Fitness Programs | Considering a Career Change? Jobs for Fitness Professionals Are Expected to Grow 27% by 2016

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Considering a Career Change? Jobs for Fitness Professionals Are Expected to Grow 27% by 2016

Personal Trainer and ClientAfter 15 years in the music business, J.J. Brawley was only in his early 30s, but had aged well beyond his years. A daily fast-food diet, no exercise and constant worrying about his failing night club venture had taken a physical and mental toll that was plain for everyone to see, except for Brawley. Ironically, his own lack of vision preempted the clarity he needed to change his life.

“It never occurred to me that I had gained so much weight until my wife bought me a bathroom scale—I stepped on it and looked down, I couldn’t see the dial, because my belly was in the way,” recalled Brawley. He had added 65 pounds to his formerly lean 135 pound, 5-foot, 9-inch frame.

When he closed the doors to his night club and entered those to the gym, it changed his life completely.

Today, Brawley works as an independent ACE-certified Personal Trainer, training clients 20-30 hours a week at The Gym@ 734 in the Hillcrest area of San Diego, and runs a boot camp class. He is also currently pursuing his undergraduate degree in kinesiology at San Diego State University and a holistic health practitioner certificate at the International School of Bodywork in San Diego. A self-proclaimed over-achiever, Brawley says he still works long hours, but in a career he truly loves.

“This career is much more rewarding and gratifying,” said Brawley. “I get to help people and get paid for it. My former career was a lot of stress and a lot of work and a rollercoaster ride in terms of income.”

Now he gets paid for helping people caught in the vicious cycle of trying to calm their stresses by overeating while wanting to lose weight, a behavior Brawley knows all too well, but wouldn’t want to relive. Like other fitness professionals, he credits regular exercise and better eating for breaking the cycle.

Opportunities for Personal Trainers and Group Fitness Instructors

With jobs for personal trainers and group fitness instructors expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations—27 percent between 2006-2016, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics—more Americans are likely to follow Brawley’s career move.

As more Americans recognize that a sensible diet and regular workouts are critical to a healthier lifestyle, job opportunities for personal trainers and others willing to help them will expand. The US Department of Labor estimates that growing job opportunities in health clubs and other fitness facilities include part-time jobs teaching yoga, Pilates and other popular group exercise classes; full-time positions, such as in personal training; and managerial positions.

Dian Ramirez, director of fitness at the San Diego Tennis and Racquet Club in San Diego, and a certified Pilates instructor, said she has numerous part-time group fitness instructors on staff, including individuals who have made a career change later in life.

“A lot of people who get into teaching later in life have a wider wealth of experience than they realize,” Ramirez said. “A lot of my instructors realize they spend so much time in fitness, that they might as well make the switch and get paid for it.”

Donald Wright, who works full-time as a residential realtor, was hired by Ramirez to teach Pilates and indoor cycling classes part-time. Wright said knowing that students depend on him to show up for class keeps him accountable and fit.

“I wanted to stay in bed, but knew I had to show up at 6:30 a.m. this morning to teach a class,” said Wright during an interview on March 26.

A long-time member, Wright has also been teaching at the San Diego Tennis and Racquet Club since 2006. He first met Ramirez as a student of her Pilates classes and loved it. After presenting Ramirez with a Pilates certificate, the director felt assured that the 70-year old Wright had gained the required technical skills. Wright’s people skills, enthusiasm, ability to motivate and fitness level sealed the deal.

“People tell me he looks older, but fit, and they feel like if he can do it, they can do it,” said Ramirez noting that the club caters mostly to family and couple memberships rather than people in their early 20s looking to get buff.

For most trainer jobs, accredited certifications and continuing education are as critical as having an out-going and friendly personality. Ramirez likes her indoor cycling instructors to have gained teaching experience and requires a general certificate from a reputable organization. But like most employers in the fitness industry, Ramirez requires Pilates and yoga instructors, and personal trainers, to have pursued specialized training.

Training Standards

The labor department statistics report that while the rising popularity of Pilates and yoga instruction has increased the demand for instructors, growing desires to raise the bar of professionalism among fitness trainers have led the industry to push for more standardized, rigorous requirements for instructor training.

The Pilates Method Alliance has created training standards that recommend at least 200 hours of training, and maintains a list of schools that meet their requirements. The Yoga Alliance created similar training standards with specified classes in such areas as techniques, teaching methodology, anatomy, physiology and philosophy.

Jessica Matthews, ACE’s Continuing Education Coordinator, who also works part-time as a yoga instructor, praised the Yoga Alliance for giving her an in-depth understanding, from the history of yoga and physical aspects to the yoga mentality.

She highly recommends that prospective yoga teachers learn basic yoga skills from attending conferences and workshops (such as with YogaFit), and then pursue the highest education.

Like for Wright, Matthews’ part-time job isn’t so much about the allure of making money than the gratification that she can truly make a difference in people’s daily lives.

“You really get to connect with people,” said Matthews. “I had one woman in my class who has never worked out before and enjoyed it so much, that she started to participate in running races. Other people tell me that they are so excited when they can do a posture for the first time. Some notice the change in their flexibility and balance, and say that yoga brings calmness to their lives that makes them want to eat better and take better care of themselves and their relationships.”

Personal trainers, who are increasingly dealing with the rising aging population, many of whom have chronic conditions, speak of being personally fulfilled by helping their clients lose weight or reduce their medications, or seeing them move around for the first time without pain.

Reputable instructors have gained a certification from an organization that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), such as ACE, and pursued continuing education, if they work with specialized populations. The same is true for clubs who hire them.

“For personal training, I require more than just credentials,” Ramirez said. “We look for quality and seasoned instructors who will commit to the club on an almost full-time basis, and preferably have earned a degree in an exercise-science related field.”

According to the labor department, a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, physical education, kinesiology, or a related area, along with experience, is typically required to advance to management positions.

How To Get Started

How to Get ACE-certified

Personal Trainer Certification
Personal Training is one of the fastest growing professions in the health and fitness industry. The American Council on Exercise's acclaimed Personal Trainer Certification is designed for fitness trainers providing any form of one-on-one or small-group fitness instruction.

Advanced Health + Fitness Specialist Certification
This especially rewarding certification prepares the advanced professional to provide in-depth preventative and post-rehabilitative fitness programming that addresses common diseases and disorders seen on a daily basis (e.g., cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and musculoskeletal ailments).

Group Fitness Instructor Certification
The ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification is designed for fitness professionals teaching any form of exercise in a group setting. Passing the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification Exam demonstrates to your class participants that you possess a foundation of knowledge and skills necessary to teach a safe and effective group fitness class, no matter what type of modality.

Lifestyle + Weight Management Consultant Certification
Your clients want to lose weight. They come to you for help. The Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant Certification demonstrates to your clients that you have the knowledge to develop sound, balanced weight management programs that bring together the three critical components of long-term weight management success: nutrition, exercise and lifestyle change.

To break into the flourishing part-time or full-time career as a fitness professional, you may want to consider the following tips.

Wright feels that he had already gained a lot of experience and knowledge by being a long-time student.

His advice: “Go to classes and see which of the different types of classes you would like to teach, and then get a certification. To be a good instructor takes practice, creativity and personality.”

Matthews recommends gaining as much education as possible, including certifications in a field of interest. Then look for jobs at a facility near your home or work place to ease the commute.

“If you already belong to a gym, talk to the manager about opportunities there,” Matthews suggests. “You already have a sense of familiarity and the members know you, which is extremely helpful.” Online job sites, such as GymJob.com or indeed.com, list frequent openings for job seekers.

Brawley’s tips: “I would recommend looking at an extended studies program at a university or community college to help you prepare for the ACE exam.  I was very prepared from taking classes and reading the entire ACE Personal Trainer Manual twice.”

In addition, Brawley recommends that trainers become role models.

“I know a lot of trainers who aren’t fit and don’t live the lifestyle,” he said. “I find it difficult to tell clients to live a certain way, if you aren’t living it yourself.”

The now 35-year old fit and trim Brawley considers his career switch a life-changer.


Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at marion.webb@acefitness.org.