Becoming a Personal Trainer For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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To become a successful personal trainer, you have to master your certification exam, market yourself to potential clients, and know what clients want and need from a personal trainer.

Being the best personal trainer you can be

Your clients expect more than just a good workout. They want a personal trainer who motivates them, cares about them, and sets a good example. When all else is equal, your professionalism, your attitude, and your knowledge will set you apart.

Don’t be a know-it-all

You’re having a conversation with a new acquaintance at a dinner party and that person starts talking about the works of Umberto Eco. Instead of saying, “Who in the ever lovin’ world is Umberto Eco?” you nod along, pretending that you’re deeply familiar with The Name of the Rose and the other works of whatshisname.

C’mon, you know you’ve done this before. Everyone has.

Although you may get away with this tactic at a dinner party, you won’t get away with it as a personal trainer. If you give false information because you don’t want to look stupid in front of your client, you can do more than get found out — you can injure the client.

Be there for your clients

Being there for your clients doesn’t mean you have to trail them, handing them their warmed towels when they get out of the shower and feeding them chicken soup when they have a cold. You do have to put your own ego and wants aside and focus completely on your clients.

Keep your eyes on your client when you’re training. A trainer who’s looking around the room is only thinking about themself — how bored they are, what they’ll be having for lunch that day, how long until quitting time — instead of the client.

Your job is to be the most motivating, inspiring trainer you can be, and to set a good example for your clients.

Stay within the boundaries

You have your personal self, and your professional self. Your professional self doesn’t offer relationship advice or make comments about the client’s home or its contents.

Personal training is just that — personal. Your client may come to think of you as their friend. That’s a good thing, but it also invites unprofessional behavior. If a client starts, say, complaining that their spouse doesn’t pay attention to them, you need to draw that boundary line. Say, “I hear you, I understand” — but don’t offer advice or tell them what a jerk their spouse is.

If a client asks you to train her for an extra half-hour free of charge, or to drive 15 miles outside your regular area to train their daughter, tell them you can’t do it. If you do, the client may come to expect this from you all the time — and it can hurt your business.

Do what you say, say what you do

When you tell someone you’ll do something, you should do it. Sounds simple, right? Well, you’d be surprised by how many personal trainers forget this simple concept.

Always be prepared, be on time, and have everything you need for the day’s training sessions ready ahead of time.

Showing clients you care

Care is more than just a four-letter word. It also stands for “Clients Are Really Everything.” You may know a lot about personal training, but you wouldn’t be a personal trainer without your clients.

Here are some tips for showing clients that you care:

  • Return phone calls, emails, and text messages promptly, even if it’s just to let the person know when you’ll get back to them.
  • Follow up with your clients regularly to ask how their programs are working for them.
  • Send your clients thank-you cards for doing business with you.

Always be on time

Being late shows the person who is waiting that your time is more important to you than theirs. Not only that, but if you have a personal training session and you show up late, what are your choices? You can either cheat the client out of a few minutes of training so that you can be done at 5 p.m., or you can run late — which means you’ll be late for your next client too.

If you’re always late, ask yourself why and come up with a solution. Do you get stuck in traffic? If so, find alternate routes or leave earlier. Do you have trouble getting yourself out the door? Have everything you need ready by the door ahead of time so you can grab it and go when it’s time.

Dress professionally

Here are some dress-for-success tips:

  • Wear clothes that fit properly — not too tight or too baggy.
  • Make sure your clothes are clean and not wrinkled.
  • Keep jewelry to a minimum. Long, dangly jewelry is distracting and it can get caught in exercise equipment.
  • The same goes for long, loose hair. If you have long hair, you may want to pull it back.

Be a lifelong learner

Personal trainers need current knowledge about a variety of topics, such as medicine, fitness, business, and even psychology and nutrition. These fields are constantly changing, and researchers are uncovering new information every day. Here are some ways to keep learning:

  • Attend continuing education courses in person or online.
  • Talk to other personal trainers.
  • Go to conferences and workshops.
  • Read a lot. If there’s something you want to learn about, someone has probably written a book about it.
  • Listen to podcasts.
  • Read online health, fitness, and business magazines.


Boost your knowledge

A great way to get real-world experience before hanging your personal-trainer shingle is to intern or 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.


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 where you receive training and gain experience in your field. If you have no practical experience under your belt, interning will:

  • Give you experience that you can’t get in a classroom or from 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 degree if you’re pursuing one
  • Help you acquire the skills needed to do your job well
  • Help you build your résumé
  • Establish vital career networks and mentors
  • Provide a reference 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.

Check with local gyms and personal training businesses to see if they take interns. Ask the owner or manager if you can shadow the trainers or maybe start working the front desk to learn the business.


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 community college or university. Colleges with Exercise Physiology programs often have a list of companies that offer apprentice programs to their students, because their students have to complete an apprenticeship to graduate.

Even if you’re not a student, they can give you contact information for companies they have relationships with. 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, consider coughing up a few pennies to work with a personal trainer yourself. Even though you want to be training other people — not be trained yourself — learning from someone who’s been training for a while and is successful is worth way more than the money you shell out for the session.

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 you can turn to for advice.

Other learning opportunities

If you belong to a gym, work out with a friend. While you’re working out together , practice your training and spotting techniques.

If you can’t find anyone to work out with, try role-playing. 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. Practice your dialogue ahead of time so you won’t become tongue-tied when you’re working with your clients

Study or practice one of your training skills every day. Read up on current fitness trends, listen to podcasts, and practice teaching exercises to a friend. However, whatever, and whenever you practice, you’ll be glad you did when when a skill or a tidbit of knowledge comes in handy.

Personal training tools

Personal trainers wear lots of hats. You’re a salesperson, scientist, friend, coach, motivator, teacher, employer, bookkeeper, and business owner, to name just a few. To wear these hats well, you need to have the right tools.

Your mindset

The equipment available to make your job easier is limitless: smartphones, personal training software programs, exercise equipment, and the list goes on.

No matter what tools you have (or how expensive or cutting edge they are), it won’t matter if you don’t have the most important one: the right mindset.

A few qualities that successful personal trainers with the right mindset have include:

  • Honesty: Always tell the truth. Everyone makes mistakes, including you, and by owning up to your mistakes, you earn people’s trust and respect.
  • Determination: Not every day is easy; you won’t always have a full schedule, and sometimes those slow days become slow weeks. Staying on track and positive when the going gets tough takes determination and focus.
  • Willingness: Be willing to change course if something isn’t working. Keep an open mind if a client isn’t happy with your services. Listen of being defensive. It’s easier said than done, but you’ll learn from the experience and grow if you’re willing to receive feedback.

Your certification

Certification is your badge of honor — it tells everyone who works with you, from employers to clients, that not only do you say you know what you’re doing, but you can also prove it. Certification assures your client that you’re a true fitness professional; you’ve undergone stringent studies and testing protocols to figure out what to do and what not to do as a personal training professional. It ensures your client that you know what they don’t — which is how to help them reach their fitness goal.

Being certified also gives you the credibility you need for other professionals to take you seriously. Certification helps you to build rapport with the people you do business with, such as:

  • Employers
  • Clients
  • Mentors
  • Media contacts
  • Healthcare professionals

Tape measure

You can use a tape measure for many different things. For example, you can record your client’s anthropometric measurements (height, body circumference, etc. )Other uses for a tape measure include:

  • Measuring vertical jump height
  • Measuring plyometric (explosive) movement distances
  • Measuring stride length

Heart-rate monitor

Having your client use a heart-rate monitor has multiple benefits:

  • It allows you to see where her heart rate is without stopping her exercise.
  • A heart-rate monitor is a lot easier than palpation (manually checking a person’s pulse).
  • Your client will get instant feedback— it’s an invaluable tool for teaching clients about perceived rate of exertion and working intensity.

Jump rope

A jump rope is light, inexpensive, and portable. Most people at any fitness level can use it — and as exercises go, your client will burn lots of calories in little time.

How to ace your certification exam

Getting a job as a personal trainer typically requires a certification, and besides, you need to be certified if you want to be taken seriously by potential employers and clients. These tips will help you hit the books and prepare for your certification exam:

  • Get ready to study. Find a quiet place where you can concentrate. Turn off the TV and silence your phone so you can focus on the material.
  • Find course materials. Each certifying organization offers its own course materials to help you study for the exam. You may receive (or be able to purchase) textbooks, online study guides, sample tests, and access to live seminars or recorded webinars.
  • Role-play. If the exam includes a practical portion, you’ll need to get your hands on such equipment as skin-fold calipers and a blood-pressure cuff. Recruit some friends and use them to practice measuring flexibility, measuring body fat, performing fitness assessments, and anything else you may have to perform on the test.
  • Use flash cards. This might sound old school, but writing up flash cards with definitions and formulas will help you to retain the information. And you can test yourself whenever you have a free minute — in line at the grocery store, in the dentist’s waiting room, while stuck in traffic — or have a friend flash you (the cards, that is).
  • Get moving. Get up and perform movements to find out which muscles are involved. Which muscles do you use when you squat? How about when you’re doing a push-up?

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Melyssa St. Michael is a renowned fitness expert who appears on national news channels and has been interviewed for major publications.

Linda Formichelli writes for Men’s Fitness, Muscle Media, and other magazines.

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