How to Become a Fitness Instructor

Blog by: Suryakant Tripathi

The first step in learning how to become a fitness instructor is to prepare for the certification exam. This can take anywhere between 3 to 12 months depending on your base knowledge and amount of time you have to study. Most gyms will not hire you as a fitness instructor unless you have a nationally recognized personal training certification.

NASM, ACE, ACSM, CSCS, ISSA and other national personal training organizations all have their own study materials available for purchase directly from their websites. This is a quick and convenient way to get started towards success. These sites also offer further preparation and exclusive study guides. If you are on a budget it can be tempting to purchase the study materials at lower prices from online bookstores. Keep in mind that only the newest editions of all the study books are sold on the official sites. If you purchase cheaper study materials on Amazon or elsewhere, you might miss important new industry information recently added to the books.

When you are ready to take the exam, follow the specific directions given on the certifying organization’s website for testing locations. Make sure you are prepared! The average exam price is $250. If you fail, there is a waiting period (varies, approximately 15 days) before you can take the test again. Be sure to keep your books and study materials as you will need them every three years for recertification.

You’re Certified! What Now?
Congratulations! The minute you pass the exam, you can call yourself a certified fitness instructor. Within a few weeks, you will receive a package in the mail with a certification card and the first newsletter from the organization. Sometime between passing the fitness instructor exam and starting with your first client, it’s a good idea to get CPR certified as well. Most gyms require all staff members to have this safety certification so being certified already helps your resume. If you start your own business, a CPR certification is required for insurance purposes.

With the excitement of having your new certification you might feel tempted to jump immediately into training on your own. However one of the best ways to gain experience, get clients and have a regular paycheck is to start off working at a gym.

Getting Hired And Building Your Book
Whether you are a career changer or have recently graduated with a degree in exercise science, put all relevant work experience on your resume. This includes everything from playing sports, helping your wife lose 20 pounds, to skills in sales and customer service. In your cover letter, mention that you are recently certified but add a summary of why you are interested in the fitness industry. Management loves it when you have a weight loss story of your own or a deep passion for fitness that you want to share with others.

When you are hired, you will spend time getting to know the gym and members by “shadowing” another trainer. This on-the-job training is priceless because it gives you the ability to learn through other professional trainers. You will meet clients of all different ages, ability levels and fitness conditions. Meeting clients with a variety of health conditions, injuries, respiratory conditions, and other limitations will prepare you for your own clients. Take notes of exercises and questions they ask the trainer for your reference. Common ailments such as back pain and knee issues will be easier to address if you have a plethora of exercises and stretches in your notes. Eventually, with enough practice, you will know them from memory. When you start training, you will develop your own style, but it’s always beneficial to learn from others and take advantage of every learning experience.

Gyms get new members every day. Introduce yourself to these people and welcome them to their new gym. These newbies are your best source of potential clients as many of them haven’t worked out in months or at all. Talk to all members (new and regulars) and ask them how their workouts are going. Listen for key words like “bored” “rut” and “plateau.” These are indicators that their workouts are not giving them the results they are looking for and could use a trainer. Offer ways you can help them reach their goals more efficiently than they can by themselves. Understand the emotion behind their goals. Most people want to get in shape for a very specific reason – to get a date, to look good for a wedding, to feel better about themselves, to live long enough to meet their grandchildren – all of these are heartfelt reasons that you can appeal to when selling your services.

Be honest with your new clients about how long it will take them to reach their fitness goals. As a fitness instructor you will make a program for them to follow on the days you aren’t training them. Some people have a misconception that once a week with a trainer is enough to make an impact. Try to sell your client the largest package first. Not only will going high make the other package prices seem lower, but if they purchase it, you will have financial security knowing your client will be training for several weeks.

You will make a completely different program for every client. Some of your clients may have similar goals and you can certainly have your clients do some of the same exercises, but make sure each program is unique for them. Be available to your clients when you aren’t training them. Keep it reasonable but offer your phone number and email address in case they have a question. Knowing you are there to answer questions about their food choices and exercise questions will maintain a solid relationship. Recognize their achievements. The more interest you take in their goals, the longer they will train with you. Client retention is 80% of your business. You can also count on your clients for new clients through referrals.

Eventually when you have more experience and more of a following you may want to pursue a training business outside of a gym. By starting your own company you will have more freedom in where and when you train. You can make house calls, train in the park, or rent space in a studio and bring your own equipment. Having your own business gives you the ability to charge your own rates without giving a percentage to the gym. As long as you have a full book of clients you can make more money with your own company. Keep in mind the advertising costs, equipment, and personal training insurance once covered by your gym employer, are all expenses you will now have to pay for on your own.

Rise And Grind: A Fitness Instructor’s Daily Schedule
The schedule of a successful fitness instructor can vary from day to day. Some days you may have eight clients and some days you may have only four with a boot camp to teach. You will cater your hours around the average person’s 9-5 work day. Most of your clients will be early morning and in the late afternoon and evenings. The few free hours in the middle of the day are yours to workout, make programs for your clients, and contact prospects. Because you make your own schedule it can be tempting to work every day, but don’t let yourself get burned out. Try to stack your days with more sessions on most days so you don’t have to come in for just one or two sessions on your “day off.” Ultimately, your income is based on the number of sessions you have each week.

Becoming successful in the fitness industry takes time and a lot of hard work. Try not to get discouraged if your book is not building up as fast as you’d hoped. Achieving a full book can take up to a year! By keeping a positive attitude and presenting yourself as an example of health to your clients and prospects, you will gain clients and develop a lucrative business.

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