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HFE instructor guides student through a deadlift.
HFE instructor guides student through a deadlift.

How to become a personal trainer

9 minute read

An in-depth guide to becoming a PT and joining the fitness elite

Of all the roles in the health and fitness industry, personal training is the one which dominates in terms of mainstream popularity, opportunities and earning potential. If you’re passionate about exercise and fitness training, and you love working with people, then becoming a personal trainer might seem somewhat of a no brainer.

If you are thinking of becoming a personal trainer, we definitely think that the information that we are about to present in this article will be of some value to you.

What you should do before choosing your qualification

One of the first things people tend to think about and focus on when they decide they want to become a personal trainer is qualifications. While qualifications are of course important, becoming a PT is about much more than simply getting a qualification.

Even when you have qualified, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done if you want to stand out from the crowd.

HFE personal trainer tutor working with a student on TRX

One of the first pieces of advice we tend to give our students is  to go and speak to a few PT’s that have been in the industry for a while. Ask them about their experiences, any key lessons that they have learned, and what they would do differently if they were stating out again.

Also find out where they completed their personal training course, how they studied, and whether they felt industry ready when they qualified. Ask them about the different places they have worked, and where they get their ongoing information, training and CPD from. You can even ask them if they themselves had a mentor when they started out.

Sure, it might cost you a coffee or two, but taking time to get some advice from somebody who has walked this path before might save you a small fortune later down the road. Sometimes, those little nuggets of advice or information you receive off of someone can be the difference maker.

Personal training qualifications

Ok, now you’ve got all the information you can from a few PTs and have decided that you want to become a personal trainer. Next, you can start to think about the qualifications and how you’re going to achieve them.

HFE personal trainer tutor working a student on a prowler

You’ll certainly want to give some serious thought into how you want to study and learn, because this will make a huge difference to the quality of your experience and your future likelihood of success. For example, it’s worth considering whether you want to attend a fully face-to-face course or something more flexible. Taking our free VAK Learning Styles Questionnaire could be useful in finding out how you best absorb and retain information.

Today, there aren’t too many face-to-face courses where all the content is delivered to you directly, although some local colleges do implement them this way. These tend to be delivered over the course of the academic year, consequently taking much longer to achieve.

Often, the lecturers or tutors delivering these programmes have limited real world PT experience, so if you want to learn from experts, this might not always be the best route to take. Of course, there will be exceptions and some colleges will do a better job than others.

Blended courses are more common in the modern day fitness industry. These will usually require you to compete a range of distance learning activities from home, before attending a practical training course which will usually finish with a practical assessment or two. These programs tend to be delivered by specialist training providers like HFE in commercial health clubs such as David Lloyd, Bannatyne’s or The Village Health Clubs.

With blended courses, you will usually need to attend for a set number of days, and it’s realistic to expect to complete these qualifications on average in a matter of 4 to 6 months. Some students may achieve faster if they work more intensively, but in our experience, life does tend to get in the way for most students, especially if they are working!

There is also level 3 personal trainer online courses, which in recent years have become much more popular, largely due to access and affordability reasons. Most online courses are quite a bit cheaper than attended courses and many students are drawn to these for that reason.

If you are going to take this route, it’s crucial to ensure you’re going to get fantastic learning resources and excellent remote support, both with the theory and practical work. We do feel that it’s important for us to underline the fact that the online courses do require a lot more discipline and commitment from you as a student, as it really is down to you and your effort levels.

As a result, the success rate of these online courses tends to be lower and slower than other study methods, largely because it’s quite easy to put off studying and never do the work.

So, if the only reason you’re thinking about choosing the online options is because of price, you might want to rethink this strategy. It might end up costing more in the long run.

Choosing a provider

Once you’ve decided how you want to study, then you can focus on the where. In reality, this decision will likely be made for a variety of reasons, including the reputation of the provider, quality resources, support and course price.

Matt Roberts is one of the UK's best personal trainers

What to avoid:

First of all, try not to be tempted by the cheapest provider. Also, avoid providers that will try to rush your decision making, or pressure you into signing-up with too good to be true offers if you enrol before a made-up deadline. In our experience, these organisations tend to care more about making sales and less about the student achievement.

Secondly, beware of over-inflated offers, usually in the form of free CPD courses or fitness equipment. Typically, these CPD courses aren’t endorsed by CIMPSA, not recognised by employers and are completely unregulated. In fact, most students never actually get around to redeeming it because the are too busy with their core PT qualifications.

Finally, beware of any companies telling you you’ll be qualified and earning in just a few weeks. Even if you approach your studies with the goal of passing as quickly as you can rather than mastering the subjects, which by the way we really don’t advise, it will still take you more than a few weeks to complete your qualification.

If you want to learn more about what to look out for when choosing your provider, we highly recommend you read our article on how not all personal training qualifications are equal.

What to look for:

You’ll want to make sure you enrol on a programme which includes a strong support package from a real person who has extensive knowledge and experience in personal training. Some providers’ support might only be via an online chat box or an email address, and these tend not to be managed by technical experts.

Many of the subjects you’ll be studying are technically challenging, so at times, you’ll probably need to speak to an expert that cares about your development.

You’ll also want to make sure that you have access to a well-structured training programme that has taught components, practice assessments, a timetable of some description, and deadlines. You will find many online courses on the market that let you study over a number of years without any real end date, which tend to have very low achievement rates as a consequence.

When looking at courses, you’ll also need to make sure that it is fully endorsed by the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) and is mapped to their professional standards. Otherwise, you won’t be able to have a CIMSPA membership once you’re qualified, which you might require when looking at certain employed personal training jobs.

In addition, try to stick with fitness industry specific awarding organisations like YMCA Awards and Active IQ. These awarding bodies have the technical expertise to write qualifications which are fitter for purpose than more generic awarding organisations. You’ll also find that employers will be most familiar with these qualifications given their industry reputations.

It’s definitely worth asking lots of questions and speaking to a range of different providers. You might even want to visit the CIMSPA website, or consult with them directly so you know for sure what you need to look out for when choosing your personal trainer qualification.

Gaining experience while doing your course

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, becoming a personal trainer is much more than just your qualification. To give you the best start in the industry once qualified, we suggest that you get some hands-on experience in training people, ideally with real clients, and there are a few ways you can go about this.

First of all, find someone to train. This can be a family member or a friend. Take the time to consult with them about what their goals and aspirations are, then design them a programme or review their existing program using the knowledge you’ve learned on your course.

Train with this client in the gym alongside your studies. Keep a diary of what works and what didn’t with some honest feedback from your client on their progress, how you could have improved your instruction and communication, and what they might ask you to do differently. This experience will be invaluable when you complete your qualification, and can set you apart from others down the line when looking for your first personal trainer job.

Furthermore, we also recommend that you find a qualified PT who is prepared to mentor you, in addition to the advice and conversations we mentioned earlier. This way, you’ll have some extra support as you ease into the industry and you’ll be able to benefit from their experience also. If you are going to use a mentor, make sure that you choose wisely, selecting a competent and experienced PT who is doing well.

We hope that you’ve found this information useful and are ready to find the right training course for you.

If you do have any additional questions about how to become a personal trainer, feel free to reach out to our Careers Team 0n 0800 612 4067 and they will be more than happy to help.

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