Personal trainers typically become personal trainers out of a passion for being healthy, fit and active. They're not normally the type of people who could stomach a desk job or sit alone in a cubicle ”paper pushing“. It's a job that starts out with heart, motivation and a love for all things fitness...the trick is, keeping it that way!
If you want to keep yourself on track for a successful long term career, you should understand the role of the personal trainer. What does a personal trainer do? But, before we look at the ”what“, let's recognizing the ”why“.
Why do you want to be a personal trainer? Maybe it's a combination of things — there's not a whole lot of ”wrong“ reasons that you may be motivated to be a personal trainer, other than ”I just want to hang out at the gym all day, lookin' good and making easy money“, if that's your reason then we encourage you to seek another profession; just don't lose the motivation to keep fit, which is certainly a much easier proposition than working to keep others that way.
So, the ”WHY“? Here's some common reasons (but not all, and in no particular order):
1) I want to help people to live a healthy lifestyle
2) I want to make my own lifestyle into a career, or supplement my income with something I enjoy
3) I want to teach people about the body and what it's capable of
4) I want to love my job
What is a Personal Trainer expected to do?
By definition, a personal fitness trainer is a fitness professional possessing the knowledge, skills and abilities for safe and effective exercise and fitness program design, instruction and assistance for the purpose of reaching personal health and fitness goals. Now, thanks to tv shows and celebrities who hire trainers, this career path has a much higher profile than it ever has before — which comes with some good effects, but also some bad. The good: trainers are more and more recognized as being a real and active part of individual goal setting and achieving. The role that trainers play in the success of their clients is increasingly in the spotlight, not hidden in the thankless backdrop. But the bad: a lot of distorted views about what a personal trainer does and how a personal trainer should look.
Passion, purpose, caring and coaching — these qualities make a far greater impact than the size of a trainer's biceps. Not that there isn't something to be said for outward appearance and taking care of the ”cover“ but the book has many pages, and the cover only gets the reader to pick up the book, not to read it.
At the baseline, your scope of practice as a personal trainer should look like this:
- Knowledge of human anatomy and the concepts of functional exercise, basic nutrition and basic exercise science
- An ability to design individual and group exercise programs tailored to the needs and attainable goals of specific clients
- An ability to conduct and understand the need and importance of screening and client assessment, initially and progressively
- An ability to execute individual fitness program design in a safe and effective way
- A desire to help clients reach their health and fitness goals through appropriate cardiovascular, flexibility and resistance exercise
- An ability to motivate others to improve their overall fitness and health
- A dedication to maintaining personal integrity and your own health and fitness
A good personal trainer delivers safe, effective, fun and interesting workouts (in that order) to all fitness-training clients. The training programs you develop should be varied and progressive, and geared toward improving your clients' health and wellness. As a trainer, you should be enthusiastic and supportive, so that your clients remain interested and stimulated, which helps ensure they stick with the program — and with you.
A little more of this, and a lot more of that
As with anything that you set your mind to do, you start by learning what the basics are to achieve it. But ultimately, you know that success requires more than the basic baseline. If you're really going to make it, then you have to be willing to go over and above what is merely required of you. The fortunate part of ”going over and above“, in the world of personal training, is the fact that a lot of it is maintaining what most likely comes naturally to you — like having the motivation to do something that the average person may call ”too hard“. We find that there are some very specific things that are the biggest driving forces for climbing the ladder in this career of personal training. And most of them just take a little bit of thought, focus or investment for a lot of benefit and return:
Education and certifications: you may not be asked about this every day that you're a trainer, but there are definite times when it counts — and those are the times that will make or break you. Don't stop at one or another certification, but more importantly don't think that it doesn't matter. Your trainer knowledge is made legit through certification, especially if you don't have a fitness related college degree. We encourage multiple certs, because multiple certs show that you are driven to go over and beyond. Certification is the baseline of baselines to your long term career (and usually your short term or part time job too). Personal trainer certifications, specialty certifications, and CPR/AED are the places to start (not to finish, but to start).
Experience: for most clubs who hire trainers, it's not always expected that you've been a personal trainer in order for employment. But, what is expected is that you have some personal history in training yourself. This one is important regardless of certification and education — one is always related to the other. You can be certified all day long, but the idea that someone will hire you if you've never stepped foot in a gym or never picked up a free weight or done a bench press in your life, well that's nowhere near realistic. Just like you would expect, or assume, that your accountant has earned his certification, if he was smart enough to pass the test but has never balanced his own checkbook, then you're probably out looking for another accountant.
Enthusiasm: personal training isn't a job for introverts. You have to wear your passion on your sleeve, be the example of motivation (even when it's hard) because you represent the lifestyle that your client is looking to achieve. You have to strive to wake up renewed and purposeful each day. In a sense, you are in the motivational self-help service business, even when you don't feel like it — joy and enthusiasm go a long way!
Appearance: You don't have to be a supermodel or ”huge“ or even ”buff“ to be a personal trainer, despite what your inner ego tells you. But you DO have to ”walk the talk“. You have to be put together and look like you care about yourself and others enough to put yourself together — you never know who's watching, but everyone watches.
Growth: this is the one most often overlooked. No matter who or where you are, growth is crucial to success. Success, not always monetary, is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. Business savvy. In every way that we are trying to succeed, we are needing to grow. Personal trainer growth comes in the form of continuing education. Continuing Ed is required of the baseline certification, but more than that it is an opportunity for growth. Do you recognize a need for growth in the area of business know-how? Or training specific demographics? Or performing more thorough client assessments? There's no excuse for not taking advantage of opportunities for recognized needs for growth, because there's just so much opportunity out there to choose from. Continuing your education doesn't have to cost that much and most often can be done online, so the only reason not to grow in this area is because you don't feel like it.
What NOT to do
While personal trainers often assume multiple roles with their clients — which sometime include being a coach, cheerleader or confidant, there are some responsibilities that personal trainers should avoid. For example, it is NOT expected or appropriate for a personal trainer to:
- DO NOT Give medical advice, physical therapy advice or attempt to make a medical diagnosis
- DO NOT Provide body massage to clients, or any similar service that can be construed as inappropriate touch
- DO NOT Serve as a psychological counselor to clients or become intimately involved in personal client relationships
- DO NOT Have a romantic or inter-personal relationship with a client
- DO NOT Push your own preferences for fitness goals on clients who do not seek out those same goals
- DO NOT Allow your credentials, liability insurance and other trainer business standards/practices become non-existent
Avoiding these areas will help you stay within your responsibilities and expectations to maintain a high degree of professionalism, with low to no risk for incident, as a personal trainer. Check out a more extensive Codes of Conduct for NFPT personal trainers, these are professional standards that are required for starting the course and maintaining the certification.
This Industry and You
You may have heard, or seen in your own community, that fitness facility growth is on the rise. We see new clubs and wellness centers continuing to expand and start-up just about everywhere to keep up with demand. The U.S. Department of Labor indicates growth rates in the fitness training profession that will have it among the top 10 desirable fields of work within the next few years. There's no doubt that the fitness industry overall is here to stay, health and fitness itself is not a fad and will always be a part of an increasing populations priorities. There will always be health and fitness buffs. So where do you fit in? If you're thinking about being a personal trainer and you have the qualities needed to be a trainer, than it's more about how well you execute than it is about how many potential clients are out there. The survey says over 5 million people in the U.S. either hire a personal trainer or use the services of a trainer in their club — so demand isn't an issue, the issue is the goods, do you have them?