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How to Become a Personal Trainer and Increase Your Income

How to Become a Personal Trainer and Increase Your Income

Last updated: January 8, 2020
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Can you tell the difference between strength training and cardio? Are you passionate about helping other people achieve their fitness goals? Are you keen on helping people stick to their weight management plan through physical fitness? If you answered yes to these questions, then you should learn how to become a personal trainer.

Whether you intend to join the fitness industry working full-time at a gym or as a self-employed freelancer, it’s a good idea to get personal training certification. Why? Simply put, certified fitness trainers are more employable and get more jobs.

But with so many certification organizations to choose from, how do you decide which one is the best to become a certified trainer?

In this article, we’ll not only help you to choose a certifying body to become a certified personal trainer, but we’ll also look at the reasons why you would want to pursue this career, how much money it will cost, and how much money you can earn as a personal trainer.

Why You Should Be a Personal Trainer

The main reason you should become a personal trainer is because you’re passionate about helping people maintain their health through physical activity.

That said, being a personal trainer also comes with a number of other perks:

  • Flexible schedule: If you’re a freelance personal trainer, you get to decide on the days and times when you’d like to work with clients. If you’re an employee at a gym, you may also have some control over your schedule ⁠— some employers may require you to be available at certain hours.
  • Gym access: If you’re working as a personal trainer, you probably like going to the gym. Being a trainer will give you access both personally and professionally.

How Much Do Personal Trainers Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average salary for fitness trainers and instructors is $39,820 per year or an hourly rate of $19.15. Glassdoor’s average for personal trainer salaries is a little higher at $49,842 per year.

As a personal trainer, you could be either a group exercise instructor or involved in one-on-one sessions. How much you earn can depend on which style of fitness training you do. For example, the average pay for a crossfit trainer is $13 an hour while a group fitness instructor can expect to earn around $22 an hour.

Another factor in your salary will be how many hours you work. If you’re doing this as a full-time employee, then you’ll know exactly what to expect. If you’re an independent contractor or offering personal training as a side hustle, then your earnings will vary.

How to Become a Personal Trainer

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There are a number of qualities you should possess as a personal trainer, but strictly speaking, you don’t need any specific fitness certifications to become a personal trainer or fitness instructor.

Here are some qualities you should possess to be a successful personal trainer:

  • You love working with people.
  • You are in reasonably good physical shape.
  • You lead a generally healthy lifestyle.
  • You have a passion for fitness and helping people reach their potential.
  • You have the ability to motivate and inspire others.
  • You are happy working non-traditional hours, often in the evenings and early mornings.

Being a personal trainer is a good entry-level job as you can receive some on-the-job training if you work for a health club, gym, or fitness studio.

Typically, you’ll need at least a high school diploma. But as the fitness industry is fairly unregulated, if your potential employer or client doesn’t insist on any certification, you could work as an uncertified personal trainer.

However, to be taken seriously and to increase your employment chances, you should consider becoming a certified personal trainer.

How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer

To become a certified personal trainer (CPT), you’ll need to complete training programs with a certifying organization and pass a certification exam. You’ll also need to meet a minimum age requirement (usually 18 years of age) and have a high school diploma.

Many places will also require you to possess a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification and an automated external defibrillator (AED) certification. The easiest way to get both CPR and AED certifications is to try your local Red Cross.

When choosing a place to obtain your certifications, it’s a good idea to check if they’re accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The NCCA is a nationally recognized third-party agency that helps ensure certification companies are working to the highest standards.

Here’s a look at three of the best personal trainer certification programs available:

1. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

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The American College of Sports Medicine has more than 50,000 members and certified professionals from 90 countries around the globe.

They don’t just represent personal trainers, but also academics, students, and physicians. They have a focus on sports medicine and exercise science, and offer opportunities for continuing education through professional development opportunities.

Getting certified with ACSM will give you the skills to develop and implement safe, effective exercise programs, and modify them to meet the specific needs of clients.

ACSM offers three different types of personal trainer certification, depending on whether your goal is to train someone one-on-one or to instruct groups:

ACSM also offers different types of exam prep resources, depending on how you prefer to study, including printed textbooks and study materials, online courses and quizzing tools, and in-person training at workshops. Exam preparation is self-paced, and they advise you to allow for a minimum of three to six months to prepare.

Cost: From $239 to $349, depending on the certification and whether you’re an ACSM member.

2. National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

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The National Academy of Sports Medicine is another popular and reputable certifying organization, established more than 30 years ago.

NASM claims to be the leader in cutting edge fitness and training. They are known for a training model that’s based on scientific research in the field of kinesiology, injury prevention, and human performance.

NASM offers four different personal trainer certification programs that you can choose from, based on your learning style and level of desired preparation:

  • Self-Study Program: Allows you to learn at your own pace and study when you want with no set schedules.
  • Premium Self-Study Program: This is like the Self-Study Program, but with access to premium content.
  • Guided Study Program: Includes what you get from the Premium Self-Study Program, but on top of that, you’ll also receive one-on-one coaching and a mentor who will answer any of your questions and offer assistance.
  • All Inclusive Program: This is like the Guided Study Program with onsite, hands-on experience. Within 90 days of completing the program, NASM guarantees job placement or your money back.

After you pass the CPT exam and become a certified personal trainer, you can opt for more training courses to obtain a fitness specialization. This gives you the potential to attract new clients, improve your employment opportunities, and increase your income.

NASM specializations include:

  • Corrective Exercise
  • Performance Enhancement
  • Behavior Change
  • Sports Nutrition
  • Group Personal Training

While your certification with other programs are for a limited time and will require recertification (and extra fees), NASM offers a Recertify For Life option — you pay a one-time fee and never have to pay recertification fees again.

Cost: From $559 to $1599

3. American Council on Exercise (ACE)

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The American Council on Exercise is a nonprofit certification organization for aspiring exercise professionals and health coaches. They are a founding member of the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals, where they work to secure recognition of registered exercise professionals for their distinct roles in medical, health, fitness and sports performance fields.

ACE is the largest certifier in health and fitness, and has more than 90,000 health and fitness professionals, health coaches, and other healthcare professionals as members in the United States.

They offer four types of certifications, depending on the type of certified personal trainer you want to be:

  • Personal Trainer
  • Group Fitness Instructor
  • Health Coach
  • Medical Exercise Specialist

The study guides from ACE are a combination of digital and hard copy materials. Preparation for the exam is self-paced and is estimated to take 80–100 hours over three or four months.

ACE offers several tools you can use, including ACE Answers, their self-service resource center, and ACE Answers on Facebook, a social study community.

After you receive your certification, you can then choose to specialize in any of the following, to help increase your client base and improve your earning potential:

  • Senior Fitness
  • Weight Management
  • The BioMechanics Method Corrective Exercise
  • Sports Performance

If you’re unsure if ACE is for you, they even offer a free course preview for you to “try before you buy.”

Cost: From $199 to $749

Achieve Your Goals by Becoming a Certified Personal Trainer

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Now that you know how to become a personal trainer, it’s probably time for you to start studying to be certified to improve your employability and potential client base.

As you can see, there are a number of different certifying organizations available. Deciding on the right one will depend on your goals as well as the type of study style you prefer.

Whatever you decide, once you pass the exam, you’ll be well on your way to being a certified personal trainer who can help others feel and look their best.

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