According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, fitness is one occupation that is expected to continue to grow and, even better, the field is set to expand much faster than the average. Whether you are looking to become a personal trainer, group fitness instructor or a combination of the two, the flexibility the position allows is a bonus, and being able to do something you are passionate about tops the list for why most people are lacing up their sneakers and leaving desk jobs behind.
Of course, as with any new career, there are plenty of considerations, plans and preparations you’ll want to make before embarking on this journey.
Let’s cover three key items you’ll need to do prior to collecting your first paycheck.
1. Ask Questions
Find someone who is doing what you want to do and start talking. Pick his or her brain about what the job entails, including:
- The business side of the career: The profession is not just about teaching classes or training clients – even though that’s how it may appear. It’s important to make sure the rest of the business appeals to you, too because a lot of your time in the early days will be spent marketing, getting your name out there, auditioning, interviewing and learning about payroll or booking services. If working out is your passion, you’ll love the teaching or training, but you need to make sure you want to be an entrepreneur to some degree!
- The hours: Yes, it’s true that the hours are flexible and typically left up to you! But veteran trainers or instructors will tell you about how they were teaching or training at all hours of the day, and found it hard to take days off when they got started. In the beginning, you may have to take clients/classes when they’re available versus when you want them. Of course, it’s always good to establish your preferred schedule and stick to times and days that you can’t be available since this will help drive demand for your services – and keep you from burning out!
- The money: Pay rates and potential are varied from community to community; it’s important to know if your earning potential might be influenced by additional study, experience or location before you settle on your final course of study. You will want to set aside some money to buy you some time before fitness has to pay all the bills. As with any job, there is a ramp-up period when your investment will not match your return. Have a reality-based plan for the clubs or employment opportunities you think may appeal to you!
- The workouts: Find out how their own workouts changed once they began working out for a living because it’s different! Again, passion is a great driving force for fitness professionals, but you’ll need to be realistic and plan to fit your workouts in after training clients all day. The more you know beforehand, the better prepared you’ll be.
2. Do Your Homework
Once you’re settled on where you’re positioned to begin in the industry and have a clear picture for what your new position will entail, it’s time to gain the proper credentials. It’s important to seek out the two items that are the basis of your career: (1) quality education and then test your knowledge with (2) NCCA-accredited certifications. Determine the education and certification you need based on the type of work you want to do, your desired pay scale and the type of clients you are interested in training and/or teaching. Many people end up having to go back to the drawing board after their initial certifications once they finally start asking employers what they need for a particular position, which can vary from club to club.
Of course, you will also need to make sure you have your CPR and AED and, for some facilities, First Aid qualifications, as well. Research and schedule any specialty training that is required in advance. Begin following different organizations and educators via social media and get on mailing lists for the events that you hear are worth your time when it comes to continuing your education or specializing your education. Events are scheduled months in advance, so you should plan that early, too! You’ll never want to stop learning to stay relevant in this industry.
Also, start working on your business bits. Find out about liability insurance. Will you be covered by your facility? Does it make sense to do this on your own? Most fitness organizations, like ACE and IDEA, can recommend via their website an affordable solution to liability insurance. It may be a good idea to get with a business attorney and discuss items like creating a business, tax information and how to deal with monetary transactions if you are looking to be more private or home-based as a trainer.
3. Find a Mentor.
Many people falsely assume that passing a certification is all they need to do to land a great fitness job, and they believe that their experiences working out or taking classes are enough to be successful right away. It would be great if there were more on-the-job training centers for trainers and instructors, but they can be tough to find sometimes. You may come across a school or course that helps you walk through the practicality of putting your knowledge into motion, but if not, try to connect with a local trainer or instructor to shadow and ask more detailed questions about how to work efficiently. There may even be programs through clubs that are scheduled internships with the same purpose.
Remember that mentors can also be virtual! Scout out folks who have made it in this business and follow them closely. Social media is fantastic for this. What are they reading? What conferences are they attending? Do they help people getting started organically or through structured consulting services? Our industry does not discuss virtual mentoring enough; learning from those that have paved the way can save you plenty of time and wasted effort.
The more research you do and the more hands-on time you can collect before you put all of your eggs in your fitness basket, the better. You will gain valuable insight and experience to put yourself head and shoulders above the competition. Good luck!