Getting paid for doing what you really love has to be the ultimate career goal. So if you’ve got a passion for the gym - and for helping other people on their fitness journey, a personal trainer could be just the job for you.
But what’s life as a personal trainer really like? How do you get into the role in the first place? Independent PT and Proworks Ambassador, Charlie North gives us the full lowdown…
So Charlie, what made you want to become a personal trainer?
I was always pretty sports-mad as a kid. As I got a bit older, I started taking training and the health & fitness side of things more seriously. My interest kind of grew from there.
Before becoming a personal trainer, what was your career background?
I went to Durham University and got a degree in Business Studies. After graduation, I realised that a typical desk job probably wasn’t for me. I wanted a career in something I could get passionate about. Personal training was the obvious choice.
What qualifications do you need for becoming a personal trainer?
In the UK, you need a Level 3 Personal Training Certificate or Diploma. It isn’t possible to get a job as a personal trainer without this qualification.
What would you say are the top 3 qualities you need for the job?
I’d definitely put enthusiasm top of the list. Mostly this should come naturally (after all, if you don’t have enthusiasm for the work, you wouldn’t choose to do it). That said - and especially when your client list starts to grow, you’ll likely find yourself working long, often unsociable hours to meet the demands of those clients. Despite all this, you’ve really always got to maintain those enthusiasm levels to show clients that you’re as invested in their fitness journey as they are.
Next come organisation skills. Each person on your client list will have their own specific goals and demands. From training records through to keeping track of your appointments, you have to be organised to keep track - and to ensure you’re delivering the best possible service.
Empathy is another must-have quality. The people who come to you will likely have a wide range of issues - both physical and mental. To formulate tailored plans that reflect these needs, you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes.
How should I go about getting into personal training as a career?
You don’t have to jump straight in with a complete career change right from the start - and there’s a lot to be said for making it your hobby first. Yes, an interest in fitness is essential - but so too is knowing what you are talking about! Training courses can be done full-time, part-time - and even online. Your local further education college is usually a good starting point.
Should I go independent or work for a gym?
I would always recommend getting experience working for a gym to begin with - even if this is as a gym class instructor rather than a one-on-one personal trainer initially. With this experience under your belt, you’ll feel much more confident delivering sessions in a gym environment.
A regular, predictable income is the main benefit of being employed by a gym - while the flipside is that your earnings are effectively capped. The big draw of going it alone is the ability to set your own fees and take control of your schedule - although, of course, the pressure is always on to keep your diary busy.
There are various ways of working - from salaried jobs through to working self-employed based at a particular gym and paying them a rent. Contact your local gyms to get an idea of the set-ups they have for personal trainers. This should help you decide what arrangement will work best for you.
What are the best ways to find my first new clients?
Approaching potential clients on the gym floor can be a daunting prospect, but ‘floor walking’ is a useful way to build a client base. You will often see people performing exercises incorrectly. Politely correcting their form and offering them further advice is a good place to start.
Especially when you are still building up your client list, offering free consultations and taster sessions can be a good way to build relationships. This also gives you the chance to showcase your skills to other people in the gym.
Is there much upfront expense in starting the business? What are the main ongoing expenses?
If you are working from a gym as a self-employed personal trainer, your only ongoing expense will be your gym rental. However, some gyms offer opportunities for self-employed personal trainers to work unpaid hours (e.g. teaching classes or doing inductions). These hours are in lieu of upfront payment to cover the cost of allowing you to use the facilities for your training sessions.
What are the worst things about the job?
You are very much at the mercy of your clients in terms of the times they can train - so very early starts and late finishes become the norm! When you’ve got lots of clients - one after the other - keeping up those enthusiasm levels can be a challenge. And of course, when you’re self-employed, you have the ongoing stress of securing ongoing work. Gyms will often offer to help with finding you new recruits - but more often than not, you’re on your own!
What are the best things about it?
When you get that client who takes on board your advice and they go on to achieve the results they were aiming for, it’s a truly rewarding experience. You’ll also meet loads of people from different walks of life. In fact, some of my best friends today once started out as my personal training clients.
Unsociable hours aside, you have the ability to structure your diary so working becomes much more flexible. Finally, having a job that’s also your hobby means that it never actually really feels like work!
Want to know more? Ask Charlie…
If you’ve got a question for Charlie on any aspect of life as a personal trainer, you can message him on Instagram, or drop us a message @ProworksFitness and we’ll be sure to pass it along. Have you already started your journey to become a trainer or instructor? Let us know by using the hashtag #ProworksFitness, we’d love to hear your story!