It’s not hard to see the value that personal trainers bring to the table. From helping people stay motivated to guiding them to excellent health, personal trainers are an indispensable part of our lives and will be for a long time to come. Can you become a successful personal trainer?
Should you chase a career in personal training? If yes, how do you go about it? How do you know you have the right stuff to be a successful Workout Pro? And how can you accelerate your growth, so you start earning what you’re worth?
This guide goes through all that and more. If you’re curious about how to launch your fitness trainer career, excel in a commercial gym, start a successful practice and become a sought-after trainer, read on.
Should you become a personal trainer?
Much like many career paths, there isn’t a specific path to becoming a personal trainer. You could get a degree in physical education or sports, but you could also start out as a Workout Pro while majoring in theater.
Ideally, you want to focus on a career path you’re good at and that you enjoy. That way, when you hit the challenges, which always come, your love for the work will keep you going.
So, if you’re thinking of making the leap to personal training, here are some signs that you’ll be great at it. These have nothing to do with fitness knowledge, but they can be great indicators that your clients can rely on you.
If you find that you don’t have these qualities, you can still make a great personal trainer. However, it means you may have to build some of these skills.
1. People naturally come to you for advice
Personal trainers are born leaders. They are coaches who provide support and a gentle nudge in the right direction to people who need it. The best trainers are supportive and compassionate but also firm and disciplined. If you find yourself naturally leading your friends either in simple outings or taking initiative to organize events, you will make an excellent PT.
2. You thrive on guiding people
It’s one thing to have people seeking your guidance; it’s another thing to enjoy it. As a personal trainer, you’ll have to deal with all kinds of clients – those who can’t wait to get into shape, those who regret hiring you, and those who run out of steam 3 weeks after.
It will be your job to keep them motivated and ensure they achieve their goals, even if they don’t want to. If you already do this with your friends and family, becoming a personal trainer means you can get paid for your effort.
3. You love the healthy lifestyle
It’s impossible to become a Workout Pro without a deep love for the fitness lifestyle. Oftentimes, clients will look to your physique as a template for what they can become. If you’re not disciplined and in shape yourself, you’ll have trouble attracting clients. But even more importantly, you won’t enjoy your job because it involves a ton of working out.
4. You love structure
Goals, milestones, and motivators are all critical to being a personal trainer. You can’t magically transfer your motivation and love for the fit lifestyle to your clients – which is why you need a good structure.
Structure allows your clients to keep a steadygoal ahead of them, even when they feel like giving up. It will also make it easier for you to manage several clients at once without getting confused.
If you know how to set up milestones to keep yourself and others motivated, you could be an excellent personal trainer in the making.
Is a personal trainer’s salary worth it?
Before you become a personal trainer, it’s important to consider how much you can reasonably make and decide if you’d be better off in another field.
How much you earn as a trainer will depend on factors like the following
- How you structure your practice
- If you decide to strike out on your own or work for a big box
- If you’re able to attract high-paying clients
- If you can leverage online training as a way to onboard more clients
We’ll get into all these later in this article, so don’t worry. For now, here’s an average estimate of what most PTs make.
According to ZipRecruiter, the average PT makes $4,239 per month, with some pros making as much as $8,000. Here’s a breakdown of these earning categories
Independent PTs make the most
Working as an independent contractor means you can set your own hourly rates and don’t need to lose any portion of your income to a gym or company. However, this path can also be difficult because you’ll need to build your brand and client list from scratch. Independent personal trainers often make up to 10 times what trainers in commercial gyms make.
PTs in commercial gyms can make a decent income
When you work in a commercial gym, your income depends on the structure of your client acquisition. Gyms that make you find your own clients will let you keep more of your income because you’re doing all the work.
On the other hand, gyms that feed you clients will take a bigger cut from your pay. Most gyms will take between 30% and 60% of your clients’ fees.
A great compromise here is to sign a deal where you can train your clients in a smaller gym while still prospecting for new ones from their membership pool.
PTs who run gyms have high-income potential
If you open your own gym, you can scale as much as you want by attracting new subscribers, offering training classes, and basically, having your own pick of clients without losing any portion of your income to commission. If you decide to run your own gym, the sky could be the limit.
Starting out as a personal trainer
If the PT career path appeals to you, it’s best to start as soon as possible. That’s because you want to get a ton of experience early on, and make informed decisions on whether you’ll stay with a big box gym or go out on your own.
New PTs usually take a similar path when getting started, and it involves the following:
You can’t become a personal trainer without getting certified. You can choose to get your certificate online – which is the faster and preferred route for most people – or you could go to physical certification school.
There are multiple programs available, and whatever you choose, ensure that it’s accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA) or your country’s equivalent. The key, though, is to remember that less is more with PT certifications.
Developing interpersonal skills
Even though you’ll be acting as a coach, personal training involves creating a personal connection with your client. People need to like and trust you before choosing you as their fitness guide.
As a result, it’s critical to develop your interpersonal skills, especially if you want to land clients on the gym floor. One key ingredient to this is your personality. Make sure that who you are shines through, and that you communicate openness and trust to your potential clients.
Expanding their knowledge
Personal trainers need a succinct knowledge of the human body, from anatomy to physiology and sport science. It’s also critical to develop a habit of learning. Studies are released every day that reveal new information on health and fitness. Follow these because being in the know makes you a more reliable and trustworthy PT.
Covering their bases
Excellent personal trainers know that you can never be too careful, which is why they always have their clients sign a personal trainer liability waiver before training. It can cover you in case of an accident, which is critical when you’re attending to multiple clients daily.
Gaining experience and confidence as a newbie
There’s really only one way to gain experience and confidence as a new Workout Pro – you have to interact with clients. It’s the same way that you can only become a better driver by driving.
Some of the best PTs started out in commercial gyms because of this reason. You get access to a wide range of clients who are chasing different goals, and working with them will give you great insight.
You can read all about managing a client with a winged scapula, but nothing beats the physical experience.
As you work with unique clients and help them achieve their goals, you’ll also develop your confidence in your skills and grow a hunger to tackle even bigger challenges.
It’s entirely possible to gain experience and confidence by immediately setting up your own practice, but it’s an uphill battle. Without the brand name of a commercial gym behind you, most people will find it tough to trust you.
Crash course on succeeding in a big box gym
Many people see working for a commercial gym as a necessary evil – the sacrifice you have to make for experience and exposure. These people hate big box gyms because they can be competitive, stressful, and low-paying.
But that’s not always the case as some personal trainers have found so much success in big box gyms that they’ve decided to stay and build a successful career there. See, it all comes down to how you approach the work.
Workout Pros who find success in commercial gyms always follow a similar process that involves the following:
1. Niche down
Finding a niche will help you stand out from the sea of personal trainers on the gym floor. If you get this step right, you will conquer one of the biggest challenges that trainers in commercial gyms face.
The key to niching down is to find the intersection between something you enjoy doing, a field you can get better at, and a field that pays. There’s no sense in specializing in senior fitness if you love heavy weights and intense cardio sessions. You might also decide to make a hard pivot and become a performance coach; there are a ton of merits there.
It’s important to follow your passion when finding a niche, but ideally, you want to make sure there’s a high demand for your passion area as well.
2. Be great at every other thing
Becoming a specialist doesn’t mean you can’t rise to the occasion whenever your client needs something else. Being exceptional at your niche but capable in every other field will quickly create a reputation of competence for you.
Regardless of your niche, you’ll always find a ton of clients looking to lose weight or gain muscle because most people’s fitness goals fall into that category. You should be able to help them achieve their goals.
3. Be genuinely helpful
One great way to get quickly noticed by gym regulars is to always be present with helpful advice. Even though signing them as clients is your bread and butter, being available can have its rewards too.
The biggest being that you’ll stay top of mind. As the PT who’s always available with quick tips for effective training, you’ll be sought after when someone inevitably needs to hire a coach for guidance.
4. Improve your sales skills
A commercial gym is a business (it’s even in the name) and your performance will be judged on how many clients you bring in. The more people you sign, the more money the gym makes, and the more incentive they have to support you.
When approaching selling, it’s important to remember that you’re offering to help people achieve their goals. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Once you understand that, you can approach people with more confidence and persistence because you know that what you offer can benefit them.
5. Network like crazy
While on the subject of selling, it’s also important to expand your network. You want to become as widely known as possible, and by everyone who could possibly send work your way. That goes from physical therapists to dietitians, and even life coaches.
But your relationship-building strategy shouldn’t be, “can you send me PT clients?” Instead, ask them about what they are doing, and tell them about what you do. Build a personal connection first so that they know who you are and the value you can deliver to their referrals.
6. Show your clients the best training session ever
Past clients will be a steady stream of referrals for you if they enjoy their sessions with you. Show up with contagious enthusiasm; walk them through the routine with a smile on your face; let them feel that you truly enjoy what you’re doing.
Sometimes, you’ll have to fake it, but that’s okay because if you consistently show up with energy, they will remember that and pass on the word.
Should you transition to owning your own space?
By now you have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to work in a commercial gym. Perks like a large client pool for you to approach can reduce the amount of work you have to do. But, it also means you’re losing a sizable chunk of your income every month to the gym.
Here are four factors to consider before you make the switch from commercial gym to your own practise
Do you have enough experience?
Many personal trainers don’t bother setting up their private practice until they’ve had at least five years of experience, and there’s a reason for that.
For starters, you need the relative safety of the commercial gym to gain convenience and work with a wide range of clients. That experience becomes invaluable, and when you strike out on your own, it’s what your clients will pay you for.
We already mentioned the second point, which is that nobody wants to hire a shiny new Workout Pro. They want to know that you have cut your teeth before trusting you with their health, and the only reliable place to do that is in a commercial gym.
Before transitioning into your own practice, ensure that you’ve built up a wealth of experience, connections, and confidence in a commercial gym.
Have you considered your overheads?
Working in a commercial gym has minimal costs, and the structure is designed to provide resources that are taken out of your commission. That way, you don’t have to worry about the costs and can just do your thing.
Setting up your own practice is a different story. You have to think about equipment for your clients, renting a training space, utilities, managing your schedule so you’re not overbooked or underbooked, and so many other things.
You also need to consider that these are recurring costs that you’ll need to continually pay attention to as long as you run your practice.
Where will your clients come from?
It’s critical to develop a plan for client acquisition because things are very different outside a big gym. You will no longer come across dozens of potential clients looking to get in shape. Instead, you have to be able to seek them out, prove your value, and sign them on.
Many Workout Pros who start their own practice leverage their relationships from commercial gyms. Your past clients and others within your network will prove to be a great source of referrals, so there’s that. But, you also need a plan to attract and land new clients, for your business to be viable.
Do you have a plan for the lean months?
All business is cyclic – you experience a period of bounty and plenty, and then there are a few lean months when nothing happens.
Most successful personal trainers save up for the lean months by maximizing their training time. Then, they ride through the lean months without running out of money. You should create a similar strategy and ensure that you have enough resources to make it work before setting up your own shop.
It’s also a good idea to find consistent clients – people who want year-round training and will show up regardless of what time of the year it is. These clients are harder to find, but when you do, hold on to them.
How to set up a successful personal trainer practice
Here’s the truth: the fitness industry is saturated with personal trainers. Many of them are in gyms, but just as many are freelancing, and like you, they’ll be looking to land clients.
This section shows you how you can stand out from the crowd in your practice and attract the kinds of clients you want to work with.
1. Referrals, referrals, referrals
Talk to most successful personal trainers and they will tell you that referrals are your single biggest source of new clients. I know I’ve mentioned this several times before, but it’s true.
It’s a good idea to focus on building great relationships with your current clients, as well as other professionals in adjacent fields.
2. Hold fitness challenges
Another great way to get eyes on your practice is to hold local fitness challenges. People love to join these as a way to kick start (or restart) their fitness journeys. If you can time it to fall in periods when people have the most incentive to get in shape – New Years or summer break, for example – you’ll find greater success.
One mistake many PTs make is to ask people to pay for every single resource in their fitness challenges. This doesn’t work because a large portion of fitness challenge participants don’t plan to hire you; they are just there for the free stuff.
Providing value keeps you on their mind, which will pay off in the long run. Plus, people who need a workout pro will genuinely feel like your challenge helped them. That will show you know your stuff and make them more likely to hire you.
3. Find the balance between value and price
Some personal trainers charge $500 per session, and they are fully booked. There are also fitness pros who charge $50 and struggle to find and keep clients.
It all comes down to your perceived worth and how much clients are willing to pay for your service. It’s a tricky number to find, but you need to find it ASAP.
Why? Charge higher than the price, and nobody will pay. Charge lower, and you’ll struggle to keep the lights on.
Here’s a great tip to help you find the right price: Ask your current clients if they’d be willing to pay you more for your service. You can also push further and ask how much more they’d be willing to pay.
4. Lock down your payment
Now that you’re running a business, it’s important to get in the business-owner mindset. That means keeping one thing in mind: You need to get paid.
So, while discussing with potential clients, make sure you bring up the price early on so you understand if they can afford you. The key is to not seem like you’re only after their money, but also clearly define how you’ll charge.
If you use some kind of personal trainer software, your client will probably have paid long before the session, so you’ll be able to avoid that awkward conversation.
How to get started as an online personal trainer
Training your clients online is a great way to carve out a niche for yourself.
In this section, we’ll discuss the merits of training your clients virtually, how you can sign clients, and build a successful online personal training business.
Benefits of being an online personal trainer
Moving your training online is a great way to differentiate yourself from other trainers around you, especially if you have a lot of competition. You’ll easily carve a niche for yourself among clients who barely have time during the day to train but want to get in shape.
Ease of automation
How great is it that you don’t have to be present for every single one of your online training sessions? This doesn’t necessarily mean you will abandon your clients. The trick is to pre-record some sessions and offer them to clients at a discounted price.
You still get paid, and an unlimited number of clients can receive your guidance at the same time. You can then use all that free time to explore more online client acquisition strategies or simply create a new routine for your lazy clients.
Low starting costs and overheads
The beauty of online training is that you can find a small well-lit corner of your home to record your videos. Take calls, train clients, and even do consultations without leaving your house. Compare this to training clients in person, where you have to rent a space, get equipment, and a host of other setup problems.
Wide client pool
As an in0 personal trainer in a gym, your clients are limited to people you see on a daily basis. But online, you can train clients from anywhere in the world, as long as they have an internet connection and a willingness to learn. You’ll no longer have to worry about beating another PART to the client.
5 simple steps to launching your online training
Step 1: Set up your training space
When setting up your training space, consider how much space your clients will have to work with, the lighting, and the general ambiance. Even though the training is online, you want people to feel like they are right there with you.
That means minimal nose, plenty of room to demonstrate, and a great location to set up your cameras. You may also need to invest in some lights, depending on how much illumination is in your space. Remember that lighting can make all the difference in the quality of your recordings.
Step 2: Get some equipment
Cameras are a no-brainer if you want to be successful as an online trainer. But the mistake most beginners make is to stress about the camera quality.
Believe it or not, an expensive camera does not equal a successful online training business. You should focus on getting whatever you can afford right now and then upgrade as you grow your business.
You will also need to invest in some equipment. But unlike upgrading a physical gym, you’ll need to find workout equipment that your clients can easily buy. Great suggestions include:
- Large balls
This may seem like a no-brainer but it’s definitely worth mentioning. Get an exercise mat as part of your personal trainer starter kit if you don’t have one already.
Step 3: Create effective training programs
Most physical training programs will not translate to the online scene, and it will be your job to identify which ones you can use to coach your online clients. It’s also a great idea to look at virtual training templates for ideas on how to structure your own routines.
If you’ve never trained clients remotely, you may not know what to expect, so there’s no shame in taking a few cues.
You should also consider creating several training programs for different kinds of clients. You can tweak them however appropriate for your client’s needs, but having those templates can make it easier to onboard clients and get started.
All you’ll need to do is get them to sign the liability waiver, and get right to work!
Step 4: Start seeking out clients
Landing clients online will be a little different from the physical space. While you have a larger pool to choose from, you also need more convincing to get them to commit. That means they must like what they see on your social media pages, YouTube, and website.
Landing training clients online also means that you have to try new acquisition strategies. Here are some ideas that might help.
- Make yourself known in local Facebook groups: People often go to Facebook groups for fitness advice. Being the go-to person for training and nutritional advice will inevitably draw more training clients to you.
- Launch free online fitness challenges: Online fitness challenges are a great way to attract people with fitness goals. From there, you can upsell serious clients to a 1:1 training session.
- Try Facebook and Instagram ads: These can be very effective, especially since they allow you to target users with great precision. Remember that you’ll only have a few seconds to catch attention, so be sure to include videos of your training sessions in your ads, so people know exactly what to expect.
- Collaborate with other personal trainers: If you know a trainer who specializes in non-competing niches, consider striking a deal with them so you can send work to each other.
Caring for yourself as a workout pro
Even though their entire career revolves around fitness, you’d be shocked to see how many personal trainers struggle to fit their workouts into their day.
It stems from the fact that you’re often (hopefully) training clients from morning till night, and whenever you have free time, you just want to get some rest. How can you work out when you’re so tired?
You may need to experiment a little to get into your groove. Some workout pros love to exercise early in the morning before attending to clients, some prefer during the day in between training sessions, and others prefer right before crashing for the night.
Take your own advice
After you’ve been training others for a while, it’s easy to forget the basics yourself. When you add entrepreneurship to the mix, it becomes so much easier to lose track of your own fitness metrics. You may skip workouts, stress eat, or even get on a poor sleeping schedule.
The bad news is that this slip is gradual, and you may not notice it until you haven’t worked out in two weeks and have been running on poor sleep and coffee for twice as long.
At moments like that, it’s important to take your own advice. Think of yourself as a patent and slowly bring yourself back up to speed. Create and follow milestones, ask another PT to be your accountability buddy, and just keep going.
Remember that everything takes time
You can’t build a successful practice in a day. But with time, dedication, and a solid plan, you’d be surprised what you’d accomplish in three years. The key is to keep going, learn from your mistakes, and focus on helping your clients.
The bottom line
Becoming a successful personal trainer is a ton of work. Even after you get your certification, you have to fight for every bit of experience you get, all the while struggling to earn more, work with more clients, and scale up.
But you don’t have to go it alone. There are resources like this website that publish regular helpful information focused on one thing – turning you into a Workout Pro. All you need to do is keep an open mind and seek out the knowledge.