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Tips on Successfully Making a Career Change Into Fitness

Tips on Successfully Making a Career Change Into Fitness  | American Council on Exercise | Exam Preparation Blog | 3/21/2012


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For many individuals studying for the ACE Personal Trainer exam, the decision to pursue a professional fitness certification comes from the need to start a new career, passion for fitness, or desire to supplement their incomes.

As an ACE Education and Certification Consultant, I see many exam candidates who come from non-fitness related career fields, including the military, business, hospitality, technology, and as stay-at-home parents. Part of my job is to help folks like these make the best decisions about how to prepare and successfully earn an ACE certification.

After all, most often, the best approach to breaking into the business is by getting certified as a Personal Trainer, and the certification should be with an NCCA accredited organization such as ACE.

What helps me in my job is being able to relate to so many exam candidates.

My own journey into the ranks of the fitness industry started at the age of 39 with a promise I made to myself to share the success I had battling type 2 diabetes. That success gave me the drive and a perspective I wanted to share with others.

Now, I hear many similar stories from those who were inspired by losing significant amounts of weight to those who have made the gym and working out a large part of their lives.

I transitioned from a 10-year run in the high-tech software industry to personal training in 2007, after a few years of part time preparation. I built up enough of a small following to make it financially viable; I would like to emphasis that it was financially viable.

It would be a mistake to transition into the fitness profession without a game plan — either in the form of clientele, an employment opportunity, or simply a healthy cash reserve. A job in the fitness industry in a lesser role can help as well. Front desk or other customer service opportunities would be a great way to make a wage while being immersed your new field.

My first job working for someone else in the industry was with a large bootcamp outfit — hauling and setting up equipment three days a week starting at 5 a.m. It was tough and the money was terrible, but I learned everything about how to set up and run bootcamps. Eventually, I ran a successful bootcamp for several years afterwards.

Many individuals I speak with start off by making personal training a part-time job, taking on a few clients at the beginning. There are many ways to boost your client base over time. I know of a trainer in Alabama who volunteered a few hours a week at his church. He used these individuals in his referral system and also used their testimonials in his marketing strategies.

This is somewhat similar to the chicken vs. egg controversy. You need good referrals and testimonials to get a solid client base, but you also need clients to get the testimonials you’ll use in your referral system. Volunteering every so often can solve the problem of how to jump start your marketing system.

Keep in mind that starting wages for new trainers may be less than expected at the beginning, especially while you’re learning some of the necessary hands-on elements of training. Also, relying on a half dozen clients if you venture on your own may be risky since losing one or two can have dire consequences to your bottom line. Losing two clients could mean a weekly loss of $300 to $400 dollars, or even more.

My solution for keeping my bottom line healthy was to develop another outlet for generating income in the form of bootcamps. Personal trainers with group fitness instructor certifications can work a part-time class schedule as well. The point is that you must have a clear idea of where you will generate your income, have more than one option, and take the necessary measures to further your education in specific disciplines that interest you. Continuing education is a blessing for this reason since it enables you to learn new skills that can be applied right away, which ultimately will help to take your career to the next level.

Here’s some advice I like to give individuals who are transitioning into the industry as a personal trainer or group fitness instructor: Take opportunities where clients are provided to you. Sure the money may not be as good per training hour, but it is generally more consistent and likely to have decent marketing and sales support.

In my case, I worked for an hourly rate at one point, and then worked for a split. Most of my clients were supplied. Eventually, I ended up running my own business while paying rent for gym space. The one advantage of an hourly rate or split is that you get to practice the trade of personal training without getting killed up front by spending most of your time marketing and selling to new clients. In most cases, you get to work with other trainers — learning routines, technique, and assessment strategies. And when it’s time to become more independent, you will have learned a thing or two about sales and marketing. This will make the transition easier.

There are many resources that provide statistical information for job outlook and wages for personal trainers and group fitness instructors. The Bureau of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook suggests that the fitness industry will grow 20 percent by 2018. Average wages for personal trainers and group fitness instructors are more than $25 dollars per hour, and it’s higher for the self-employed personal trainer.

There are many professional opportunities in the fitness industry and it will only get even better. That is encouraging information for those transitioning over from other careers. Just remember to do your research, develop a game plan, and don’t jump until it makes financial sense. If you enjoy motivating and inspiring people and are passionate about health and fitness, you will love this profession.