How to Become a Fitness Instructor | 10 Tips

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Fitness instructors lead and motivate individuals or groups through exercise activities.

[Featured image] A fitness instructor wearing purple workout clothes sits outside on a blue yoga mat in a meditation pose.

Working in this role gives you the opportunity to help people of all abilities and fitness levels believe in themselves, build confidence, and achieve greater wellbeing. 

The need for fitness instructors is expected to increase at a rate much faster than other jobs, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [1]. Yoga and pilates, in particular, continue to grow in popularity as older adults look for low-impact ways to stay active.

Becoming a fitness instructor: 10 tips

Just like our bodies, fitness programs come in all shapes and sizes. That means you’ll find multiple paths toward starting or advancing your career. If you want to make a difference in people’s lives through physical fitness, here are some tips to get you started.

1. Do your research.

The first step toward a career as a fitness instructor is deciding what type of instructor you’d like to be. Would you like to be a group fitness instructor leading small group exercise classes, a personal trainer, or a hybrid instructor? Do you see yourself working at a health club, recreation center, small studio, or from home as a virtual fitness instructor? Having a clear idea of what you want your career to look like can help you develop a clear roadmap of how to get there. 

2. Consider a degree.

Fitness instructors typically have at least a high school diploma, but some employers will also look for candidates with an associate or bachelor’s degree in exercise science, physical education, or kinesiology. Coursework on biology, anatomy, nutrition, and exercise techniques can help you develop the skills and knowledge you’ll use while assisting clients. 

3. Develop your people skills.

No matter what setting you choose to work in, you’ll be working with people every day as a fitness instructor. Developing these skills can empower you to be more effective at helping others:

  • Motivational skills: Achieving fitness goals can be hard work. You can inspire your clients to stick with it by learning motivational techniques.

  • Communication: A huge part of your role will be demonstrating exercises, explaining their benefits, or correcting issues. 

  • Active listening: This will help you better understand your clients’ abilities, limitations, and fitness goals.

  • Customer service: Treating your clients with respect, kindness, and care can help you win them as loyal customers.

  • Problem-solving: No two clients are alike, and problem-solving skills will help you determine the appropriate fitness solutions for each person’s individual needs. 

4. Get your CPR and AED certification.

Many professional certifications in the fitness industry require that you have up-to-date cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) certifications. With these skills, you’ll be ready to give first aid assistance in the event of an emergency.

5. Choose a specialization.

Look at the class schedule at a fitness center, and you’ll likely see all sorts of specialized classes—yoga, spin, pilates, HIIT, dance, kettlebell, and weight lifting, among others. Choosing to specialize may help you narrow down the types of facilities you may want to work at or give you focus when finding clients for personal training. 

Let’s take a quick look at some options:

  • Strength training focuses on exercises designed to build muscles. It’s also known as resistance or weight training. 

  • Cardio fitness instructors might lead cycling, running, step aerobics, or dance classes.

  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a method of interval training that alternates between short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of recovery.

  • Functional fitness, which includes CrossFit, focuses on exercise that helps with activities you might perform in day-to-day life.

  • Yoga combines physical poses with breathing techniques and meditation principles.

  • Pilates aims to strengthen muscles while improving flexibility, and postural alignment. 

  • Senior fitness instructors design exercise programming around the needs of older adults. 

  • Corrective exercise instructors help clients address imbalances or disorders through targeted programs.

  • Sports performance trainers help competitive athletes achieve peak performance and avoid injury.

6. Get certified. 

Earning a certification helps validate your skills and abilities to both potential employers and potential clients. Most fitness professionals start off with a general certification. Gyms typically require certification for group fitness instructors, and personal trainers need to be certified before working with clients one on one in most cases.

Several organizations offer general fitness instructor certifications. Industry-recognized certifying agencies include the American Council on Exercise (ACE), Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

You can often get certified in specialized fitness methodologies as well. You’ll find certification options for yoga, pilates, indoor cycling, and Olympic weightlifting, among others. 

7. Start part-time.

It’s common for fitness instructors to work flexible hours, including nights and weekends. This means you can get started with a part-time position pursuing your education or continuing a separate career. If you’re just starting out in fitness, working part-time is often a good way to get established, gain experience, and begin building a client list before moving into full-time work. Get social. 

8. Get social.

If you’re freelancing as a fitness instructor or personal trainer, make sure you have a presence on social media. Posting on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter helps you get the word out about your services and showcase your expertise. 

9. Consider liability insurance.

There were 377,939 injuries related to exercise and exercise equipment in 2020 in the US, according to the National Safety Council [2]. Before you begin teaching fitness classes or working with individual clients, be sure to research whether you’ll need liability insurance. If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to seek the advice of a legal expert.

10. Keep learning.

As we continue to learn more about the human body, the fitness industry will continue to evolve. Commit to becoming a lifelong learner, and you’ll be able to instruct based on the latest in exercise science. Many certifications require continuing education credits (CECs) to stay current. Use this as a perfect opportunity to learn a new skill or brush up on a technique.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Related articles:

Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Fitness Trainers and Instructors," Accessed January 20, 2022.

2. National Safety Council. "Sports and Recreational Injuries," Accessed January 20, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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