Qualified personal trainer performing boxing exercises with a client
Qualified personal trainer performing boxing exercises with a client

How to Become a Personal Trainer

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

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Recent figures reveal that the UK’s health and fitness industry is now worth over £5bn and the number of gyms operating in the sector has exceeded 7,000. Alongside this, exercise participation is at an all-time high with 1 in 7 adults in the UK now being a member of a gym.

These figures make for impressive reading and they are only likely to increase in the future. So much so that it is estimated that in the next few years, annual sales revenues for all types of exercise, fitness and wellness could exceed £22bn.

If you’re passionate about health and fitness and thinking about changing the direction of your career and becoming a personal trainer, the question is not so much ‘why would you?’ and more ‘why wouldn’t you?’

Of all the roles and employment opportunities open to people working in the UK fitness sector, personal training is the one which towers above the other roles in terms of mainstream popularity and earning potential. For many, PTs are billed as the cornerstone of the fitness industry, providing expert guidance and instruction on all manner of subjects related to health, fitness and wellbeing.

Once a luxury only reserved for the rich and famous, personal training is now literally available for anyone and anywhere. Whether this is in a client’s home, online, in a boutique studio or a commercial fitness club, if people want to access the services of a professional personal trainer, they now have more choice than ever before.

The Role of a Personal Trainer

Personal trainers play an important, you might even say, essential role in the fitness industry. Despite the fact that the role has been clearly defined by a number of professional and occupational standards, there are still a number of myths and stereotypes around personal trainers. Perhaps the most persistent of these is that personal trainers are young, body beautiful people who hang around in gyms, counting their client’s repetitions while dispensing nutritional tips and advice. The reality, however, is a far cry from this distorted image.

HFE personal trainer tutor working with a student on TRX

The Professional Standards for the personal trainer role, as published by the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA), describes the role of a personal trainer as one which required a client to be ‘coached towards their health and fitness goal through the planning and delivery of creative and personalised exercise programmes and instruction, nutritional advice and overall lifestyle management’. These professional standards outline all the skills and competencies required of professional personal trainers, including what they must know and what they must be able to do. These standards were written by leading industry professionals, in conjunction with some of the UK’s largest fitness industry employers.

The truth is that the role of a personal trainer is multifaceted and different almost on a client-by-client basis depending on their individual needs. At times, trainers are a friend to their clients when they are feeling down, or a voice of objectivity and reason when they are feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. The role is much more than any professional standard could summarise and it is these subtleties that make the prospect of becoming a personal trainer so exciting.

In order to get a thorough understanding of what the role really entails, you either need to read the CIMSPA professional standards described above, or review with a close eye the key content and subjects covered by some of the best personal trainer courses available.

PTs have a range of specific duties, which may include, but are certainly not limited to: helping clients to set and track the progress of their goals; sharing nutritional advice and ideas, designing and implementing exercise programmes; coaching safe exercise techniques; adapting exercise programmes to specific injuries and other physical limitations, exploring opportunities for clients to become more physically active; performing functional and physical fitness tests and measurements; educating clients on how to lead a healthier and more active lifestyle.

Personal Trainer Qualities

It’s one thing to enjoy exercise and healthy eating, but it’s something quite different to have a passion for it, especially when that passion is supported by a burning desire to help people. These are two traits that are ingrained in the DNA of successful personal trainers.

HFE personal trainer tutor working a student on a prowler

That’s not to say that PTs never let their hair down or have a cheat day every once in a while, after all, they are human like the rest of us. However, personal trainers are role models for a healthy way of life and ambassadors for the fitness industry. As such, being fit and healthy is part of their identity, it’s who and what they are. This necessitates that on the whole, they exercise regularly and they eat the right foods, educating themselves constantly so that their knowledge is current and up to date.

Successful personal trainers are motivated and focused individuals who understand that hard work is what is needed for results, both personally with regards to their training, and professionally with regards to their work. They have to be in order to cope with those cold, dark 6am starts and the late 9pm finishes!

Great personal trainers also need to be strong communicators, highly organised, and committed to meeting their client’s needs. These are qualities that have been echoed by some of the UK’s PT including Scott Laidler. Scott is a highly respected celebrity personal trainer, consultant and fitness writer, and he has outlined the need for versatility among trainers:

Becoming a successful trainer is about developing a good relationship with your client, and formulating the right blueprint for them as an individual. Remember there are several different ways to get to the same result and it’s the role of a coach to be able to make the call as to which route is best suited to their client.Scott LaidlerCelebrity Personal Trainer

Scott Laidler is a celebrity personal trainer and content contributor to HFE

Defining Success as a Personal Trainer

Success by its very nature is fluid and will likely differ from one trainer to the next.

For some, success might be more personal, involving financial goals, filling up the calendar with clients every day, or opening their own a gym or boutique personal training studio. For others, however, success might be driven by more of an altruistic goal, like helping clients to improve their health, manage specific medical conditions (as is the case with exercise referral), or to educate and inspire people to lead a more active lifestyle.

It may be an easy claim to make on paper (or screen), but you only have to look at what drives some of the UK’s best personal trainers to see that there is no one route to success and as long as you know what is driving you and what the end goal is, it’s possible to achieve anything.

Founder of the globally successful Ultimate Performance, Nick Mitchell, worked in investment banking before deciding to make the move into fitness. He first cut his teeth in old-school male-only bodybuilding gyms before deciding to open his own facility.

Personal trainer to politicians, sportspeople and celebrities alike, Matt Roberts, has always had an interest in sports-science driven approaches and becoming a personal trainer was a way to formalise his interests and use his knowledge to help others.

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

David Kingsbury, personal trainer to Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Ryan Reynolds, and many more, only landed his first film job after working for nearly eight years. He then went on to open premises at Pinewood Studios and from here attracted some of cinema’s most notable stars.

Training and Qualifications

Regardless of where you want to take personal training and the success, you’re looking to create for yourself, the very first thing that you’ll need in order to pursue a career as a PT is to get the right personal training qualification. Luckily, this is an incredibly flexible process and you can embark on personal trainer courses nationwide, at venues in some of the UK’s biggest towns and cities including Manchester, London, Cardiff, Glasgow and many more. If distance, work commitments or any other mitigating factors are an issue, there’s also the option to complete an online personal course from the comfort of your own home.

For newcomers to fitness, qualifications, awarding bodies and the various levels of accreditation might all seem like a foreign language. To cut to the heart of the matter, we’ve produced a comprehensive guide to personal trainer qualifications which clearly defines in plain and simple language what they are, where they are recognised and how they are regulated. Ultimately, by the end of this guide, you’ll know everything you need to know to ensure that you don’t get stung. You should also be able to make an informed decision as to which qualification is best for you.

Employment Opportunities

In the fitness industry, most personal training jobs don’t function the way they do in other sectors. Broadly speaking, trainers can work in an employed or self-employed capacity depending on where and who they are working with.

As a self-employed trainer, on the whole, you are your own boss and as such are responsible for all aspects of the business. This model affords a great deal of flexibility and autonomy because you can take the business in any direction that you choose to.

Qualified personal trainers can work in gyms and health clubs

The security of employment suits some trainers more than others, especially when starting out and they are getting to grips with the role. Many trainers secure full or part-time employment in the first instance and then make the transition to self-employment, later on, often taking the clients that they have amassed with them.

To help you make the best decision for your career, we’ve produced a comprehensive breakdown of the differences between being an employed and self-employed personal trainer.

In terms of where personal trainers can find work, the options are vast and to some extent only limited by the imagination and ingenuity of the trainer. With the right attitude and mindset, the opportunities are literally limitless.

The following is by far an exhaustive list, but it does give an idea at the sheer wealth of opportunities available to personal trainers and the different ways in which they can deliver their services:

  • Gym chains and health clubs
  • Spas and luxury retreats
  • Personal training agencies
  • Boutique personal training studios
  • Leisure centres and sports clubs
  • Cruise ships and holiday resorts
  • Boot camps or military-style fitness programmes
  • CrossFit-style boxes and facilities
  • Health promotion services
  • GP referral programmes (subject to further qualifications)
  • Schools, colleges and universities
  • Corporate wellness initiatives
  • Client’s home

If you want to know more about how much a personal trainer earns, why not check our our Personal Trainer Pay and Salary Guide.

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