Fitness trainers and instructors lead, instruct and motivate individuals or groups in exercise activities, including cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and stretching. They guide their clients' workouts and track their progress. Some also coach clients on the principles of healthy eating. They work with people of all ages and skill levels and help nurture a supportive environment for positive life change by becoming role models and personal cheerleaders for those striving to become healthier, happier people.
Day in the Life of a Fitness Trainer
Fitness trainers and instructors typically perform the following tasks:
- Demonstrate or explain how to perform various exercises and routines to minimize injuries and improve fitness
- Watch clients do exercises to ensure that they are using the correct technique
- Assess clients' personal fitness levels, then help them set fitness goals and create a plan for achieving them
- Monitor clients' progress and adapt programs as needed.
- Provide alternative exercises for different levels of fitness and skill
- Explain and enforce safety rules and regulations on sports, recreational activities, and the use of exercise equipment
- Give clients information or resources about nutrition, weight control, and lifestyle issues
- Give emergency first aid if needed
Fitness trainer jobs vary depending on their specialty. These are the most common specialties:
- Personal fitness trainers work with individuals or small groups, in a gym or in clients' homes. Personal trainers assess the client's level of physical fitness and help them set and reach fitness goals.
- Group fitness instructors organize and lead group exercise classes. These instructors may choreograph an exercise routine or lead classes that use exercise equipment, such as stationary bicycles.
- Specialized fitness instructors teach popular conditioning methods, such as Pilates or yoga. In these classes, instructors demonstrate different moves and positions. They also watch students and correct those who are doing the exercises improperly.
- Fitness directors oversee the fitness-related aspects of a gym or health club. They often handle administrative duties, such as scheduling personal training sessions for clients and ordering fitness equipment for their facility.
A fitness trainer may work nights, weekends or holidays. While many personal trainers are employed by gyms or health groups, others are self-employed. Some fitness instructors and personal fitness trainers hold jobs in other fields and teach fitness classes or conduct personal training sessions in their free time.
Important Characteristics for Fitness Trainers
Successful fitness trainers typically share common traits. In general, they:
- Are physically fit
- Have natural enthusiasm, charisma and motivational skills
- Enjoy helping and encouraging others
- Are patient
- Are strong leaders and teachers
- Have good listening skills, to determine each client's fitness level and desired fitness goals
- Have good problem-solving skills, which enables them to design an appropriate fitness plan to meet each client's needs
The education and training required for fitness trainers varies by type of specialty, and employers usually prefer to hire those with certification. While personal fitness trainers, group fitness instructors, and specialized fitness instructors each need different preparation, most follow these two steps:
- Earn a college degree in a health or fitness field. An increasing number of employers require fitness workers, particularly personal trainers, to have an associate or bachelor's degree related to a health or fitness field, such as exercise science, kinesiology or physical education.
- Become certified. While the fitness certifications required vary according to the type of trainer, most seek first to become certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillators (AED).
- Personal trainers must be certified before they begin working with clients or with members of a gym or other type of health club. After becoming a certified personal trainer, new trainers typically work alongside an experienced trainer before they are allowed to train clients alone.
- Group fitness instructors can begin work without certification, but employers often encourage or require them to become certified.
- Most specialized fitness trainers, such as yoga or Pilates instructors, receive certification for their preferred type of training. Training for specialized fitness instructors can vary greatly. For example, the duration of programs for yoga instructors can range from a few days to more than two years.
Fitness certification can be awarded by one of the following organizations: Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the National Federation of Professional Trainers and the American Fitness Professionals and Associates. Although many organizations offer certification, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), part of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, lists certifying organizations that are accredited.
- Fitness Trainers and Instructors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm
- Summary Report for Fitness Trainers and Aerobics Instructors, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/39-9031.00, accessed December 2017