How Much Does A Fitness Trainer Make Per Year?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average Fitness Trainer earned $39,820 in 2018 which breaks down to just over $19/hour. 

According to the website Payscale, most large chain Fitness Gyms such as LA Fitness, Lifetime, and the YMCA pay their Fitness Trainers between $12 – $15/hour.

The better question though is what “should” you expect to make depending on the type of Fitness Training job and compensation structure you sign up for. That is what we’ll explore in this article. The layout of the article is:

  • What types of fitness trainer jobs are there?
  • Are you an employee or a contractor if you’re a fitness trainer?
  • Will you receive benefits as a fitness trainer?
  • What are the types of pay structures that you might be offered as a fitness trainer?
  • What you’ll likely make as a fitness trainer?
  • Bonus section – How can you earn more money as a fitness trainer?

If you invest in reading this whole article, you should have a much stronger ability to set yourself up for earlier and longer-term success in the fitness trainer field. Make no mistake, though, you must tangibly help your company make more revenue – and profit – for you to make more money over time.

Wondering if a fitness trainer is a good career? Read our previous blog breaking down if fitness trainer is a good career here.

The types of fitness trainer jobs we’ll discuss:

The Personal Trainer 

We’ll define this fitness trainer as somebody who delivers fitness to a client one on one for their entire training session without working with other clients at the same time. Personal training has been around for a long time, and most people who do fitness in any capacity understand what a personal trainer is. As a fitness trainer, you would likely do personal training in either a large globo gym such as Lifetime, LA Fitness, or Equinox, or in a boutique fitness studio such as Exercise Coach or Fitness Together.

The Small Group Fitness Trainer 

We’ll define this fitness trainer as somebody who is only working with a few clients at a time (usually 2-4) but who still must be present on the gym floor with those clients as they execute their training sessions. Small group personal training has been around for a few decades, and most clients would understand this if you explained it to them as “personal training with a few of your friends.” The reason this was “invented” was because it allowed the trainer and gym to make more revenue per hour and it offered a bit more fun for the people training with the trainer. As a small group personal trainer, you may see this in the larger globo gyms, but small group personal training is more often seen in more boutique gyms local to you. 

The Personalized Fitness Trainer (or Coach) 

Sometimes this is referred to as Individual Design or “ID” – we’ll define this fitness trainer as somebody who designs numerous people’s fitness programs for them to train on the gym floor, but the trainer isn’t necessarily the trainer training those people during their fitness sessions. Personalized fitness is very new, and clients will understand it when you use a phrase such as “the evolution of small group personal training.” Currently, the only company growing global gyms in personalized fitness is OPEX Fitness.

(Note: Get an free introduction to individual design coaching here.)

The One to One Remote Fitness Trainer (or Remote Coach) 

We’ll define this fitness trainer as somebody who designs numerous people’s fitness programs online for their clients to execute their fitness training somewhere afar. Online coaching has been around for about a decade, but it’s exploded recently with the advent of programming platforms such as TrueCoach and Train Heroic. Your clients will understand this type of training, but they will initially struggle to understand exactly how your service works because the service offering is very different per each different company delivering it. Some of the notable online coaching companies out there currently are Big Dawgs, Revival Strength, but more are popping up every day because trainers see it as a very low barrier – inexpensive – way of working with more clients from wherever they want to be in the world.

The Online Training Template

If we discuss online remote coaching of individuals, we must also discuss the flip side of the online coaching world, the training template or training “blog.” This happens when a fitness trainer writes one – or a few – training program(s), post it onto their website or social media, and gets people from anywhere in the world to follow that training program. This type of training has also been around for about a decade, but it’s also caught fire because of its efficiency and wide reach. Most clients will understand approximately how this works when you tell them “We post a daily workout, you execute that workout and post your results, and then you chat with the community online.” Some of the popular training templates are CompTrain, Street Parking, and Tracy Anderson.

The Virtual “Large Group” Fitness Instructor 

We’ll define this as a fitness instructor who either records or films large group fitness classes for a virtual platform where their “clients” all do the same workout in their own homes. This is a brand new form of fitness that is being heavily funded by VC’s (venture capitalists) because of the potential scale of reach. Think of this type of fitness training as Peloton.

The Group Fitness Instructor in a “volume model” 

We’ll define this as a fitness instructor who leads large rooms of classes where the clients are all doing the same workout together; let’s define that as 25 or more people. This type of training became popular in the 1980’s with programs such as step aerobics and it’s only continued to grow each year. Your clients will understand this training concept very well in most cases. This fitness training looks like Soul Cycle, Zumba, large bootcamps, etc…Let’s also not forget that yoga is the ultimate large group “fitness” class because no other model of fitness can pack as many people as closely together – and call it “community” haha – as yoga can.

The Group Fitness Instructor in a “boutique model” 

We’ll define this as somebody who instructs group fitness but who does it with fewer people in the room than large spin rooms; let’s define that as fewer than 25 people. This type of training has also been around for decades, but it’s caught fire in the past 10 years. Your clients will most likely understand what this type of training looks like, but you may have to explain the nuances of the specific fitness model your instructing. The types of fitness that fall under this category are CrossFit, Orange Theory, F45, etc…

The Strength and Conditioning Coach 

We’ll define this as somebody who works in a collegiate, semi-pro, or pro weight training facility for athletes. Please note that I’ll lump people using strength and conditioning principles in a one on one or group settings as Personal Trainers or group instructor respectively. This category is for the coach who will actually be with athletes and teams in a “formal” setting such as a professional team, university etc… Your clients, ie your athletes, will understand this type of fitness training.

How Do Fitness Trainers Get Paid? What do those payment structures look like?

On top of the types of fitness roles that trainers get into, there are a number of ways that they may be paid. For this article to have any real teeth, we must try to give you realistic ways that you may be paid so that you know what to expect. 

Fitness Trainers as Employees vs. Contractors

A huge part of your connection to any company you work with is whether or not you are an employee, “W2” in the United States, or you’re a contractor, “1099” in the United States. If you want to go deeply into the two designations, check out this article from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you want to stay shallow, I will summarize small parts of the article below…

Black’s Law Dictionary defines “employee” as “a person in the service of another under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written, where the employer has the power or right to control and direct the employee in the material details of how the work is to be performed.” 

In contrast, an “independent contractor” is one who, “is under independent employment, contracts to do a piece of work according to their own methods and is subject to their employer’s control only” as to the end product or final result of his work.

More importantly, what in the world does this mean for you as a fitness trainer?

If you are an employee:

  • Your employer will withhold your income taxes so that you do not need to pay quarterly or annual taxes outside externally
  • You may have the potential for traditional benefits such as health care, dental, vision, 401k, etc…
  • Your employer will be required fair labor standards for things such as overtime etc
  • Your employer will be able to tell you how to do your job
  • Your employer will be able to control your schedule
  • You will have fewer freedoms

If you are a contractor:

  • The company you work for will pay you your entire paycheck amount without withholding tax amount, but you’ll be required to pay your taxes on your own
  • You will likely not get benefits such as health care, dental, vision, 401k, etc.. 
  • Your company won’t be required to follow more specific labor standards such as overtime
  • Your company will not be able to tell you how to do your job, they will only be able to articulate the outcomes of a “job done.”
  • Your company will not be able to control your schedule
  • You will have more freedom

Which one is better? In reality, it depends, and this article is not one designed to go into the tax code or employment depth. Most people, particularly those who work in-person in their gym, prefer to be employees because they don’t have to take care of their tax withholding, and they really like having benefits and employee protections. 

Do Fitness Trainers Get Employee Benefits?

I wish I had a great answer for you here, but this is wide-ranging depending on which gym/company you work for, what role you have, and how long you’ve been with that gym/company. Let’s run through the traditional benefits that many companies choose to offer or not:

  • “Traditional” Benefits
    • Medical insurance
    • Dental Insurance
    • Vision Insurance
    • Disability Insurance
    • 401k retirement 
    • Roth IRA retirement
    • Stock ownership or company stock options
  • Paid time off Benefits
    • Standard paid time off
    • Maternity/paternity leave
  • “Fringe” benefits 
    • These would include perks or fun things in the office such as free food or snacks, ping pong tables etc…

Broadly, you must know that if you are not an employee designation, you will not get traditional benefits although it is possible to get something like a commission stipend (careful to make sure if you get something like this that it is proper/legal.) So, to have a shot at benefits, you’ll likely want to go with a company and role that will make you an employee.

Even as an employee, though, you are not guaranteed benefits whatsoever. You need to do your research for the gym/company work for as well as the role within that company to see if you will be given benefits.

Even if you may receive traditional benefits, you need to see exactly how those benefits will be set up and if the company will contribute them greater than your own contributions. 

  • Ex. 1 – Companies are able to set up medical insurance, for example, and choose how much of that medical insurance premium they pay for the employee. Some companies pay 0% of it while others pay 100% of it. Pay attention to what your deal looks like.
  • Ex. 2 – Companies are able to set up retirement benefits such as a 401k account within the company. As an employee, you could contribute to your retirement by withholding specific amounts, often percentages, of your earnings from each paycheck. The company would then have the option to match a certain percentage of your contribution should they choose. Some companies set up a 401k and do not match any percentage while others set it up and match larger percentages. Understand how this would work for you prior to signing onto a job role 

Once you have a handle on the more traditional benefits, what other benefits, if any, will you receive? Because this article isn’t designed to drill down to benefits, we’ll only say this on the other benefits:

Understand what you need in your life, what you want your lifestyle to be, and what you want your daily work environment to look like and search out the best jobs with benefits that reflect those desires.

If you want a deep dive into employee benefits, what they look like, and how to better understand them, check out this Wikipedia article.

We’re on a roll now! If we now have more clarity on the types of role, the designations of those roles, and the benefits that may be “gettable,” we can now talk about the pay structure that you’ll likely be presented with from those jobs. Here are some of the most used ways that fitness trainers get paid

Hourly wage 

We’ll define this as fitness trainer jobs that have set hours, often 4 or 8 hours a day and pay out those hours regardless of the outcomes or revenue produced during those times. Oftentimes, this is a less “risky” way to be paid than class commission etc, but as with all things, the tradeoff for a bit less risk is a lower dollar per hour rate because there is a stronger “guarantee” of “x” number of hours per week.

Which Fitness Trainer Jobs May Offer You This Structure?

Often this role would be for a newer fitness trainer who is doing a combo of training + facility work. You will not likely see a pure hourly wage for group instructors or personal trainers because the gym will often pay them a commission for each class that they instruct or client they train.

Which Fitness Trainer is an Hourly Wage A Good Fit For?

This is a good fit for somebody early in their fitness career who doesn’t see better options initially. 

In the fitness industry, the hourly wage is generally a lower value role (yes, there could always be an instance of somebody making $50/hour and guaranteed 8 hours/day * 5 days per week * 50 weeks a year, but it’s not at all common in fitness). If you are being paid hourly, you’ll likely want to increase your value through education and network/client builds so that you can get to either a salaried role or a higher commission + incentive role.

Example Of How An Hourly Wage Works For A Fitness Trainer

You sign up as a fitness trainer in a large globo gym for $10 per hour; you work 5 days per week for 8 hours each day which = 40 hours per week, and you work 50 weeks per year. That is $20,000 per year. For that $20k, you may oversee the gym floor, fold towels, clean up, and work with some clients on the floor

Hourly wage plus incentives 

We’ll define this the same way we did a normal hourly wage, but we’ll add in incentives – they may be called incentives, commissions, or bonus – for things like selling people into personal training or additional services or supplements. 

Which Fitness Trainer Jobs May Offer You This Structure?

Like the hourly wage example, this is often offered to newer employees who do a combination of fitness training and facility work. The incentive is very often offered on something that is a direct reflection of the fitness trainer selling something that brings in a known dollar amount to the gym.

Which Fitness Trainer Is An Hourly Wage + Incentive A Good Fit For?

This is a good fit for that “newbie” who is more entrepreneurial who can sell. Because a decent percentage of your total compensation will be based on an incentive which is most likely tied to client sales, you need to be good at closing deals and talking to people. If you don’t like that, you’ll likely want to look elsewhere.

Example Of How An Hourly Wage + Incentive Works For A Fitness Trainer

The same setup as above, but you also get paid $50 per person who signs up for a new personal training package. Over the course of your 50 weeks, perhaps you sell 2 personal training packages per week for all 50 weeks. That would be $20,000 in wages + $5,000 in incentives = $25,000 per year

Monthly salary 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the norm when it comes to most fitness trainers who only coach people. Most gym settings can’t guarantee either time in classes or personal training, so they base trainer’s compensation off of a commission schedule based on clients trained or classes instructed. We’ll define a monthly salary as when you receive an amount for the month whether you work 38 or 40 hours a week. No, this isn’t a license to try to work fewer hours per week haha.

Which Fitness Trainer Jobs May Offer You This Structure?

In reality, not too many pure fitness trainer jobs offer this in the big globo gyms. Most often, a salary would be incorporated when there are additional jobs to coaching similarly to what I mentioned in the hourly wage examples. You must remember that if you are only coaching, the only value that you’re providing is directly tied to those one to one sessions or group classes. While it may not seem fair, it’s hard for a gym to pay a salary unless they know exactly – or approximately exactly – the revenue value brought into the gym will be today and into the future. 

Which Fitness Trainer Is A Monthly Salary A Good Fit For?

Theoretically, it would be great for a lot of fitness trainers because they would remove monthly volatility of earnings risk based on the gym deciding to remove a few sessions or classes that the trainer can’t control. In reality, though, most monthly salaried roles would incorporate a lot of outside roles such as sales, marketing, operations, facility cleaning, etc. If you like doing those other roles on top of training clients, you could be a great fit for this.

Example Of A Monthly Salary For A Fitness Trainer

You sign up for a fitness trainer job that pays you $2,500 per month. To earn that, the job requires you to work 40 hours per week and 50 weeks a year. That means you’d make $30,000 per year, and you’d likely have many of the same responsibilities that you would have had for an hourly wage

Monthly salary plus incentives 

We’ll define this as the same monthly salary as above, but we’ll add in an incentive for something such as selling personal training or supplements.

Which Fitness Trainer Jobs May Offer You This Structure?

This structure would fit the exact same structure as a normal monthly salary, ie not too many gyms would pay this without additional roles being filled by the coach. There are some smaller gyms that offer a monthly salary + new client sign-ups or personal training package sales as incentives. 

Which Fitness Trainer Is A Monthly Salary + Incentives Good for?

Similarly to the normal monthly salary example, this would be good for a fitness trainer who likes to do other roles as well, but at least in this example, you would be getting incentives to make more sales if that was what you were getting incentivized on. Do note, though, that incentives do not always mean you’ll make more money Some salary only jobs make more money for people if those people don’t achieve high enough incentive numbers. You must identify which role is better for you based on your “go gettedness” and ability to hit the incentive numbers.

Example Of A Monthly Salary + Incentives For A Fitness Trainer

You make $2,500 just as above, but you make an additional $50 per personal training package you sell. We’ll say, again, that you sell 2 personal training packages per week for all 50 weeks of the year. That’s $30,000 in salary + $5,000 in incentives = $35,000 per year

Class or session commissions 

We’ll define this as fitness trainer jobs that pay by the class or by the personal training session. Sometimes this means that the fitness trainer has a fairly set in stone “guarantee” that they will have “x” number of classes or personal training sessions per week, but sometimes there is very little guarantee. 

Which Fitness Trainer Jobs May Offer You This Structure?

Numerous gyms offer this model. You’ll see this in globo gyms all of the way down to micro or boutique gyms. The reason so many gyms offer this is because they very often have a large number of part to medium time trainers on staff so that they reduce their risk of only having one or a few coaches delivering the session or class. Because they have that many trainers

Which Fitness Trainer Is A Class Or Session Commission Good For?

This structure is great for a part-time trainer who wants to train people or instruct classes exclusively. You can teach your class and then avoid the other jobs in the gym. The tradeoff is that you either need to have another job to make enough money to “eat” or you need to already have a lot of money in, or coming in, to your pocket from other avenues. 

Think about this. If you are a full-time fitness trainer, a per session or per class commission only can often end up in burn out, resentment or not earning enough money. In the case of a personal trainer, if you charge $100 per hour and you as the trainer make $50 of the $100, if you want to make $75,000 per year, you have to do 6 PT sessions per day, 5 days per week, 50 weeks a year. If you’ve not done 3+ personal training sessions per day for 5 days each week, you don’t realize how tiring that becomes. Also, keep in mind that I said $50 per hour that you make on the session. How often do you hear about a coach making $50 per personal training hour?  It’s not too often. 

Many group fitness instructors earn $20 per hour although there are a number of examples of that number getting into the $40-70 per hour range after you build up a nice following of people. However, have you tried teaching 6-8 high-intensity classes per day for 5 days each week?  It’s very hard on you. 

Example 1 Of A Class Commission For A Fitness Trainer

You get paid $20 per class, you teach 4 classes per day, you teach 5 days per week, and you teach 50 weeks per year. That is $20,000 per year

Example 2 Of A Personal Training Session For A Fitness Trainer

You get paid $20 per personal training session (let’s assume those sessions are 1 hour each), you teach 6 sessions per day, you teach 4 days per week, and you teach 50 weeks per year. That is $24,000 per year

Class or session commissions plus incentives 

We’ll define this in the same way we just defined the class or session commissions, and we’ll then add incentives such as selling personal training sessions or supplements.

Which Fitness Trainer Jobs May Offer You This Structure?

Many globo gyms and micro or boutique gyms offer this structure where the incentive is to sell new clients into the gym or to sell personal training sessions to drive revenue higher per client.

Which Fitness Trainer Is A Class Or Session Commission + Incentive Good For?

This is great for the part-time fitness instructor who either has a vast network of people who will buy the product or service that is incentivized or a great salesperson. When you are a fitness trainer, you get in front of a lot of people. If you are a great seller, you can do very well by selling to your existing clients or outside network (notice I didn’t say that you were selling things you fully believe in, so don’t think it’s all butterflies and rainbows).

The same issue applied as it did with commission only, it can lead to burn out, resentment, or not making enough money for a full-time personal trainer or group fitness instructor. You have to teach so many fitness sessions each year that it gets hard to maintain that for a long time. When we discuss levers that you can pull, pay close attention to how you can make this work for you if this is the best option for a structure for you to coach inside of 

Example Of A Class Or Session Commission + Incentive For A Fitness Trainer

You make the $20,000 per year in class commissions, like above, and you refer 1 new client into the group training gym per week where you earn $50 per referral. That is $20,000 in commissions + $2,500 in incentives = $22,500 per year

Percentage of revenue 

We’ll define this as a fitness trainer job that pays you a percentage of the revenue on an individual client or a specific class. This is a bit more complicated because the client or class revenue must be calculated prior to a coach knowing exactly what they make, but this theoretically can provide unlimited upside earning potential as a trainer’s revenue on clients or classes increases.

Which Fitness Trainer Jobs May Offer You This Structure?

It’s not too often that a big globo gym will offer a percentage of revenue for a class. Often times they prioritize revenue and profit to the business vs the trainer, so their goal is to maximize what they charge vs what they pay out to the trainer. This often means that they want to put as many people into a session as they can at the highest price they can and still pay out a flat per session rate to the trainer. From a trainer’s standpoint, let’s look at the tradeoffs:

  • A percentage of revenue most often means that there is more risk to the trainer – if you don’t acquire and retain clients, you don’t earn any or much money
  • A percentage of revenue often means that the trainer has more upside potential – if you do succeed in building up people’s willingness to pay, and if you increase the number of people you can put into a session or month of training, the more money you’ll make
  • A percentage of revenue needs to clearly lay out what the trainer get paid on and what she/he does not get paid on. In gyms with a number of revenue streams, the trainer may or may not get paid on some of them. If you’re the trainer, make sure this is crystal clear before you sign on

Which Fitness Trainer Is A Percentage Of Revenue Good For?

This is an awesome structure for a trainer who is either aggressive about growing their business or has a big network of willing to pay clients. This is a bad fit for somebody that wants to skate by day by day. This is a more entrepreneurial role which requires effort and successful “wins” in order to make money. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Also, we’d be remiss to forget about an online fitness coach. This can work well when a coach who designs programs for their clients remotely. I will touch on this example in the next section that discusses the percentage of revenue + incentive.

Example Of Percentage Of Revenue For A Fitness Trainer

You are the instructor for a large Zumba-type class where you could have 3 people or 70 people in your class. If you make 30% of revenue from that class, you want to drive as many people as you can into that class, and then you want to ensure that they all get great results and enjoy it so that they continue to come back day after day. Let’s look at two specific examples where you make 30% of revenue:

  • You average 30 people in each class, those clients pay an average of $15 per session, you teach 4 sessions per day (don’t forget that that equates to 120 people per day that you instruct), you teach 5 days per week, and you teach 50 weeks per year. 
    • That is $450,000 in class revenue
    • You’d make $135,000 on that revenue

Sounds awesome right?

  • You average 12 people in a class, they pay $15, you teach 4 sessions per day (this time it’s 48 people per day), you teach 5 days per week, and you teach 50 weeks per year
    • That is $180,000 in revenue
    • You’d make $54,000

See how much this can change?  If you succeed for the gym, you succeed for yourself. However, if you are not successful, neither you or the gym wins.

Percentage Of Revenue Plus incentive

Similar to the percentage of revenue only model, there are incentives that a gym can tack on for a coach in this structure. That may include driving in referrals, selling personal training, or coaching floor hours (don’t worry, you’ll see what I mean right below). This can be done in a gym, and it can also be done in an online setting as we’ll walkthrough below.

Which Fitness Trainer Jobs May Offer You This Structure?

This is often offered in OPEX Gyms, for online coaches, and in some more aggressive growth-minded micro or boutique gyms. 

Which Fitness Trainer Is A Percentage Of Revenue + Incentive Good For?

Just like a normal percentage only model, this is great for the trainer who executes at growing client base + client price points + retention of her/his clients. 

This model, like the percentage only model, is bad for coaches who don’t possess an entrepreneurial spirit to grow. 

Example 1 Of Percentage of Revenue + Incentive For A Fitness Trainer

This is the OPEX Gym example…and remember that OPEX is the evolution of small group personal training.

As a reminder, OPEX coaches are paid on coaching clients on a monthly basis. They deliver full assessment, consultation, nourishment, and program designs to their clients. Their clients pay 1 monthly fee for that service. They also get paid per hour for the floor hours they coach. The structure is uniquely designed to incentivize growing their client base, increasing their price point, and retaining their clients, but we also want to ensure that they create an amazing environment for their clients to train in small groups on the floor when they execute their coach’s training program.

The OPEX coach makes a percentage of their coaching revenue from each client. In practice, there is a sliding scale for what percentage they make, but let’s settle in on 40% right now.

If the OPEX coach coaches 50 clients who, on average, pay $350 per month, and if that coach coaches 40 hours per month on the floor for 11.5 months per year where she/he makes $10/hour:

  • The revenue to the gym would be $210,000 per year
  • The coach would make $84,000 per year on their 50 clients + $4,600 per year on the floor = $88,600 per year all in

Note that many OPEX Gyms pay incentives for client referrals + personal training sessions as well.

Example 2 Of Percentage of Revenue + Incentive For A Fitness Trainer

This is an online coaching model…

The service likely looks somewhat similar to an OPEX Gym where the coach will make a percentage of their client revenue + an incentive for referrals to the system. 

If the online coach makes 40% on her/his clients, has 40 clients who, on average, pay $225 (more normal for online coaching right now), and if that coach make $150 for each referral and they refer 2 clients per month:

  • The revenue on the coach’s clients is $108,000 – please note that I am not adding in additional revenue for the coach’s referrals because ill assume that they work with this coach
  • The coach would make $43,200 in client percentage + another $3,600 in referral incentives = $46,800 per year

Bonus Example – A Draw

We won’t go too deeply here, but it’s important for you to have a general understanding of what a draw is to a fitness trainer. A draw is when the gym pays the coach a certain amount of money each month until the coach earns more than that amount in either commission, percentage of revenue, or bonus. Once the trainer earns more than the draw amount, the draw essentially goes away. It’s really just a floor on the trainer’s earnings.

The reason why this is interesting is that it can help coaches who will earn commissions or percentage of revenue be/feel safer in the beginning because they are still earning money in the beginning while they are growing their business. 

Which Fitness Trainer Jobs May Offer You This Structure?

The jobs that pay commissions or a percentage of revenue would be the most likely candidates to pay a draw.

Which Fitness Trainer Is A Draw Payout Structure Good For?

This is nothing but good for you from a monetary standpoint if you earn commissions or a percentage of revenue because if you don’t coach any sessions or earn any revenue, you would have earned $0.00 without the draw. 

A tradeoff to the fitness trainer is that it can potentially bring complacency because you do feel safe. From my experience, though, fitness trainers who aren’t more on the entrepreneurial side and who aren’t just coaching part-time for fun shouldn’t go down the commission or percentage of revenue pathway anyway, so I don’t think the draw will change your style enough to make it a net negative.

Example Of A Draw Payout Structure For A Fitness Trainer

A new coach comes in to a group fitness gym and signs on to a structure that says “you’ll earn 30% of your class revenue, but we’ll pay you a $1,500 monthly draw until you are earning more money than that through your classes.”

That means that the fitness trainer will have the draw paying them until their class revenue goes above $5,000 per month – $5,000 * 30% to the coach = $1,500. Once the class revenue goes above $5,000, the coach is then earning $1,500 and the draw goes away (the coach isn’t getting paid $1,500 + their percentage of revenue). Anything above $5,000 in class revenue simply continues to pay the coach 30% of additional revenue.

Now that we’ve laid the true groundwork, we can discuss what you’ll likely see with respect to pay when you begin as a fitness trainer.

What Will You Make As A Fitness Trainer?

If you just skipped down to this section without reading the rest, you should go back up and read through it. This section appears so simple because I discussed all of the foundations above.

In this section, I’m going to make some predictions as to what you’ll likely see as starting offers in some pretty common fitness trainer roles.

What Will You Make As A Personal Trainer

The prevailing personal trainer pay structure for most globo gyms is based on a few things:

  • What tier trainer are you – Many gyms such as Equinox have tiered trainers now. All that means is that as you increase your credentials, you have the ability to increase your tier. What it really means is that the client will also be paying more for your training sessions, so the gym can and should pay you more.
  • How many sessions you do – A number of gyms have an incentive for the personal trainer to do over a certain number of sessions. If you eclipse that number, you’d earn more per session.

Starting Pay

Generally a per session commission of approximately $13-$20 per hourly session.

To make more than that up front, you often will need to go to a more boutique studio where you’ll most likely have to “eat what you kill” meaning you’ll need to bring in more clients who aren’t already in the gym training on their own. You may earn $20-$30 per hourly session, but make no mistake that you’ll most likely need to work to acquire those clients. 

Ongoing Pay

If you increase your credentials and if you increase your clients’ willingness to pay, you can earn $25-$65 per hourly session, but please know that this is all based on your client’s willingness to pay.

Optimizing Pay

Please note that this section is my opinions on how I’d give myself the best shot at making the most money in the role. I am not prioritizing lack of work, I am prioritizing making more money; if you don’t want to do the work, you’ll stay at the lower end of the ranges. Take it with a grain of salt, look at what will work for you, and let’s continue the discussion

  • Work to get a percentage of each client dollar vs a fixed session rate – sure, the per-session rate may be the same dollar amount, but I find that the session rate ascends more slowly than would a percentage of revenue
  • Increase your client’s willingness to pay by getting them better results, highlighting their stories in the gym and online, and by earning more credentials and knowledge
  • Build in a sales incentive to refer more clients in
  • Build in a retention bonus where if you keep a client for “X” years, you get a little bonus

All of these optimization tools still help the gym earn money too which is critical. 

What Will You Make As A Group Fitness Instructor?

Note that I’ll include all group structures in this as I believe they are all similarly principled ideas on what the pay looks like and how you can optimize it

To be fair, the pay for group fitness instructors appears to be all across the board, but from my research online as well as by speaking to a number of trainers, The pay structure is very often a per class commission structure, and many group fitness instructors sign up as part-time instructors in hopes of building enough classes with one or multiple gyms to make ends meet.

Starting Pay

Generally a per class commission in the $15-$25 per hourly class range. 

Some small group boutique gyms are advertising that they pay a bit more, but similar to personal trainers, you will likely need to recruit members in harder than you would in a globo gym.

Ongoing Pay

As you might suspect, there is a large range. In my research, I saw Orange Theory advertising upwards of $60 per hour to instruct their classes. One thing that does seem consistent for many gyms is that group fitness instructors often either do different roles within the gym or they go part-time in that gym + part-time in 1 to a few other gyms to make ends meet.

Optimizing Pay

  • Become a social influencer – this is both in-person and online. The bigger your profile is, the easier you can scale new client acquisition and “community.” Of course, being more influential helps a personal trainer too, but I didn’t list it there because I believe it’s more potent here due to scaling mechanisms
  • Earn a percentage of your class revenue – because you can increase the number of clients in the class and their price point, you can really maximize dollars here
  • Structure your pay so that you can work in 1 gym or studio – You can scale your influence as well as your work if you are building it within one place vs multiple. 

What Will You Make As A Personalized Fitness Coach?

Note that I’ll include the personalized fitness coach + incentives into this layout because they are foundationally the same.

Most gyms are paying these coaches a percentage of client revenue + floor hours on a monthly basis. 

Starting Pay

Generally, it looks like approximately 40% of client revenue + $10 per hour for the floor hours you coach.

Ongoing Pay

Generally, this looks like a percentage that can move into the 42.5% range as the coach tiers up their price point + a move to $15-$20 per hour on the floor.

Optimizing Pay

  • Sign on with a starting draw – The key for the personalized fitness coach is to get out of the gates “cleanly.” No matter how aggressive you are, if you get client percentage of revenue, that means that initially, you’ll make $0 per month prior to floor hours – for 0 clients coached of course haha. If you can setup a draw to help pay bills initially, you can still build fast, but you will be in a stronger starting position
  • Optimize your client’s willingness to pay – similar to the influencer discussion, the bigger you can build your profile, the better you can highlight other client’s results, the more credentials you have, and the better the results and retention of all clients, the more you’ll make
  • Become more efficient with your client program designs

What Will You Make As An Online Fitness Coach?

See the Personalized fitness coach section above and remove the floor hour discussion and you’re rocking and rolling.

Starting Pay

Generally, it looks like approximately 40% of client revenue.

Ongoing Pay

Generally, this looks like a percentage that can move into the 42.5% range as the coach tiers up their price point.

Optimizing Pay – additionally to the personalized fitness example

  • Become a digital influencer – easy to do?  Not at all haha. Helpful to work toward, though? Absolutely. It makes both client acquisition and increasing willingness to pay far easier.

What Will You Make Programming An Online Training Template?

In reality, this will be very small. Why?  Because there isn’t a ton of value in it unless you’re also building a big profile or interacting with the clients of the templates. Most times the owner of the training template programs this or a coach who is taking on clients 1 to 1 programs this. 

In the examples of somebody programming these templates who isn’t an owner or taking on clients elsewhere, you have to ask yourself the question what are they doing?  It may take 30-60 minutes a week to design that program – remember that the program isn’t customized so it’s general principles. With their other time, are they selling shirts or something?  Tough to say.

Starting Pay

$250-$1,000 per month to write the training template.

Ongoing Pay

$500-$2,500 per month to write the training template.

Optimizing Pay

  • Build a big profile digitally with clients outside of the template who are winning big with you as a coach and then sell people into the template to get similar results at a fraction of the price. Is it grey to advertise that way?  Yep, but people who take the template prioritize lower cost and community
  • Engage a bunch with the community – This is often why coaches who program templates are either the owner or they make additional cash by coaching people outside of the template

What Will You Make Teaching Large Group Online Classes Such As Peloton?

This may hurt your soul, but you are almost assuredly not going to score a Peloton gig as a brand new trainer. They want to get known trainer brands onto their platform. They will choose people who have already become influencers, who already have a large following, who already have “proven” their model. You need to work your way into this.

What Will You Make As A Strength And Conditioning Specialist To Athletes?

The two big areas we’ll touch are universities and professional teams.

University S&C Specialist

Starting Pay

Generally, you’ll intern first as you are going through your collegiate education. When you sign on, often it looks like approximately $30,000 per year salary

Ongoing Pay

This range often will go from $30,000 to $40-70,000 in the first 10-15 years, but if you crush it and move up the political hierarchy as well to a role such as a major college football head of S&C, it could move into the hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Professional S&C Specialist

Similarly to the Peloton example where many fitness trainers won’t be hired into a big role like leading a professional sports team’s S&C department, there are plenty of lower-level roles out there if you’re credentialed with experience in the weight room in your college experience as well as if you know the right people.

Starting Pay

Generally, this looks like approximately $40,000 per year salary, but most starting salaries may be higher but not looking at brand new trainers to fill the roles.

Ongoing Pay

Just like the university scene, the range is wide, but this seems to be in the same $50-$80,000 range as you reach the middle to top of the heap. The S&C leaders may make into the hundreds of thousands.

I hope that you noticed just how wide-ranging these estimates were. That is simply reality. It’s impossible to know exactly where you’ll be until you dig into the company, role, and structure that you’re trying to get hired into. Once you’re into your initial role, it’s all about adding real value and building your results and profile with your existing and prospective clients in order to make long-term “real” money.

Bonus Section

How Can You Make More Money As A Fitness Trainer?

To effectively think about making more money, let’s look at making more money in 3 buckets:

  • Making more money prior to getting the job 
  • Making more money once you’ve gotten the job
  • Deciding if you’re a coach or an owner

How Do You Make More Money Before You Get Hired As A Fitness Trainer?

As I’ve discussed, your dollar value is often based on how much tangible benefit you bring to the company. If you have a job that thousands of others can do, if you do a job that can be completely automated, if you don’t bring in any revenue or profit to the gym, you have to know that you will not be offered a lot of money. Like it or not, this is the way the world works. Even the companies and gyms that care about their people, the economics of those roles simply demand the pay to go down when the company is making the hire.

So, how do you change that narrative in your favor?  There are a few key ways that you can make more money as you’re being hired as a fitness trainer, but please note that this is not likely going to be the difference between $15 per hour and $100,000 per year; this is built on reality:

  • Strengthen your credentials – The more known education you have, the stronger you look as an applicant and the less risk you are to the company. Less risk is accompanied by a company’s ability to pay more all things equal. Start strengthening your education for free here.
  • Build your knowledge – I place this here as opposed to credentials because they are truly two different things. Building your credentials is about letters behind your name. Some people who have credentials are brilliant while others are duds. Knowledge, on the other hand, is your understanding of your job, their company, their/your clients, and how you’ll do your job better than others. You should always be improving this. 
  • Build your experience – Even if you are in the hiring process, coach more clients, instruct more classes, shadow more high-level trainers. The more experience you have, the more you can get paid.
  • Stand out – Now, this is not a black and white statement. Depending on who you are interviewing with, you’ll want to stand out in a way that “speaks” to their target audience in a stronger way.
  • Sharpen your resume – Number 1, if you don’t have a resume, you deserve to make a low wage. Take the time, google how, and build a quality resume. Even if you are young, if you put together a unique and quality-made resume, you will set yourself apart.
  • Always include a cover letter when you apply – The resume is more like your stats whereas your cover letter – which should be personalized to the company you’re applying to – is your emotional connection. 
  • Nail the interview – You need to practice doing interviews. A fitness trainer’s interview questions are not typically unknowns. You need to effectively communicate how you’ll take care of clients, how you’ll be mindful of schedules, how you’ll represent their brand etc. Practice with your colleagues so that you are crisp when you interview.
  • Prove value – Throughout your interview process, to include everybody you interview with, your goal is to connect to them so that they know, like, and trust you. Within that, you must prove to them how you will add tangible value, better yet higher revenue value, to their gym. If they know, like, and trust you, and if they see how you’ll add value, you’ll be at the top of the list.
  • Don’t assume that the offer on the table is a final offer – Now, I must preface that you must use your best judgment as to when there is an opening to push on this or not. Sometimes you won’t have any leverage which is ok. However, sometimes if you’re being offered $15 per hour, if you’ve nailed the interview and built great rapport, there is often an opening to ask for $17 per hour for example. If you do it respectfully, very often it will be considered, and sometimes it will be agreed to
  • Know that you can make trades in certain situations – Again, this doesn’t always work, so use your judgment, but nothing says that you can’t trade a few vacation days for higher dollars per hour or month. Think through what your highest priorities are in the deal and work to achieve those priorities. You never know, perhaps they always prioritize you working more days and are happy to pay you a bit more for that. 

Something I see often is the difference between how fitness trainers prepare for and execute on getting a new job vs “the wall street kids.” All things being equal, in my experience somebody who is trying to become an investment banker for Goldman Sachs will put in way more effort in this process as compared to a fitness trainer. We won’t go into the differences in resources that the wall street kid likely has, although they are often very real. You simply need to know that you must take this process of getting a job seriously, and in all of the roles I’ve ever worked in, those people who come in highly prepared and qualified have an infinitely better chance not only of getting the job but also making more money out of the gates.

How Do You Make More Money As A Fitness Trainer?

You’ll notice a similarity here. The more value you bring to the business, the more likely you’ll be to make more money in your role. Frankly, everything that I laid out to do prior to even getting the job applies to while you’re in your existing fitness trainer role. You need to build credentials, knowledge, experience, etc, and you really need to be prepared when you ask for more. 

Notice what I said there, you must create value and you must then be willing to properly ask for value in return. I have always preferred to add value first and ask for value on the back end, but I do understand why other people say to “go get yours” even if you haven’t added value yet. I believe that proving your value all of the way through your career makes asking for more money with each successive role easier and easier, so play the long game and earn it. Once you’ve earned it, ask for the reward.

Here are some really important factors for earning more money while you’re a fitness trainer:

  • Earn more – If you have no ability to bring in new clients or members if you can’t retain your existing members, and if you have no ability to make their brand look good publicly, you have less value, period. Bring in more clients, keep those clients longer, and make the brand look sterling and you’ll be positioned to earn more money
  • Fly the flag – If you highlight the company, if you speak highly of it publicly, if you point new partners, clients, and communities to it, you will become a spokesman of sorts and that will have to be rewarded in the medium to long-term. 
  • Earn more revenue from each client – While I mentioned retaining clients for longer periods of time above, this is more about building those clients willingness to pay you more as their fitness trainer. If you increase 100 client’s willingness to pay by $20 per month, that’s $24,000 of incremental (more) revenue for the year. No reason says you shouldn’t partake in say $5-$8k of that incremental revenue.
  • Make the business better – Don’t just give the business a million ideas. That’s not helpful. Help them with ideation and execution of those ideas and you’ll make yourself more valuable. It’s the outcomes of your work that make you valuable or not. Ideas are a dime a dozen.
  • Ask for more money when you deserve it – I will ultimately mention this point 3 times in this section. Do you think I think it’s important?  You bet I do. If you are building more and more value for the company, you are in a stronger and stronger position to deserve more money. Don’t get angry at the company for not recognizing that right away, although they should in the medium to long term if you really are helping them build. You will have to be prepared to prove the value that you have built and will continue to build and then attach a dollar value back to you so that you and the company are in a win-win situation when they pay you more.

We could get very granular, but my goal is to show you that you must add real value to the business if you want to earn more in your fitness trainer role. 

Do Gym Owners Make More Money Than Fitness Trainers? Should I Become A Gym Owner?

I have been a multi-gym owner. I have coached remotely and I have coached in gyms not as an owner. I’ve done countless personal training sessions, countless group fitness classes, countless bootcamp classes, and I’ve worked with a myriad of kids and adults. 

I know this fitness game, and one of the biggest issues that I see is when a fitness trainer assumes that they should own a gym or fitness business. Many fitness trainers come to this conclusion from the wrong places:

  • I’m not making enough money; I should open a gym to make more money
  • I don’t have enough freedom; I should open a gym to be free
  • I don’t like my boss; I should open a gym so that I don’t have to answer to anybody
  • I don’t like my gym; I should open a gym so that my brand is exactly what I want it to be

Do you see how these reasons have nothing to do with the fitness trainer having the desire or skill set to actually open, grow, and successfully run or exit this gym?

You should not try to open a gym unless you do your homework on what will be involved, how much work it will take to open it and then build it, how much money you’re realistically likely to make depending on your gym model, and how you won’t often feel “in charge” when you have other coaches and clients that you must take care of daily.

(Resource: Learn how you can open your own gym under our business principles here.)

Can you make more money as a gym owner?  Absolutely. However, a lot of your daily work will be outside of training people. You’ll be working on spreadsheets, in Quickbooks, with vendors and landlords, and you will be the one who is always on the hook – the risk “buck” stops with you. If you don’t like those aspects of it, I believe you will earn more money and carry less stress on your shoulders if you put yourself into a growable fitness trainer position that pays you strong commissions, percentages, and or incentives. 

Conclusion

I hope that you have a much better foundational understanding of why fitness trainers get paid what they do, how the payout structures often work, and how you can improve your position and odds of earning more. If you want to keep the conversation going, look me up!

Jim Crowell’s LinkedIn

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