Accepting Payments as a Personal Trainer: Step-by-Step Guide

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  • Personal trainers might work for a gym as an employee or as an independent contractor and receive weekly payments.
  • Self-employed personal trainers collect fees directly from their client.
  • Personal trainers may need to devise a rental arrangement or client booking policy with an independent gym.
  • Coming up with reasonable fees and a logical fee collection plan are critical steps.
  • Personal trainers shouldn’t make accounting and budgeting mistakes that cut into their income.


Personal training can be a rewarding career for fitness enthusiasts. Personal trainers love to spend time in the gym. Unlike other hobbies and lifestyles, gym fans may easily turn their passion into a means of making a full-time or part-time living. Personal training, for many, doesn’t even feel like work at times.

But work it is. Personal trainers expect to be properly compensated for their sessions. New entrants to the career of personal training might wonder how the whole pay thing works.

Do checks arrive in the mail? Are they paid in cash daily? Ultimately, the answer depends on the particular employment circumstances of the trainer. In some instances, the trainer must rely on an employer for payment. Others simply handle the collection of money owed on their own.

No matter how you get paid, a consistent payment plan and schedule should be put into place. Otherwise, income can become inconsistent, which brings forth a lot of annoying and troubling problems.

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New entrants to the field might be surprised at just how many different ways a personal trainer can receive payment. Understanding the different ways a personal trainer may be employed or self-employed sheds light on payment options.

Working as an Employee at a Gym

If you ever checked out advertisements for personal trainer jobs at big-box gyms, you see opportunities to work as a salaried employee. Big-box gyms involve a business model that is much different from the small local gyms common in the fitness industry.

Big-box gyms are either franchises or chain gyms designed to sell a large number of memberships to the public. The gyms also sell the public on personal training packages. Since these gyms frequently stay open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, a lot of people may book personal training sessions.

As such, the gyms do hire several personal trainers to work on staff. Often, these gyms can accommodate full-time as well as part-time schedules. The payment schedule with the big-box gyms is not much different than working any other type of salaried position. The company may set a flat rate per hour of training.

Over the course of one week, the hours spent training people are tabulated. Every week or two weeks, the personal trainer employee receives a paycheck.

Since the job is not an independent contractor position, taxes are taken out of the check. For some, this is preferable since the state, local, and federal taxes are paid on their behalf. No need exists to make estimated payments to tax agencies.

There are positives and drawbacks to working as a salaried employee at a big-box gym. The hourly rates for personal training are commonly lower than would be the case if you set your own rates. Some trainers might charge $11 to $20 per hour for training sessions, which pales in comparison to the $60 someone may charge when working as an independent operator.

The positives of working at a big-box gym are the clients would be assigned to you. People book through the gym and then you would be “given” a client. The supply of clients is consistent thanks to the huge advertising investments these gyms engage in. And then there are other potential benefits:

– Compensation beyond salary

Personal trainers serving as employees for a gym gain certain benefits that independent contractors do not. Full-time workers may become eligible for health benefits.

A health plan obviously saves a personal trainer a great deal of money since he/she wouldn’t need to pay out of pocket for an insurance plan.

Part-time employees may even be eligible for health insurance at a higher co-payment. Worker’s compensation insurance also kicks in for employees.

A 401(k) retirement savings plan would absolutely be an awesome benefit for a salaried personal trainer to access. With a 401(k), a certain amount of money would be deducted from a paycheck and invested. The employer would even match a certain amount of the funds. So, if $50 was taken out of the check, the employer could contribute $20 to the investment purchase.

– Additional compensation options

Big-box gyms commonly offer low monthly membership rates and earn profits based on volume. Like any other business, these gyms do need to generate additional revenue to stay in business. Selling supplements, protein powders, apparel, and more generate additional revenue for the gym. Someone has to help sell those products. Why not a personal trainer?

As an incentive to the personal trainers, a commission could be paid to those trainers who promote sales to their clients. Often, the client would benefit from a particular supplement.

A pre-workout shake loaded with good, slow-burning carbs may be helpful to someone requiring extra energy to perform reps with heavy weights. Others appreciate a recommendation for a low-carb egg, whey, or vegetable protein shake to help with post-workout recovery.

Personal trainers capable of generating sales for the gym become compensated accordingly. The commissions would be added to your weekly/bi-weekly paycheck. Of course, individual gyms devise their own specific payment policies but this is how things probably work.

To be successful with moving products, a personal trainer needs to be a little sales savvy, which is a skill that can be learned with a little effort and commitment.

– Increasing rates for a personal trainer

Low hourly rates can lead to higher levels of turnover at a big-box gym. If you prefer the stability found with a franchise or major chain, you accept the rates they pay. Developing a reputation as a top trainer who always receives good feedback from clients would be someone a gym prefers to retain.

Agreeing to a trainer’s raise request or increasing the percentage of sales commissions might be more than enough to keep the trainer in the fold.

Continuing your personal trainer certification education could lead to more opportunities and better pay. A gym may pay more for trainers with advanced certificates. Acquiring more certificates — credible ones from credible certifying authorities — might lead to better paychecks.

Small Gym Independent Contractor Arrangements

Not every gym is a large chain. Smaller, independently-owned gyms exist as well and many need trainers on staff, too. Not everyone working for a smaller gym is an actual employee. Often, the gym hires staff as independent contractors. Essentially, you aren’t working for the gym. You work for yourself under agreed-upon conditions with the person paying your fee.

Here’s a common example of how the arrangement could work. The gym assigns you to group classes and/or one-on-one sessions. The compensation may be $20 for a group class and, say, $40 for personal training sessions. On an established payday, you receive a check for work and service rendered for the gym.

Smaller gyms, as opposed to big-box ones, frequently pay their on-staff personal trainers this way. Of course, each small gym has its own policies.

To be hired as an actual employee as opposed to an independent contractor is possible. The terms of employment as an independent contractor might be quite different from one gym to the next. Be aware that as an independent contractor, your employer does not take taxes out nor pays any worker’s compensation or health insurance.

You should purchase your own liability insurance since you work for yourself. That means the gym’s insurance coverage won’t extend to you.

The Personal Trainer as an Entrepreneur

Working for others has its benefits, but you do need to answer to an employer and follow the rules established by the company. Your decision making and approach to training clients may be subject to specific rules.

Your schedule might not be yours to make. You may not maintain as much desirable control over your income. The rewards can be huge and so can income potential. Often, with income, you collect the money yourself. That means you must establish a payment arrangement of some sorts with your clients.

As an entrepreneur, you do not work for the gym as an independent contractor. The gym doesn’t pay you; you pay the gym for its facilities. You would collect money directly from your clients.

How does this work? There are various potential arrangements.

– Pay the Gym a Fee

The gym sets a rate for renting out gym space and you pay to rent the facilities. The cost could be $600 for unlimited use of the gym per month during business hours. The fee could be $25 for a three-hour block on a particular day. No matter what you pay the gym, getting paid is all on your shoulders.

You must find your own clients and collect money from them. The arrangement with the gym is strictly subletting. There are a lot of ways this rental arrangement could work. Visit several gyms to see if the costs and the facilities are agreeable.

If the cost, location, accessibility, and condition of the facility meet expectations, the gym might be perfect.

– Set up a Percentage Plan with the Gym

Instead of paying a flat rental fee to a gym, a personal trainer may be committed to paying a percentage or portion of personal training fees to the gym. With a $50 session, $8 may go to the gym to cover the cost of using the facility. The fees could range from reasonable to steep depending on the deal with the gym’s management.

Sometimes, when the gym takes a percentage, the gym may take over some or even all of the booking. So, in addition to providing space to the personal trainer, they may act as a booking agent. Such gym personnel could prove to be very valuable to you.

Advertising costs a lot of money. Finding clients takes time. Pitching personal training sessions deals requires skill.

When the person working the desk handles incoming calls from potential clients or in-person inquiries from current general members, they would be doing a bit of your work for you. Since the gym gets a percentage of your earnings, like any other booking agent, they have a strong motivation for procuring clients for you.

As long as the gym is working on your behalf, paying a percentage can be a good deal. Do not assume, however, this type of exact arrangement would exist in every gym. As always, one gym may handle things a lot different than another. The gym might not handle any client booking for you and simply takes a percentage to strictly cover the use of the gym.

A fitness facility could require you to submit an invoice of showing all the clients you trained during a particular week. An accounting of the percentage owed to the gym would be tabulated. A bill would then be sent to you for payment.

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Payment Strategies for the Entrepreneur Trainer

Self-employed personal trainers take full responsibility for compensation processing. A person paying a gym $200 to rent space a few hours a week may have no interaction with the gym owner beyond paying the $200 due.

Personal trainers who teach out of their homes or in a park or at the beach don’t even deal with a gym. While it is wonderful to work on your own, the task of collecting all the money is left on your shoulders. Coming up with a smart plan to properly collect the session dues consistently is critical. Otherwise, your income might become unstable.

– Accepting a Pay-As-You-Go Plan

With this relatively simple approach, you teach the session at an agreed-upon price. When the session is over, the client pays what is owed. Needless to say, this is not the most structured approach to accepting payments for a large number of clients.

A part-time trainer or someone only interested in taking on a small number of clients may find this an easy way to do business. Clients don’t feel too much pressure nor are they required to pay a lot out of pocket.

Commonly, the pay-go plan sets up better deals and discount offers when purchasing sessions in bulk. Those who want to pay for a single session on a pay-go basis simply may need to pay more. Certain clients may be perfectly fine with the arrangement.

– Requesting Payment Up Front for Multiple sessions

Collecting money on a per-day basis requires a lot of trust. Your clients must bring the money every session and do so week in and week out. When they miss a session, you also miss your payday. Asking clients to pay a sum of money in advance for a number of sessions could prove to be better for all involved.

Receiving the money upfront, setting up the weekly times, and establishing a cancellation policy on missed sessions makes things a lot easier for a trainer. All he/she has to do is follow through with all promises.

If choosing to request payment in advance, realize that the price you charge factors heavily into whether someone goes for the deal.

Professional bodybuilders and famous trainers may ask for $1,500 all at once for ten sessions. Such pros are in great demand and can succeed with such high prices.

The average trainer, especially a new trainer, must be a bit more prudent; $125 for five half-hour sessions or $450 for 10 sessions would be more reasonable. Breaking up the agreement into several payments can be an option as well.

The $450 for ten sessions could be split into a $300 down payment with the remaining amount due at the half-way point.

– Automatic deduction systems

These days, it is really easy to set up automatic payments either through Paypal or using an app designed to run credit card numbers. An agreement can be made with a client for a set number of sessions each week.

Instead of charging the person cash every week or requiring a cash payment upfront, the credit card or Paypal account can be charged each week. Collecting money and receiving payment should be top priorities for any personal trainer. Other responsibilities come into play as well.

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Personal trainers must think about several other critical aspects associated with being a successful self-employed professional:

Establishing Your Fee

Being paid for your services won’t result in much revenue if your expenses cut into the rates. Charging $20 per hour for training sessions and only booking three clients per day, spread apart by several hours, means your entire day is locked up for only $60.

Subtract travel and fuel costs along with taxes and the day ends up being one filled with downtime and few benefits. Think wisely when setting your fee. Charging $85 per hour when more experienced trainers are offering $50 for a sixty-minute session might lead to asking a lot but getting next to nothing regarding interested clients.

Charging too much undermines the ability to maximize earnings. You might get paid but, as is the case with charging too little, you harm your ability to achieve the desired income level.

Keep a Ledger of Receipts and Expenditures

Avoid the common mistake of being sloppy with record keeping. Relying on a bank deposit or Paypal records to log all earnings can lead to mistakes. These mistakes could prove problematic at tax time if your return is audited.

Maintain a ledger that logs client names, sessions times, and payments per session. Make a note of all the money earned on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. This way, income won’t be reported inaccurately on a return.

Also, detail all expenses in the ledger. Legitimate, tax-deductible expenses lower your obligations to the IRS. Not taking a deserved deduction means giving away income that rightfully belongs to you.

Make Sure You are Pleased with the Payment Arrangement

Early in your personal training career, you probably won’t have too many opportunities open to you. Accepting the only options available to you may be necessary to get a foot in the door of the industry. In time, you may find more latitude in what types of jobs and payment arrangements to accept.

When you have more options regarding your work arrangements, be sure you are happy with the way you are being paid. Discontentment tends to ruin enthusiasm for a job.

Keep Your Options Open

In conclusion, here’s some advice: Keep your options open. Working for more than one gym allows you to explore different options.

Perhaps you could work part-time as an employee for a big-box gym and reap the rewards of partial benefits while taking independent contracting gigs and booking private clients elsewhere.

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