How to Become a Personal Trainer

Learn how to become a personal trainer. Read on to find out about programs, certification, career opportunities, and potential earnings.

portrait of Marisa Upson
by Marisa Upson

Updated May 13, 2022

Edited by Giselle M. Cancio
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How to Become a Personal Trainer
Image Credit: kupicoo / E+ / Getty Images


People interested in fitness and health and helping others live their best lives may find a career as a personal trainer very rewarding.

Personal trainers help their clients reach their fitness goals through motivation and instruction. They often develop a fitness plan and demonstrate how to perform certain exercises. Some personal trainers specialize in specific areas, such as strength training, yoga, or cardiovascular workouts.

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Ready to start your journey?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 39% job growth for fitness trainers and instructors from 2020-2030. This growth rate far exceeds the 8% national average for all occupations.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Personal Trainer?

Though there are no state-specific laws requiring certification for personal trainers, many gyms and other employers only hire certified trainers. Some fitness centers may allow non-certified trainers to lead group classes, but they cannot take on individual clients.

To gain certification, you must pass an exam. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) offers personal trainer certification. According to its eligibility checklist, test-takers must hold a high school degree or GED certificate. Additionally, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification and an automated external defibrillator (AED) certification are required.

NASM allows students to start a personal training program without these certifications as long as they earn them before taking the personal trainer certification exam. They also offer CPR/AED online certification for around $50. NASM temporarily waived the hands-on skill assessment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What Does Personal Trainer Training Look Like?

After confirming your eligibility, take these steps to become a personal trainer.

Research and Choose a Study Program

There are many personal trainer certification programs on the market. To narrow down your search, make sure to choose a program accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

Accreditation ensures that a training program meets the highest quality standards and helps to safeguard the public. Most gyms only hire trainers who received their personal trainer certification from an accredited program.

Prospective trainers should also choose a program that aligns with their career goals, area of interest, and learning style.

A few options include self-study, guided study, online, and in-person training. Some programs also bundle nutrition, strength training, and other specialties with personal training certification. Additionally, some include a job guarantee.

Program costs can range from about $400-$1,600. Most personal training certification programs offer monthly payments.

Prepare and Register for Certification

Now it's time to choose an exam date and start studying. Students should give themselves enough time to learn the material without procrastinating. Some programs such as NASM require students to take the exam within six months from the enrollment date.

Most programs also offer a practice exam. The exams and practice exams are offered online or in person.

Choose a Career Path

While most personal trainers work in gyms and recreational sports centers, some work for social and civic organizations, educational services, and the government. Others work independently and start their own business or work in corporate wellness programs.

As personal trainers gain experience, they may advance to roles as fitness directors or gym managers. Some choose to further their education to pursue roles as physical therapy assistants, athletic trainers, and sports medicine specialists.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Personal Trainer?

The time it takes to become a certified personal trainer depends on your schedule and how much time you can devote to studying. Full-time, dedicated learners can achieve this in as little as four weeks. For most, it may take from 3-6 months.

Each program lists the expected amount of study time required to complete the course. Most range from about 80-100 hours. Students can formulate a close estimate by taking a realistic look at current obligations and the program's requirements.

Set aside a certain amount of time each week and determine how many chapters and videos you need to complete to make your deadline. Note the questions missed on the practice exam and review those topics.

Each program offers its own certification test with varying formats. For example, the NASM certified personal trainer exam consists of 120 test questions, 20 of which do not count toward the final score. Test-takers must receive a scaled score of 70 or better to pass.

Frequently Asked Questions About a Personal Trainer's Career

Do personal trainers have good salaries?

Salaries for personal trainers vary by employer, experience level, and location. The BLS reports that, as of May 2020, fitness trainers and instructors earn a median annual salary of $40,510, with the top 10% earning over $76,550. Those who work in fitness and recreational sports centers earn a median wage of $42,160 per year.

Personal trainers in Connecticut and Vermont make some of the highest wages, earning an average $63,140 and $58,580, respectively, as of May 2020. In California, a state that employs the largest number of exercise trainers, the average pay is $54,770, with the top 10% earning $89,400.

Do personal trainers have to be fit?

Personal trainers need to develop the strength and endurance to train their clients and demonstrate correct exercise techniques throughout the day.

Most clients also expect their trainers to lead by example. Coaching someone to live their best life and stay fit and healthy requires a certain level of commitment to one's health.

However, personal trainers do not need to be ultra-fit, possess six-pack abs, or run monthly marathons. The most significant factor may involve a trainer's specialty. For example, trainers specializing in competitive athletes may need a greater fitness level than those focused on helping people just starting their fitness journey.

Is personal training a good career?

For individuals passionate about fitness and health, working as a personal trainer can be a rewarding career. Projected growth in the fitness industry translates to promising job opportunities. From 2020-2030, the BLS projects about 69,100 job openings, on average, each year.

Many personal trainers also personalize in their area of interest, such as weight training, yoga, or Pilates. For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, this career also offers the opportunity to work independently or open their own fitness center.

Are an athletic trainer and a personal trainer the same?

No. Athletic trainers specialize in injury prevention, evaluation, and developing rehabilitation programs. These trainers require a bachelor's degree in athletic training, sports medicine, or a related field. Some employers prefer applicants with a master's degree. Almost all states require licensure or certification.

Many of these trainers work in schools, colleges, hospitals, and the military. Some also serve as athletic trainers for professional sports teams. They may also work with other healthcare professionals or personal trainers.

For example, an injured athlete may turn to an athletic trainer for rehabilitation and a personal trainer to help regain their strength.

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