Whether you are fresh out of education and considering making fitness your career, thinking about starting up a personal training business in addition to your main job or are looking for a complete career change, this is the ultimate guide to becoming a personal trainer. Right Path Fitness have a wealth of experience in the industry. Founded by former GB wrestler Keith McNiven, the company has grown and developed to an established team of personal trainers working with clients in the East London area. We’ve been where you are; in this guide, we will tell you about the benefits and the pitfalls of setting up as a personal trainer, with actionable advice that you can use to build a successful business.
Why become a personal trainer
The fitness industry appeals to lots of people. Those that really enjoy fitness, people who may have played lots of sport at school or university, even professional athletes who are looking to make a career from their experience and knowledge. There are lots of reasons why people choose to become personal trainers, and the good news is that it is a really flexible career path. Some people work full time in the field whereas other enjoy doing it in addition to their day job. There’s no doubt that having an interest in fitness on a personal level contributes to a decision to want to become a personal trainer, however, the best PT’s are the ones that are motivated to help others.
Will I make a good personal trainer?
Personal training is excellent for people who love to keep fit as there is an element of demonstrating exercises to your clients. You also need to be able to be confident and upbeat as you will often be working with people who may be struggling with body image and motivation, and will require a cheerleader on their side. Of course this has to be finely balanced with the ability to push people to really achieve their best, so excellent people skills are a bonus. Having a good personal trainer can be transformative for some clients. It can be the difference between success and failure. So, at the outset think about your motivations for becoming a personal trainer and if it’s the desire to help others achieve, then you’re on the right track.
How do I qualify?
As with most roles, you will need to seek professional qualifications in order to be able to work with your own client base. Many personal trainers are self-employed, but some work from a gym or a fitness/leisure centre. Indeed, many personal trainers progress from Level 2 Gym Instructor roles to Level 3 Personal Training roles. You just need to decide which works for you and your own situation. There are a huge range of courses on offer which you will see from a quick Google search, so how do you decide which is best for you?
Finding the right course
It is always advisable to find a course in any subject that is endorsed and affiliated to the governing body for the industry you wish to work in, and personal training is no different. In the case of personal trainers in the UK, you will be required to have the below minimum qualifications.
- Level 2 Gym Instructor Qualification
- Level 3 Personal Trainer Qualification
- First Aid Certificate
As a personal trainer, you will have a duty of care to your clients; you do not want them to be ill or injured in your sessions if it can be avoided, so you need to find a proper course to prepare you with the requisite knowledge. There are lots of classes online that offer fitness qualifications that are not accredited and regulated, whilst often cheaper these courses do not represent industry standards. By seeking a course regulated by one of the official awarding bodies such as City & Guilds, Active IQ, OCR or CYMCA, you can be sure that all the necessary elements are included. Once qualified, you will also be able to purchase professional insurance. Insurance is strongly recommended before you start working with clients, as this offers protection for both you and your clients. By undertaking an affiliated course, you become bound by a code of conduct, but this works in your favour not against. It also means that you should be offered continued professional development training which helps you to stay at your best. Unless you already have significant experience in the fitness industry, picking a course that has practical sessions is advised over a pure distance learning course, as personal training is obviously a very physical, hands on job.
There are a number of providers who can help you to become qualified as a personal trainer, here are a few:
TRAINFITNESS is one of the UK’s leading providers of personal training courses and offers a range of course options, including full time, part time and distance learning. All of their courses include online study through an award winning eLearning platform (ukactive- November 2016). Students access their online course material via their PC, laptop, mobile or tablet, and the provider offers support 7 days a week. Once qualified, they offer a career concierge service that can assist you with CV advice, design and distribution, social media and website design and obtaining interviews in the industry.
HFE offers both personal trainer courses and fitness qualifications with practical courses that utilise blended learning through home study supported by a dedicated tutor, and practical workshops at the weekend. Courses are available around the UK, including London, Manchester, Cardiff, York and Birmingham and include the Personal Trainer Certificate, Personal trainer Diploma, Advanced Personal Trainer Diploma and Master Personal Trainer Diploma.
The Training Room was established in 2006 and offers Level 2, 3 and 4 Personal Trainer qualifications and positions itself as a full-service careers provider in the fitness industry. They offer flexible learning with courses available online and across the country, and supported by dedicated tutors. Once qualified, The Training Room offer continued career support.
Discovery Learning offer a wide range of courses from Level 2 Gym Instructor through to Master Level 4, plus 13 one day specialist CDP (Continuous Professional Development) courses. They offer both full time and part time courses, with locations in London, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Cardiff and Manchester.
What will I learn?
Personal trainers have a level of knowledge surrounding the biological workings of the body and the Level 3 Personal Trainer Certificate will include modules such as anatomy and physiology that allow you to understand how the body works. You will learn about designing personalised cardiovascular and resistance training programmes both within a gym setting and out of it, systems of the body, principles of training, physical activity promotion, health and safety, planning effective sessions and setting goals. You will also learn how to undertake health and fitness assessments that allow you to provide both fitness and nutrition advice. Diploma and Advanced Diploma in Personal Training courses offer additional modules and learning such as business skills.
Your first steps as a personal trainer
Once you are qualified, it is time to consider the type of personal trainer you want to be, or more specifically, the type of clients you want to train. Some trainers prefer to train people only in specialist niches for example powerlifting, or working exclusively with pregnant women. Indeed, your prior experience in the fitness industry, in your work and during your qualification may provide a specialism that you wish to explore. Your qualifications may also allow you to specialise in a particular aspect of fitness, for example if you have undertaken training in GP referrals and have experience in working with patients that have pre-existing health conditions. Of course, it is absolutely fine to encourage a wide variety of different clients and offer personal training in all aspects of general fitness, from fat loss to muscle gain.
Client health benefits of personal training
When you’re starting out as a personal trainer, it is useful to consider things from the perspective of the client. In this way, you can understand what a prospective client is looking for from you when they book in for a session or series of sessions. Here are some of the main benefits of personal training:
One to one focus
Even with the best will in the world, a personal trainer who is teaching a class like circuits or spinning cannot physically work with every single person in that class as an individual. They have a responsibility to keep the class moving and on track, making sure everyone is participating and well. Within a fitness class, you will find a mix of ages, and a variety of fitness levels. As a teacher of such a class, you have to pitch to the middle ground where the majority of people sit. This means that sometimes the fittest or least fit are neglected in the interests of the class overall. As a personal trainer, you will work with one person at a time, and this individual attention can be invaluable.
Think of the person that goes to one aerobics class and as they can’t keep up, never returns, or the regular exerciser that plods along with the same old routine never thinking of changing things. With personal training this shouldn’t happen. You’re there on a one-on-one basis for your client, ready to share your knowledge and experience, and teach them the right way to perform exercises for optimum results based on their personal circumstances.
Results often come quicker
One of the reasons that it can take longer to achieve fitness goals when training alone or in group classes is the level of anonymity. You can take it easy, or not turn up at all and often no-one will notice. As a personal trainer, there is a level of accountability on both sides. You will get to know your clients, so you will be able to see if they are under working or over working, if they are having a bad day and would benefit from taking things a bit slower, or conversely are slacking and need to pick up the pace. The personal trainer is there for the client, constantly adjusting their training programme, and as focused on the results as their client.
Learning new habits
Bad habits are easily ingrained and really hard to break. Being healthy is about lifestyle; exercise and good nutrition that become a way of life. If they are only seen as short term or temporary measures, then the benefit to the client is vastly reduced. Learning new and healthy habits takes persistence and the personal trainer’s role is to help and support their client as they build on the good habits, and break the bad.
As a personal trainer, you should undertake an assessment with your clients so that you are fully aware of any health issues they have been suffering with. Personal trainers can work with top athletes but also with those who have suffered with health problems. Once a GP has approved that their patient can exercise, then working with a personal trainer could be the best way for them to get stronger and fitter with a programme designed around their specific needs.
Becoming a successful personal trainer
Personal trainers are cropping up everywhere, however not all are successful. Once you have invested both your time and resources in achieving the necessary qualifications to become a personal trainer, you might assume that the rest will simply come to you and clients will be beating a path to your door to utilise your services. The reality is that to achieve success as a personal trainer, you have to take a pro-active approach to making your business work- whether you’re a freelancer, work within a gym or have a number of trainers working for you.
Be the expert
Your clients will come to you because you are an expert in the field of health and fitness, they are paying for your time but also your expertise. Once you have qualified as a personal trainer, your clients will often come to you with questions about a particular diet they’ve heard of, or a celebrity fitness craze that they’ve read about. As the expert, it is down to you to know your industry inside out so that you can talk knowledgably about it and offer advice as necessary. Sign up for industry news, subscribe to professional fitness magazines, and keep your finger on the pulse of the health and fitness market so that you and your services remain current.
Take a flexible but fair approach with clients
When you become a personal trainer, often this will be your first experience of working directly with clients. Perhaps you have set up your own business or are operating as a freelancer, even if you are contracted to a gym, it is always worthwhile to establish your policies early on. For example, you will need to write and communicate your cancellation policy so that your client’s understand your procedures, and you have the best chance of making your making your personal training business efficient and profitable. Also try to be flexible in terms of what you can offer clients. Could you offer an evening or weekend appointment occasionally to avoid cancelling a session?
You are the teacher
Many personal trainers fail because they try and be too much of a friend and not enough of a guide. This is an easy mistake to make as developing a good relationship is paramount to effective personal training. It is useful to remember that you are being paid to help someone to improve their fitness, so you are entitled to set homework and push them hard, provided you know it is safe and in their best interest. Sometimes, to avoid the hard work, clients would rather chat to you instead of train. Learn to chat whilst putting them to work. Keeping things on a professional footing maintains clear boundaries, and contributes to your success and that of your client.
Never stop learning
The mark of an expert in any field is their willingness to learn and their lack of complacency. Once you have that initial qualification, don’t rest on your laurels and assume that you are set for life. As with any industry, things change, best practice alters and to be a professional personal trainer you need to be at the top of your game. The most successful personal trainers are prepared to admit they don’t know everything- but they are willing to learn. There is always something new to learn in the fitness industry, whether it is adding a new skill to your repertoire or enhancing what you already know. There are a multitude of accredited, continuing professional development courses available. Consider the needs of the business, your interests, and that of your client’s and find the right course.
Lead by example
When it comes to training your clients, always be prepared to demonstrate and get involved. Too often personal trainers stand at the side and bark instructions. The most successful trainers are those who are ready to get involved and work with the client, alongside them, encouraging them every step of the way. Let’s face it, if you love keeping fit, you really should enjoy the chance to run with your client or demonstrate some exercises. That means that on a cold, wet day you do not stand at the side in a coat clutching a coffee but get involved.
If your personal training business is going well, it often makes sense to take on other trainers to share the workload. As well as offering some much needed support for you, developing the business in this way helps it to grow and expand. But with this comes additional responsibility, as you will now have one or more trainers in the business who require direction and leadership. If you’re a people person, then the skills and techniques of strong leadership should come easily too which centre on effective communication, problem solving, recognition and reward, plus articulation of a vision for your company and inspiring your team to buy into that vision.
Marketing your personal training business
Often, when you set up as a personal trainer, you don’t think beyond the qualification or what it will be like to actually train clients. The reality is that there is a lot more that goes into running a successful personal training business like accounting, HR, administration and more. One of the key elements that will contribute to your success though is marketing. Marketing is a lot like personal training, people often think it’s just about shouting out your message but the best marketing develops relationships with clients that are long term and mutually beneficial. One of the key principles in marketing is the 4P’s of product, place, promotion and price, and for service businesses like personal training there is an extended marketing mix including physical evidence, people and process.
Product- the personal training you offer
As a personal trainer, you will need to determine your product which in this case is the personal training services that you offer. Consider whether you will offer single sessions, bundles, courses or a mixture. Having a clearly defined product offering at the outset allows you to market yourself effectively. You can always add on new services later. When developing your product, look at what is on offer in your area and consider what you can do that is different and will differentiate you from the crowd. It is useful to dedicate time to developing your brand in terms of what it stands for, where it is positioned in the market and design elements like logos and brand colours.
Place- how you will distribute your services
How will customers buy from you? It may be that you are affiliated to a gym or GP and that customers come to you through this channel but most personal trainers will utilise a direct selling channel such as a a website. Investigate the various channels available to you to distribute your services, perhaps by enquiring with local fitness centres and gyms, and networking at business events.
Price- what will your services cost
This is an important part of the process of setting up as a personal trainer and one that often doesn’t receive adequate attention. Undertake some research to determine average rates for personal training in your area and utilise this information to price your services accordingly. You can also utilise pricing strategies with offers and campaigns that drive demand at quieter times.
Promotion- how you will promote your services
When we think of marketing we usually think of the promotional aspect, and in the 21st century there are many ways of promoting your personal training business such as developing a social media presence and creating good quality content like blogs, videos and images that can be used to develop your following and build engagement. Having a good quality website is a minimum for most personal trainers and can include things like testimonials, packages as well as engaging content. Keep it fresh, and keep it updated. You may also consider PR to promote your business locally. Paid for advertising is another option in the form of print adverts or digital advertising like Facebook Ads or Google Adwords. Be sure to investigate advertising opportunities carefully, keep to your budget and evaluate their performance over a set period of time.
Physical evidence- the tangible aspects of your business
Even though you are offering an intangible service, there will always be tangible aspects like uniform or as you progress, your premises. Ensure that these tangibles reflect your brand positively.
People- those that deliver your service
With personal training, people are buying into you and your expertise. If you’re having an off day, then this can impact upon service quality. Try to keep service quality as consistent as possible, particularly if you introduce additional trainers to your company.
Process- how your customers experience your service
Process can include everything from booking procedures, payment emails, how you structure sessions; basically everything that a customer experiences from using your personal training sessions. When developing your processes, try to consider things from the perspective of a customer and obtain feedback.
We hope that you have found our ultimate guide to becoming a personal trainer useful and we wish you every success in your journey in the fitness industry.
Founder, Right Path Fitness