So You Want to be a Personal Trainer...
Thinking of ditching your office job to become a personal trainer? Before you make the leap, learn the seven things our Reebok trainers wish they’d known before they started their careers in the world of fitness.
1. Some of the Cheap and Easy Certifications Aren’t Worth Your Money
Word to the wise: Not all gyms accept every certification. So if you know you want to work at a specific place, make sure you ask them what certifications they like their trainers to have.
“Choose from that group versus just trying to find a cheap one or a quicker one,” says Andy Dooley, a Reebok trainer and the face of ReebokONE, a network of 100,000 instructors worldwide. “Because in the end, if the gym doesn’t take your certification, then you’re not going to have a job.”
Reebok trainer Jeremy Shore, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and group education director for Matrix Fitness, recommends NASM or ACE specifically. “They’re the most respected, and you’re going to be one of the quickest to get a job if you have one of those more respected certifications,” he says.
2. The Gym You Choose Will Define Your Training Experience
Big gyms offer you the opportunity to get a job fairly quickly, but Shore says he’s seen many young trainers burn out quickly because they get too many hours too fast.
“I looked for: Who are the leaders in the community? Who are smaller, more boutique places that have some seasoned trainers and I can go in and learn and allow some opportunities for mentorship for myself,” he says. “I asked questions and learned and spent time with them. That was the most valuable thing.”
3. Training Is a Lifestyle, Not a Job
Working nine-to-five Monday through Friday isn’t the reality for most trainers. “A lot of the time, you’re either working really, really early in the morning or you’re working late,” says Reebok trainer Alexia Clark.
“You can’t really say, ‘I’m going to make my own schedule and work when I want.’ You can do that, but the majority of people want to work out before they go to work or after, so your hours are definitely flip-flopped from a typical person.”
But there is an upside: “You can have a lot more flexibility in your schedule and a lot more free time during your days,” says Shore. “It can be 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and you can call some people.”
4. You Have to Be ‘On’ All the Time
It doesn’t matter how many certifications you have—if you don’t have personality, you’re going to have trouble getting and keeping clients. And when we say personality matters, we mean all the time. “It’s very difficult, especially when you’re tired,” says Reebok trainer Hannah Eden Gong, co-founder of PumpFit Club.
“There is no time to be tired. When you come into a gym, people are investing one hour of their day to come to you. They’re there to get the most out of that hour they have with you, so you’d better show up with a smile on your face,” she says.
Dooley says clients and potential clients notice your actions, even when you least expect them to. “I had one lady named Stephanie become one of my clients because of how detail-oriented I was about the weights,” he explains. “She saw I had to have the numbers all lined up after I used them. For her, that was a big deal because she thought: If I cared that much about weights, I would definitely care a lot about people.”
5. You’ll Get Paid in Passion in the Beginning
Gong started coaching boot camps while she was still an editor and photo researcher for a big Miami fashion photographer. She loved training so much that she did it for free. “If you’re willing to do something for free, I guess you know that’s passion,” she says.
But when she quit her day job to see if she could make training work full-time (at this point she was charging clients), she still had to bartend a couple of nights a week to make ends meet. “If you think being a fitness professional is going to make you rich, you’ve got another thing coming,” she says.
Gong did eventually get to a point where she was able to stop bartending and even open her own gym—but it took years to get to that point.
6. Social Media Can Help You Get Business—If You Use it the Right Way
Dooley says he’s gained several clients who found him through his Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat accounts. “The biggest thing I learned, which I saw change my social media, is consistency,” he says, adding that he posts on each platform about once a day or more.
“You should also be engaging with people who are taking time out to post a comment on your feed,” he says. “If they’re like giving you a compliment or asking you a question, you should be able to respond to that. There’s some people who don't care to answer.”
That said, your social media platforms shouldn’t just be a place for you to show off your body, says Shore. “Do you really need to post a lot of unattainable photos on social media that people will see to make them impressed—but make them feel maybe you’re not the right person for them to go to in order to get fitness help?”
Instead, he encourages trainers to really think about the purpose of their posts. “Make sure you’re educating, you’re building others up,” he says. “It’s not always about you—it’s about the people you’re trying to help and care for.”
7. The Rewards Are Worth It
“The one thing I wasn’t expecting a ton of was the emotional connection with your client,” says Clark. “You go through their tough times with them, and you go through their happiest times with them.” In fact, knowing what’s going on in their lives—and what a client needs in the moment—is part of the job.
“Sometimes all they really need is someone to talk to and go on a walk with because they don’t need to be pushed,” Clark says.
“The fitness part is really important, but fitness isn’t just about your body; it’s about your overall health. And if someone’s feeling terrible inside, they’re not going to perform well in their workout. So sometimes they just need that person to talk to or vent to. I love that emotional connection,” she says.
Gong couldn’t agree more. “When you change someone else’s life, it changes yours, too,” she says. “It’s unbelievably rewarding. Money doesn’t satisfy you the way you feel when you can change someone’s life.”