How to Become a Personal Trainer

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Interested in a career in health and fitness and love teaching people a new skill? A personal trainer job may be the right career move for you. Learn more here.

[Featured Image]:  Personal trainer, standing in a gym and holding a medicine ball, waiting to work with a client.

Some newcomers to the gym or working out may want some help getting started. As a personal trainer, you can coach them through a routine and exercises to help them achieve their goals. If you have fitness experience and knowledge or want to learn about it and enjoy helping others reach their goals, becoming a personal trainer may be worthwhile.

What is a personal trainer?

Personal trainers evaluate their clients’ fitness goals and compare them to their current strengths and weaknesses. They then use this information to construct a workout regiment to help them reach their desired fitness level on an appropriate timeline. 

Personal trainers often work one-on-one with clients to teach them the correct exercise form and weights. Trainers will also adjust the training volume to prevent injury.

What exactly does a personal trainer do?

Personal trainers assess their clients’ physical condition relative to their goals and construct a tailored plan to help them achieve them. They also evaluate a client's progress along the way and make appropriate changes. 

A personal trainer also demonstrates and explains exercises to clients in a way they can understand. They'll offer advice on lifestyle and diet habits that may help their clients reach their goals.

What qualifications do you need to be a personal trainer?

To be hired as a personal trainer, you generally must be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or GED and certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED). The next step is to pursue a personal trainer certification. 

Many certification courses are available, and you can choose one that aligns with your strengths and interests. The fastest route is to take an accredited self-study course online and receive a certification. However, you can also attend a vocational school or college for more in-depth learning. Some gyms also offer in-person personal trainer courses.

What skills do I need to be a successful personal trainer?

Fitness is a rapidly changing and growing industry; your knowledge and education should exceed what your certification helped you learn. Personal trainers should be well-versed in the current fitness and nutrition developments and have excellent personal and leadership skills. 

Your customers need help getting through workouts or sticking to a diet plan, so you must remain patient and help them mentally reach their goals. A passion for health and fitness helps to guide your clients better.

How do I become a certified personal trainer?

Many large gyms require you to pass a certification course to become a certified personal trainer. There’s a wide range of certification exams, including the International Sports Science Association (ISSA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and ACE Personal Trainer Certification. 

Typically these exams take about three to six months to prepare for, but some can take up to 12 months.

You’ll also want to hone the skills needed to be an effective trainer, including working on your fitness and stamina levels, communication, customer service, and problem-solving skills.

Read more: Exercise Science: Definition, Degrees, and Jobs

How long does it take to become a personal trainer?

Depending on the type of personal training and the setting you wish to train in, you can become certified in as little as two days.

However, it can also take as long as 12 months. Commercial gyms can take three to six months to be certified and hired.


Do personal trainers make good money?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for fitness trainers and instructors is $40,700 as of May 2021 [1]. The lowest-earning 10 percent of trainers earned an average of less than $22,960, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $75,940.  

As a personal trainer, you can work in many areas, including in a gym, recreation center, school, government facility, civic and social organizations, or in your client's homes. It all depends on your training and interests. The median annual wage varies among some of these sectors as follows [1]: 

  • Gym or recreation center: $46,260

  • Education services: $39,310

  • Government: $38,840

  • Civic and social organizations: $34,590 

The BLS’ job outlook for personal trainers is excellent, as it projects a 19 percent growth in jobs between 2021 and 2031 [2]. The BLS projects an average of 65,500 openings in this field annually due to workers moving into different careers or leaving the workforce.

Being a personal trainer can be a demanding job requiring you to work a variable shift that can include nights, weekends, and holidays. Sometimes, you may have to travel to various gyms to meet clients or train in a client’s home. Personal trainers can also have full-time jobs in other areas and only do training in their spare time for additional income.

How hard is it to become a personal trainer?

Becoming a personal trainer is not difficult, but you’ll put in a lot of work and dedication while studying for the exams and gaining the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience. Becoming a personal trainer is viable for anyone passionate about health and fitness and willing to put in the required time and work.

Read more: A Guide to Becoming a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer

Next steps

On Coursera, you can find courses from top institutions worldwide to help you prepare for personal training certification. If you want a glimpse into exercise, nutrition, and its benefits, consider taking the Science of Exercise course from the University of Colorado Boulder. If the nutrition side of personal training interests you, the Stanford Introduction to Food and Health course can help you better understand nutrition labels and help clients make the right nutrition choices. 

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Fitness Trainers and Instructors,” Accessed January 18, 2023.

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