What Is It Like to Be a Fitness Trainer?

Career Information

Woman exercising in health club with trainer
••• John Lund/Marc/Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

A fitness trainer leads people in exercise and related activities. He or she works with individuals or groups, providing both instruction and motivation. A fitness trainer may specialize in aerobics, weight lifting, yoga or another activity.

Quick Facts About Fitness Trainers

  • In 2014, they earned a median salary of $34,980 annually or $16.82 per hour. 
  • Approximately 267,000 people worked in this occupation as of 2012.
  • Most people employed in this field work in fitness and recreation centers, gyms, exercise studios, country clubs, resorts, and universities.
  • The job outlook is good. Employment is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations through 2024.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Customize training programs for individuals and groups
  • Motivate clients
  • Monitor clients' progress and offer feedback when needed
  • Demonstrate proper use of equipment and techniques
  • Maintain clients' safety
  • Sell services and products to potential and existing customers
  • Stock and maintain supplies
  • Handle member complaints
  • Administer emergency first aid
  • Provide advice about nutrition
  • Enforce facilities' rules and regulations

How to Get Started in This Career

To be a fitness trainer, you must first be physically fit. You must serve as a role model for your clients. You are only required to have a high school diploma to work as a fitness trainer but many employers prefer to hire college graduates who have majored in a fitness or health-related field. This is especially true if you want to become a personal trainer who will work one-on-one with clients. Many employers require CPR, first aid, and AED certification or, at least, training.

Whether you want to work as a personal trainer or instruct students in group classes, it is a good idea to get professional certification. It indicates that you have the skills needed to work in this occupation. Many, but not all employers require this credential, but you will be a more competitive job candidate if you have it. You should take great care in choosing the organization from which to get your certification. 

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

In addition to your education and certification, you need certain soft skills, or personal qualities, to succeed as a fitness trainer. These are the most important ones:

  • Customer Service Skills: One of your goals as a fitness trainer is to understand your clients' needs and satisfy them.
  • Instructing Skills: You will be responsible for making sure your customers know how to exercise and use equipment correctly. You will do this by carefully explaining and demonstrating proper techniques.
  • Ability to Motivate Others: Many people exercise, not because they love to, but because they need to. Your ability to motivate them will help make the experience more enjoyable.
  • Active Listening Skills: Being tuned into what clients are telling you will help you understand and fulfill their needs.
  • Verbal Communication Skills: The ability to clearly convey information and instructions to your customers is crucial.

The Downside of Life as a Fitness Trainer

  • Since people go to the gym before and after work and on the weekends, your schedule will include late evenings and weekends.
  • Expect to travel from job to job. You will probably work in multiple gyms and even in people's homes.
  • You will have to exercise even when you don't feel like it since leading by example is an integral part of a fitness trainer's job.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements for actual job announcements listed on Indeed.com:

  • "Must be an engaging personal trainer in a practical, hands-on environment"
  • "Able to safely and confidently fitness train clients"
  • "You take excellent care of your body from the inside out"
  • "Professional appearance and demeanor"
  • "Able to get clients in the door"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Related Occupations

Description Median Annual Wage (2014) Required Education/Training
Recreation Worker Leads activities in a recreation facility $22,620 HS diploma and on-the-job training
Esthetician Treats skin on clients' faces and bodies and teaches them how to use products at home $29,050 2-year state-approved esthetician program
Residential Advisor Organizes activities and enforces policies in residential facilities like college dorms and group homes $24,340 Bachelor's degree
Athletic Coach Teaches athletes the fundamentals of a sport $30,640 Bachelor's degree

Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited December 21, 2015).
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited December 21, 2015).