What Education Do You Need to Be a Personal Trainer?

So you want to be a personal trainer? 

Like any career, the first step to turning your passion into a profession is to get some formal education under your belt.

There are a multitude of education options for aspiring fitness trainers. Personal trainer courses can take you anywhere from two days to two years to complete. We help you answer the question, “which is the best personal trainer certificate?” in this write-up, but that’s not what this blog is about.

Before you read on, have a think about why coaching education is important to you and your fitness career. 

Is it to appear or be smarter, to land a job, to know how to train people safely and effectively, or to protect you legally? As a fitness education company, we obviously place a high value of education, but the truth is it may or may not be necessary for the outcome you’re looking for…

The reality of personal trainer education

Fitness education in the United States is largely unregulated, with no specific education requirements for personal trainers or group fitness instructors. A personal training certification is not a legal requirement. It is simply a certificate to show you have passed the requirements that a private, for-profit, education body deems necessary to call yourself a personal trainer.

The reality is that you could start training people for money with no studying and no personal trainer certificate at all.

It’s a scary thought, but that gym bro next to you doing round-back deadlifts could label himself a “fitness professional” and start training people with his “Six Weeks to Swole” template. 

So if there’s no education requirements to be a personal trainer, then why study at all? 

Because, “what education do you need to be a personal trainer?” doesn’t just come down to a piece of paper that you’ll frame and hang on your wall. It’s about determining what education you need to have a successful and fulfilling career in fitness. 

What is a successful career in fitness?

First, let’s consider what is not a successful career in fitness. Sadly, this is what plays out for the majority of hopeful personal trainers. They spend one – two years working long hours of early mornings and late nights, lack the time and skills to plan out workouts, are limited by the two times per week they see their clients, struggle to get results and ultimately can’t build trust and retention. It’s this pattern that leads to 80% of personal trainers burning out and quitting the industry within two years.

A successful career as a personal trainer or coach is one that stops you from joining this statistic. You need to make a liveable wage, have work/life balance, have a loyal client base, get them great results and be able to do all this consistently for a lifetime. Your fitness education needs to set you up for this career trajectory. 

What does your education need to include to be a successful personal trainer?

1) Fitness business principles

To attract and retain clients you need to be educated in fitness business principles. Whether it’s included in your certificate or you seek out additional business mentoring, this is what sets apart the fitness professionals from the fitness enthusiasts. You need to understand advertising, marketing, sales, metrics and management concepts to be able to create a personal brand or be able to operate successfully within a larger gym. Learn how we teach business skills for free here.

2) Assessment and program design skills

Assessments are how personal trainers and fitness coaches can establish credibility by showcasing their knowledge, design effective programs and measure progress. Without proper assessments how can you expect to know what kind of training, what movement patterns and exercises and what nutrition approach will be best for your client? Learn assessment skills and some basic programming principles and you’ll take the guesswork out of your program design and your client’s results. 

3) Life coaching and coach-client relationship skills

An integral part of personal training is the relationships you form with your clients. At the end of the day, it’s this bond that keeps your clients coming back session after session. Making sure your clients have fun and enjoy your company isn’t enough. You also need to understand how to influence them to help them make behavioral changes. Your number one job as a personal trainer is to connect your client’s training with what they value. For example, if they live for their kids, show them how fitness will help them be a better father or mother. It’s consultation skills that will get your clients bought into healthy habits for a lifetime, so make sure your personal trainer education includes life coaching topics. 

4) Nutrition and lifestyle coaching

You don’t need to understand nutrition to be a personal trainer, but training clients without educating them on food, sleep, hydration, and other lifestyle factors will seriously limit the effectiveness of your services. Your positive impact on their life can extend so far beyond the time you spend with them in the gym and a comprehensive approach will differentiate you from every other trainer only teaching squats and push-ups. Learning how to program and progress nutrition and lifestyle is an essential part of creating sustainable health and is a huge value add for your clients. 

5) A consistent method to deliver your personal training skills

Along with a sound grasp on business, assessment, program design, relationships, nutrition, and lifestyle, you need a system to deliver them. So many personal trainers fly by the seat of their pants because they never received an education on how to put it all together! A great system will teach you to train people with a balance of competency, consistency, and care. Together, these three things create trust, which equals more clients, better retention and a higher lifetime value per client. Learn how to build trust with your client here.

Why a comprehensive personal training education matters

As we made clear in the beginning of this blog, you truly don’t need any education to be a personal trainer. But to be a successful personal trainer and stand out in the market is a different story. 

Decide what kind of a personal trainer you want to be and that will help you determine what education you’re going to need. 

What kinds of services do you want to offer?

Do you want to start your own business or work for a big gym? (Even within a gym you’re going to need to understand sales and retention!)

What will bring you job fulfillment? 

Who are the clients you want to go after and what are their goals? 

Do you want to offer personalized workouts that meet your clients where they’re at and progress them towards their goals? 

Do you value nutrition and lifestyle habits and think they’re important for results?

Answer these questions and you’ll have an answer for what education you need to be a great personal trainer. 

Continuing Education for Personal Trainers

Finally, remember that education is for a lifetime and it doesn’t stop with one certification or weekend course. Being a successful personal trainer is in the day to day practice. It is a commitment to constantly honing your skills and refining your method to find your definition of success. It’s time spent perfecting your workout progressions, watching movement and developing your ability to connect. 

Continuing education could include specialty courses and certifications, workshops, reading, podcasts, mentorships, internships and regular conversations with other fitness professionals. Importantly, it’s not just about collecting more knowledge, but also about implementing it. More education isn’t necessarily better if it doesn’t help you build consistency, competency and caring, that is, trust, with your clients. 

Education matters, but only so far in that it helps you create a career you love, offering an incredible service and results that your clients value! Looking for that education? Get an introduction to our coaching education with our Free 7-Day Coaching Course by signing up now.

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