When I switched careers, there was a lot that I didn't know about working in the fitness industry. I jumped—without regrets—but I jumped nonetheless and figured it out as I went. I don't know everything there is to know, but I've learned a lot. And now that I'm working as a fitness director responsible for hiring and firing fitness professionals, I get a lot of questions about joining the industry.
So today, I thought I'd list up all the advice I tend to share whenever people ask.
A lot of people come to this industry with a health or fitness degree—great start, but it's still wise to seek a fitness certification from a nationally recognized organization. This is even more important if you don't have that degree. There are a lot to choose from. How to pick? First, decide if you want to be a personal trainer or group fitness instructor. If you have no interest in working one-on-one, then a group fitness certification would be fine. But if you want to do both, then go the personal training route. In my opinion, it's easier to teach classes with a personal training certification, but much harder to train clients with a group fitness certification.
But seriously, which one? Two ways to answer that question: 1) Pick the one that speaks to you, or 2) Ask the gym you want to work at. They might have specific requirements.
I like ACE, obviously.
Most gyms want you to have this when you apply, so be prepared to hand over a copy of your card. American Red Cross is a great place to start for information. Once you're hired, the facility might cover the cost of recertification during the extent of your employment.
3) If you intend to work independently, you'll need some type of malpractice insurance.
Most clubs will cover you under their policy, but if you choose to work on your own, even if you want this in addition to the work you're doing at your place of employment, you'll need insurance. Your certification should be able to direct you to a good source if they don't give you the option of purchasing it through them.
4) You'll need to be comfortable working within someone else's personal space.
As an instructor, especially as a trainer, there is a lot of hand- on work. If you're not OK with touching semi-strangers to, for example, assist in a stretch and/or spot with a lift, then this industry might not be for you. In addition, you'll need to be comfortable discussing someone else's personal health and well-being. Because trust me, you'll hear it all. And you need to in order to facilitate safe and correct exercise programs in a group or individual setting.
5) You will spend your first year questioning everything you do.
There's a serious learning curve when it comes to being the newbie. It takes awhile to adjust to the pressure of leading a class. If your numbers aren't there, you'll feel like you're failing when you aren't. People will just need time to figure out who you are and how you teach. And then they'll show up. Maybe even religiously. And on the personal trainer side of things, you might doubt everything you put together for your clients. But you'll have to trust in yourself, your knowledge and your abilities. Confidence will come from that, and you'll soon find yourself with trusting clients lining up to work with you.
6) Be prepared to spend money.
In order to maintain your certifications you'll need to complete a set amount of continuing education requirements within the window determined by your certification. It's not cheap, but YOU get to decide what route to take, which is essentially school finally being fun. If you have more than one certification, each will require continuing education credits, but overlap is often allowed so you'll save money there. In addition, some clubs will help you pay for it.
7) The income is there, but it will be yours for the taking.
Income within the fitness industry varies. Is it possible to make a living as a personal trainer and/or group fitness instructor? Sure, but you'll have to work at it and be in the right market. Success might not come overnight, especially if you're starting off as a personal trainer. You'll need to build up a client base from nothing. This is harder if you go it alone in your own studio. Most gyms will run specials on sessions with a newly hired trainer, and some have lists of people who need trainers, so you can often walk into a position with clients ready and willing. If not, be patient. Be yourself. Work hard and you'll make it happen.
8) You'll need to clear a drawer for fitness clothing.
9) If you teach group fitness classes, personal workouts can be hard to manage.
There are two kinds of group fitness instructors: Those that do class with their students and those that don't. Technically speaking, it's not your workout, but it can be much easier for people to follow along if they have someone to watch. Which, obviously, means that you end up working out, too.You'll need to balance correctly and/or give up some of your personal workouts or you'll risk overdoing it.
10) You will have fun.
It's pretty hard to NOT have fun in this industry. Working at a gym is nothing like working in an office. I mean, politics and drama still exist. But it's just...different. More laid back, I guess. And the industry itself is quite fun, too. Think fitness conventions and trade shows, group fitness seminars where you can learn from your peers. It's always growing and changing, this industry. Which means, essentially, that there's never a dull moment.
Question: If you're a fitness professional, what's the one piece of advice you'd give to someone interested in working within the industry?