Personal Trainer Degree Programs and Training

Personal trainers are generally people who love being healthy and active and have a passion for "all things fitness," according to the National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT.com), a professional fitness organization. Personal trainers may work on their own or at a gym or health fitness facility, helping clients to increase their level of fitness and become healthier. They push clients to tackle tough goals, provide them with feedback and tips on the exercises they are doing, and act as a motivating force. "Personal training isn't a job for introverts," notes the NFPT. "You have to wear your passion on your sleeve, be the example of motivation (even when it's hard) because you represent the lifestyle that your client is looking to achieve." Thankfully, there are a variety of undergraduate training and degree programs available for those interested in personal training, and one of them could help move you move closer toward building a career that could benefit many clients.

Personal trainer degree programs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) indicates that personal trainers may need to have an associate or bachelor's degree to be hired, although a high school diploma, certifying classes, and working beside a trained professional may be another path to entry. For those wanting college-level education, there are a variety of fitness and health options available from the undergraduate to graduate level available, but a diploma, certificate or associate degree may be helpful to later seeking certified personal trainer (CPT) credentialing. Some certifying organizations offer training materials and programs helpful to becoming certified without any required college study, and college programs available in personal training and fitness include:

  • Diplomas. A diploma in personal training may be completed in as little as six months and help students learn about the connection between heart function and physical activity, different types of aerobic and anaerobic exercises, and the foundations for strength training.
  • Certificates. A personal trainer certificate can generally be completed in a year or less and provide students with a similar education found in a diploma program, but at a more in-depth level. Students may learn about biology, sports and exercise and nutrition, and also find that they have an elective or electives available to them.
  • Associate degrees. An associate degree in personal training may be completed in two years of full-time study. It is designed to help prepare students to work on CPT certification through a specific fitness organization. It may also offer them opportunities to learn about business and marketing and to take electives. Often, an externship providing hands-on experience may be part of an associate degree program.
  • Bachelor's degrees. At the bachelor's degree level, education and training in personal fitness begin to expand in scope and may be found under the umbrella of health and fitness or exercise science. Students may be able to take various electives, specialize in unique tracks and become specifically prepared to take an exam for one or more personal fitness certifications.
  • Master's degrees. At the graduate level, learning veers more into the science of fitness and health. Degrees may be available specifically in kinesiology, sports management or exercise science. Clinical experiences may be part of these programs and students may be required to do research into an area of interest.

Some select personal trainer programs and training may be completed partially online. These programs may make use of webinars, presentations, seminars and other online features to give students a full education.

Personal trainer courses and training

Schools with personal trainer programs will usually have their own specific curriculum, but some core topics are common among programs. The following may be covered in a personal fitness degree or training program:

  • Business Management
  • Cardiorespiratory Training Techniques
  • Client Assessment and Program Design
  • Corrective Exercise Techniques
  • Exercise Psychology and Lifestyle Coaching
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Fitness Anatomy and Physiology
  • Fitness Sales and Marketing
  • Medical and Exercise Science Terminology
  • Managing Personal Health

Some personal trainer degree programs may help students to prepare for a specific type of personal fitness certification, such as available through the American College of Sports Medicine or National Exercise Trainers Association. Indeed, there are many different types of personal trainer certifications available, and applicants almost always need to have CPR certification as well as automated external defibrillator (AED) certification to be eligible for testing.

An externship, which is a short-term training program carried out in a workplace, may be required for some college-level programs. These can give students opportunities to work with clients and beside a professional already trained in the occupation. For online programs, pre-approval of an externship site or position may be necessary. Students looking into online personal fitness training programs may want to check with a school coordinator or advisor in advance to understand the externship guidelines.

Career outlook for personal trainers

Job opportunities for personal trainers are steady, due to a growing Baby Boomer population that is staying active and businesses that are also providing incentives to employees to stay active and healthy, according to the BLS. Job growth for fitness trainers and instructors is expected to grow 13 percent, about as fast as average, from 2012 to 2022, potentially leading to 33,500 new positions becoming available nationally during that time. The national median annual wage for these professionals, as of May 2013, was $33,020, or $18.17 per hour, according to the BLS. Time on the job, experience and the build-out of your own client base may affect your income. Certification as a personal training could also be advantageous.


Associate in Personal Fitness Training, Eagle Gate College, http://www.eaglegatecollege.edu/programs/health-wellness/personal-fitness-training/

Bachelor of Science in Health Fitness Specialist, Broadview University, http://www.broadviewuniversity.edu/programs/health-science/health-fitness-specialist/exercise-science-bachelors.aspx

Career Diploma in Personal Trainer, Ashworth College, http://www.ashworthcollege.edu/career-diplomas/certified-personal-trainer

Fitness Trainers and Aerobic Instructors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes399031.htm

Fitness Trainers and Instructors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm

Personal Trainer Certificate, Triton College, http://www.triton.edu/collegecatalog/personal-trainer-certificate.htm

The Role of a Personal Trainer, National Federation of Personal Trainers, http://www.nfpt.com/the-role-of-a-personal-trainer

Personal Trainer Schools

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            2 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
            • Has an average class sizes of 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
            • Offers numerous scholarship opportunities that can help students save up to $750 per term on their tuition.
            • Tends to educate degree-seeking online and campus-based students who are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
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            • Ranked among the Best Colleges in the South in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Ranked the 13th  Best College for Veterans in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • A private institution founded in 1977 with a current total undergraduate enrollment of over 15,00.
            • Its student-faculty ratio is 11:1, and 89.3% of classes have fewer than 20 students.
            • Has students attend one class at a time to ensure easy access to faculty and a more hands-on education.
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            Vatterott College , Saint Charles
            • Dedicated to providing career training to students since 1969.
            • Ranks in the top 15% of all U.S. schools providing military educational services.
            • Offers programs in  19 locations in 9 states, as well as online.
            • Provides a career services team to help students with resume review, mock interviewing, campus career fairs, and more.
            • Gives students the opportunity to study business, personal fitness, cosmetology, and more.
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            South University , Cleveland
            • Began in 1899 as Draughon’s Practical Business College.
            • Features campuses that are heavily engaged in their respective communities, providing professional service from students and faculty.
            • Offers financial aid, scholarships, and counseling for both active and post-duty military students.
            • Has 15 campuses across the United States, as well as 4 art institutes in North Carolina and Texas.
            • Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
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            • Guarantees flat-rate tuition for students who stay continuously enrolled.
            • Offers a four-day class schedule, leaving Fridays open.
            • Founding member of the Accrediting Council for Independent Schools and Colleges (ACICS) in 1912.
            • Career assistance services are provided to all students and graduates for life.
            • Has programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
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