What Is a Fitness Trainer (and How Do I Become One)?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

If you enjoy being physically active and helping other people live their best lives, a career as a fitness trainer could be a good match. Learn more about this growing field.

[Featured image] A fitness trainer in a pink shirt instructs a client on how to properly perform an exercise with dumbbells.

Fitness trainers coach individuals or groups in exercises and other fitness-related activities. This might include cardiovascular training, strength training, or stretching and mobility exercises. If you're self-directed and enjoy working with people, a career as a fitness trainer could be a good fit.

According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fitness trainers and instructor roles in the United States are projected to grow 19 percent between 2021 and 2031, a rate much faster than average [1]. Learn about this growing field and the required skills and experience to become a fitness trainer. 

What does a fitness trainer do?

A fitness trainer leads and instructs individuals or groups on proper exercise techniques, form, and routines, monitoring progress and offering motivation and resources when needed. Fitness trainers demonstrate various movements and safe alternatives to minimize the risk of injury while helping people reach fitness and health goals. Fitness trainers may also teach group fitness classes, coordinate routines, and develop exercises. As a fitness trainer, you should be able to perform emergency first aid if needed. 

Fitness trainer salary

According to the BLS, fitness trainers in the United States made a median annual salary of $40,700 in 2021, which is equivalent to $19.57 per hour [1]. Trainers working at fitness and recreational sports centers tended to earn more than those working at government, educational, civic, or social organizations.

What skills do fitness trainers need?

The skills of fitness trainers are centered around achieving health and fitness goals and understanding the impact of exercise on the body. In some cases, fitness trainers will offer nutrition and lifestyle guidance. Fitness trainers should be able to provide their clients with support, guidance, and advice to safely perform exercises that may include cardio, strength training, stretches, or other forms of movement. 

If you're interested in pursuing a career as a fitness trainer, here are some key skills to focus on:

Knowledge of health and fitness

To be an effective fitness trainer, you’ll need to understand how exercise and nutrition work together. This will likely include knowledge of anatomy, kinesiology, biomechanics, and exercise physiology. People will seek your expertise to help them reach goals that may include weight loss, muscle gain, or improving cardiovascular health. 

Leadership

Fitness trainers often lead group exercise routines or classes. Leading a group may require an energetic presence, a positive and encouraging attitude, and empathy for others. Your goal in a group fitness setting is to create a team mentality and supportive environment where people want to work hard but also enjoy the exercise.

Relationship management

It’s important to have good communication skills and be able to tailor workout routines or programs based on individual needs. It’s crucial to maintain an encouraging attitude and listen to client feedback. 

Motivation

Creating an environment that helps people meet their goals. Fitness trainers should have the skills to inspire and motivate their clients, including creating targeted fitness programs that are engaging and fun. 

Business skills

Having essential business skills and an understanding of customer service can be very beneficial in this career. Some trainers start their own businesses after building a loyal client base while working for a gym or fitness center. Some trainers start by building an online presence and grow their business from there. Some essential business skills include:

  • Taxes for freelancers or business owners 

  • Methods for managing and accepting payments

  • Scheduling and time management 

  • Creating legally binding contracts

  • Marketing and brand building 

How to become a fitness trainer

If you're interested in a career in fitness, here are some steps you can take to get started:

Learn about the fitness industry.

As a fitness trainer, it’s important to be updated on the latest fitness trends to stay relevant in the industry and to grow as a professional.  It’s your job to stay on top trends and learn ways to meet the needs and goals of your clients. 

Consider a specialization.

Many fitness trainers have a fitness specialization. Certified personal trainers, for example, may choose a speciality when getting a certification. Specialities may include bodybuilding, youth fitness, senior fitness, weight loss, group fitness, or strength and conditioning. If you’re looking to become specialized in a specific fitness area, getting certified may be the most effective method for becoming an expert in a particular field. 

Get certified in CPR/AED.

Employers may require CPR/AED certification for their fitness trainers. Even if you're working independently, keeping your clients safe and healthy should be a top priority. 

Earn a certification.

Fitness trainers have many certification options from different professional organizations. The certification and organization you choose should closely align with your passions and professional goals. Certification may enhance your resume and some employers may require one.

Here are some certifying organizations to consider:

  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)

  • The National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)

  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

Do I need a degree to become a fitness trainer?

A high school diploma is the most common entry-level requirement for fitness trainers in the United States, according to the BLS. Earning an associate or bachelor's degree in a field like exercise science, physical education, kinesiology, or anatomy could make you a more competitive candidate [1].

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Get started 

As a fitness trainer, you have the ability to help people improve their lives through exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Explore whether fitness may be a good career path for you with a course like  Hacking Exercise for Health: The Surprising New Science of Fitness from McMaster University or Designing Your Personal Weight Loss Plan by Case Western Reserve University.

Article sources

  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Fitness Trainers and Instructors, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm.” Accessed November 15, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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