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A HFE personal trainer guiding a client through an exercise using suspension bands.
A HFE personal trainer guiding a client through an exercise using suspension bands.

Personal training qualifications

8 minute read

Personal training is one of the most diverse and exciting professions within the fitness industry. At the time of writing, there were over 11,000 personal training jobs advertised across all of the major jobs websites and recruitment platforms in England alone,.

It is easy to see therefore just how in-demand qualified personal trainers are! Regardless of your ambitions within the fitness industry, it’s important to note that in order to become a PT, you need the right personal training qualifications.

HFE student studying for a pre and post-natal health and fitness qualification

What is a qualification?

A qualification, by definition, is: “a pass of an examination or an official completion of a course, especially one conferring status as a recognised practitioner of a profession or activity.”

In terms of PT, the courses are the Level 2 Gym Instructor Certificate and the Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training and both are discussed in detail below. Upon completing both of these courses, you would be qualified as a personal trainer and be free to train clients and make a living. However, not every course leads to a qualification.

In order for an educational programme to be considered as one, it must sit on a framework. The current framework in our industry is the RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework). This reference system has been put in place and monitored by Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulations), a name you may have encountered during any secondary or further education you may have already completed.

Ofqual is simply the Government’s independent qualifications regulator for England. For an educational programme to be classified as a ‘qualification’, it has to be regulated by Ofqual.

If they list a qualification on their website, you can rest assured that it has been closely scrutinised by both technical and educational experts. Furthermore, obtaining the qualification will enable you to operate as a professional in that field (e.g. accredited personal training courses).

The natural hierarchy in education is that awarding organisations like YMCA Awards, Active IQ, City & Guilds, VTCT and the likes, produce qualifications in-line with the demand from industry (employers, skills shortages etc).

These awarding organisations are then regulated by Ofqual. Training providers, which may include colleges, schools and universities, then deliver the training, and they are regulated by awarding organisations, ensuring that delivery and assessment standards are maintained.

Finding a reputable training provider

For aspiring fitness professionals looking to get qualified, the first port of call should be to find yourself a reputable training provider – the organisation who is going to deliver your training. In line with the growth of the active leisure sector has been the explosion of those offering fitness courses and personal training qualifications. Each company will offer something different, so it’s key that you take your time and do the research to find the best fit for you.

To do this, it’s important you ask the right questions:

What is the learning model? Is it full-time (9-5 Monday to Friday), blended learning (home study and part-time attendance) or solely online?

If a provider is involved with any kind of practical training, what kind of choice do they offer in terms of venues and locations? Do they deliver nationwide or are they confined to a very specific area?

At HFE, we’re proud to offer students as much choice and flexibility as possible, which is why we deliver personal trainer courses across the UK. Our flagship venues include Manchester, Glasgow, London, Cardiff and Leeds, and we have also developed an online personal trainer course for students who may not be able to travel for face-to-face training.

Ultimately, finding the right fit in terms of learning model and location is going to help you get the most out of your learning experience.

HFE personal training courses use the blended learning model

You also should consider what’s included in the cost of the course and it’s contents. In terms of learning materials, access to support and even your certificate, will you have to pay extra for these basic things or are they included?

Is the qualification accredited by an awarding body like YMCA Awards and Active IQ? This is how you’ll know the standards of the qualifications have been vetted meticulously and you’re going to learn functional skills and gain knowledge you can actually apply in the real world.

Does the qualification have wider industry recognition and endorsement? Previously, the industry’s most recognisable organisation was REPs (the Register of Exercise Professionals), which has now been absorbed into CIMSPA (Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity).

Both organisations offer membership options for personal trainers and require evidence of continuing professional development (CPD). Ultimately, if you are in two minds about which organisation to join, you may wish to wait to see if your future employer has a preference or a mandatory requirement.

If you’re ever in doubt about the credibility of your chosen training provider, ask them if they are accredited by an awarding body and secondly that the courses they deliver are endorsed by CIMSPA. The above organisations will also be happy to disclose which training providers they work with.

What matters is that you get satisfactory answers to your questions and are left feeling confident that you’re getting value for money.

It is sad but true that there are a growing number of training providers that will try to evade the fees levied by awarding bodies by issuing their students with their own certificates. Unfortunately, these are not regulated personal training qualifications and are likely to create problems when searching for employment, insurance and maybe even securing clients. Again, if you’re ever in doubt, ask – any reputable training provider will be able to confirm in writing that you will receive an awarding body certificate upon completion.

Qualifications to become a personal trainer

Level 2 Gym Instructor

Once you’ve chosen the training provider that’s right for you, the next step is to actually gain your personal trainer qualification. For those who are completely new to fitness, the first port of call will be the entry-level Level 2 Gym Instructor Certificate or Level 2 Online Gym Instructor Certificate.

HFE gym instructor tutor working with a student

This can be studied as a standalone course, but in order to achieve personal trainer status, it needs to eventually be followed by the Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training, which is blended learning, or the Level 3 Online Personal Trainer Certificate. Alternatively, both courses can be combined to form the Level 3 Diploma in Gym Instructing and Personal Training.

In terms of course content, you can expect to encounter and experience:

  • Level 2 anatomy and physiology
  • Principles of working in a gym environment – this incorporates customer service and the all-important health and safety
  • Best practices for conducting client consultations and promoting the health benefits of physical activity
  • Effective techniques for motivating and communicating with clients
  • How to plan and prepare a gym-based exercise plan for a variety of groups including healthy adults, young people and older adults.

Level 3 Personal Training

After Level 2 comes the industry’s most popular course, the Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training. It’s upon completion of this that will allow you to officially work as a personal trainer. Understandably, everything takes a step up at Level 3.

HFE personal training tutor working with a student

Personal trainers are seen as experts in their field because of the knowledge they’ve accrued and how they’re consistently able to deliver, at times, remarkable results for clients.

To reach these heights you’ll need to immerse yourself with:

  • Level 3 applied anatomy and physiology
  • Principles of nutrition and how to apply this knowledge to support clients
  • Business acumen for working an employed or self-employed role
  • Communication techniques needed to promote encourage healthy lifestyles and long-term change
  • Designing, planning and executing effective personal training sessions for different clients in a range of environments

Personal trainer CPD courses

Consistently, the best personal trainers don’t rest on their laurels after achieving Level 3 status. They’re always looking for ways to upskill and advance, and CPD (continuing professional development) is key to this.

Not only is CPD necessary for expanding a client base and keeping knowledge fresh, but it’s also required if you’re a CIMSPA member or former REPs member, as both organisations require you to gain a certain number of CPD points per year to maintain your membership.

This could be achieved in a range of ways including gaining new qualifications, attending industry events, webinars, and by completing endorsed workshops.

A few popular progression routes and CPD options specifically related to personal trainer qualifications include: pre and postnatal, older adults, exercise for disabled clients, sports massage and exercise referral.

Ultimately, it’s a great way to carve out a niche and make yourself stand out from the crowd, which is vital when attempting to attract and retain personal training clients.

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