Steps to Become a Personal Trainer

Fitness trainers instruct clients, or a group of clients, in exercise activities with the general purpose of providing cardiovascular, strength training and stretching activities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov). Their clients may be young or old or experiencing mid-life challenges, but personal trainers need to be able to adapt to their various needs and design a program of exercise that moves clients toward improved health and fitness.

Personal trainer program requirements and prerequisites

Some personal trainers may be able to make a start in the field simply by taking courses and reading educational materials that enable them to pass a certified personal trainer (CPT) exam, but educational requirements can vary by place of employment, the BLS reports. In fact, the BLS indicates that just a high school education is needed for entry-level employment, but that some employers will want to hire personal trainers who have an associate or bachelor's degree. This degree could be specifically in personal fitness or in a similar area like exercise science, kinesiology or sports science. Still, for other employers, a college-level diploma or certificate in personal training could be enough -- although any trainer who is certified or working toward certification may find they have a career advantage.

Several organizations offer personal trainer certification, and some personal trainer degrees do help prepare students to seek one or more of these CPT certifications. Often, these certification details can be found described on a school's program webpage. Personal trainer classes, such as anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, and program design, are designed to help prepare graduates for a fitness training career, whether that might eventually be in an exercise facility, vacation resort or a client's home.

Necessary qualifications and skills for personal trainers


Certification is an important component in becoming a personal trainer. Organizations offering certification range from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) to the American Council on Education (ACE) and National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT). Generally, CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) certification are required to sit for any of the personal trainer exams, and there is a fee to take an examination. Continuing education may also be part of the process for renewal, which may be needed every one to three years, depending on the certifying organization. Students may find it worthwhile to check with potential employers to see what kinds of certification they like their personal trainers to have.

Qualities and skills

Personal trainers need a variety of skills to help motivate their clients and to ensure training at the appropriate level. Living a healthy lifestyle themselves and having experiences with many different types of fitness and exercise may be important to their career, according to the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. Other qualities that may be helpful to personal trainers, according to the BLS, include:

  • Physical fitness: Personal trainers need to demonstrate exercises to clients, showing them the specific techniques and body positions to correctly carry them out. Trainers also need to be a model of inspiration for their clients, showcasing a lifestyle of health and fitness. As the National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT) points out: "[T]he idea that someone will hire you if you've never stepped foot in a gym or never picked up a free weight or done a bench press in your life, well that's nowhere near realistic."
  • Speaking skills: Specific exercises and exercise goals need to be clearly communicated to clients. Otherwise, there may be a risk of burn-out or the chance for injury if a client does not understand the proper way to do an exercise.
  • Motivational skills: Knowing what to say and when to say it can be important for personal trainers. The strategies that work with one client may not be as effective with one another. This is why some personal trainer educational program even offer classes focused on motivation and exercise psychology.

Being a good listener is also essential, as clients may have unique issues they need help with -- the reason they turned to a fitness trainer in the first place.

The working environment of a personal trainer

Personal trainers can work in environments that vary from fitness and recreation centers to health clubs, hospitals and even universities. Others may primarily work with clients in their homes or even as employees of specific companies, helping to devise fitness programs or motivational initiatives. In fact, as of 2012, 58 percent of all fitness trainers and instructors were employed in fitness and recreational sports centers and the remainder for civic and social organizations, in health care and social assistance, or in other public or private schools and institutions, according to the BLS. Another one in 10 was self-employed.

The work schedule for personal trainers can vary. Some may work primarily during the day while others may have evenings and weekend hours available to fit training into their clients' schedules. This flexibility may be well-liked by trainers, who also need to spend time and effort staying in shape themselves. Job opportunities for personal trainers and instructors is expected to grow by 13 percent, about as fast as average, from 2012 to 2022, potentially leading to the creation of 33,500 new positions during that time.


Ace Certification Exams, Ace Fitness, Accessed September 24, 2014, http://www.acefitness.org/certificationexams/default.aspx

Become a Personal Trainer, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, Accessed September 24, 2014, http://www.afaa.com/Personal-Trainer.html

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

Get Certified, American College of Sports Medicine, Accessed September 24, 2014, http://certification.acsm.org/get-certified

The Role of a Personal Trainer, National Federation of Personal Trainers, Accessed September 24, 2014, http://www.nfpt.com/the-role-of-a-personal-trainer

Personal Trainer Schools