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Personal Trainer Job Description

by becomingatrainer

You can’t walk into a gym without hearing the words “personal trainer.” Everywhere from fitness magazines to the doctor’s office, professionals in all industries speak highly of the ability of a skilled personal trainer to improve our lives. We all know they help people get in shape and stay fit, but the job of a professional personal trainer involves so much more.

Interested in a full personal trainer job description? Read on.

What is the purpose of a personal trainer?

Put simply, their main purpose is to help their clients become healthier. The way this end goal is achieved is what creates the plethora of different personal training classifications you see today. The goal of improved health is achieved through fitness program prescription, nutrition advice, coaching and motivation. In many cases, individuals who are uncertain about what they should be doing in the gym hire a personal trainer to guide them through proper workouts and meet their fitness goals.

As a certified personal trainer who has worked in a variety of gyms, I am always surprised by how many people do not know how to properly exercise. Some people only do cardio and others only do weights. Still others have terrible form and risk injury every time they walk into the gym. A healthy exercise routine includes a proper mix of both cardio and weights with basic knowledge of how the exercises are done. Hitting all muscle groups regularly with the correct form and intensity ensures the client will reach their goals faster and avoid injuries.

Two of my clients chose to hire me as their personal trainer because they simply do not want to think about their workouts. They like working out with someone who tells them what to do and motivates them through it. This is great for those who can financially afford purchasing large training packages with months of sessions. In most cases, a personal trainer will push their client harder than they can push themselves.

Different Kinds of Personal Trainers
Personal Training certifications vary according to their specialization. Although all certified personal trainers are knowledgeable in the basics, the particular focus of each certification is what makes them different. When choosing which certification you want, consider what niche and emphasis you want to base the majority of your fitness programming.

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Certified: This type of certified trainer is one that works with various individuals in special populations (cancer patients, stroke victims, geriatrics, limited mobility, sports related injury, clients in physical therapy). Anyone with this certification is interested in a wide range of medical related specialties and understanding of the science of exercise through continued educational advancement.

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified: This type of certified trainer works with athletes and anyone who wants to increase their fitness. From high school students to professional athletes, the trainers with this certification are focused on combining form with technique.

American Council of Exercise (ACE) Certified: This type of certification is based on science with a focus on fitness education. Trainers with this certification are about teaching their clients as much as they are training them. ACE personal trainers want to educate their clients so they have the ability to eventually be knowledgeable enough to do the exercises on their own and live a healthy life. Unlike the other certifications, ACE is a non-profit organization and the emphasis is on educating the public.

National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA) Certified: This type of certification is also for special populations such as those with temporary or chronic injuries. Trainers with this certification are educated to create programs specifically for those who need coaching to develop or increase their strength after an accident or overall want to become fit.

Among certified personal trainers there are a number who concentrate in one specific niche in the industry. Finding a certified trainer who specializes in your needs specifically can greater improve your rate of success. Because their focus is on a specific group they tend to be more knowledgeable on that particular subject.

Youth Fitness, Weight Management, Sports Conditioning, Fitness and Nutrition, Senior Fitness, Pre and Post Natal Fitness, Therapeutic Exercise and Functional training are all very particular areas that some trainers might choose to specialize in. It is important to know that although trainers specialize in specific specialties, all of them have the ability to handle general populations with their fitness goals.

Day to Day
A personal trainer’s schedule can change from day to day. They may be completely booked with back-to-back clients all day one day, and have half a day of sessions the next. Typically they work in the mornings starting at 6am until 10am. Have a break in the middle of the day when they can work out, rest and create programs, and then have a block of clients in the evening from 4pm-9pm. They typically work Monday through Friday with a half day on Saturday. Most trainers do not have clients on Friday evenings. A trainer’s schedule is based on when their clients are available. Since the majority of people work a 9am-5pm schedule, a trainer works before and after those times.

A salary of a personal trainer depends on their location, qualifications and work environment. I have worked at a gym with 6 trainers and a gym with 38 trainers. Clearly, the less trainers there are, the more in-demand you are and the more you will make. If you are in a major metropolitan area you can make anywhere from $55K -$70K a year. If you are in the suburbs, as a full time trainer you will make $30K-$45K a year. These numbers are based on if you are working for a gym. If you work for yourself and have your own personal training business, these number may differ depending on what you charge per hour and your overhead costs.

Qualifications, Skills, and Work Environment
One of the best reasons to choose a career in personal training is that everyone comes from a variety of backgrounds. Some may personal train because they lost a lot of weight themselves and want to help others do the same. Some may train because they have always loved being athletic and like to encourage people to work hard and reach their goals. The minimum qualification you must have to be a trainer is to pass the exam to become a certified personal trainer. Keep in mind that some certifications require you to have a certain amount of continuing education credits to stay certified. The more certifications you have the more valuable you will be to the gym and the more you will be able to charge clients. As you further gain knowledge in the field by taking continuing education classes, going to national conferences and industry fairs, the more clients will be drawn to you.

Your work environment will typically be a gym or fitness studio. If you are starting off as a new trainer, it is best to train in a gym to develop your clientele. Also, working with other trainers is a great way to learn new exercises and discover a variety of training styles. It is extremely important to keep a positive attitude and an open mind when working in a gym environment. Learn as much as you can from the other trainers but follow up with your own scientific research as some knowledge that is passed around in the gym might be hearsay or a trend.

A personal trainer is hired to be a private coach and often becomes so much more. Once a relationship is built between client and trainer, there becomes a trusting friendship. Goals reached are celebrated together and obstacles in challenging workouts are overcome while the trainer motivates them every step of the way. Where this intimacy gets tricky is when clients inevitably ask questions that go beyond the scope of personal fitness. Clients may confide in their trainers and ask for advice on hot topics like steroids, eating disorders, and body image.

Because succeeding in weight loss and health is so much more than physical, helping them through emotional issues is critical. As a trainer, you might provide solutions for your clients to stop unhealthy behaviors that keep them on track outside of training sessions. Having that said, if you sense that the client is facing issues that require professional help, it is also your responsibility to direct them to someone with more expertise in that particular area. Serious mental and emotional conditions should not be left untreated.

Becoming a certified personal trainer is a rewarding and full filling career. It is more than a job, it is a lifestyle. By encouraging others and teaching them how to be healthy, you will make a significant impact on society. As the rate of obesity grows and the number of people diagnosed every day with diabetes, your impact on the lives of your clients is truly priceless.


One way to expand your career options in the fitness industry is to become a certified Group Fitness Instructor. The more certifications you acquire, the more earning potential you will have in the field.

With one foot in the personal training department and the other as a group instructor, you will become irreplaceable at any gym. People will get to know your training style by taking your classes and may become interested in training with you one-on-one. Similarly, as a personal trainer you can encourage your clients to take the classes you teach.

When getting certified you have a choice of several national group exercise certification programs. We’ve found the best three to be ACE, AFAA, and NETA. All three offer fantastic programs so you will need to determine which one is the most convenient, cost effective and overall fit for you.

Let’s review them, one by one.

American Council of Exercise (ACE)
Because of the explosion in popularity of group fitness in the past decade, it is even more important than ever to get nationally certified in group fitness. There are so many choreographed group fitness programs out there that do not require much more than a teacher in front of a class memorizing a DVD of material. Unfortunately, this is performing, not teaching. By having an ACE certification, you have proof that you can create, design, and instruct your own program while helping your class stay safe.

As an ACE certified group fitness instructor you will have the skills, knowledge and professional training to stand out among other instructors. While many instructors are only trained to teach a certain level or certain type of class, with an ACE group fitness certification you will be able to teach all levels. By creating unique classes, you will engage your class and encourage a higher level of repeat participants. ACE is a non-profit organization with the goal of making people stronger and healthier.

When getting ACE certified, you will have the choice of a standard (approximately $299) or a premium (approximately $499) option. Both types will prepare you for the exam and cover the cost of the exam, but the premium will give you practice tests, flash cards and access to further online exam preparation. Because there is not a workshop to prepare you for the exam, going premium would be a good choice.
When you are ready to take the exam you register online and take the test at a local testing center.

Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA)
The AFAA certification is for individuals to knowledgeably and creatively design group exercise certification programs for a wide variety of healthy individuals of all fitness levels. The purpose of obtaining a certification is to be nationally registered as someone who has gone through the practical and written exam to prove their aptitude in creating such programs. AFAA allows both an online and onsite certification program.

Whether the program is done online or onsite, AFAA recommends no less than one month of pre-study before taking the exam. For those taking the test onsite, there is an all-day review prior to the written and practical test at the end. The cost is $299 (there is a 10% discount for AFAA members). Prior to taking the test, there are a number of books and study guides that will need to be purchased. These can be bought on the website and should be studied months before the review workshop and exam.

The following are covered in the workshop but should be reviewed using the exam preparation textbooks and study guides:

  • Basic anatomy and kinesiology
  • Nutrition and weight management
  • Group exercise design planning
  • Essentials of teaching (exercise guidelines, motivation, cueing, chorography, etc.)
  • Exercise selection and injury prevention
  • Business skills and legal responsibilities

For those taking the test online, the price is also $299, but frequently discounted to $199. You will get access to streaming videos to help you prepare for the test. Just like the onsite workshop covers basic test questions and review, the streaming videos will provide an overview of the exam. The online practice and exam should be taken by a self-starter who can handle a lot of studying on their own. If not, then the hands-on workshop is best. During the online exam, the test-taker will be monitored using their webcam by a third party. This is to avoid any dishonest or immoral activity during the test.

To become AFAA certified you must be at least 18 years of age and possess a valid CPR certification. Prior group exercise experience is strongly encouraged. If there is no previous experience then the one day intensive workshop is highly recommended. Once an individual has taken and passed the test they will be awarded a certification and AFAA card.

National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA)
A third option for those interested in teaching in a group setting is the NETA certification. Going the extra step to get nationally certified proves to potential employees that you are dedicated to teaching and devoted to the entire fitness profession. Similar to other national certification exams it is crucial to use the textbooks, study guides and practice exams to prepare for the test.

NETA offers two options for taking the test. Option 1 is to attend a one-day workshop with hands-on exam preparation and insight into the teaching experience, with the test being administered at the end. Option 2, if you feel studying on your own, you can choose the “test only” option and test at a number of registered test centers nation-wide.

If you can spare the time, it is in your best interest to learn basics from professionals by participating in a workshop. Besides the price difference the “test only” option can be taken pretty much any time or any day, whereas if you are waiting for a workshop you would have to sign up for that particular day. If you are on a time crunch then the “test only” option may be for you.

The standard price is $299 if you register online. If you register 30 days early you can get the early bird special of $249. If you pay onsite you will pay $309. Registering early also ensures that you will get a spot in the workshop as these exams can fill up fast. The cost of a just taking the test is $199.

While the primary focus is on safety, the following are covered in the workshop: anatomy, nutrition, cueing, choreography and safe exercise evaluation. Unlike the AFAA certification you do not need a CPR certification to pass the test. Although, keep in mind that you may need it for whatever potential gym hires you.

By choosing a national certification like AFAA, NETA or ACE you will have the knowledge and the ability to train anywhere in the world. You will also be able to teach anywhere–it does not have to be in a gym. Note, if you choose to train a boot camp of some sort outside, you will need to learn the legalities of training in the parks and open lots in your area.

Some gyms do not make their group fitness instructors sign non-Compete agreements which means you can teach at more than one gym. You will need to check with each individual gym to comply with their rules. Overall, the more group classes you are certified to teach, the more money you will make and the more invaluable you will be to the club.


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