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A personal trainer showing a client an app on an iPad tablet.

Not all personal training qualifications are equal

7 minute read

An essential read for anyone thinking about completing a personal training qualification

Most of our students on our personal training courses confess fairly early on in their studies that their heads are bubbling away with all kinds of exciting and game-changing ideas and strategies for their new personal training careers. If this is you right now, then don’t worry – it’s completely normal.

Naturally, re-training as a personal trainer is going to require some upfront investment from you, both in terms of time and energy to get qualified, and financially to pay for your studies. We believe that changing career is hard enough as it is, and we’re keen to ensure that you make the right decisions for you, whether you choose to train with HFE or not.

Personal trainer assisting client

Sadly, not all personal training qualifications are created equally, and more recently, there have been a surge of ‘budget providers’ offering ‘exclusively online’ and ‘do it yourself’ qualifications with poor learner support and resources – and at very attractive prices. While the appeal and uptake of these qualifications is very high, unfortunately, the achievement rates of these companies are naturally quite low. So, it really does pay to do some research before committing.

To better support your transition into the personal training business, our team of experienced tutors and trainers have put together a shortlist of 5 key areas you’ll want to double check before you part with your hard-earned money.

1. Check you are receiving an Ofqual regulated qualification

Ensure that you check thoroughly that you are getting an Ofqual regulated qualification that is issued by a reputable awarding organisation, like YMCA Awards and Active IQ for example.

Sadly, many of the lower price providers in our sector simply issue their own certificates, even when they are approved to deliver regulated qualifications. To be qualified and secure the best personal training jobs and opportunities for you, you will need a real and regulated qualification, so take the time to check this before enrolling.

ofqual logo

2. Make sure the qualification is mapped to CIMSPA’s Professional Standards.

The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) is the body responsible for setting and raising professional standards in the fitness industry. A reputable provider will be an approved ‘training provider member’ of CIMSPA, and therefore the qualifications that they deliver should be fully mapped to CIMSPA’s professional standards. Not all qualifications and providers take this action, so once again it will pay to double check CIMSPA’s public register at the following address:


3. Does the promotional offer seem too good to be true?

They say that: “if something feels too good to be true, then it usually is”. Certainly, when it comes to PT courses, there does always seems to be a ‘too good to be true deal’ with some providers.

If a training company can afford to slash the price of their course in half, then they are either desperate to make a sale (which should be a red flag for you), or the product was significantly overpriced in the first place to mislead you into thinking you’re getting a deal!

Take the time to check exactly what you are getting in terms of products, service, and training, because once you’ve paid, it may be too late to change your mind.

Personal trainer helping client stretch legs

4. Are you giving yourself time to thrive?

It’s imperative that you give yourself the time to learn and master the key knowledge and skills you need to succeed in the personal training business. Most PT qualifications require hundreds of hours of learning, which translates to months of regular study, gradually layering new learning content on top of previous lessons to become a subject specialist. This is what we’re all about at HFE.

With this in mind, it’s unlikely that you’ll realistically be able to qualify in a matter of weeks, despite what some websites might tell you. If this is a main selling point for the provider, this once again should raise a red flag that their focus is sales rather than a high quality education.

In addition to this, lots of companies will rush you into a decision with adverts such as ‘guaranteed interviews’, which in turn can make people jump at the low price point. As yet another sales-driven tactic, there is much more than meets the eye with guaranteed interviews and jobs, particularly due to the often self-employed nature of personal training.

That being said, you should do extensive research into any course and company before committing your valuable time and money, regardless of how ‘fast’ the course and qualification is. The point is, if the timeframe seems unrealistic and is a main point of advertisement, it’s worth digging that little bit deeper until you know what’s right for you.

5. Does the course structure suit your learning style?

There are no shortage of training providers touting all kinds of deals on their personal training courses. Most of the lower priced courses, especially those delivered exclusively online, have limited materials, resources, real tuition or support from actual tutors to help you when things get hard.

It’s also worth noting that for the more reputable companies in the sector, the cost of delivering high quality training makes it impossible to compete with some of these very low price points. This can tell you a lot about the standard of education that these cheaper courses often provide.

As a result, it’s once again essential that you take the time to do your research and think about how you learn the most effectively. Do you need regular contact with a tutor with real face-to-face interaction? Or, do you just want a DIY course where you get a digital PDF manual and workbook to complete, submitting a video of yourself teaching in a gym when you are ready to be assessed?

It could be worth finding out how you best absorb and retain information with our VAK Learning Styles Questionnaire. This will tell you whether you are a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner, and you can use future revision methods or even choose potential courses accordingly.

Sure, online personal training courses can work well for some students, especially those with academic experience in sport and exercise (e.g. those with a degree). However, we do need to share with you that we get a lot of students coming to us frustrated after they have been with the DIY providers for months and years.

Personal trainer assisting client with weights

Final thoughts

Please, take your time and consider what you really need from a provider before enrolling. If you do have any questions, our Careers Team will be more than happy to help.

We understand that changing your career can be a nerve-wracking time and the decisions that you make now could stay with you for the rest of your career. So, take your time, consider your options and ask yourself honestly, how far do I want to go with this career?

If you want to be the best PT you can become, then it might be worth investing a little more time and money into your career now, in order to reap greater rewards in the future. The core personal training qualification is very often the first step for people on their journey in the fitness professional, so it’s important to get off on the right foot. Later, you may want to specialise and become a more advanced trainer… If you haven’t got the right foundational training, this will be much more difficult. Whether you want to become a strength and conditioning coach, body transformation expert, or a low-back rehab instructor, it’s crucial that you get those foundational steps right from the off.

It’s certainly not a process that should be rushed. After all, you wouldn’t want to see a doctor who did their training without any supervision or formal training, so why would your clients want to see a trainer that qualified this way?

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