Are you a gym rat? Meathead? Fitness queen? I’m guessing you’re here because you want to learn how to make money in the fitness industry. You’ve come to the right place. Perhaps you’re looking to make some extra money outside of your fulltime job to pay off your debt like me or maybe you want to make a career change. Trust me, I’ve been there too. I’m going to be real with you, making serious money in the fitness industry is hard. Depending where you live, there is a lot of competition out there and you need to strive to be the best.
There are two main ways to make money in the fitness industry: personal training and group fitness class instruction. Of course, there are hundreds of other ways to make money in the fitness industry, such as sport specific coaching, gym owner, fitness model, etc. However, the two primary and abundant jobs in the fitness industry (and ones that I have experience in) are personal trainer and group fitness class instructor.
How to Become a Personal Trainer
Becoming a personal trainer requires some work and education. In order to be a personal trainer you need to be certified through an accredited personal training educational association. If a gym does not require their trainers to have certifications, then I highly recommend avoiding that gym both as a new trainer and as a gym member. Now, just because someone has multiple certifications doesn’t make them a great trainer either. I have argued with fellow trainers in the past that being certified is extremely important. Certifications generally weed out the total idiots that should probably never work with clients because it requires you to understand human anatomy, how the body moves and functions, exercise technique, and programing and they test you through a final exam. A personal trainer who is certified generally takes their job seriously, understands human movement, and is insured. I have worked in a gym before where I was the only certified trainer and my boss used to lie to potential clients by telling them that all the trainers were certified. If you’re looking to hire a personal trainer always ask to see their certification(s).
Not all certifications are created equal either. When people ask me what certification to get, I always tell them to ask around at a few different gyms to see what kinds of trainers with which certifications they prefer hiring. Some gyms require specific certifications. The most respected and sought after certifications come from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). If you don’t have any background in fitness or science then I highly recommend getting your certification through NASM. They offer different packages ranging in program features and prices for their Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certification. I hold their Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) certification and I loved their interactive study tools and the ease of the certification process. My personal training certification is through NSCA, which is geared more towards people with college degrees in sports medicine. Their Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification is the most prestigious fitness industry certification and you must have college degree to even sit for the exam. The next level is Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) certification, which I personally hold. The NSCA certification is a great option if you have a background in human anatomy and physiology as the NSCA-CPT is rather science intensive. Most people fail the first time they take the exam and I just squeaked by when I took the exam.
Recommended Personal Training Certifications:
NSCA-CPT: A certified personal training certification offered through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. One of the most respected and hardest certifications to earn. The exam test contains 140 scored questions covering client consultation/fitness assessment, program planning, exercise technique, and safety/emergency issues. You must be at least 18 years old and hold a valid CPR/AED certification. The exam costs $300 for NSCA members and $435 for non-members. For more information see: NSCA-CPT.
NASM-CPT: A certified personal training certification offered through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. One of the best associations for their educational tools and portal and very well-respected throughout the fitness industry. You need to get a 70 out of 120 on the exam that covers topics such as assessments, exercise techniques, program design, and nutrition. You must be at least 18 years old and hold a valid CPR/AED certification. NASM offers multiple packages ranging from just the exam for $599 to the associate personal trainer package with multiple features for $1,999. NASM offers regular sales so look for those to save a few bucks. For more information see: NASM-CPT.
ACSM-CPT: A certified personal training certification offered through the American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM has an excellent reputation and many gyms prefer this certification (along with the two mentioned above). You must be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or equivalent and hold a valid CPR/AED certification. The exam has 150 questions that cover topics such as initial client consultation and assessment, exercise programming and implementation, exercise leadership and client education, and legal, professional, business, and marketing. The exam costs $219 for members and $279 for non-members making it one of the cheaper options. ACSM does not offer an educational portal like NASM, but they do offer in-person workshops and webinars if you need help studying the materials. For more information see: ACSM-CPT.
ACE Personal Trainer: A certified personal training certification offered through the American Council of Exercise. You’ll see a lot of personal trainers with this certification because it is the easiest certification to earn as about 93% of people pass the exam the first time. Most chain gyms will accept this certification, but many personal training studios and independent gyms will prefer you to have a different certification. Just because you are ACE certified doesn’t mean you’re a bad trainer, it just means do your research before picking an association to earn your certification through as some gyms prefer certain certifications. You must be at least 18 years old and hold a valid CPR/AED certification. The exam is 150 questions covering topics like client interviews and assessments, program design and implementation, progression and modifications, and professional conduct, safety, and risk management. The exam costs $399. ACE offers similar study packages as NASM ranging from $599 to $799. For more information see: ACE Personal Trainer.
Which One Do I Choose?
Of course, there are lots more options for personal trainer certifications. The YMCA has their own unique certification so if you’re thinking about working at your local Y, contact them to find out more about their certification program. Now for the tough question, which do you choose? Friends ask me this question often. I always tell them to do your research. Look at local gyms’ websites to determine what their current trainers hold for certifications as that will give you a general indication of what the gym is looking for in potential trainers. If you can’t find the information online, just ask the fitness manager or one of the trainers there for their recommendations. As a general rule, if you’re looking to work primary with athletes or strength and conditioning clients, I would recommend going through NSCA as that is their prime target population. If you have no background in human anatomy and science then I highly recommend NASM as their educational portals are top-notch. ACSM is a very reputable and well-recognized organization with the cheapest exam options; however, they do not offer any sort of study programs. It is completely self-study with the option of workshops and webinars. ACE has been around for a long time and offers study programs, just beware that some gyms and studios might not accept the certification.
I’m Certified. Now What?
First off, congratulations! Now it’s the tough part… finding a job. It’s time to pound the pavement and browse the internet for jobs. I’ve found all my fitness-related jobs on Craigslist so I recommend starting there. Just beware of scams as you’ll see loads of them on Craigslist advertising how you can make thousands of dollars by selling supplements to your clients or other crap like that. Indeed and Monster are other good options too. If you’re not seeing much online then drive over to your local gym and just ask. The best way to find a job today in any market is networking. Hit the pavement with your resume in hand and just talk to people. Some gyms might require you to have experience, which is always a catch 22 when you’re first certified. Put the word out to your friends and family that you’re a newly certified personal trainer and would like to gain some experience. Either offer free or deeply discounted sessions to your friends and family and practice your skills. By doing this you’re making a few bucks, gaining experience, and will hopefully have some successful testimonies to give to your potential new employers. Or, you can just start your own business. One thing that they don’t teach you in “personal training school” is how to sell yourself. This is something that I struggle with. I’m just not the sales type, but as a personal trainer you have to be a salesman too. Why should they pick you over the more experienced and educated trainer? What makes you stand a part from others? Personal training is a “dog eat dog” world so you need to be able to play with the big dogs.
How Much Money Can I Make?
This is really up to you. How many hours do you want to work? How many client do you have? Do you work at a gym? Do you offer in-home services? Where do you live? Obviously if you live in NYC or LA you can charge a heck of a lot more than if you live in Maine like I do. The average trainer in Maine only makes about $20,000 a year, so don’t think you’re going to hit the lottery with personal training. According to a 2010 salary survey from ACE, the average personal trainer makes about $53,000 a year. Now remember, that includes trainers all over the United States so the data is probably skewed towards trainers working in big cities. A May 2011 Bureau of Labor suvery indicated that fulltime trainers make about $36,000 a year. The numbers vary widely so be realistic.
Over time as you gain more experience and network more in your community you’ll get more clients which equals more money. It’s tough starting out and it takes time. Personally, I believe when starting out as a trainer your focus should be quality over quantity. Word of mouth goes a long way so really help your clients get the best reasons they can and they’ll be happy to recommend you to friends and family. Another way to increase your income is focus on a niche. Become an expert in a specific niche, such as senior citizens or postpartum women.
What you can realistically charge people per session depends on a lot of factors. Location is number one. You’ll make more in the large cities, but cost of living is way higher too. Your experience and education can help determine your cost. Greener trainers will probably make a little less than more seasoned trainers. Additionally, if you choose to work at a gym, they often set the prices of their sessions and packages. One of the best ways to obtain and retain clients is through package deals. For example, a single session might cost $55, but a package of 10 sessions costs $450 or $45 per session. People love to save! Just do your research!
How To Become a Group Fitness Instructor
Not interested in a serious commitment, but still want to earn some extra cash in the fitness industry? Teaching group fitness classes is another great choice! I rarely train clients now and if I do they are family and friends because I just can’t make the time commitment in my busy schedule, but I teach on average 6-8 group fitness classes a week. I never thought I would enjoy teaching classes as I tend to strongly dislike public speaking, but not only do I find teaching fun, but it has helped me get over my fear of speaking in public. Win, win for everyone!
Becoming a group fitness instructor is a great way to dip your toes into the fitness industry, make extra money on the side of your fulltime job (or maybe you’re a stay-at-home mom looking to get out of the house!), and get a free membership to a gym. Additionally the requirements to become a certified group fitness trainer is easier and cheaper to obtain than a personal trainer certification. There are many different types of certifications you can get that qualifies you to teach fitness classes ranging from general group fitness instructor certification to specialized certifications such as spin, yoga, and Pilates.
General Group Fitness Instructor Certifications:
ACE Group Fitness Instructor: A group fitness instructor certification offered by the American Council on Exercise. This is a popular and widely accepted certification that provides you the knowledge to design and teach a wide range of fitness classes such as step, aerobics, boot camp, etc. You must be at least 18 years old and hold a valid CPR/AED certification. The 150 question exam contains questions on topics such as exercise programming and class design, group instructional methods, group leadership and class management, and professional responsibility. The exam costs $249 and ACE offers two different study packages. For more information see: ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification.
ACSM-GEI: A group fitness instructor certification offered by the American College of Sports Medicine. This is another popular and widely respected and accepted certification that provides you the knowledge and skills to design and teach a wide range of fitness classes. You must be at least 18 years old with a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent and hold a valid CPR/AED certification. The exam contains 100 questions on topics such as participant and program assessment, class design, leadership and instruction, and legal and professional responsibilities. The exam costs $219 for members and $279 for non-members. ACSM does not provide any study modules like ACE, but does offer in-person workshops and webinars. For more information see: ACSM-GEI.
AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification: A group fitness instructor certification offered by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. AFAA is the largest fitness educator offering various group fitness and personal training certifications since 1983. You must be at least 18 years old and hold a valid CPR/AED certification. AFAA offers an online 14 video lecture course or in-person certification workshops. The online course with exam costs $299, but they often run sales too. Additionally, AFAA offers specialized certifications in Step and Kickboxing. For more information see: AFAA Primary Group Exercise Certification.
Specialized Group Fitness Instructor Certifications:
Certified Spinning Instructor: Love spinning? Becoming a spin instructor is easy through Mad Dogg Athletics. To become a certified spin instructor you just need to attend a one-day, nine-hour training and take and pass the online test after the class. During your training day you’ll learn how to properly set up a bike, cycling biomechanics, creating class profiles, and more. Certification costs $325. For more information see: Certified Spinning Instructor.
Yoga Instructor: Becoming a yoga instructor requires a major time committment and generally costs a couple thousand dollars so it is generally saved for the really motivated yoga-lovers. Most yoga instructors hold a 200 hour RYA certification that requires 200 hours of education at a yoga studio. During yoga teacher training you’ll learn the proper alignment of the various poses, how to teach a class, and learn how to read bodies among other things. To find out more about yoga teach training, I recommend contacting your local yoga studio. Many studios offer training once or twice a year.
StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor Certification: In the recent years kettlebells have become very popular. Personally I love kettlebells and I occasionally sub a kettlebell class at one of the gyms where I teach. Kettlebell exercises are very technical and it is easy to get hurt if you’re not careful. StrongFirst offers a kettlebell instructor certification if you’re serious about teaching a kettlebell specific class. SFG requires you to not only pass a written exam, but also pass an intense practical exam to ensure that you can proper use kettlebells. In order to become certified you must attend a 3-day certification course that generally costs about $1,500. It’s not only a major cost committment, but also a physical committment. Make sure you can pass the physical exam before committing to the certification. For more information see: SFG Kettlebell Instructor Certification.
Of course, there are hundreds of other certifications out there so do your research and choose a certification in something you feel passionate about and want to teach. Les Mills, TRX, and Pilates are all very popular options too.
How Do I find a Job?
Again, I recommend starting with Craigslist. If you’re not having luck with Craigslist then just call around or stop in at various gyms and studios to see if they are hiring any instructors. If no gyms and studios are hiring then see if you could be added to their sub list. When I first started teaching, I started as a sub then quickly worked my way up to a regular instructor because I made myself available to teach classes whenever they needed help.
How Much Will I Make?
This depends on the gym. You could make as little as minimal wage (let’s hope not!) or as much as $50 or more! It really depends on your location and what you teach. If you teach yoga or Pilates then you will probably get paid more than if you were to teach a step class at a local gym. Generally gyms have set class rates, but it never hurts to see if you can negotiate a higher rate depending on your certifications and experience.
Working in the fitness industry can be very rewarding and fun, but it is a lot of work especially when you first start out in the industry. Don’t expect to make a ton of money right away. You need to get your name out there and build a reputation for yourself. If you’re looking to make some extra money to pay off your debt or stash away in your savings then teaching group fitness classes is a great way to do this plus you get the bonus of a free gym membership and a workout! On average I make an extra $500 to $750 a month just by teaching several fitness classes around town. That money goes a long way to pay off my student loans faster and additional savings in my travel fund. What do you think? Are you ready to give it a try?! Do you think you now know how to make money in the fitness industry?
Do you work in the fitness industry? What advice do you have for newbies?