How to Become a Personal Trainer: Certifications, Skills & More

Brandi Glass
5 min read
How to Become a Personal Trainer

There are many compelling reasons to become a personal trainer. You’ll support people in achieving their fitness goals, becoming more body confident and even recovering from injuries or managing chronic pain.

Unlike office workers, who often suffer from bad backs and repetitive strain injuries, personal trainers get to be physically active every day — all while helping someone else, too! And the pay’s not bad, either.

What’s more, you should be able to qualify as a personal trainer relatively quickly. So if you’re thinking about starting your new career in fitness, keep reading. We’ll explore how to become a personal trainer, the skills and certifications you’ll need and how much you can expect to earn.

How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer

There are several certification routes to becoming a personal trainer in the US. For most of them, however, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED.

Before you can begin studying, you will also typically be expected to have CPR/AED first-aid certification. You can sign up for this through the Red Cross, as well as several other organizations.

Once you have your prerequisites, you’re ready to enroll in a certified personal trainer course. Some of the most popular certifications come from the NASM, ACE, ACSM, NCSA and ISSA. However, it’s worth shopping around: there are many different courses available, and the best one for you will likely depend on the location, price and other factors.

At the end of the course, there will normally be an exam. Once you’ve passed that, you’re a certified personal trainer and ready to look for clients or jobs. Congratulations!

Alternatively, you could study to become a personal trainer at college. This will take longer and cost more, but it will give you even more specialist and in-depth knowledge.

Bear in mind that depending on where you work, you may also need to get personal liability insurance. You could also benefit from studying extra certifications, such as nutrition or wellness, to round out your skills and help you attract clients.

Do You Need Certifications to Become a Personal Trainer?

Technically speaking, you don’t need certifications to become a personal trainer. There is no legal requirement to have them. However, you will likely struggle without them.

Many gyms won’t accept uncertified personal trainers, while if you work privately or as an independent contractor, you could find yourself unable to take out liability insurance. This could leave you vulnerable to hefty claims if a client becomes injured and then sues you.

Plus, a course will almost definitely make you a more knowledgeable and well-rounded personal trainer who can better support your clients.

Although not legally required, personal training certification is a win-win. It helps you do your job better, opens more doors for you professionally and protects you and your clients.

What Other Skills Do You Need to Become a Personal Trainer?

In addition to your certification and a passion for fitness, good personal trainers will benefit from the following skills:

Teaching and communication skills — You’ll spend your days explaining exercises and gym equipment to clients, listening to their needs and helping empower them to take control over their fitness.

People skills — From putting first-time clients at ease to finding ways to motivate them, interpersonal skills will prove essential to your work. As well as helping you help your clients, they’ll also ensure you get repeat bookings. Speaking of which…

Sales and marketing skills — Even when working in a gym, client bookings will often be your responsibility. Strong sales skills will help you get new clients and convince existing ones to sign up for packages.

Business and numerical literacy skills — Many personal trainers are self-employed or work on a commission basis, which means basic business skills are essential.

How Much Does a Personal Trainer Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 80% of personal trainers in the US earned between $21,640 and $76,550 in 2020. The median wage was $40,510.

Indeed gives a slightly lower estimate, at $36,757 a year or $22.71 an hour. That’s based on reported salaries from nearly 21,000 personal trainers over the last 12 months.

However, none of these numbers are necessarily an accurate reflection of how much you can make. They conflate part-time and full-time staff, the self-employed and employees and personal trainers in New York City with ones in rural Mississippi.

Realistically, how much you earn as a personal trainer will depend on where you work and, oftentimes, how good you are at marketing. Let’s break this down a bit.

Most personal trainers work in gyms, which means their pay rate is decided for them. It’s not always as simple as a per-hour rate or annual salary, however. Some gyms will only pay you for hours spent with clients on a 1099 independent contractor (i.e., self-employed) basis. You will normally receive a set percentage of the client’s fee.

Other gyms will give you shifts and a set hourly rate regardless of how many training sessions you have booked. Others will pay you minimum wage with an hourly bonus for time spent in personal training sessions. That bonus rate may depend on how many sessions you’ve booked or how experienced you are. And then some gyms that will also give you sales commissions for various client purchases.

Other personal trainers decide to skip applying to gyms and instead operate privately, typically visiting people’s homes or working online. Some gyms may also let you take your clients in for sessions, providing you pay them an hourly fee.

Since the client pays private personal trainers directly, you can earn much more per session. On the other hand, there are often extra costs, from equipment to insurance and marketing. It can be tricky to find new clients, especially when you’re just starting out.

That said, personal trainers with a more specific or specialist niche may find it easier to find new clients this way. For example, if you build a brand around pregnancy personal training or personal training for people with disabilities, you could attract clients who struggle to get the support they need through the personal trainers at their local gym.

Apply for Personal Trainer Jobs With an Attractive Resume

There are just a few things you need to start work as a personal trainer in gyms: certification, strong people skills and a resume that shows off your strong points.

Here at Rocket Resume, we have over a dozen certified personal trainer resume templates that you can fill out in minutes. Each one comes with recruiter-approved phrasing and is machine-readable. They’re easy to customize to your past experiences and qualifications, as well as to the gym in question, so you’ll stand out for all the right reasons.

Build your resume today so you can begin applying for personal trainer jobs.