The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Successful Personal Trainer


personal trainer spotting his client

You’re reading this guide for one of two reasons. You’re either interested in how to become a personal trainer, or you’ve already qualified as one and are looking for guidance on growing your personal training business. Either way, it’s likely that you love fitness and enjoy helping others reach their health and fitness goals.

This guide covers everything you need to know about being a personal trainer. If you already have your personal training qualifications and you’re looking for advice on how to attract more clients or run your business, then you can skip to this section. For those taking the first steps on their journey to become personal trainers, let’s start right at the beginning.

What Does a Personal Trainer Do?

The main role of a personal trainer is to work with clients to ensure that they reach their health and fitness goals. They will also monitor each client’s progress, generate meal plans and continuously reassess their goals. In some cases, a personal trainer will only work one-on-one, while others will work with groups.

As well as some passion for the health and fitness industry, you’re also going to need to learn about exercise practice, first aid, nutrition and have more than a surface-level understanding of the human body. It’s a role that requires you to be a force for motivation, with drive and energy to keep yourself and your clients working hard. 

Personal trainers primarily work in gyms, but not always. You could find yourself working in parks, hotels, hospitals or on your nearest beach with some clients or employers! 

Why Become a Personal Trainer?

Before you start finding out how to become a PT, it’s always best to begin with working out what you’re looking for. There are many reasons you might consider becoming a personal training expert. It’s an exciting career with multiple benefits! The people you help, the work you do, and the money you can make mean becoming a personal trainer is a great career choice.

Some of the most popular reasons for becoming a personal trainer include the following:

  • Being able to set your work schedule
  • Being able to set your prices
  • Being able to see visible progress in your clients is emotionally rewarding in a way that will give you a lot of satisfaction.
  • It’s a diverse job role, with minimal repetition.
  • There’s plenty of room to grow your career as a personal trainer or to branch out into other related careers.
  • The social element of being a personal trainer is very popular, and you’ll be spending a lot of time with other people.

If that all sounds good, let’s look at becoming a personal trainer.

a group of girls at the gym sat down in a circle learning

Taking the First Steps to Become a Personal Trainer

The best way to learn how to become a PT is to earn your accredited qualifications. Anyone looking at becoming a personal trainer will quickly realise that you won’t get far without the right qualifications. However, before you do that, there are some things you should do to ensure that you’re making the right career choice.

Research the Role

People become personal trainers for many reasons and take many different routes. Some will have a degree in Sports Science. Others will have worked in gyms, and others will have little to no experience. So your first step is to do some research into the career and find out as much as you can. 

Once you understand what the role entails, it’s time to ask yourself some questions. Becoming a personal training professional isn’t for everyone. So consider the following questions:

  • Do you enjoy working out and improving the routines that you use to get fitter and healthier?
  • Do you notice other people using bad form and routines when you’re working out?
  • Do you enjoy being social and working closely with other people?
  • Do you like seeing the results of your hard work?
  • Are you interested in studying exercise theory?

To become a personal trainer, you will need passion for exercise and fitness. If some or all of your answers to those questions were a resounding yes, it’s time to get qualified.

How to Get Qualified as a Personal Trainer

To be a personal trainer in the UK, you need to have the right qualifications. Your first step will be to get your Level 2 Gym Instructor Certificate. Once you have achieved this, you will move on to the Level 3 Personal Training Certificate. Both will require a combination of practical and theoretical work. 

Once you have received your certification and the additional certificates that come as part of the course — such as a First Aid qualification — you will be qualified to work in a gym as a personal trainer or to strike out on your own as a self-employed personal trainer. You can find out more about how to become a personal trainer here

Are There Age Limits to Being a Personal Trainer?

There’s a common misconception that you can’t be a personal trainer if you’re not a 20-year old fitness fanatic with the body of a Greek god. The fact is that you can work as a personal trainer at any age. There are even potential advantages to being an older personal trainer. You can find out more about the subject of being an older personal trainer here.

dom lever spotting someone at the gym

How Long Does It Take to Become a Personal Trainer?

There’s no single answer when looking at how long it takes to become a fully-qualified personal trainer. At The Fitness Group, our full-time students on either our Gym Instructor Course or the Level 3 Personal Training Course are expected to be in classes four days a week (Monday to Thursday) between 9 am and 4 pm. This fast-track course takes six weeks and is entirely class-taught.

For our students studying online, it’s less about how long it takes to become a personal trainer and more about the pace you want to go. Our online courses are entirely self-paced, so you can dictate how long it takes, given the workloads you can cope with.

On average, an online student takes between six months to a year to earn the qualifications needed to become a personal trainer. However, you can complete the online courses much faster if you want to. Find out more about how long does it take to become a personal trainer.

Personal Trainer Employment or Freelance/Self Employed?

Once you have your personal training qualifications, you have some options to choose from. Knowing how to become a personal trainer is only half the task. You now have some decisions to make about your career. Some personal trainers will find a contract role in gyms or other locations. Others will work as self-employed personal trainers and rent out space in their local gym or open their personal trainer studio. Other self-employed personal trainers may choose to run sessions in their clients’ homes or public spaces.

Of course, there are pros and cons to each option. Some people want the stability of a steady monthly salary. Others want to control how much they earn and who they work with. To ensure you get the role you want, we provide a business skills workshop, a free invite to our regular Careers Event (where you get to meet local and national employers) and guarantee a job interview alongside the rest of our career support.

The Work Hours of a Personal Trainer

Whether you’re self-employed or in a contract role, the fact is that being a personal trainer is rarely (if ever) a “9 to 5” job. That’s undoubtedly one of the appeals. So no matter the career path you want, you’ll have to get used to the idea that your clients will always determine your schedule.

What they need from you and when they need it will differ and ultimately determine when you work. And if you’re self-employed, then not having a client isn’t going to be an opportunity to take a break. You’ll have marketing that needs to be done, accounts and financial management, and outreach to find new clients. 

Options for Contract Employment as a Personal Trainer

If you’re not interested in being self-employed and working as a freelance personal trainer, then you’re going to want to find an employer. You’ll need to learn how to write a personal trainer CV to get interviews. Here are some of the most common places that will hire a personal trainer:

Gyms

There are roughly 7,200 gyms and fitness clubs in the UK, with a combined total of around 10.3 million members. That’s a lot of people working out and a massive pool of potential clients. It is estimated that the UK’s annual turnover for the fitness club and gym market is more than £2 billion (although this has dropped thanks to Covid).

The big-name gyms with locations across the country will have details about applying for personal trainer roles, so get ready to do more research. You can also find personal trainer roles advertised on job sites like Indeed or Total Jobs. So it’s certainly a great time to become a PT.

a woman and man on a treadmill

Corporations

Less common but becoming very popular, many large corporations are beginning to take employee health and wellness very seriously. That’s why there are now roles available for personal trainers within those corporations. These kinds of positions can be hard to find, and there’ll be plenty of competition. But it’s certainly worth putting out some application letters to introduce yourself.

Personal Training on Cruise Ships

Most cruise ships offer some form of personal training for their passengers.  Although it can be hard work, this can be a lucrative career choice. You’ll have to be prepared to spend lots of time away from home, but if this is a role that interests you, there are vacancies advertised on sites such as Cruise Job Finder. Becoming a personal training professional in such a potentially high-earning role is certainly worth looking into.

Hospitals

Many hospitals need to have a team of personal trainers working in-house for patient rehabilitation. Patients recovering from injuries or illness will rely on personal trainers to get back to previous health levels. There are roles available for personal trainers within the NHS, but they are more commonly found in private healthcare companies. Opportunities occasionally arise within the prison service and the armed forces, although these are rare.

Personal Trainer Studios

More of these are opening every year, so demand for personal trainers tends to be consistently high. The focus of these centres will usually be one-to-one sessions with clients, although you may also have to run smaller group sessions. This kind of contract role is often one of the first places personal trainers find work. 

Spas, Hotels and Resorts

Having an in-house personal trainer is an essential requirement for many high-class hotels and spas. Fitness instructors and personal trainers alike will find that there are a lot of opportunities for this role, especially within the resort industry. If you’ve taken the time to learn how to become a PT, this kind of setting with a captive audience could be a great first or second step in your career.

Self Employment

Many people who earn their personal training qualifications will end up working for themselves. Some will take on contract work first and then start taking on private clients in their free time. This direction can lead to higher earnings, but you’re going to need some key business skills. 

This is such a popular direction for personal trainers that we include a Business Skills segment in our personal training courses. Many of the students graduating through The Fitness Group learn how to become personal trainers for the sole purpose of working for themselves rather than seeking employment.

woman on a shoulder exercise machine

Guide to Freelancing as a Personal Trainer

You’ve passed your personal training course with flying colours, and you’re ready to get to work. You’ve decided to become a self-employed PT because you want to set your work hours and the rates that you charge. 

But knowing how to become a personal trainer isn’t the same as knowing how to start a personal training business.

If this is your first time working self-employed, it can quickly become very daunting. There’s a lot to running your own business, and mistakes can end up costing you (especially if you get things like tax payments wrong). Here are some tips to ensure that you avoid the most common mistakes.

Have a Personal Trainer Business Plan

Every business needs a plan. For some people, a business plan is only created for the sole purpose of applying for a business loan. Bank managers and other lenders will want to see that you’ve done your research before they agree to hand over any startup cash. However, a business plan can be a lot more useful than that.

A good business plan is something that you should keep close at all times. It needs to be a living document that you revisit every few months and update. There are plenty of guides available to help you set up your business plan, and there are even guides, and free downloads focused entirely on personal trainer business plans.

Creating a personal trainer business plan means sitting down and thinking more about the kind of business you want to run. Elements like branding, market research and competitor analysis will be essential to get right. Even the most basic business plan will include your mission statement and a summary of your brand identity. 

This is where you can clarify how your business will stand out from your competitors. You’ll need to identify your core values and training philosophy to ensure that your customers (and any financial lenders) know exactly what you do. You will also include financial projections, market analysis, your growth strategy and a breakdown of the management structure (this could just be you or could include any partners).

Self Employed Personal Trainer: Sole Trader or Limited Company?

When you’ve decided to work as a self-employed personal trainer, you then have to decide what kind of company you’re going to be. You have the option to be registered as a sole trader (by far the most common choice) or to register as a limited company. 

This is a big decision, and there are no easy answers to suit everybody. This guide is a great breakdown of the pros and cons of both options.

Choosing the right kind of business structure is a big decision, so you need to thoroughly understand the options. Take the time to learn more about the benefits of being a sole trader and the advantages of being a limited company to make the choice that best suits your business goals.

Insurance for Personal Trainers

Whether you’re self-employed or hired by a gym, you’ll need to think about insurance. If you don’t have insurance, you’re simply not going to be able to use gyms for your classes. And if a client suffers from an injury during one of your sessions without insurance, you’ll have to pay out.

There are plenty of insurers out there to choose from. Do your research and choose one with a good reputation, but don’t forget that you’ll need to update your insurance every year. Your insurance will ensure that you’re protected against claims made against you by third parties. It can also be useful for covering professional indemnity, damage to your fitness equipment or any loss of earnings (looking at you, Covid).

group of people sat around the table working on a fitness course

Creating Contracts and Invoices as a Personal Trainer

When you’re offering services to customers in exchange for payment, you need to be legally protected from every direction. As well as your qualifications, business plan, business setup and insurance, it’s also a good idea to use contracts. Legally binding contracts will protect both you and your clients and ensure that expectations and responsibilities are met from both sides. 

You’ll need to have client contracts drawn up for you by a solicitor, but you won’t have to have a different contract for every client. Instead, have your solicitor create a contract template that covers:

  • The details of the service that you’ll be providing
  • Scheduling
  • Policies regarding lesson cancellations
  • Your billing process
  • A breakdown of the ways that clients can communicate with you
  • The process for terminating the service.

In some cases, you will find that clients request an invoice. If you’re using some form of accountancy software, this should be easy to do. If you’re not using any tools to help balance your books, many online templates are available for personal trainers, easily findable with a quick Google search.

On the subject of payments, it’s always a good idea to have your clients pay before each session. This is very common and can be a massive help when managing your cash flow. Prepayments for personal trainers are considered standard, although some will ask for prepayments for a month while some will only ask for weekly prepayments. You’re likely to find that most people prefer to pay a month in advance purely out of convenience.

A Note on Your Cancellation Policy

As a self-employed personal trainer, your time is your money. If a client cancels a session at the last minute, you’ll be out of pocket. How you structure your cancellation policy will determine how much you can charge for that missed session. However, you must use empathy and discretion when enforcing your cancellations policy. A death in the family, sudden illness or even a home emergency tend to be out of our hands, and it’s not a good look to enforce a cancellation fee in such instances.

Finding Your First Client as a Self-Employed Personal Trainer

So you’ve got your personal trainer qualifications, you’re all set up business-wise, and you’re ready to start building up your client list and earning some money. But how do you get your first client as a personal trainer? This is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face, but there are some tricks you can use.

Once you have your first client, you’ll find that finding the second one, then the third comes a lot more naturally. So getting your first client is the key to beginning your career.

Be in the Gym

One of the most common ways to find your first client is to spend more time in the gym. The goal is to become a familiar face, and the fact that you’re in the gym is always a solid way to “look the part”. By spending time in the gym, others will see you, recognise you and see that you know your way around the gym and the equipment. 

Don’t be worried about starting conversations, but don’t be intrusive. Share your knowledge and give tips where appropriate. You want people to know that you know your stuff and that you’re a fully qualified personal trainer.

a group of people in an indoor cycling class

Free Training Sessions

Another way to find your first client is to offer free training sessions. This allows you to showcase your style of teaching. You won’t win a client every time with a free session, but you only need that one, to begin with. If you do a free session with someone, there’s a chance that they will walk away having been impressed by you and realise that you’re comfortable to work with.

Friends and Family

Don’t overlook your existing personal relationships for your potential first client. Remember, you don’t have to charge them if they’re doing you a favour. The reason why this is such a good idea is twofold. The first is that as they start to show improvements, you can use their progress as part of your marketing. 

The second reason is that other gym members will see you if you’re running sessions for family or friends in the gym. It will give them immediate insight into your teaching style and your interactions with your clients. After all, they won’t know that that client is not paying you! 

Run a Class

Talk to your gym about the possibility of running a class. This is easily one of the best ways to meet a group of potential clients in one go. Some gyms offer free classes, which means they’re more likely to be taken up by regulars. 

With all of these strategies, your priority should be speaking to as many different people as you can. You don’t need to be overly salesy, just let people know about your qualifications, prices, and working methods. 

Growing Your Business as a Self-Employed Personal Trainer

You now have a few clients, and people are becoming more aware of your training sessions. That’s all great news, but as with every business, the next goal is to grow. Growing a business will always be a challenge, and personal training is no different.

The most effective way to attract more clients is to spend time and money on marketing. This is a subject that can be very intimidating but don’t panic. Take the time to learn about common personal trainer marketing strategies and take each action step by step. Here are some things to think about regarding personal training and marketing.

two men working out at a gym studio

Digital Marketing for Personal Trainers

Love it or hate it, digital marketing is going to be one of the best ways to get more eyes on your classes and training sessions. This is a massive area to explore, and digital marketing alone is a huge subject containing multiple facets.

You don’t have to try and get everything done in a single day. It takes months to build a solid marketing strategy, and it’s better to take your time and get it right than rush and make blunders. When it comes to digital marketing, consider the following:

  • You’re going to need a website that looks professional.
  • Your social media posts are going to need to be relevant and professional.
  • Learn the basics of search engine optimisation (SEO), focusing on local SEO if you’re offering in-person sessions rather than online ones.
  • Consider focusing on content marketing, which will mean creating a blog on your website (at the very least) and understanding how to promote it.
  • Paid search ads can be costly, especially if you have a lot of competitors, but it could be worth running the occasional monthly campaign.

These are all excellent starting points. The problem with digital marketing is that it’s incredibly diverse, and every approach has a lot of nuances. However, if you want to grow your personal trainer business, you’re going to need to spend a lot of time spreading the word about you and your services.

Learn some basics of digital marketing, and learn more about your chosen approaches. Ideally, you want to combine different strategies to have more impact.

Business Cards

If you think that business cards are an antiquated form of marketing in the digital age, think again. It’s always a good idea to have some on you wherever you go. In any interactions with potential customers, you can hand one over for them to keep. When business cards are kept, they continue to advertise your service until the day they’re finally discarded. 

The trick with business cards is to keep them simple. Whatever you do, don’t cram a thousand words onto that small card, listing everything you do. All this will achieve is confusion. Keep it simple, with:

  • Your name
  • An abbreviation of your qualifications
  • The fact that you’re a personal trainer
  • If you plan to use graphics, keep them clear and sharp
  • Avoid overly gendered colour schemes if you want to attract clients of any gender
  • Contact details (this can include your social media details as well).

When they’re well-designed, business cards are a very effective way to market yourself. They can also be a great way to utilise your branding.

Marketing Brochures

It might seem a little outdated, but printed materials like leaflets have a lot more value than you might expect. While other personal trainers invest in digital marketing, there’s nothing wrong with running a printed materials campaign simultaneously. 

Brochures and leaflets left in the gym might be picked up by prospective clients who may otherwise be too nervous about starting a direct conversation with you. And if your target clients are from older generations, those printed materials could have a lot more value than, say, a social media marketing strategy. 

If you do decide to go this route, make sure that:

  • You aren’t giving people too much information to read.
  • You’re clear about your background, qualifications, experience and core values, and add a full list of your services (without cramming the space).
  • You list all of your contact details.
  • You list areas where you run your training sessions.
  • You showcase your prices.

Brochures and leaflets aren’t cheap, so you’ll need to ensure that you have the budget for them. Don’t try to cut corners with lower-quality materials. Don’t forget that if you have any friends or family that work in graphic design or (even better) have a printing business; you could suggest free training sessions in exchange for their services.

personal trainer guide

Get Reviews

If you have a few clients now, always ask them to review you. There are many places they can do this (Google reviews, Facebook, etc.). Those reviews look fantastic on your website, and they can be an incredibly useful tool for your marketing. These days, consumers check online reviews for even the smallest product, and you can be sure that a potential client will check yours. 

If your clients are happy to leave you a glowing review, they might also be open to making a referral. Ask them if they know anyone they think would benefit from working with you.

Guerilla Marketing

You’re likely to have competitors who are also doing everything they can to build their client lists. They’re almost definitely going to be using marketing strategies similar to yours. So you may have to think outside the box and take advantage of guerilla marketing. 

This can be an effective way to get your brand more well-known and requires some unconventional thinking. Don’t be afraid to get creative and brainstorm some guerilla marketing ideas to get started. You want your marketing to help you stand out from your crowd. 

Phone Etiquette as a Personal Trainer

Your phone will be one of your most valuable tools for many reasons. The biggest one is that customers will often contact you by phone in the first instance. That means you’re going to need to be available whenever you get a phone call (which isn’t always possible). 

Ideally, you want to set up voicemail. This will directly reflect on your business, so be professional and friendly. Let callers know what information you need, give them your full name and the name of your business, and be prepared to call them back as soon as you can. Some personal trainers will have a separate phone dedicated solely to business, but this isn’t always necessary. 

You could also use a professional voice answering service. Some of the companies offering this service have some extremely low prices, but that’s still a cost that’s coming out of your budget, so think about whether you need that option right now.

Don’t forget that when you’re running a session with a client or a group, turn your phone off. There’s nothing professional about answering that phone mid-session, no matter how desperate you might be for clients. Answering your phone could cost you the client you’re with.

Free Consultations

We’ve talked a little about offering free training sessions when you’re trying to attract your first client. But when you’re more established, there’s always going to be a lot of value in offering free consultations. This is something that the vast majority of personal trainers do, and you’ll be losing customers if you don’t follow that lead.

When you have a new client interested in hiring you, always have a meeting with them before you dive straight into their training. You need to have a complete understanding of their goals, needs and expectations, and find out about any physical issues or special medical needs they might have. 

Be open and honest during the consultations. The right impression could lead to a long-term, well-paying client that you keep for years.

male working out his upper body

Find A Niche

As a small business, the temptation is simply to be the best at what you do. And that’s great, but if you’re doing the same as everyone else, you’re not going to stand out and finding new clients will be much more difficult. Like any small business, the trick is to focus on a niche.

As a personal trainer, you have lots of options for your niche. One of the most common is to target specific types of customers. The middle-aged and the elderly are great for disposable income, but you could go other ways too. Bodybuilders will require different training regimes than people suffering from specific afflictions. 

There are endless niches that you can target. While you may need additional certification for some of those niches, think about targeting these options:

  • You could be the only personal trainer in your area to run classes in client’s homes, outside or in corporate offices
  • Prenatal and postnatal women
  • Parents who don’t have a lot of spare time
  • Middle-aged or elderly people
  • Heavily overweight people who just want to lose weight
  • People with specific disabilities
  • Couples.

From being a boot camp trainer to a yoga or spin instructor, you have endless options to choose from. Some personal trainers specialise in classes for pregnant women, while others provide bespoke training for entire wedding parties in the months leading up to the big day. Add some massage training to your skills list, or learn more about nutrition so you can provide more dietary advice.

Think about how much easier your marketing will be once you have a clearly defined target audience rather than a broad “anyone who wants to get fit” strategy.

Consider your history if you can’t narrow down what kind of niche service to offer. What struggles did you face when you decided to be healthier and fitter? What lessons did you learn on your journey to becoming a personal trainer that you wish you’d known beforehand? By choosing your niche based on your personal experiences, you’ll find that clients will relate to you more easily.

Take Time Off!

One of the biggest challenges for those passionate about their job is switching off. Even in the early days of becoming a professional personal trainer, you’ll immediately establish patterns and ways of working that will set the tone of your career. If you find yourself unable to establish boundaries, set personal limits or take time to yourself, you’re going to burn out.

This is a very dry and academic article, but it does highlight the reality of personal trainer burnout syndrome. Always remember that you need to have regular time off, make time for your own workouts and other personal hobbies and interests, and you can even take the big step and go on holiday occasionally!

By ensuring that you take some time to yourself, you’ll be able to keep burnout at bay. That will mean that you’ll be able to give every client 100% of your energy.

personal training session, with the client doing sit ups

Personal Trainer as a Career: Summary

This guide should have given you some insight into what it takes to not only become a personal trainer but to be a successful one. Whether you opt for a salary position or go self-employed will be entirely down to you. 

Whatever route you choose, you’re going to need to put in some hard work. You’ll need to continuously learn more skills, update your knowledge, and learn about subjects you may have little interest in (marketing, for example). But if you put in the work, being a personal trainer is an extremely satisfying career choice.

Demand is high for personal trainers. If you’re looking for a new career, or you’re already a qualified personal trainer, and you’re not sure how to focus your energies, it’s time to get motivated. You’ve already taken the first steps to change your life and your health. Now it’s time to look forward.

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