As of the date I am writing this article, I have been a professional in the fitness industry for over 22 years and the vast majority of that time has been spent being a personal trainer (I currently own and operate the fitness media company Mind Pump). I started back in 1997 in a big box 24 Hour Fitness gym. In those days, personal training wasn’t really a huge revenue source. The gym I started at was considered one of the larger locations and averaged roughly 120 thousand dollars in total gross sales, but only 10-20k of those dollars came from personal training. But it was only the beginning. The late 90’s and early 00’s saw an explosion in personal training revenue. In fact, the same club I started my career at would go on to generate over 100k in personal training sales alone just a few short years later. Today, personal training generates over 10 BILLION dollars a year. It’s BIG BUSINESS and is considered one of the most consistent segments of the fitness industry in terms of annual growth averaging 1-2% growth every single year.
Every year, thousands of fitness enthusiasts choose fitness as their chosen field and many of those new jobs are as personal trainers. It’s a logical first step. If you love working out and you love fitness, it initially makes sense to start as a certified trainer. The barrier to enter into the field is relatively low (most big box gyms only require a national certification which can be accomplished in a few months) and it sounds like a lot of fun. If you are seriously considering becoming a personal trainer, you need to pump your brakes. Although I LOVED being a trainer, I am here to tell you it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. If you are not right for the job, personal training will destroy you. It’s a job that you will either love or absolutely hate. If you want to know if personal training is the right career path for you, keep reading. Below I list three things you absolutely MUST consider before becoming a personal trainer.
If you love making a lot of money, and if making money is your primary motivation for working, then I have bad news for you: don’t get into the fitness industry. If you go online and look up the average salary for a full-time personal trainer you will see that it’s around 50k a year. Not bad, but also not great.
Fitness is a passion driven field like music or art. People who become trainers and stay personal trainers for long careers do NOT do it for money; they do it for passion. If you love fitness as much as I do, then you won’t care about making tons of money because you will feel fulfilled. In my opinion this is priceless. I’ve known enough wealthy and miserable people to know that money is no substitute for purpose.
To be clear, it’s entirely possible to make better than “ok” money as a trainer. You just have to be really good. After training for about 10 years, I was a private trainer charging between $90-120 an hour and most of that money was profit. Also, keep in mind I was the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, trainers aren’t making tons of money. One more thing to consider, IF you do what you love, the odds that you will be great at what you do are much higher, and one thing was for damn sure, I loved training people.
You would think that personal training would be a relatively stress-free job, but you would be VERY wrong. First off, if you are a trainer in a big box gym (like most trainers are) then you will have sales and performance goals. You will be expected to sell X amount of personal training sessions every month or you can be fired. You may be thinking, “Well, I will just start my own business and go private.” LOL! That’s like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Starting and running your own business is stressful as hell regardless of what career you enter.
To be honest though, the stress that comes from needing to sell personal training every month pales in comparison to the stress your clients will put you through every single day. You think you’re just going to help people workout, but you will soon discover your job is MUCH more than that. These people will spend 1-4 hours a week with you. You will hear ALL of their problems. Strenuous exercise has a way of opening people up. On top of that, these people will (hopefully) see you regularly week after week. You will hear about marital problems, family problems, work issues, mental issues…EVERYTHING. If you are the kind of person that absorbs peoples’ stresses and energies, personal training will likely crush you. To be able to handle this type of stress, you will need to have the skill of listening empathetically while not internalizing what your clients dump on you.
If you want to be a personal trainer it’s probably because you also want to help people. Now imagine you CAN’T help some of them. Many clients, maybe even most, will not want to change their diets or lifestyles. They will hire you to help them lose weight, but then won’t do what it takes to lose weight. How will you handle that? If you are thinking you will just be super hard on them or that you will not train clients unless they do exactly what you say, I have more bad news. You won’t last. The best long-term trainers don’t absorb the negative AND they are among the most patient and understanding people on earth. Remember, these people have lived most their lives in unhealthy ways with bad eating habits and poor activity levels. Changing those fundamental behaviors takes a LONG time. Successful trainers are in it for the long haul.
Full-time employment in most fields is usually 40 hours a week. In many big box gyms, full-time for personal training is considered 30 hours a week. Why? Because personal training is HARD WORK. With most 9 to 5 jobs, people might actually work 50 percent of the time. As a personal trainer you work 100 percent of the time. When you have a client, you are ON. There are no tired or lazy days. You can’t show up and act “meh.” When you are with a client you can’t just stop and check social media or go to the water cooler and talk to coworkers. You are the fitness expert, and your job is to motivate and inspire; and your client is right next to you the whole time. There are no breaks except for when you don’t have a client, in which case you aren’t getting paid.
If you don’t have a deep sense of passion for fitness, and if don’t feel like helping others is your purpose here on earth, then do NOT become a trainer. If you love money more than purpose and you dream of being a baller, then DO NOT become a personal trainer.
On the flip side, if you love fitness, you love people, and you want to make a positive impact on the world through helping people heal themselves with good nutrition and fitness habits and behaviors, then personal training may be right for you. If you do a good job, you might even earn a good living doing it, but nothing compares to seeing the improvements in your client’s heath and wellbeing that your training has brought them. It’s for these reasons why I will never leave fitness no matter the circumstances. It has brought me more joy than almost anything and, 22 years later it’s as fun and exciting to me as it was back in 1997. I hope this article helped you decide if personal training is a career for you. If still want to be a trainer, I thank you. The world needs more great personal trainers.