How To Become a Personal Trainer

NASM trainer and client during morning workout warmup session.

A certified personal trainer (CPT) develops and manages a workout schedule (and in some cases, diet) designed to meet the specific goals of each client they train.

Some people may want to lose fat but gain muscle mass. Others need to tone existing muscle while not putting on more weight. Still other clients may want to improve their cardiovascular fitness, in an effort to lower blood pressure and decrease risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.

People that seek out the services of a personal trainer may also be interested in improving their muscular capacity and functionality for the purpose of optimizing sports performance. If you’d like to know how to become a personal trainer, the following information provides some descriptions of what they do and the requirements to become one.


A certified personal trainer must be knowledgeable in proper eating habits and basic nutritional guidelines to best serve his or her clients. CPTs can suggest changes in diet to increase the efficacy of the workout program. A well-organized exercise regimen will usually fall short of its intended goals if proper nutritional guidelines are not followed.

Why Personal Trainers are In Demand

Aside from improving overall fitness, physical ability and appearance, many people hire personal trainers to combat the “battle of the bulge” and health conditions associated with being overweight or obese, such as high cholesterol (dyslipidemia) and high blood pressure (hypertension).

Though slightly down from recent years, in July 2013 the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization reported that 31.8% of Americans are obese. This means they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. The BMI measures the relationship between weight and height. The higher a person’s BMI, the greater the risk of developing chronic disease.

This index to measure obesity is classified as follows:

  • BMI less than 20 is considered underweight
  • BMI 20 to 25 is considered normal weight
  • BMI 25 to 30 is considered overweight
  • BMI 30 to 40 is considered obese
  • BMI greater than 40 is considered severely obese

Importance of Being Certified

Whether you go to college or not, having a certification (or a few) from well-respected organizations in the field is vital. Know as much as you can about any organization before getting certified through them. The standards for certification should be rigorous and the organization should demand a certain amount of continuing education for you to keep your credential.

Only seek out certifications by an organization that has been accredited by an unbiased third party, like the highly regarded Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE). Some groups that offer accreditation and award certifications to personal trainers are the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Always make sure to research and compare your options and get the certification that’s best inline with what you want to do.

It is also essential for personal trainers to have certificates in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and AED (automated external defibrillation).

Personal trainers do not require an occupational license at this time, meaning no there is no national or state defined regulation for practice. There’s quite a bit of bureaucratic tug o’ war going on regarding whether or not it should be a licensed profession. Basically, with so many certifying organizations and trainers currently out there, this would require a tremendous reconciliation, overhaul and auditing process for both parties – potentially putting some out of business. Therefore, it’s not likely to happen any time soon on a national level, let alone state level.

Requirements to Become a Personal Trainer


It is important that the CPT have a healthy lifestyle and project this image to the client. What would you think if your trainer looked more out of shape than you do? It would be difficult to convince someone to heed your professional advice on fitness. Empathy and enthusiasm are two other traits a good CPT should have. Some clients may feel self-conscious about their physical appearance or may have never exercised. Proper reassurance and encouragement helps make the transition to a new lifestyle more enjoyable. It should be the ultimate goal of the CPT to eventually make their client permanently integrate fitness and clean eating habits into his or her lifestyle.


Certified personal trainers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and educational levels. Though not required, roughly 25% of personal trainers hold a bachelor’s degree according to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). In this field, practical knowledge of exercise is arguably just as important as academic training. If the CPT does not know proper exercise methodology and technique, he or she will not be able to competently assist the client. This could eventually result in an injury or prevent the client from reaching their goals. Shadowing or closely observing a CPT can help build your understanding of proper exercise techniques and application.


One of the most crucial requirements to practice personal training is becoming certified through an accredited fitness organization. Though many of these organizations exist, most trainers choose from ACSM, ACE, ISSA, NASM or NSCA – considered the top 5 personal trainer certifying organizations in the world. Which one you choose basically depends on the type of clients you want to take on and what area of fitness you want to work in. While any of these CPT certifications qualifies you to train the general population, each organization has a slight emphasis on a certain area of fitness or client population that’s reflected in their respective certification.

ACSM Emphasis

  • Clinical Exercise: Preventing/managing obesity and the risk of developing heart disease or metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, through pre-defined exercise prescription guidelines.

ACE Emphasis

  • Overall Fitness: Helping otherwise healthy populations achieve an optimal balance of muscular and cardiovascular fitness.

ISSA Emphasis

  • Body Composition: Increasing lean muscle mass and lowering body fat percentage through resistance and power training.

NASM Emphasis

  • Corrective and Functional Training: Preventing injury and improving activity-specific performance in physically active or athletic individuals.


  • Strength Training: Improving core and overall strength in the general or active populations through resistance training involving fundamental compound and isolated movements.

Job Duties of a Personal Trainer

Client Assessment

Health clubs and similar fitness facilities employ most CPTs. Time spent with a client is billed by the hour. In the first meeting, the CPT will generally take a medical history and physical inventory of measurements including:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Resting heart rate
  • Resting blood pressure
  • Body fat percentage
  • Anthropomorphic measurements (circumfrence of the arms, thighs, chest, waist, and hips)
  • Flexibility

These measurements will be used as a baseline to set goals and gauge the client’s progress.

Exercise Programming

Once the CPT and client have discussed and finalized short- and long-term goals, a schedule of instructed, assisted and supervised workouts is made. Workouts may vary in length from 30 minutes to 2 hours and usually take place 2 to 5 days a week. Depending on the client’s goals, exercises may be aerobic, anaerobic, or a combination of both. Aerobic exercise is cardiovascular in nature, where fat loss, muscle toning or cardiorespiratory endurance is the focus. Anaerobic exercise is used for increasing strength and muscle mass. A combination of both provides a balanced fitness approach.

5 Common Personal Trainer Job Duties

To assist the client in reaching his or her goals, personal trainer job duties encompass the following:

  • Taking physical measurements prior to and throughout training
  • Deciding what types of exercises would best serve the client
  • Knowing proper form for each exercise, including range of motion and speed
  • Being aware of exercise modalities and intensities that contraindicate with the client’s health or physical ability
  • Knowing proper nutritional information and applying it to the client’s needs

Some CPTs are also registered dieticians, which enables them to design effective, precise and comprehensive eating plans for their clients.

Taking on the Role of Personal Trainer

When you’re a personal trainer, you’re taking on the role of instructor, educator, motivator, coach and companion. In essence, you’ll be ushering people into a new lifestyle and, while doing so, modifying their lives for the better. Most people are interested in a trainer who is enthusiastic and projects confidence, as well as a mentor that guides them as they set out on their quest for better fitness and health.

PTs have to specialize in various exercise techniques, and also have the ability to practically apply that expertise. That means having at minimum a fundamental grasp on anatomy, kinesiology, exercise physiology and nutrition. You should be able to clearly explain to your clients why you’re having them perform a particular exercise or workout regimen. Possessing exceptional interpersonal communication skills is vital for getting far in this profession.

3 Things You Must Communicate To Your Clients

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#1. Form comes first.

It’s imperative you put aside enough time to show how to correctly perform an exercise, while emphasizing the importance of proper technique. This is where apply your teaching skills are put to the test. A lot of people believe they know how to exercise, but in reality most lack safe and/or optimal form. You must clearly break down how each movement should be executed, elaborate on what muscles should predominantly be contracting and stretching, and see to it clients are doing the exercise properly. They must have form down pat first in order to progress in resistance, intensity or cadence.

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#2. Results require discipline.

For your clients to become more self-disciplined when it comes to health, you need to have it yourself. To get good results, your clients must learn how not to give in to junk food, large meals, and missing workouts when you are not around. You have to be patient and persistent in helping them leave behind poor habits, while superseding them with healthy ones. Think of it as a gradual process. Those that try to become healthy overnight tend to be the ones that end up returning to their old habits.

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#3. Results don’t come right away.

It could take time for a client to completely accept your fitness philosophy. If you give up easily, your clients will, too. You go through the ups and downs with them, encouraging clients to exceed even their own expectations.

Qualities Essential To Your Success as a Trainer


Leadership traits are important to have as you educate, advise, and instruct the people you are training day in and day out. You have to be able to consistently keep the motivation alive in your clients to make the required adjustments for them to feel and look better.


Being innovative or creative is necessary as well. Exercise programs are not a one-size-fits-all package. You have to be able to construct workouts that accommodate the needs of each individual client. You have to come up with effective strategies to avoid their workout sessions from becoming stagnant or monotonous.


Incorporating milestone rewards or incentives into the workout programs you put together is a must. Ensuring that your clients keep motivated is largely your responsibility. You must keep them engaged in their training sessions and encourage them during times of slow progress or periods of self-doubt. Providing words of inspiration and recognizing how much to push each client should be key aspects to your strategy.


Showing a high level of professionalism at all times and during all circumstances is of the highest importance. You have to show up on time for sessions, maintain a professional appearance and demeanor, and treat your clients with dignity with respect.

Career Outlook and The Nationwide Health Trend

Personal trainer wearing red shirt

With America’s obesity problem still at large (no pun intended) and preventive medicine finally getting the spotlight it deserves, the need for personal trainers will continue to grow. Obesity is often in the news and people are continuously being compelled to finally make the commitment to shed unsightly and potentially harmful excess pounds.

Furthermore, the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle are touted everywhere nowadays, with famous personalities like Michele Obama and Dr. Oz taking on primary roles in health advocacy to which America has been very receptive.

Overall, the growing health consciousness movement has influenced and encouraged the public to prioritize their health and well-being, in turn providing more employment opportunities for fitness professionals in the future.
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Personal trainer and fitness instructor jobs are expected to increase by 13% from 2012 – 2022.

Trending Times for Personal Trainer Employment

Seasonal Times of Year

There are several trending times throughout the year when people decide they want to start their weight loss quest. January through March is probably the most popular time when people become extra motivated to slim down. Times like these are highly opportune moments for personal trainers to market themselves and provide promotional rates to bring in new clients.

When the summer months draw near, the warmer climate also leads to another rise in weight-loss initiatives. Both women and men feel it is time to get in shape to wear their ideal choice of swimwear to fully enjoy summer activities.

Special Events

Weddings, family gatherings, going back to school and other big events also compel lots of folks to be more critical of their appearance and take action to become fit. Media coverage and public testimonials throughout the year about people and celebrities who have made inspirational physical transformations motivate even more individuals to make an effort to lose weight and tone up.


Granted fitness enthusiasm is higher during certain times of year, there is a consistent demand for qualified exercise professionals. You’ll always be able to find work. More and more people realize that being in prime shape will enable them to lead longer, healthier and more productive lives, therefore people will constantly be open to your services year round.

Trending Areas of Employment Growth for Personal Trainers

Client Homes

Given that working out is something completely new to many men and women, they truly depend on fitness professionals to offer them guidance. There is definitely a demand for PTs that offer training services to clients at-home. Those with a hectic schedule enjoy the convenience of having a personal trainer come to their place of residence to help them get fit. Having a personal trainer gives people the opportunity to discuss fitness and nutrition with a credible source. Customizing home workout routines helps people avoid wasting precious time going to the gym and doing exercises that won’t provide optimal results. Many times, they simply want another person to make them workout. You can also train people who are motivated to workout but don’t have enough time for daily drawn-out exercise sessions. For example, training busy career professionals, you can develop high-intensity workouts that offer these clients the most benefit in the least amount of time possible. Eventually this can turn into a niche you specialize in.


Personal trainers have also established their place in the sports market. Among the largest areas of growth in the fitness industry is functional and performance training for athletes, from scholastic to professional sports. As level of competition continually rises, coaches are turning to personal trainers to get athletes on workout programs especially designed to improve sport-specific strength and prevent injury. As opposed to traditional team training, there is a need for exercise experts who can work with players individually, giving them the undivided focus they need. Athletes that participate in single-person sports, such as running, cycling and martial arts, are requiring the same kind of attention as well. Trainers also work with injured athletes using corrective exercises to help them regain full functionality and restore performance.

Health Clubs

Gyms and fitness centers are in an advantageous position as a result of the ACA since memberships should grow (in theory) as more people, who previously did not have the budget to join a gym, will be covered by their health insurance carrier. In fact, Forbes puts health clubs among the top business sectors that stand to benefit from ACA. The demand for fitness professionals, especially personal trainers and health coaches, should also experience a boost as insurance providers will start to reimburse preventive measures such as routine fitness assessments and health counseling. Health clubs and corporate wellness centers will potentially need to employ a greater number of staff to meet the increase in health screenings, fitness assessments, exercise and nutrition classes, and wellness counseling.