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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            • 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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            • Provides students the opportunity to train at home in their spare time to get their high school diploma, train for a new career, or enhance current skills.
            • Offers programs in psychology/social work, business management, medical billing, criminal justice, and more.
            • Member of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).
            • Features a fully flexible schedule with no classes to attend, leaving the study pace up to the student.
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            • Offers training in various types of massage therapy, physical therapy/sports rehab, and personal fitness training & wellness.
            • Teaches in an environment that promotes learning and encourages empathetic and compassionate therapists.
            • Career service professionals work directly with students from the start of their program, and help them pursue employment in day spas, luxury hotels, cruise ships, and other locations.
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            • Several institutional scholarship opportunities are available to students who qualify.
            • Features several learning model options, including online, residency, and hybrid options.
            • Offers graduate degree programs in organizational leadership, mind-body medicine, psychology and human science.
            • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
            • Three teaching locations in Seattle, Washington and Houston, Texas, with the university headquarters located in San Francisco, California.
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            Brandman University , Kettleman City
            • Ranked #8 in the 2013 Best Online Undergrad Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
            • 70% graduation rate– significantly higher than the national average of 59%. 
            • Ranked #2 by U.S. News & World Report for Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans. 
            • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting associations that accredit public and private colleges and universities in the United States.  
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