How to Become a Personal Trainer | Learn: Your Fitness Business Resource

How to Become a Personal Trainer

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

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UPDATED: Aug 25, 2020

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  • There are certain steps you should take if you have a desire to become a personal trainer.
  • Getting certified and being well educated on fitness and the body is important.
  • If you plan on starting your own personal training business, there are factors such as licensing, insurance, and taxes that you should be aware of.

Becoming a personal trainer takes more than just a desire to help others get into shape. To be an effective personal trainer, you need to have the appropriate training, specific skill sets and knowledge,­­ and the ability to work with people of all different shapes, sizes, and abilities.

The truth is that anyone can become a personal trainer, but that doesn’t mean that anyone should become a personal trainer. Personal characteristics, knowledge, skills, and certification are all important. Keep reading to learn what you need to become a qualified and effective personal trainer.

To learn more about how can assist in helping your business excel, request a demo of our fitness business software.

What Characteristics You Need to be a Personal Trainer

Just because you are in great physical shape and love to work out doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the characteristics required of a personal trainer. A good personal trainer has to have a lot of patience for a variety of different personality types.

  1. Patient: As a personal trainer, especially a new one, you aren’t going to be able to be choosy about your clients. As such, you are going to work with a lot of people who are going to make a great many excuses about why they are out of shape.
  2. Personable: Despite what you see on TV, most personal trainers don’t get to yell their clients into shape. Yes, you can work with them to let them see that they are simply making excuses; however, you want to be motivational, not confrontational.
  3. Organized: In addition to being patient, you also need to be organized; this is especially true if want to become a private trainer rather than working at a club. You cannot afford to miss an appointment, lose a training plan or forget the name of a client, or fail to send out invoices.
  4. Physically Fit: Being in good shape can help show clients that your exercises work and can be of use when trying to demonstrate exercises correctly to your clients.
  5. Knowledgeable: It’s essential to have a good understanding of specific exercise types, the body in general, and ideally, of nutrition, to safely and effectively mentor another person in their fitness goals.
  6. Self Starter: Lastly, you have to be a self-starter; again, this is especially true if you are aspiring to be a private trainer. If you have trouble getting going each day without someone telling you what to do, then you may have difficulty managing your own business as a personal trainer.

How to Get Certified as a Personal Trainer

Once you have decided that you do have the necessary characteristics to be a personal trainer, becoming certified is important. There are many different certification programs to choose from and even in certain ways you can get a certification for free. They aren’t all the same, so you need to choose well.

The most recognized names for personal training certification are the:

The most important thing to consider is whether the certification program is the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) certified. The NCCA is the only nationally recognized certifying agency. Your potential clients or employers will expect your certification program to be approved by this group.

Your certification should be current and you will need to take ongoing courses so that you stay up to date on new machines, new exercise methods and so on.

Personal Trainer Specialty Areas

You may also want to, in addition to a basic certification, become certified in specialty areas. For example, you can take courses on working with people with special needs so that you can expand your client base to include rehabilitation, working with illness and so on.

There are also personal trainers that specialize in triathlon training, bike training, Olympic training and so on. It is okay to have multiple specialized certifications, but don’t stretch yourself too thin.

First Aid

Part of your certification should include become certified in First Aid and CPR. If you are planning on working for a gym, this will be a requirement; in fact, many gyms provide free training once a year to keep their personal trainers up to date. While it may not be a requirement for becoming a private personal trainer, it will look good to potential clients that you have the ability to provide first aid support should anything happen during the workout.


You may want to become educated in nutrition so that you can offer dietician services too. Becoming a licensed dietician can give you an edge and some personal trainers offer this as an additional service to their clients. Others recommend a dietitian so that a plan for both diet and exercise can be established.

Advanced Education

Lastly, if you are serious about a long-term career, you may want to consider extending your education in terms of learning about how the body, bones, and muscles work. Some personal trainers go so far as to obtain a nursing degree because it allows them to safely work and understand clients with medical limitations and diseases.

Choosing a Gym or Self-Employment

A great majority of private personal trainers started out working in a gym. The main reason for this is that they can gain experience and clients.

If you work in a gym you will work there in one of two capacities either as an independent contractor or as an employee for the gym. The benefit of being an independent contractor is that you can hand out your business cards to potential clients, and you can set your own rates and hours.

The benefit of working directly for a gym as a personal trainer is that there is a certain amount of job security. In addition, many gyms will pay for any additional training necessary to keep your certifications current and they pay for your first aid and CPR classes. You have a built-in client base and you may get health benefits. Of course, you can’t set your own rates and hours.

You can’t forget that a gym offers access to all of the high-end equipment that you, as a private personal trainer, probably don’t have.

Starting Your Own Personal Training Business

If you have never owned a business before then consider contacting your local Small Business Administration. They usually offer classes in starting a business, ongoing courses in running that business, and even mentors to help you. As a business owner just starting out you will need to know about licensing, taxes, marketing, bookkeeping, and state laws, among other things.

Personal Training Licensing and Taxes

Legally, you must register your business where you live. You will also have to determine what your state’s requirements are for starting a business. You need to be prepared to pay for any licensing fees as well as putting money aside for your quarterly taxes.

Type of Business

You also need to decide whether you are going to be an LLC, sole proprietorship, or corporation. Most small businesses choose sole proprietorship because it is the simplest option. In addition, a sole proprietorship is the cheapest to maintain.

The downside to this option is that your personal debt and business debt go hand in hand. With other business options, such as a corporation or LLC, you are personally protected from any tax or other liability issues. With a sole proprietorship, your personal finances are at risk if something should happen to the business. Keep in mind that you can change the type of business you have whenever you choose, so you aren’t stuck with your decision for the long-term.

As with any tax or legal issue, be sure to consult with a qualified tax professional such as an attorney or CPA.

Personal Trainer Business Insurance

You will need to look into insurance for your business, otherwise, you leave yourself open to a lawsuit if someone gets injured under your care. Remember, people can get hurt during a workout plan that you designed for them, so be prepared.

If you do have a gym in your home, you need to ensure that your liability insurance covers an accident in that area of your home. If not, then you need to purchase an additional policy.

Understanding all of your options will help you make a better decision for yourself and your company.

Marketing Your Personal Training Business

Word of mouth is a personal trainer’s best friend; especially when you are just starting out in the business. Make sure you let everyone know about the services you are offering by promoting your personal training business effectively.

Traditional marketing materials like flyers and business cards can definitely help but some methods and strategies are simply outdated in this modern day of age. You need to take advantage of online options.

Frankly, most people will look online for services that they need before opening a phone book, newspaper, or magazine these days.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social network sites can do wonders to spread the word about your personal training business.

Having your own website can add to your accessibility and professional appearance, but there is a cost associated with both building and maintaining the site. You will also need to wade into the murky waters of SEO marketing and Google rankings. While this is doable, it can be costly and time consuming.

Another option is to advertise your services on a fitness site like ours that offers online personal training among its options already. This puts you in front of a pre-qualified audience of buyers that is already interested in what you have to offer. Plus, the website owners can worry about all the technological stuff, and let you concentrate on other aspects of the business.

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Running Your Personal Training Business

While you need to market your personal training business and attend to the bookkeeping and legal task, taking care of your clients is going to be your number one priority. On a daily basis this will involve:

  1. Creating client workouts
  2. Setting goals with clients
  3. Tracking goals for clients
  4. Sending proposals to potential clients
  5. Creating and sending invoices to clients

Possibly the best piece of advice to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed here is to let an expert do any tasks that you are not an expert on already.

Having the Right Personal Trainer Equipment

There is a misconception out there that if someone hires a personal trainer, that they have a private gym to work in as well. The truth is that you may need to have some equipment, depending on your set up, but you don’t have to spend a fortune.

Traveling Personal Trainers

Of major importance is buying equipment that is portable. Some personal trainers carry around dumbbells, barbells and so on to take to their clients. Of course, this is cumbersome. Starting out it’s best to work with what clients have or in a gym. Ideally, your clients will have some of the items already, and you can buy key pieces as you build your business.

Many trainers choose less traditional objects such as exercise bands, medicine balls and so on. It isn’t uncommon for a personal trainer to request their client to purchase a specific piece of equipment in order to work with them.

If you are a personal trainer that wants to focus on helping bodybuilders, then you need to have access to a gym. Some personal trainers create their own gym in their home or facility and have one client come to them at a time. The better your reputation is, the more likely it is that you will have clients willing to come to you.

You’ll want a good relationship with your local gym anyway. These are the people that are likely to recommend you.

Meeting Your Goals

If you feel you have the right personality and background to become a personal trainer then it’s time to set your goals:

  1. Get certified
  2. License and register your business
  3. Create a local and online marketing presence
  4. Use organizational tools to drive the business
  5. Keep yourself fit and healthy

Being a personal trainer can be a rewarding career. If you love working out and can see yourself teaching others to do the same, then this may be a great fit for you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What certification do most personal trainers have?

Most personal trainers are certified through ACE or NASM.

Can a personal trainer have a certification and be a bad trainer?

Yes; just as a doctor can have a medical degree and still be a “bad” doctor, having a personal training certification does not mean that the trainer is an effective one.

How long does becoming a certified personal trainer take?

It depends on the certification. Some only require a few days or weeks of studying; others require months of study and other pre-requisites like a college degree.

We’ve built a fantastic platform that any trainer can use to expand their business and reach more people online. Once you’re certified, check out our all-in-one Fitness Business Management Software. Request a demo now!

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