How to Become a Personal Trainer or Fitness Instructor

Certified personal trainers and fitness instructors have in-depth knowledge and training on a wide variety of fitness activities in addition to understanding anatomy, physiology, and sports medicine.

They also know the following:

  • Injury prevention
  • Age appropriate health and fitness issues
  • Public speaking
  • Nutrition
  • Group fitness
  • Weight training
  • Aerobic training
  • Flexibility and balance training
  • Aquatic training
  • Psychology
  • Team sports
  • Fitness assessment
  • Movement analysis
  • Exercise science
  • Mind-body disciplines

Skilled personal trainers and fitness instructors put all that knowledge into creating effective exercise programs that motivate individual clients and groups to reach their fitness goals.

How do you learn all that? There are a couple of paths you can take to become a personal trainer/fitness instructor:

  1. Enroll in a fitness technology or physical education program at a technical school, community college, or university.
  2. Enroll in a self-study program sponsored by a certification organization.

If you enroll in a formal fitness technology or PE program, you might opt for a one-year program offered at technical schools and community colleges, or go the distance with a 4-year college degree.

You'll take classes in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and a wide range of exercise activities. By the time you complete your course of study, you should be ready to take a certification exam.

If you enroll in a self-study program, you'll receive course materials such as textbooks, videos, and study materials designed to prepare you for a certification exam.

There are many companies, organizations, and programs that offer professional certification, but three of the most reputable are:

  • American College for Sports Medicine, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer
  • American Council on Exercise, ACE-Certified Personal Trainer
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association, NSCA Certified Personal Trainer

Once you've passed your exams and become certified, it's time to build your business. Many fitness centers and gyms hire certified trainers and instructors to lead their group classes and provide one-on-one training to clients. You might also find work at community centers, after-school programs, retirement homes, corporate offices, and hospitals. Or you may prefer to build your own client list and work for yourself.

You'll need to be organized and assertive about marketing and promoting yourself as a business:

  • Create a website and have business cards made.
  • Research tax and insurance requirements in your area.
  • Go to trade shows, health and wellness conventions, spas, and other places where fit-minded, potential clients hangout and hand out those cards.
  • Consider becoming certified in advanced and specialty training areas that are sport, activity, or health condition-specific.
  • Be vigilant about customer service.
  • Make yourself indispensible to your clients so they'll pass your name on to friends.

Creating a niche and a word-of-mouth buzz that you're the expert in your area will help you build your client-base and reputation. Given a little time and experience, who knows, you might be marketing your own best-selling fitness DVD or starting your own trendy club.




American College of Sports Medicine

American Council of Exercise

National Strength and Conditioning Association
NSCA Certification