How to Become a Personal Trainer: Your Ultimate Guide

Turn your love of fitness into a personal training career, like this trainer did!

If you have a real talent for fitness, have a motivating personality, and love helping people, you might have a future career as a personal trainer.

You’re probably already fit and healthy, and perhaps you have a desire to help others achieve their fitness goals. Becoming a personal trainer is fulfilling on a personal level, and it is a growth industry. In addition, personal trainers set their own hours and days they want to work, which make it a great career for people who need or prefer flexibility in their work schedules.

If you’re thinking that you want to be a personal trainer, there are several steps you need to take to begin your new career. It will take you time and money, but it is essential for you to take the time and spend the money in order to make your career get off the ground in the right way.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the 7 steps it takes to become a personal trainer. We’ll cover everything from certification and licensing, to getting insured and finding your first customers.

How to Become a Personal Trainer in 7 Steps

Step 1: Get yourself certified.

Clients want a personal trainer with a certification, because they want to work with trainers who have a lot of knowledge and experience, and who have taken the time to understand how to best work with them.

Gyms or fitness centers will often require personal trainers to be certified before hiring them. Trainers who have knowledge and experience get more clients than trainers with no certification or experience.

But there are a lot of training programs out there with a variety of different programs offering certification. How can you go about finding the right one when learning how to become a personal trainer?

First, know that before beginning your journey to become a personal trainer, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent, like a GED. If you don’t have either of those, then keep in mind that you’ll have to reach one of those milestones first.

Once you make sure that you have the required prerequisites, you can familiarize yourself with six agencies in the United States that have certification programs:

Each one of these programs has a national reputation, but they all offer different outcomes for their students. If you know that there are gyms in your area that you want to work for, you can ask them ahead of time what certifications they require and if there’s a preference for which organization you become certified with.

This way you won’t study through a program only to learn you needed a different certification.

In brief, here are the basics of all five programs:

  • The American Council on Exercise (ACE) was established in 1985. There is no membership program or any membership fees that you must pay. The class the council provides lasts 6 months. Study materials are provided, and the exam voucher with a 6 month expiration date. If you want coursework and the exam, there are three price points depending on how much instruction you need; there’s the Basic program at $551, the Plus program at $649, and the Advantage program at $974. All of these programs include at least one practice final exam. For some small business owners learning how to become a personal trainer, the prices can raise eyebrows. However, with ACE, you also have the chance of paying with a monthly payment program. The exam itself is computer-based. To begin the program, you must be at least 18, have a high school diploma or GED, and have received first aid/CPR/AED training. The approximate time to complete the training and exam is 6 months. In order to keep your certification, you must re-certify every 2 years, and you must have at least 20 hours of continuing education credits (CECs). Costs for recertification range from $49-129. Prices go up if you are late to renew your certification, so make sure you mark your calendar!
  • The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) is world-renowned and has been running for over 30 years. Exam fees range from $599 for the exam alone and more if you decide to purchase a bundle which includes study materials. The curriculum itself is taught digitally on an online platform and covers a variety of topics from nutrition and professional development, to behavioral coaching and creating programs for clients. There are approximately 120 questions on the exam; 20 of the questions are research-based and do not count towards the final score. You need a score of 70 or above to pass the exam. To begin the program, you must be at least 18, have a high school diploma or GED, and have received first aid/CPR/AED training. In order to keep your certification, you must re-certify every 2 years, and log 20 or more hours of continuing educations. Costs for recertification range upwards from $99, and you also have the option of paying for a lifetime membership.
  • The International Sports Science Association (ISSA) was formed in 1988 and is working towards the goal of connecting 100M people to the power of healthy living by the year 2030. If you choose to study online with ISSA, you’ll have the option of three different personal trainer certification programs that are $69/month, $79/month, or $99/month depending on your end-goal. All three programs are 12 month plans. Similar to other accredited programs, you will be required to have your CPR/AED certification before beginning your program. When you take your exam, you’ll need scores of at least 70% for the CPT portion and 75% or better on all sections of the final exam. Depending on when you decide to buy your package, you may be eligible for sales or discounts.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine was established in 1954. There are ranging membership fees; $10 for a student membership, and $240 for a professional membership. There is not a set time to study and information and webinars are available. The organization’s study guides for the test range in price. The ACSM makes it easy for you to build your own study schedule based on preferences. The organization recommends giving yourself from 3-6 months to prepare. To pass your exam, you must get a score of 550 or above, out of a range of 200-800. To begin the program, you must be at least 18, have a high school diploma or GED, and have received first aid/CPR/AED training. In order to keep your certification, you must re-certify every 3 years, and you must have 45 hours of continuing education hours to recertify. Costs for recertification are $45.
  • The National Strength and Conditioning Association was established in 1978. Membership is $70 for a student membership, and $130 for a professional membership. Exams must be taken within 120 days of registering and fees differ depending on your membership status. The cost to register for the exam as a member is $300 and $435 as a non-member. There are a range of materials available, from journals and articles, to videos and podcasts, depending on how in-depth you need the materials to get. There are approximately 155 questions in the three-hour exam. The exam itself is computer-based. To begin the program, you must be at least 18, have a high school diploma or GED, and have received first aid/CPR/AED training. In order to keep your certification, you will get recertified either annually or every 3 years, depending on your membership status and goals. The fees for recertification range from $25-90.
  • The National Federation of Personal Trainers was established in 1978. The program offers two different course packages, standard and premiere ranging from $239-$449 depending on current promotions. The exam itself is computer-based. It has 120 questions in a two hour format; you need 750/1000 points to pass, a score of 74%.To begin the program, you must be at least 18, have a high school diploma or GED, and have received first aid/CPR/AED training. In order to keep your certification, you must re-certify every year, with 2 hours of continuing education. The cost to recertify is $85 per year, which goes towards your annual membership. After you receive certification, it’s time for Step 2.

Step 2: Get your business license.

Once you’ve done the hard work getting your certification, you may consider getting a business license. When working to become a personal trainer, it isn’t required for you to get a business license–but it could be a huge benefit to your business.

Having a business license can:

  • Help you land a job at a gym or fitness center
  • Earn the trust of potential clients
  • Strengthen your relationship with vendors
  • And more

Personal trainers do a lot of work to establish, grow, and promote their personal brand. Every action you can take towards showing your community, potential employers (like a gym), and possible clients that you’re a trainer worth working with, is an action that pays off.

That’s why getting a business license is a great step to take when you’re becoming a personal trainer.

Step 3: Get personal trainer business insurance.

Getting a business license helps potential clients see you take your business seriously. But how can you assure clients that you’re prepared against potential risks?

It may not be easy to think of when you’re starting out, but despite how careful you are, mistakes happen. If an accident occurs, even if it isn’t your fault, you’re still at risk of being sued by a client.

This is an unfortunate reality. A survey reports that each year, 43% of business owners are threatened with or involved in a civil lawsuit. Getting personal trainer business insurance can help ensure that in the case you become part of that statistic, you’re protected.

There are two types of business insurance coverage you may want to consider for your personal trainer business: general liability insurance and professional liability insurance.

General liability insurance is coverage that typically helps to protect you against occurrences like:

  • Property damage
  • Third party accidents
  • Bodily injury
  • And more

Let’s look at a couple examples of how general liability coverage may come in handy.

Say you’re visiting a client’s home for a private training session. You bring equipment like resistance bands, dumbbells, and kettlebells. While training, you place a kettlebell down too harshly and it causes the client’s wood floor to crack.

Your client sues you for the cost of the floor repair. If you didn’t have personal trainer insurance with general liability insurance, you may have to pay to repair the damaged floor out-of-pocket. Having a business insurance policy could help you cover the cost of the repairs, as well as any legal fees you may have.

Or maybe you’re working with a client at a gym. The client insists on using a heavier weight than you recommend, so you assist their repetitions. Even then, the client pulls a tendon and has to stop coming to the gym and attend physical therapy.

The client sues you for the cost of their medical bills and physical therapy visits. Without general liability coverage for your personal training business, you could have to pay for the requested fees out of your own accounts, risking the stability of your company.

With personal trainer insurance though, you could be covered for the cost of the repairs, as well as related legal fees.

Despite working with clients in-person and dealing with risks that come in physical form, like injury, personal trainers also face other risks.

Professional liability insurance is insurance that typically helps protect business owners from:

  • Negligence or alleged negligence
  • Copyright infringement
  • Alleged stolen ideas
  • And more

Let’s look at a couple examples of how a personal trainer may find having a professional liability policy helpful.

A personal trainer is running an outdoor bootcamp class and gets sued by another personal trainer, who claims they stole their initial idea and ideas for marketing the class. Without professional liability coverage, the personal trainer may have to pay those requested fees to settle the lawsuit.

If the personal trainer has business insurance though, their policy could help cover the requested fees and lawyer bills.

Another personal trainer is hired by a client for a bodybuilding competition. Later, when the client wins third place instead of first, they sue the personal trainer, blaming their negligence as the reason they didn’t win first place.

In this scenario, if a personal trainer didn’t have any coverage, they may have to use money they have in savings to settle the lawsuit with the client. With personal trainer insurance that covers professional liability though, they’d be protected; their policy could help cover the fees the client is requesting, and legal fees.

In both of these scenarios, you can likely see why business owners would find it helpful to have business insurance coverage.

But how do you make sure you’re getting the right policy for the personal trainer business you’re building? There are a few things you can do:

Talk to other personal trainers.

While researching which policy may be best for you, talk to other personal trainers either in your local community or through the program you got certified with. Ask what experiences people had when shopping for insurance coverage and what they may or may not recommend.

Ultimately, you’ll make the decision that’s best for you, but it never hurts to get perspective from other business owners.

Know what risks you face.

Depending on what type of personal training you want to do in your business, you may face different risks. For example, a personal trainer who goes to clients’ private homes may face different risks than a trainer working at a fitness center.

Keeping in mind what type of business you’re building, research and write down all the possible risks you could encounter, either early on or as an experienced trainer. Knowing the possibilities will help you ensure that the policy you choose can properly protect you.

Compare policy quotes.

Most big purchases aren’t ones you make in a moment, and insurance is no different. To make an informed decision, take the time to compare quotes and see what coverage options are available to your personal training business.

With Simply Business, you can compare quotes for free in less than 10 minutes — just use our comparison tool here.

Not only can we show you rates from the nation’s top carriers, but the policy options are affordable, too.

Get Insured in Under 10 Minutes

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Step 4: Define your niche and customer.

Every trainer has a specialty, and you will need to take some time to figure yours out. Do you prefer working one-on-one with a client in a gym or health center? Do you want to work with groups of people at a time? Is there a specific discipline you prefer, such as spin or Pilates?

One way to decide what type of personal training you want to do is to think back to what motivated your certification in the first place. Is there a specific trainer that you worked with before getting certified whose career path you’d like to mimic?

Keep in mind that if you choose to work with groups of students, you may need additional certifications as a fitness instructor. Also, if you want to specialize in a discipline, understand you may need additional training and certifications in those specific areas, such as yoga or sports training.

Be sure that whatever you select makes sense to you and your goals, and that you assess the risk so that you can find the insurance coverage that’s right for the specific type of training you offer. You can always get certified in one area, and then obtain additional certifications later.

Step 5: Invest in yourself.

In order to get certified with one of the national organizations, it is going to cost you a little bit of cash up front. It may seem like a lot of money, but consider looking at this new career as an investment, because the certification programs noted above can be expensive, ranging from $400-$1,000 depending on the organization and the materials you purchase.

Think about it as investing in yourself. Your certification will help you know how to safely train clients, and the more certifications you have, the more money you may be able to make.

Because the materials and tests are so expensive, you may want to think about the benefits of asking a gym to sponsor you. Many franchise gyms have that option.

Each gym’s sponsorship program works differently, but typically, they sponsor your class and fees, with the understanding that you have to work at the gym for a certain period of time after you certify. If you don’t complete the course, or you get a better offer after you certify, you usually have to reimburse the gym.

Part of investing in yourself and your new career means that you take the time the program gives you to study seriously. For many, six months can be a short time, and you will be staring a test in the face fairly quickly.

Be sure to make a plan for studying, and keep at it. That way, you’re less likely to panic during test time. If you don’t pass the first time, many organizations will allow you to retake the exam for a fee. If you are having trouble with some of the material, ask the certifying organization for test prep help – many of them have free help sessions.

After you finish and you pass the test, you are ready to look for a job.

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Step 6: Find a job.

After you become certified, it’s time to begin your job search. How you approach your search will depend on if you want to begin your new career in a gym or training center, or if you want to work as a contractor on your own. There are advantages to both – and disadvantages.

First, if you join a gym, you won’t usually have the same start-up costs, like if you had to buy equipment for your clients to use, rent a space, and more.

You also may not have to spend as much time looking for clients, because the gym will provide you with them. If you work for a gym, however, you have to abide by their client guidelines and rules for gym practice. Keep in mind, if you start at a gym, and then you want to move out on your own eventually, you need to read the fine print of your employment contract – because you may not be able to take your clients with you.

If you decide to go out on your own, then it’ll be your responsibility to work hard to find your own clients. One option is to establish yourself on social media and build a website.

In the beginning, you could offer to train some friends or colleagues for a reduced fee, and let word of mouth bring clients to you. Begin networking at places where health and fitness events are held or promoted. You may also be able to find a gym or studio where independent contractors can work, for a fee.

If you go out on your own, just know that it may take a while to build up an income. You will also need to think about your long-term business needs, such as health insurance and retirement. Perhaps the most important perk of working for yourself is that you are your own boss: you get to schedule your time the way you want, and you will answer to no one but yourself and your clients.

Whether you decide to go out on your own, or you work within a gym, having personal trainer business insurance is a smart move. Not only may it help protect you and your clients if something goes wrong, but some clients or gyms where you work will require you to have coverage.

Step 7: Continue your education.

After you’ve become certified, get your business license and insurance coverage, and start finding clients, your education journey isn’t over.

In order to stay competitive in your industry, it’s important to keep your eyes open for opportunities to continue your education. This could mean attending a seminar on a new training technique, or taking a class to dive deeper into anatomy and physiology.

Either way, furthering your education is a way to help you stand out to potential clients and provide the best training possible.

Becoming a Personal Trainer Can Uplift Your Career

Similar to training in the gym, the process of becoming a personal trainer isn’t easy. In fact, a good amount of time, effort, and money goes into getting certified and staying educated. But in the end, all of the work you do pays off.

As a personal training small business owner, you get to take control of your schedule and help your clients reach their goals.

For more information on how to grow and protect your business, head over to Simply U, our blog for business owners.

Allison Grinberg-Funes

I’ve told stories since I learned to talk and written since I could hold a pen. As a small business owner myself – I’m a freelance writer and yoga teacher – I love contributing to the entrepreneurship community in different ways (including writing for Simply Business!). When I’m not drafting articles for SB, I can be found on my yoga mat, perusing an indie bookstore, and writing (with my cat nearby of course).

Allison writes on a number of topics such as small business leadership, business structures, and employee training.