Amber Long by Amber Long

You’ve decided that you want to work in fitness, but you’re not sure which route to take: personal trainer, group fitness instructor or both? Your options are both numerous and diverse in this ever-evolving field. As you begin your career path, certain personal traits and interests can help determine which route might be best for you. The following brief questionnaire can help you clarify your career path. Simply select the statements that BEST describe you to learn if you would make a better instructor or trainer:



The party doesn’t start until I walk in.

I like to spend time with close friends.

I want to know which exercises are most effective for core training.

I want to know how supersets change energy expenditure during strength-training sessions.

I thrive when I am the center of attention. I am comfortable speaking in front of people.

I would rather work behind the scenes; I am uncomfortable when all eyes are on me.

I want to learn a lot of different methods of exercise and work with diverse populations.

I am pretty sure I know the specific population that I want to serve.

People find me charismatic, motivational and helpful.

People find me trustworthy, informative and helpful.

I attend group fitness classes regularly.

I enjoy working out on my own or in a small group.

I get energy from other people.

I recharge with personal time on my own.

I can get down with the chorus of any song—music motivates me.

I know the rep range for hypertrophy, strength and endurance training like the back of my hand.

Mostly A's

Congratulations, you are primed to become a group fitness instructor. This career path provides an outlet for creativity in the spotlight. Group instructors are often extroverts who feed off of their participants, drawing energy from the efforts and enthusiasm of others. As such, you must be comfortable with being the center of attention and utilizing that attention to motivate and inspire others. Group fitness as a whole is very diverse, ranging from pre-choreographed formats to aquatics, spinning or yoga. All of these different formats require different training. It’s a good idea to start with a primary certification from a NCCA-accredited agency such as the American Council on Exercise and then add niche-based trainings to your repertoire.

While getting paid to work out is often seen as a perk for the fitness instructor, this is not completely a true statement. Highly effective instructors know that the moment they put on a microphone, their attention is 110% on their participants. It’s important to coach to the level of participants present, rather than to achieve your own personal goals or workout. Your participants may need you to coach at a level very different than what you would do on your own.

Group fitness instructors are charged with making class look fun and easy. This means that they spend a great deal of time prior to class designing playlists, choreography and class plans. If you are interested in becoming an instructor, take a wide variety of classes and ask other instructors how they plan their classes. This will give you an insight to the time and effort required.

Mostly B's

You’re ready to become a personal trainer! This route gives you the opportunity to educate and motivate people in a more intimate setting. While there are exceptions to every generalization, trainers are often a little more introverted, preferring to work outside the spotlight. Trainers typically work with clients on a one-on-one or small-group basis, and are able to make a lasting impact with individuals who want more specific direction.

Do you find yourself infatuated with anatomy or physiology? Personal training is more grounded in the science of exercise. Personal trainers need to have a deeper understanding of program design to help clients reach specific goals. Along with knowledge of the human body, interpersonal skills are a crucial part of this role. The ability to demonstrate empathy and build rapport is essential to a successful business. Trainers have the responsibility to meet clients where they are physically, mentally and emotionally in order to craft a collaborative journey to achieve their goals.

Personal training can provide a good salary, but it takes a healthy dose of hustle to make it sustainable. Scheduling is likely one of the more challenging parts of the job. As a new trainer, it’s not uncommon to have early morning clients and evening clients, with down time during the middle of the day. It’s an industry where you work at times that others typically play. As you develop a base of clients and are in greater demand, you can begin to have more control over your schedule.

If you are interested in becoming a personal trainer, ask if you can shadow a few sessions at your local gym. Express interest in an internship or a part-time role while you study for your (NCCA-accredited) certification. This can be a great way to meet potential clients and learn about the philosophy and systems of the facility.


Regardless of what you do in the fitness industry, there is always room for growth. You might start off as a group fitness instructor, gain experience and decide to get certified as a personal trainer. Maybe you’ll become a person trainer and then decide that you really enjoy learning about nutrition, so you decide to become a health coach or attain a certificate in fitness nutrition. Your certification is just the beginning. It’s the minimal requirement to get started. Professional development will continue with each continuing education course you attend, each book you read and each client experience you learn from. Start with the path that feels the most authentic and exciting to you. Take the time to find a mentor that you can trust. Most people are eager to give advice and talk about their own professional experiences. You can utilize the success of others to avoid common mistakes and learn more about available opportunities.

Boost your career with ACE’s Professional Resources.