The 7 Steps Personal Trainers Can’t Miss When Building Their Careers

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

Fitness enthusiasts who have plenty of dedication, motivation and people skills might consider becoming personal trainers. These professionals work with clients to help them achieve their health and fitness goals, whether that means strength training, addressing health concerns, improving endurance or losing weight. 

Personal trainers will develop plans and exercise regimens geared toward the individual they're working with, make lifestyle recommendations and generally motivate and support their clients, working in fitness centers, gyms, studios, organizations or for themselves. 

Think you have what it takes to become a personal trainer? Here are the steps to get there.

Steps for becoming a personal trainer.

The steps vary according to your background, skills and strengths, concentration or specialty and other factors. Below is a general outline of the requirements for becoming a personal trainer.

Step 1: Get your diploma.

In order to receive your certification, you’ll most likely need to have at least a high school diploma or GED. Depending on the certification you want to earn, you may have additional education requirements, too. (We’ll describe these below in greater detail.)

Step 2: Consider earning a degree.

While it’s usually not necessary to earn a college degree in order to become a personal trainer, doing so will help prepare you for the job and equip you with the skills you’ll need to be successful in your career. Consider two-year programs to earn an associate’s degree, where you’ll cover topics such as sports nutrition, exercise science, fitness, health and wellness and others. You can also pursue a bachelor’s degree, learning about more advanced forms of physical therapy, nutrition, health psychology and other topics. 

There are even master’s and doctoral programs for people considering personal training-adjacent careers in areas like sports health and administration, physical therapy, research, academia and nutrition. (Of course, these will take more time, and they aren't necessary if you'd strictly like to work as a personal trainer.)

Step 3: Earn a CPR/AED certification.

Before you earn your personal training certification, you’ll need to know CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). This is important for anyone working in a health or related field — you never know when an emergency might happen. You can earn a certification through courses at organizations like the American Red Cross. 

Step 4: Become certified.

This is one of the most important steps toward becoming a personal trainer. You’ll need to sit for an exam to become certified through organizations such as:

  • American Council on Exercise
  • American College of Sports Medicine
  • International Sports Sciences Association
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association

There are different procedures and policies involved in the exams for each certification, but in general, you’ll need to prepare by attending a degree program, as described above, taking accredited courses or programs or self-studying. 

When choosing a certification, consider your career goals, what type of organization you’d like to work for, the preparation required, cost and other factors, such as whether you can take the exam online. Ensure that all programs are accredited. If you intend to specialize or otherwise pursue a rigorous career path, consider earning multiple certifications. 

Step 5: Start looking for jobs.

There are many options for places to work as a personal trainer. As you gain more experience and network, you might even consider establishing your own business. At the beginning of your career, explore gyms (both chains and independent ones), fitness clubs and studios, boot camps, hospitals and other health care establishments, wellness centers, community centers, resorts, cruise ships and spas. Many businesses also bring in personal trainers as a benefit to their on-site employees. In some cases, you might visit clients at their homes, too. 

You might work for several places as a contractor or part-time employee. This is a good way to establish relationships and network in the industry. In other cases, you might work full-time for a single company.

Step 6: Consider specializing.

Specializing can help you narrow your career path and increase your employment opportunities and earning potential. As you start to get a sense of which aspects of personal training are most interesting and appealing to you, you can begin to look for positions that align with those interests. For example, you might focus on:

  • Group classes
  • Weight management
  • Nutrition
  • Sports training
  • Clients with specific injuries or conditions
  • Injury prevention or recovering

Keep in mind that pursuing some of these specialties will require additional certifications, so be sure to research the requirements.

Step 7: Continue your education.

In order to keep your certification valid, you’ll need to continue to take courses or participate in seminars and workshops and earn continuing education credits. You can often find them through conferences and events sponsored by the accrediting organizations, online or through other venues and settings. Make sure to review the requirements of keeping your certification up to date.

Continuing education isn’t just important for maintaining your certification; it will also allow you to stay current with trends and news in the personal training industry. You might, for example, learn about new training practices or refinements to existing ones. 

Expected pay

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fitness trainers and instructors earn a median annual salary of $39,820. Of course, bear in mind that salaries can vary widely according to specialties, education and training, employers and facilities, skills and other factors. The BSL projects that the profession will grow by 13% between 2018–2028, which is much faster than average.


Clearly, the path to becoming a personal trainer requires plenty of work, effort and motivation. In addition to taking the above steps, in order to succeed in the profession, you should have the following skills and competencies:

  • Coaching
  • Communication
  • Creative thinking
  • Customer Service
  • Dedication
  • Enthusiasm
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership
  • Listening
  • Knowledge of fitness, nutrition and weight management
  • Observation
  • Patience
  • Planning
  • Public speaking
  • Self-motivation

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