required to have your AED/CPR certification before being allowed to pass the exam. If this is your first time to ever receive your AED/CPR certification it is strongly encouraged to do an in-person course so that you receive hands-on experience.

When employed as a personal trainer, your employer is responsible and should hold professional and general liability insurance.

Independent trainers (self-employed) should always maintain professional and general liability insurance. If you pay “rent” at a gym you may not be covered under their insurance as you are not an employee.

It is vital to document any instance of injury or complaints of injury when working as a personal trainer as there are many documented cases of insurance abuse in lawsuit settlements.

By documenting instances of injury or complaints of injury at the time, you not only are acting as a professional and can address the issue with your clients but protecting yourself from liability in the future.

When it comes to personal training, liability waivers and indemnification agreements are not bulletproof, and there are many circumstances that allow the liability to be passed directly on to you.

Although this step in the process to becoming a personal trainer can be quite intimidating- it is a very rare instance that insurance is ever needed. Nonetheless, whether employed or self-employed it is advised to hold both professional and general liability insurance.

Step 7: Find An Employer Or Work As An Independent Trainer

Most important and crucial step in becoming a personal trainer is finding work.

There was an estimated 267,000 personal trainer in the United States in 2012 (source) and that number has significantly climbed since then.

Luckily for newly certified trainers fitness, wellness, nutrition, and lifestyle coaching is steadily on the rise and there are almost always job openings regardless of the location.

As a brand new trainer with new official or former experience in the field, your best bet to finding work might be to check out a national commercial chain gym as they generally experience high turnover.

Some individuals may opt to get directly into independent personal training but their success is largely dependent on their marketing, selling, and overall people skills. If you have a large network of people you can reach out to, getting started as an independent personal trainer may be a more profitable option for you.

While personal training pay scale is examined more in depth here new personal trainers should know typical starting wages can range from $15.00 to $25.00 USD per hour.

Keep in mind that when becoming a personal trainer pay scale can vary drastically depending on the demographics of the area you service.

Compared to employed personal trainers, independent trainers tend to make significantly more per session, with new trainers typically charging between $30.00 and $60.00 USD with experienced independent trainers charging beyond $100.00 per session.

Step 8: Continue Educating Yourself & Acquire Specialization Certifications

As a professional pursuing a long-term career, and to provide the most value to your clients a personal trainer should always continue educating themselves and keeping up with the industry.

When employed as a personal trainer, a new certification can not only open doors in terms of the types of clients you are equipped to trainer but can also result in a payout increase for your sessions.

Additionally, it is important to note that most certifications are only valid for 2 years and that in order to recertify you will be required to gather X.X amount of CEU’s. CEU’s or Continued Education Units can be received from completing courses or getting new certifications.

It is vital to not let your personal training certification lapse, as most certifying agencies will require you to pay the full amount to take the entire course again versus simply taking a recertifying exam.

Insurance policies will also generally indicate that your policy is only effective when you hold an active certification- vastly increasing your personal liability for an already high-risk job.

While all of this is a lot of work to become a personal trainer, the benefits far outweigh the work you are required to put in. Not only are you making more than some 4-year college graduates, you can become certified in a month with extreme dedication and diligence. While I can’t attest to the quality of trainers who get certified in a month, it has been done and is definitely possible.

The beauty of personal training is that there is no type of person who can’t become a personal trainer. Whether you are currently in unhealthy shape, disabled, or a bodybuilder there are many lives you can positively influence and many people who will share similar experiences as yours and be willing to learn and grow from them.

Are you already a personal trainer or wanting to become a personal trainer? Post your comment or question below!

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