Getting Started as a Personal Trainer

Whether you have graduated with an exercise science degree or are jumping into the personal training industry as your second or third profession, there are many questions that you may have about getting started as a personal trainer.

Should I work in a large fitness facility or on my own?

Both paths have their pros and cons. If you are reliant on the income, then a large facility may be your best bet. But, there are specific questions you need to ask. Is there a non-compete clause? There is a high turnover rate in bigger gyms. To say that you will get tired of working in that gym is not a rarity, but instead very likely. So, let’s say you work there for a year and establish a loyal clientele. If you signed a non-compete you may not be able to train those loyal clients and/or train future clients within 10 to 50 miles from the location of that gym. Be aware. Ask this question! Otherwise, you can’t take your clients with you. You are then forced to start over – from scratch. If there isn’t a non-compete; if you find a gym that offers good resources and opportunities to move up the management ladder – then you may be able to stick it out for a few years. And, you most likely will learn a lot about business and marketing along the way.

A big gym also offers other benefits.

  1. Steady flow of clients
  2. Constant exposure
  3. Degree of credibility
  4. Accessibility to equipment & space
  5. Possible funding to become certified

The downside – the gym owners dictate how much you make; they tell you what you can charge.

What’s the difference working in a private studio?

If you have some time (a.k.a. money) to build your business, go for it. If you are not in dire need of the immediate cash flow, then you have time. The major benefit of working in-home is that you can charge a higher rate. You also keep what you make (except for what you give to Uncle Sam).  The greatest challenge is that you are responsible to find clients, sell and market to clients, close clients and train clients. You are the CEO, CFO, CMO and the work horse. To be successful on your own, you have to think like an entrepreneur.

The opportunity for growth is usually pretty obtainable at a private studio. While there may be stricter rules and guidelines, there will be many opportunities to build your credentials and build long-lasting business relationships.

What other questions should I ask in my Interview?

  1. Does your gym require a certification?
  2. If so, do you help fund the certification process?
  3. What certifications do you prefer?
  4. Do you have continuing education opportunities and offer additional training?
  5. Do you pay a flat rate or on a percentage per client?
  6. How many trainers do you have working for you currently?
  7. How many trainers are receiving new clients?
  8. How many new members do you get per month?

Weigh all these aspects. You need to know all of these things so you can determine the pathway to take to enter the personal training business.

And remember, the club is benefiting from you. You are making the club the money. You need take ownership of your career. Interview the health club owner and manager as much as they interview you. Quality clubs will respect you and give you the opportunity to advance. If you act subservient, you won’t get anywhere.  Be respectful, but be direct. Ask for advice.

None of us got to where we are today – alone. Use the resources available to you. Utilize the professionals who have gone before you. You can do it!


Ron Clark is the Founder of National Federation of Professional Trainers, NFPT. From U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant to Competitive BodyBuilder, then Firefighter and Certified Personal Trainer - he founded NFPT in 1988 with a mission to make fitness training careers accessible to every day fitness enthusiasts who want to turn their passion into their livelihood. Ron has always led with a heart of service, and, in that spirit, he helps people to achieve real and practical career goals that serve a greater good in changing people's lives. He lives and leads by example, being a personal trainer himself for more than 10 years before setting out to develop a certification program that is real-world and foundational to the goals of personal trainers and their clients. Click Here to learn more about Ron's story and NFPT's inception.
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