Buffin' Up Your Body of Knowledge as a Personal Trainer

A great way to get real-world experience before you try hanging your personal-trainer shingle is to become an intern or an apprentice. Internships and apprenticeships allow you to discover the technical aspects of the job by working with people who have been there and done it — and who can show you how to do it, too.

Interning

When you think of interns, you probably imagine someone running around serving coffee to spoiled executives as a low-paid gofer yearning to climb the corporate ladder. But as an intern in the personal training industry, you won't be serving any coffee, kowtowing to any execs, or climbing any ladders.

Instead, a personal training internship is a temporary work experience in which you receive training and gain experience in your field. If you have no practical experience under your belt, interning will

  • Give you in-the-field experience that you can't get in a classroom or a book
  • Give you the opportunity to explore and understand the industry before committing to it full-time
  • Let you create relationships with potential employers
  • Help you earn credit toward your certification or degree
  • Help you acquire the skills necessary to perform your job well
  • Teach you valuable new skills with which to build your résumé
  • Establish vital career networks and mentors
  • Enable you to collect references for future employment

Many internships provide compensation through minimum wage, stipends, or hourly wages comparable to full-time pay. Others don't pay but do provide perks and invaluable experience. Internships vary in duration.

The best place to start is with your local gym. Ask the gym owner or manager if you can shadow one of his trainers or maybe start working the front desk to learn the business. Also, don't hesitate to call other personal training companies to see if they would be open to taking you on as an intern. It's a great way for a personal training company to train you in the way they want things to be done — and it works for you too, because you get to learn the ropes!

Apprenticing

Apprenticing provides education and on-the-job training. Typically, you work in a structured apprentice program for a company under the watchful eye of one of their veteran staffers. Unlike internships, apprenticeships are always paid positions. The benefits of apprenticing include the following:

  • Paid on-the-job training, under the guidance of a skilled employee
  • Additional instruction, classroom theory, and hands-on training
  • Progressive, increasing wages as your skill level increases

If you're just starting out as a personal trainer, you can earn entry-level income as an apprentice and gain the skills you need to become a higher-ranking trainer. Plus, you'll typically get a raise in pay after you've successfully completed the apprenticeship program. The bonus here is that, when you go through an apprenticeship, your employer is able to train you in the way they want you to work, so your chances of being taken on as a full-time trainer at that facility are greater than they are if you were just an intern there.

If you're interested in apprenticing but aren't sure where to start, try your local college. Colleges with Exercise Physiology programs typically have a list of companies that offer apprentice programs to their students, because their students have to complete an apprenticeship for their degree requirements. Even though you may not be a student, they can give you a few names and contact numbers of companies you can apply to as an apprentice. If you don't have any colleges or universities in your area, don't hesitate to approach a company yourself and ask if you can work with them as an apprentice — it never hurts to ask!

Training to train

If you haven't done it yet, you may want to think about coughing up a few pennies to work with a personal trainer yourself. Although you want to be training other people — not be trained yourself — spending time with someone who's been doing it for a while and is successful at it can be worth way more than the money you shell out for the session. Trust us, if you tell your trainer that you're interested in being a personal trainer, too, and you'd like to work with him for a couple of sessions to get a feel for it, he'll be delighted. For the most part, trainers are very supportive of one another — a good personal trainer will want to see you succeed. A bonus to working with another trainer is that, when you do get certified and start training clients, you have a colleague whom you can call when you need help troubleshooting or you just need a quick answer to a question.

Taking advantage of other learning opportunities

If you belong to a gym, work out with a friend who's slightly less advanced than you are. While you're working out with her, practice your training and spotting techniques. Your partner won't mind — after all, she's going to get stronger as a result of your practice!

If you can't find anyone to work out with, try role-playing. (And no, we don't mean meeting your significant other at the local watering hole wearing a wig and dark glasses.) While you're working out, run through a mental dialogue of what you would say to yourself if you were the client. Practice explaining what the exercises do and which muscle groups are involved in the exercise. Just be sure to do this in your head, not out loud. Practicing your dialogue prevents you from being tongue-tied when you're working with a live, flesh-and-blood client.

One great way to expand your mind and elevate your glass ceiling is to visit the leaders of your profession — and what better way to do that than to visit a conference? Try attending conferences put on by different certifying bodies or groups such as IDEA or the National Strength and Conditioning Association — click on Meetings. Also check out the seminars by Northeast Seminars, an outfit that gathers some of the top people in the fitness and rehab industries to discuss functional training and rehabilitation.

Study or practice one of your training skills every day. Read up on medical literature, listen to a lecture at the hospital on preventing back injuries, practice stretching a friend. However, whatever, and whenever you decide to practice, when the time comes that you actually need that skill or tidbit of knowledge, you'll be glad you did!

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