Personal Trainer Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a personal training career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a personal trainer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Personal Trainer Career

Personal trainers assist people with exercise and diet programs either in a gym or a home setting. Read about the pros and cons below.

Pros of a Personal Trainer Career
Average job growth (13% growth projected from 2012-2022 among fitness trainers and instructors)*
Personal trainers can make a difference in the health of others*
On-the-job training is often short*
The skills learned while personal training (such as CPR) could help prepare you for a potential career in the medical field*

Cons of a Personal Trainer Career
These jobs may only be part time, so a personal trainer may need to find other means of employment*
Intense competition in the job market*
Employers increasingly require individuals to earn bachelor's degrees*
Smaller fitness facilities may require you to perform non-fitness tasks, like checking people in at the front desk or registering potential clients for gym memberships*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

Personal trainers work with individuals to develop healthy workout regimens and diet plans. They show clients how to strengthen different muscle groups and often combine weight training with cardiovascular activities in order to provide clients with the best exercise program possible. They may demonstrate various exercises to improve their client's technique and usually meet in a client's home or a gym.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of personal trainers and other fitness workers was expected to increase 13% from 2012-2022. The BLS noted that individuals with undergraduate training in topics like exercise science can expect more job opportunities.

According to July 2015 statistics from, most personal trainers with 0-5 years of experience reported yearly median earnings of $34,000, while most professionals with a minimum of 20 years of experience earned more than $53,000. The professional certifications you choose could also affect your salary. According to the most recent data available, in 2012 noted that the majority of personal trainers certified through the American College of Sports Medicine took in earnings between $19,000 and $60,000 annually. The majority of those with certification through the American Council on Exercise reported earnings between $20,000 and $62,000 annually.

Career Requirements

At a minimum, a personal trainer must have a high school diploma, although the BLS noted that employers are starting to require that fitness workers have a bachelor's degree in a health-related field, like kinesiology. A Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology can offer you flexibility in the focus of your studies; some programs offer concentrations in exercise science or health and fitness. Common courses in these programs include anatomy and physiology, adult physical fitness and the psychology of exercise. You may find that you have to complete an internship, but not all programs require this experience.

Training Requirements and Certification

Personal trainers receive very little on-the-job training. However, they generally must work with an experienced trainer before training with a client alone. A personal trainer should be outgoing, motivational and sensitive to an individual's particular needs and wishes. Employers often require that personal trainers have professional certification through organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Council on Exercise (ACE) or the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). You can find more potential organizations through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. In order to be certified, candidates must typically be CPR certified and pass both written and practical examinations.

What Are Employers Looking For?

Aspiring personal trainers must know how to motivate their clientele. They must have good communication and listening skills in order to identify exactly what their clients' goals are and to come up with plans to help their clients achieve their fitness plans. Below are examples of real job listings available in March 2012.

  • A Pennsylvania wellness center is looking for a personal trainer certified with the ACSM or the National Strength and Conditioning Association to work with medical patients to make lifestyle changes, perform fitness assessments and help individuals achieve their goals. A bachelor's degree in exercise science or similar field and 1-2 years of experience are required.
  • An exercise club in Missouri seeks a personal trainer to consult with club members and offer nutritional counseling and exercise training. This individual must have CPR and AED certification. A fitness-related college degree is preferred, and practical experience is required.
  • A fitness center in New Jersey is interested in a personal trainer with 1-2 years of experience to conduct physical assessments and create training programs for clients. An individual must have professional certification, as well as active CPR and AED certifications.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

As a personal trainer, you may choose to earn certifications that prepare you to work with specific clientele - for example, cancer patients or those who have sensory disorders. Some of these certifications are offered through the American College of Sports Medicine. The Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer credential shows that you have the training to develop special exercise programs for cancer patients and survivors who have their doctor's permission to begin exercising. The credential requires that an applicant have a current certification through the ACSM or another health-related certification and adult CPR credentials ( Applicants must have either a bachelor's degree and 500 hours of experience training individuals with chronic conditions or - in lieu of the degree - 10,000 hours experience working with those with chronic conditions.

The ACSM and the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD) have developed a certification for personal trainers who work with individuals who have a variety of disabilities, including sensory disorders. Like the Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer credential, it typically requires a current ACSM certification or CPR certification and a bachelor's degree. The exam for the inclusive fitness trainer credential covers topics like modification of programs based on an individual's physical limitations, how to teach adaptive exercises and correct posture for those with neuromuscular disorders.

Alternative Career Paths

Recreation Supervisor

If you're looking for employment working with people of all ages in a variety of activities, like arts, crafts, sports and outdoor reaction, consider a recreation supervisor position. You usually need at least an associate degree and the ability to motivate others. The BLS doesn't differentiate between recreation workers and recreation supervisors with its salary data, but as of May 2011, there were 301,840 recreational workers employed across the nation. In the same year, most of those individuals reported earnings between $17,000 and $39,000 annually. The job outlook for recreation workers, including recreation supervisors, was projected to grow as fast as average from 2010-2020 at 19%.

Recreational Therapist

If you'd like to make a difference in the lives of individuals with physical disabilities, you could consider a career as a recreational therapist. Recreational therapists provide treatment and recreation services for individuals with chronic health conditions and allow individuals with disabilities to use community recreation programs. You generally need a bachelor's degree to work in this field, and some states require licensure. The BLS reported that as of May 2011, there were 19,650 recreational therapists working in the United States. Most of these individuals earned between $26,000 and $65,000 annually. The BLS also stated that hiring of these professionals was expected to increase by 17% between 2010 and 2020.

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