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Love Fitness? Here’s How to Become a Personal Trainer In The US

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 flexibility.

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.

4 Steps to Becoming a Personal Trainer

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. Trainers who have knowledge and experience get more clients than trainers with no certification or experience. First, you need to find a certification program, and there are a variety of different programs that offer certifications in training. In order to begin, you must have a high school diploma or a GED. Currently there are five certification agencies in the United States that have certification programs: The American Council on Exercise, The National Academy of Sports Medicine, The International Sports Sciences Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Each one of these programs has a national reputation, but they are all different. If you know that there are gyms in your area that you want to work for, you need to ask them ahead of time what certifications they require.

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

  • The American Council on Exercise 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 to take the exam only, it will cost you $399. If you want coursework and the exam, there are three price points depending on how much instruction you need; from the standard program at $599 to the premium plus program at $799. All of these programs include the final exam, which is three hours long and 150 questions in length. 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 to re-certify. Costs for recertification range from $49-139.

  • The National Strength and Conditioning Association was established in 1978. Membership is required: $60 for a student membership, and $120 for a professional membership. Study materials are provided for free, with no expiration date or mandatory date completion, and do not include the exam. Exam fees range from $285 for members to $420 for non-members. The materials range from $20 to $249, depending on how in-depth you need the materials to get. As with the other exam, there are approximately 150 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 must re-certify every 2 years, and you have the choice between retaking the exam, or logging in education hours. Costs for recertification range up to $50.

  • The National Academy of Sports Medicine was established in 1987. No membership is required. Study materials are provided, with a 6 months expiration date. Exam-only fees are $599. The materials range from $699 to $2399, depending on how in-depth you need the materials to get. Their online course is 9 weeks if you fast-track it, but you have up to 6 months to complete it. The exam has 150 questions in the two-hour format. 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 must re-certify every 2 years, and you must have 20 hours of continuing education hours to recertify. Costs for recertification range from $99 to $299 for a lifetime membership.

  • The American College of Sports Medicine was established in 1954. There are membership fees; $10 for a student membership, and $230 for a professional membership. There is not a set time to study, and no real materials, although information and webinars are available. The organization does have study guides for the test, which range from $46 t0 $144. The exam costs $219 for members and $279 for non-members. The exam has 120 questions, (30 unscored) in the two and a half hour format. 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 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 Federation of Personal Trainers was established in 1988. There are no membership fees. The program materials you pay for have a one-year expiration date, and range from $479-$569 which includes the exam. If you only want the exam, it costs $329. The exam has 120 questions in a two hour format. 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 must re-certify every year, with 2 hours of continuing education. The cost to recertification is $85 per year. After you receive certification, it’s time for Step 2.

Step 2: What and Who Do You Want to Work With?

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? If you choose to work with groups, you may need additional certification as a fitness instructor. Also, if you want to specialize in a discipline, understand you will need additional training and certification in that area, such as yoga or sports training. Be sure that whatever you select makes sense to you and your goals. You can always get certified in one area, and then obtain additional certifications later.

Step 3: You Need to 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. You will have to look at this new career as an investment, because certification programs noted above, can be expensive, ranging from $400-$1,000 depending on the organization and the materials you purchase. If you think you need all the materials you can get, it will be more expensive. Think about it as investing in yourself. You have to have certification in order to safely know the ways to train clients, and the more certification you have, the more money you can 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. 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 will have to reimburse the gym.

Part of investing in yourself and your new career means that you have to use the materials from the certification program and study. Six months (in most cases) is a very 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 don’t panic during test time, and you will pass the first time you take it, because each organization has a retest fee, and you don’t want to spend extra money if you don’t have to. 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.

Step 4: Find A Job

After you become certified, you need to begin the job search. First, you need to decide 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 start-up costs. You also don’t have to run around 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 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, you will have to work hard to find your own clients. One option is to establish yourself on social media. You can also 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 or weight loss meetings occur. 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 takes 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, you will need to acquire insurance to protect yourself from liability, and make sure it covers you against any client claims if they get hurt during training. If you work at a gym, your insurance may be provided, or they may pay for it and take it out of your check, but if you decide to work on your own, you will need to get some insurance. Check with the group you got your certification from, because most of them offer insurance. There are also other companies that offer insurance as well, such as Markel and IDEA Fit, so shop around for a reasonable package price.

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