There are few jobs in today’s society where someone with a little more than a heartbeat can become financially successful. Unfortunately, far too many individuals in the aforementioned group believe that they can attain a certification to become a personal trainer and the money will start rolling in. While it is true that the requirements to become a Certified Personal Trainer are quite basic, not just anyone can make a comfortable living as a fitness trainer.

The scope of this article is to explain what tools you need to become not only a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer, but also an extremely successful fitness professional. There will be no “pulling of punches” in this writing – information that few high-end fitness professionals are willing to part with will be disclosed! This article will contain many different sections that I will expand upon in future articles in the very near future.

Personal Training – An Overview

What isn’t appealing about being a personal trainer? A fitness trainer has the power to literally change lives and empower people. Each and everyday is spent helping others take steps to become better people. On the business side, you can work as much or as little as you would like, and if you are creative, successful and/or a combination of the two, there is no upper limit on how much income you can accumulate.

Most well-known certification courses cover the basics of exercise, client supervision, safety, biomechanics and anatomy (or the “physical” side of personal training), while most do very little to help teach new and aspiring trainers how to find clients, keep clients, understand taxes and accounting, insurance and liability, and other basic business practices (the “fiscal” aspect of personal training). One other important aspect often neglected in most training courses is the psychology of a personal trainer, and how to handle different relationships that one may encounter on a daily basis.

The first thing that a potential personal trainer always seems to ask is which certification they should take to become a personal trainer. In short, the training certification should only be viewed as the beginning - the permission to begin practicing as a personal trainer. The differences between physical education in the more popular personal training certifications such as NSCA, NASM, ACSM, ISSA, and ACE are quite marginal. Each of these courses will teach you the basics of how the body reacts to exercise and training, the basics of nutrition, how to design and develop an exercise program, and the different muscle groups and exercises for each muscle group. Understand this: there is no one personal training certification that will turn a novice into an expert Olympic trainer.

Unfortunately, too many individuals believe that once they take a particular personal training certification exam that they are well on their way to a six-figure a year income with no further training or education. On the other side of the coin, some individuals obtain a degree in Kinesiology or a related field and believe that a certification is beneath them (although several certification courses require a degree before an individual can take the examination). Many individuals believe that once they have their certification or degree there is nothing more to learn and they refuse to better themselves - complacency is one of the biggest mistakes a personal trainer can make, and each fitness professional should strive to learn more and more every day. While a particular training course will provide the basics of what to expect as a personal trainer in an ideal world there is nothing that can replace the experience of working with individuals face to face. While the basic mechanics of exercise and the body’s reaction to different training protocols is usually straight forward, no two individuals are the same. Should a personal trainer assume that every client can be trained the same, whether they are a competitive athlete or a 63 year old grandmother? Not if they want to continue to stay in business.

Ok, What If I’m Interested in Becoming a Personal Trainer?

Before an individual quits their day job and decides they want to be a personal trainer, they should do an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. Of course, a love for helping individuals reach their physical (and often emotional) potential is important, along with a passion for health, exercise and overall fitness. Responsibility, patience, self-motivation, high energy, and professionalism are all desirable qualities for a successful personal trainer. In addition, there are a few questions that one may ask of themselves when making the decision on whether or not they should become a personal trainer: Am I able to convey my thoughts into words in an understandable manner? Am I comfortable in a sales position (like it or not, sales is 80% of personal training)? Do I have the patience to deal with someone who does not have reasonable expectations? Or someone who has self-image problems? Am I able to be friendly yet strict, while remaining professional?

There are several more questions that one could ask of themselves before making the decision to become a personal trainer. Once you do an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and evaluate how well you would perform in a business that requires a self-motivation and accountability (from both the trainer and the client), and a ton of “people” skills, you will have a better idea if becoming a personal trainer is the right decision for you.

Once you determine that you have the personality and the self-discipline and motivation to become a personal trainer, it is time to consider which certification will best help you get started with your new career. Again, pay attention to the wording of the preceding sentence – a certification is only the first step!

As mentioned above, the difference in acquired knowledge between the many certifying organizations is marginal. While some have different prerequisites than others, it is important to understand what you hope to accomplish. If your dream is to work for Gold’s Gym or another commercial enterprise, find out what certifications they require their personal trainers to obtain. This article is for those personal trainers looking to go beyond that level, study each organization and determine which certification most fits your needs as far as your experience and education level.

Here are the courses that I would consider (in alphabetical order):
-The American Council on Exercise (ACE)
-The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
-The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA)
-The International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA)
-The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
-The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
-The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

The internet is a great resource for finding information on any of these organizations. You are never going to be over-certified, as multiple certifications provide a broad spectrum of education and training philosophy.

Where can a personal trainer work?

There are several different career opportunities for aspiring personal trainers. As mentioned above, different jobs may have different prerequisites for potential fitness professionals. Commercial health clubs and gyms are the most popular sources of employment for personal trainers, but those opportunities only scratch the surface of the career field. Private personal training studios, the internet, corporate health, in-home training, sports and athletic training associated with teams of all levels, and “boot camp” style programs provide the fitness professional with an endless source of income and professional growth. One of my upcoming articles will discuss how to make money as a personal trainer outside of commercial gyms and health clubs.

I am now certified. Why aren’t people beating down my door to let me train them?

Have you ever wondered why some personal trainers make $12-15 per hour working at commercial gyms while others command $40-300 per hour working on their own or in high-end health clubs? Believe it or not, the answer doesn’t always lie in the amount of education or the specific certification that an individual may have. Are the guys and girls that are making the higher wage worth what people are actually paying? Absolutely, or they would not stay in business.

If asked to define the most common weakness amongst personal trainers that are not making at least $100,000 per year there is one thing I would look at. I know there are many knowledgeable personal trainers that are struggling to get by. I am sure they work hard and go that extra mile for their clients, but they just cannot seem to take it to the next level. The secret is usually not in their level of knowledge (of course, experience may play a role), but more often in that individual’s ability to market and position themselves as someone who deserves to make a six-figure salary.

There are hundreds of personal trainers in large metropolitan areas in the United States. Here in San Antonio, TX, I would venture to say there are thousands, but only a handful of them are making an amazing living at it. Of course, more than 80% of them are working for a corporate health club. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, your earning potential will more than likely top out in the $18-25 per session rate, and that doesn’t count how many hours you’re expected to be in the gym on the floor, giving free advice and tips, and possibly even selling products.

I do not have a degree in marketing. My only knowledge is from my experience and from a few well-known books and articles that I have read. In my opinion, it is easy to sell myself to a potential client, but getting a client to come to you is not easy for anyone. We all know that people are looking for personal trainers – obesity levels in this country are off the charts, and obesity related diseases such as diabetes, certain types of cancers and heart disease are killing thousands every year. So how do we find clients when so many personal trainers are after the same dime?

Most personal trainers do three things when they start out: they place their business cards at places of interest around their local area, they take out ads in local newspapers and magazines and they put themselves in the Yellow Pages. Unfortunately, everyone else is doing the same thing. The Yellow Pages are becoming obsolete. Business cards are a great tool to handout to people as you meet them, but how often do people pick them up when they are on counters/tables in local businesses? Advertising? Outrageously expensive, and everyone knows that the person placing the advertisement wrote the ad, and it is viewed as bragging (more on this later).

Today, more people are using the internet to find local businesses to help suit their needs, and fewer and fewer people are turning to the Yellow Pages. Before becoming a full time personal trainer, my experience was in computer programming. Of course, when I assessed my strengths and weaknesses, my computer programming skills were an asset. If you do a Google search right now for “Personal Trainers in San Antonio”, the name “Boyd Myers” and my site, will come up every time on the first page, and that does not require twelve years of computer programming experience to achieve. It only takes a well-written and designed website that describes your business and services, tells who you are and where you are located. Search engine optimization is tricky (huge companies pay six-figures to ensure they are at or near the top), but as long as you play by the rules (and Google has very specific rules), and remain patient, you will be listed on the first page of a search engine. Search for terms that are relative to your business (think like a potential client) and do what the top pages are doing (do not steal from your competitors). Determine what it is that those top pages have in common and keep this in mind when you design your page. The internet is by far your most valuable source for clients.

As I mentioned above, advertising can be incredibly expensive, and the chances are if you are advertising in a periodical that will reach your targeted audience, you will not be the only person with an advertisement in the periodical - also, advertising is not only marketing, it’s bragging! Understand this – when you say something about yourself, you are bragging. When someone else says it, it is praise or an endorsement. Why brag when you can receive praise by a third party - instead of paying for an advertisement, volunteer to write an article for the periodical. Most editors are always searching for information. If accepted, you will have your name and business listed, but instead of in a bragging advertisement, your article will cause you to be viewed as the “resident expert” and will be given much more credibility than someone listed in the advertiser’s section.

One other source of clientele that I would like to list is an extremely powerful tool: the strategic alliance. Many other non-personal training services that have a very similar clientele list to that of which you are searching. Massage therapists, chiropractors and other medical professionals, and nutritionists and dieticians all have clients and patients that could greatly benefit from an experienced personal trainer. Your relationship with these individuals is a great way to earn a referral (which is another outstanding endorsement). It is not always automatic that you instantly earn the respect and trust of other professionals just by asking for it. Like any other relationship, trust and confidence takes time to build and earned. In a future article, I will explain how to approach and develop these relationships, but for this article’s sake, I wanted to introduce the concept and emphasize the value of the strategic alliance.

If you are already a somewhat established fitness trainer and have a client list, you already have a source for other clients. If you are a good personal trainer that gives everything you have to every client, then most clients will be glad to provide you with a new client (or clients). In my opinion, the most valuable endorsement that anyone can give you is one that they are willing to give their friends and family. You cannot buy a more powerful advertisement! Take care of your clients – go that extra mile to ensure that they are getting the best possible service that anyone can offer. Give them 24-hour access to you, and do whatever it takes to ensure they reach their goals. Of course, when they refer a friend or a family member to you, take care of them (via free sessions, a massage, or a nice gift).

When it is time for a client to buy a new training package from you, take care of them. I believe that your rates should be set and you should never haggle or negotiate. I also believe that it is easier to keep a client than to find a new one, so it is important that you take care of those you already have. If they are willing to extend their relationship with you, take it as a compliment and think of it as one less client you have to advertise for.

Ever Seen a Doctor or Lawyer Wear Workout Clothes to Their Office?

Finally, if you expect to be treated like a professional that is worth more than $50 per hour, it is important that you look the part. As the trainer, you are not the one working out, your client it. But it never ceases to amaze me how many trainers train in tank tops and workout shorts. LOOK THE PART! I am not suggesting you to wear a suit and tie, as a nice polo shirt and either khaki pants or appropriate shorts will suffice.

Would you go to a dentist with bad teeth? Would you go to a barber with bad hair? Should someone trust a personal trainer who is not in shape? Right or wrong, perceptions are important. While there are plenty of football coaches that could not be players, the average client is going to have a tough time listening to an individual that doesn’t look like they have the discipline to take their own advice. Even worse, they are going to assume that you have no idea what you are talking about. If you are starting to find your pants a little snug or the chin is starting to double up, take your own advice and look like you are qualified to be called a fitness professional.

I wrote this article to scratch the surface of what it takes to become a high-end personal trainer. It will help many new and aspiring personal trainers determine if they have what it takes to either start a new career or take their existing business to the next level. In the very near future, I will be releasing a series of articles that will elaborate on this writing and release more important information that will help even the most seasoned fitness professional elevate their business to unlimited earning potential.

Author's Bio: 

San Antonio Personal Trainer Boyd Myers, co-author of the book "The Most Complete, Practical and Honest Weight Loss, Fitness and Nutrition Guide" has assisted numerous personal trainers in becoming the top fitness professionals in their respective areas. Boyd's client list includes models (which have appeared in Playboy, Oxygen and other popular magazines), actors, actresses, and professional athletes from all major sports.

Boyd has also been the subject of an article in Money Magazine, and is the owner of two personal training studios in the San Antonio area.