What skills do you need to become a personal trainer? | Exercise.com Learn: Your Fitness Business Resource

What skills do you need to become a personal trainer?

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for Exercise.com. 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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  • Personal trainers must develop certain essential skills in order to be successful.
  • A mix of fitness knowledge and professionalism improves trainer-client relationships.
  • A motivated personal trainer can learn all vital skills.

Being a personal trainer requires hard work, dedication, and proper education to effectively train clients. And yes, you really do need to be certified to land a decent number of clients.

A certification alone, however, won’t be enough to carry your career.

You must possess all the skills necessary to be a successful personal trainer. There’s a reason why some trainers do a lot better business-wise than others. They draw on the valuable skills allowing them to be a hit with clients.

Once you’re certified, check out our all-in-one Fitness Business Management Software to see how you can manage your new client roster efficiently. Request a demo now.

A Diverse List of Skills

In-demand trainers draw on several unique skills to help clients see results and remain motivated to train. Certain skills appear pretty obvious, like knowing how to plan a fitness regimen, though others might be surprising to recently certified trainers — like the requirement to know CPR.

All of the skills are worth acquiring, though, and the more knowledge and qualifications you bring to the table, the more appealing you’ll be to potential clients.

Expert Level Exercise Performance

Knowing how to lift iron and perform bodyweight and cardio exercises remains a must for all trainers. However, there’s a difference between training yourself and others.

Personal trainers must know all the fine points about performing various exercises. They must also know the when, where, and how associated with the choice of exercises. You must choose exercises wisely for clients in order for them to reach their goals.

Expertise includes knowing what particular exercises to line up in a session with a specific client, as well as the ability to match a client’s personality with a personalized workout routine that keeps them happy while still being effective.

A Complete Understanding of Exercise Science

“Do you even lift, bro?” is a typical snarky question directed to know-it-alls who don’t know anything about weight training. You don’t want your clients asking this question. You should know a lot more than just how to perform exercises with proper form. You must understand human anatomy, physiology, and more. Doing so makes it a lot easier to better assist clients.

Also, clients are going to ask questions related to metabolism, proper muscle recovery, and nutrition. Knowing how the body works allows you to answer questions accurately or to direct a client toward a good reference source.

Solid Knowledge of Nutrition

Personal trainers are not nutritionists or dieticians. Still, be prepared to hear a lot of questions about diet.

You’re bound to hear questions about fad diets and dietary supplements — two things competing for client dollars. A smart trainer knows enough about nutrition to advise clients on basic food choices.

But be careful: Unless you’re a licensed nutritionist or dietician, you’re only legally allowed to give suggestions, not prescribe any diets to treat medical conditions (e.g., obesity).

Suggesting proper amounts of carbohydrate intake for exercise energy or steering people away from bad food choices are often part of a personal trainer’s job.

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Strong Communication Skills

Personal trainers must get information across in a clear and concise manner. You don’t want them to make mistakes that undermine workouts or cause injury. A gruff “Just do it!” attitude won’t be helpful either. Trainers need to speak well to get important points across when putting their clients through a workout routine.

And communication skills extend to emails and text messages. As a trainer, you will probably be going back and forth with clients via smartphone. A word to the wise: Be wary of using foul language. Some celebrity trainers use it as a part of their brand, but you shouldn’t assume it will work for you. Err on the side of professionalism.

A Desire to Keep Learning

Trainers who think they know everything fall quickly behind in an ever-changing industry. Sure, a lot of the “old school” training methods work. The basics of proper diet and exercise never really change, but the fitness industry does experience its changes and trends. A trainer should be on top of all changes and innovations, or else they’ll fall behind.

Trainers benefit from continuing their learning. Enrolling in refresher courses or specialty programs can help you. Anything that adds to or builds up a knowledge base is a positive. If there were a rule here to follow, it would be to always seek to add and improve on current skills.

You Don’t Need the Perfect Physique

There’s one thing that doesn’t necessarily mean as much as you think. Carrying 240 lbs. of solid muscle and nine percent body fat can be impressive, but how you look doesn’t automatically translate into being a great trainer. Sure, you must be reasonably fit to be taken seriously by most clients, but don’t fret too much over how lean and ripped you look.

Don’t focus on physique to the detriment of developing other critical skills.

The old saying that learning is a continual and lifelong process applies to personal training. Personal trainers who are open to learning new approaches can adapt with the times. Since trends emerge in the online fitness world, staying on top of both trends and new information in exercise science can help a trainer remain successful.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Which personal training certification is the best one?

All of the various personal training certifications have different requirements, costs, study materials, exam details, recertification requirements, and continuing education credits (CECs) or units (CEUs). It’s important to do your homework and review all of the details before deciding on which one is best for you. The certifications that have been NCCA-accredited are more reputable than others that are not accredited because they have met a certain level of standards for the certification.

How long should I study for a personal training certification exam?

It varies among individuals. If you recently finished a degree with courses covering most of the content in the exam, you might be able to take it more quickly than someone who does not have that background. With NESTA, once you register for the exam, you have 90 days to complete the exam. Other organizations will vary on their timelines.

How much money do personal trainers make?

This varies depending on location, experience, and how many clients you are training.

Where can I train my personal training clients?

There are a number of places where you could train your clients like a gym, a park, your home, their home, or your own studio.

After you’ve obtained your certification and are ready to start training clients, check out our all-in-one Fitness Business Management Software. Request a demo now

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