How to Get Started in Personal Training in 5 Steps

You take your own health and fitness seriously; you enjoy learning about the body, working out and putting programs together to achieve your health- and wellness-related goals. You’ve seen trainers at the gym and thought, “Now that looks like a fun job!” You’re interested in getting started. So, the big question is—now what?

While there are many ways to approach becoming a personal trainer and getting to work, we’ve compiled the top five steps from some of the world’s most successful trainers. Each of the trainers we chatted with consider these actions as non-negotiables and describe them as the most critical actions you must take to prepare yourself and start making an impact. Let’s break it down.

Step 1: Obtain a Nationally Accredited Certification

Your first step should be choosing an organization with which to earn your certification. It’s essential to narrow your search to personal-training certifications that are nationally accredited. Be sure to review the available study materials and locate information regarding setting up and sitting for the exam, the recertification requirements and process, as well as ongoing support the association has for your continued education.  

Obtaining and maintaining a certification is considered a standard of service in the fitness industry. Clients and employers expect that this requirement has been met. While passing your exam is step one, the role of certification is to prove minimal competency for the roles and responsibilities of being a personal trainer. There is much more to be learned that will require hands-on experience. Additional training, intern or externships, mentoring and practice are all necessary to become a great trainer.

Step 2: Purchase Liability Insurance

Once you are qualified, obtain (and then maintain) professional liability insurance. Whether you plan to train clients virtually or in person, liability insurance is an investment you make for your peace of mind. Protecting yourself and your business with liability insurance can help you if you are ever sued for injury or damages. Even if you plan to work at a club, studio or another establishment, carrying your own policy is a good idea. 

Step 3: Define your Target Market

Your next step is to determine the types of clients you are most interested in serving. Demographics are usually a defining characteristic, such as age range, male or female, with children or without. Personal or professional interests such as employment, recreational sports, leisure activities or hobbies can further define your desired target market. Alternatively, the specific needs of a group of people may be what you’re drawn to, such as stress reduction, learning the fundamentals of strength training or special considerations for pregnancy. 

Once you know with whom you are most interested in working, you will want to determine the number-one solution you hope to provide. What will you promise to deliver to your clients? Understanding your target market’s needs and desires will not only help you craft great products and programs, but it will also help shape your marketing materials and enable you to carve out your continuing-education path.

Finally, you’ll need to articulate your “why.” Why did you choose a given target market, and why you are passionate about the benefits you plan to provide? Clients will resonate with your authenticity; having a strong why helps you connect with clients and potential clients.  

Together, your target market, the benefit(s) you provide, and your “why” form the foundation of your personal brand, which will help you as you move to Step 4.

Step 4: Carefully Examine Opportunities

Once you have your who, do and what, you can explore your options for getting to work. One important choice is whether you’d like to work for someone else or become an entrepreneur. 

 

Many trainers choose the employment route to begin, which provides hands-on experience, access to mentors and (in most cases) leads. Working for a club or studio can help expose you to a wide variety of clients and programming ideas, as well as provide you access to equipment, facilities and learning opportunities.

 

If you set out on your own from the get-go, it’s a good idea to identify a mentor and role models, and lean into the personal-training community for inspiration and direction. You will also need to research the steps need to officially set up your business. 

Step 5: Build Trust and Credibility

Finally, you want to establish yourself as a category authority by learning as much as you can about your target market, appropriate training methodologies and programming strategies. You’ll also need to create a plan for both formal and informal continuing education. Be sure to include work in behavior change and business to build a solid foundation.

As you can, begin using organic marketing to show potential customers what you have to offer. Use core self-promotion strategies such as networking, direct outreach, referrals, speaking, writing and the web to provide valuable content that resonates with your audience. Through consistent efforts, you’ll build trust and credibility over time, which will start you on your way to finding clients.

A special thank you to Mike Robinson (Owner of MZR Fitness), Pete McCall (Chief Fitness Officer of All About Fitness, LLC), Scott Hopson (Founder & CEO of Pivotal), and Hayley Hollander (Co-Founder / Owner of Pivotal) for contributing to this piece.

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