How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer: 8 Steps to Take

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Certified personal trainers work closely with individuals to help them meet their fitness and health goals. Discover the requirements, how to become one, the salary, possible career paths, and more.

[Featured Image] A personal trainer guides a client through a weightlifting workout.

To become a certified personal trainer, you must be at least 18 years of age, have completed secondary school, get CPR certification, and earn certification from an accredited organisation. A degree is not required, but you may eventually want to get one to advance your career or gain more knowledge about the human body. 

Certified personal trainers are essential in helping people achieve their health and fitness goals through safe, efficient workout programmes. 

What is a certified personal trainer?

A certified personal trainer is a personal trainer who has acquired certification from an accredited fitness institution such as the IGMPI Centre for Nutrition and Dietetics Studies. Another option is the National Academy of Sports Medicine, which offers its International Certified Personal Trainer programme through several providers in India, including K11 School of Fitness Sciences' Mumbai Campus and ACFIT Academy for Fitness Professional Private Limited in Chennai.

Certified personal trainers have the knowledge and skills to help clients reach their fitness, nutritional, and overall health care goals. Although every employer may not require personal trainers to be certified, many will. Even if not required by your employer, becoming a certified personal trainer may increase your visibility and improve your chances of gaining and acquiring new clients.

How to become a certified personal trainer

Certified personal trainers are fitness professionals with the training, experience, and knowledge to help clients meet their physical fitness goals. Here are the steps you can expect to take to become a personal trainer who knows how to help others meet their fitness goals and the certification to back it up. 

1. Choose a certification programme. 

Once you’ve decided to pursue a career as a certified personal trainer, you’ll need to choose a recognised organisation that offers fitness training courses. Some options include:  

  • K11 School of Fitness Sciences: Diploma in Personal Training or NASM CPT (Certified Personal Trainer)

  • Integrated Fitness and Sports Institute: Diploma in Personal Training

  • IGMPI Centre for Nutrition and Dietetics Studies: Certified Personal Training 

  • Fit India Trust: Certified Personal Trainer

  • Gayo Fitness Academy: Certificate Course in Personal Training

  • Acfit Academy: NASM CPT (Certified Personal Trainer)

These programmes typically take about three to six months, and you'll find options that suit most learning styles, ranging from online or in-person courses to self-paced study. 

While taking unaccredited courses is an option, this is typically a better choice for a personal trainer with an established career who wants to build upon their knowledge.   

Example of a certification course 

While every course will be unique, the K11 School of Fitness Sciences offers one popular option in India—the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), the most widely recognised certification in the United States and 45 partner countries, including India. 

The programme consists of 30 three-hour classes, during which you'll learn about topics like: 

  • Basic exercise science

  • Nutrition 

  • Cardiorespiratory system

  • Fitness assessments

  • Core training

  • Flexibility training

  • Resistance training

  • Lifestyle modifications  

Throughout the programme, you'll also watch videos, read the NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training eBook, have access to practice tests, take several quizzes, and take the NCCA Accredited Final Certification Exam upon completion.  

2. Meet the certification prerequisites.

While certified personal trainer requirements do not require a degree, you must meet some prerequisites before taking the final exam to earn your certification. Check with the organisation offering the programme to find out about any other requirements. For example, some may require you to take specific courses or even have a diploma or lower certification. 

Secondary School

Applicants must have completed secondary school to be eligible for personal trainer certification programmes. Many require you to be 18 years old as well.

First aid course 

In addition to earning a certification, you'll need to complete a first aid course before starting your career. Many organisations that offer personal training certificates may also provide first aid and CPR certification. You can also seek first aid and CPR certification through organisations like the Register for Exercise Professionals India Foundation (REPS), the Indian Red Cross Society, Life Saving India, and the Global Institute of Health Science. 

3. Prepare for and take the certification exam.

Certification programmes will likely offer training and courses to help you prepare for the final exam. Some offer several personal trainer study programme packages along with certification exams. If you need help preparing for the exam, ask the accrediting organisation for free or paid resources or search online for virtual study groups. You may also access free practice tests online that help give you an idea of the structure and content of the actual exam.  

4. Define your specialty and gain experience.

Personal training is a rapidly growing field. Choosing a specialisation within personal training typically helps you stand out among other trainers. Consider your passions, skill sets, and professional goals when selecting a specialisation. Examples of specialisations include but are not limited to: 

  • Strength training

  • Weight loss

  • Corrective exercise

  • Youth fitness

  • Senior fitness

  • Group exercise

  • Bodybuilding

  • Cancer exercise

  • Sports performance

  • Pain management

5. Apply for jobs. 

When you’re ready to apply for jobs, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where do you want to work?

  • How do you want to provide your services? 

  • Do you want to work for an established gym as an employee? 

  • Do you want to work as a freelancer? 

These decisions will affect how you seek employment.  

Certified personal trainers can look for jobs online through job sites like Indeed or at local gyms or health facilities. Local job boards online, such as local neighbourhood Facebook groups, can be helpful. Word of mouth can also play a big part in the job search for personal trainers, so consider how you might use social media and online job boards to find work. 

Fill out applications.

If you want to work for a gym, a helpful way to find job listings is to search for “certified personal trainer” on platforms like Glassdoor, Indeed, and Google Careers. Adding “entry-level” to your search can help you find jobs that do not require previous experience. Be ready to upload a copy of your CV and provide personal and professional references.

Don’t let lack of experience keep you from applying for jobs. If your CV reflects your qualifications and skills, many employers are willing to hire entry-level certified personal trainers and offer on-the-job training. Sometimes, you only need your certification and a great interview to get the job. If you find that lack of experience affects your job hunt, offer free or discounted training to friends and family to build experience for your CV. 

6. Build your CV.

Gaining experience is essential throughout your journey to becoming established in your field. Whatever path you pursue, the first step is building your CV as a certified personal trainer that fully reflects your education, skills, and assets. Here's what to include in your CV:

  • Relevant secondary school or college coursework 

  • Internships you have completed 

  • Years of professional experience 

  • National certification information (include all other certifications like CPR and first aid)

  • Achievements or accolades 

  • Essential skills you have as a trainer 

  • Specialities or areas of expertise (i.e., nutritional goals for weight loss) or if you work with a specific population or demographic 

If you need help with your CV, consider enrolling in a CV writing Course on Coursera. 

7. Network and create an online presence.

Networking can be important in landing a job and growing a personal training business. It is a cost-effective way to market yourself. A few ways to do this include:

  • Regularly working out at the same gym

  • Offering free or reduced rates for new clients

  • Starting a boot camp

  • Volunteering to lead exercise classes at your local recreation centre 

You could also consider becoming a sub for fitness classes to help start your career. Try a mix of both in-person and online networking opportunities. Social media can offer many opportunities to circulate your qualifications and offerings as a newly certified personal trainer. Social media groups are great for advertising your services and getting a community with similar interests. 

Create an online presence. 

An online presence is vital in marketing yourself as a certified personal trainer, particularly if you plan to start your own business rather than work for a gym or other employer. From social media channels to a website, have an online landing space for people who want to learn more about your services and who you are as a personal trainer.  

Think about ways to provide meaningful content for your followers or viewers, like videos on proper weight-lifting forms, short yoga videos, or workout routines. This free content will educate potential clients, attract followers, and build your online presence and reputation into something that could generate income and clients.

8. Continue your education and maintain certification.

Your education as a certified personal trainer should continue after passing the certification exam. The health industry is constantly growing, with new research and innovation affecting the fitness industry. An easy way to keep up with ongoing discoveries and health trends is to complete continuing education courses (CECs). You can offer your clients up-to-date, on-trend methodology and techniques with CECs. As a certified personal trainer, you can also specialise in particular areas that could help you to market yourself and your services better. 

Certification programmes often require trainers to complete an average of 20 hours of CECs every two years to maintain certification. You can meet these requirements by attending conferences that offer CECs for your certifying organisation, enrolling in college courses such as biology or anatomy, or enrolling in CECs online. You can find Courses on subjects like nutrition and exercise on Coursera.

What skills do you need to become a personal trainer?

To become a personal trainer, you will need to be motivated and knowledgeable in fitness science and the human body. Typically, your goal is to keep your clients safe and help them reach their goals, which requires technical and personal skills. 

Technical skills

An effective personal trainer should possess the knowledge and experience in the following technical skills:

  • Designing exercise programmes

  • Operating and maintaining exercise equipment

  • Physiology and exercise physiology

  • Effective exercise methods

  • Record keeping

  • Basic nutrition

You will likely learn these skills as part of your certification training. 

Personal skills 

As a personal trainer, communication skills and emotional intelligence are huge assets. You need to identify and manage your clients’ emotions and your own to navigate between motivation and persistence. Your goal as a personal trainer is to help your clients achieve their best results, which is different for everyone. Having an understanding of what motivates a person is key. 

Additionally, personal trainers should also be motivated and motivating. It would be best to have excellent customer service, organisation, and creativity to juggle planning routines and handling multiple clients.  

Salary and job outlook 

With the health and wellness industry booming, the job outlook for certified personal trainers is rising. Many people once viewed personal training as something only for people of a particular class or fitness level, but these days, more and more people are using personal trainers to get fit.  According to Glassdoor, the annual average salary for a certified personal trainer in India is ₹1,86,271 [1].

As with any career, education, experience, and certifications can influence a trainer’s salary.

Career paths for a certified personal trainer

Once you’ve met your prerequisites and passed your professional trainer certification exam, you can take your career in many different directions. This flexibility is one of the characteristics of this career that makes it so attractive to many people. 

Whether working with clients in person at a gym or remotely through apps, many trainers can work as little or as much as they desire. Personal training can be a full-time career, but if you prefer to train a few hours a week as a part-time job, that is an attainable option. 

Employment at a gym provides a way to increase your client base, but you may need to be more flexible. Freelancing or self-employment may require you to grow your client base but allows you to create your schedule and workload.

Group fitness instructor 

Group fitness instructors simultaneously apply their passion for exercise and personal training knowledge to lead several people. These classes can involve various activities such as yoga, dance, aerobics, and strength training. Group training may require the ability to motivate, multitask, manage time, and apply the science behind exercise to multiple people. 

Gym manager 

Generally, gym managers oversee the day-to-day functions of their facility. Gym management requires certified personal trainers to have leadership skills, excellent communication skills, experience in personal training, and extensive knowledge of various exercise equipment, as well as equipment maintenance. Their duties include managing class schedules, selling memberships, maintaining exercise equipment, educating and training staff members, and sometimes one-on-one personal training.

One-on-one trainer 

Certified personal trainers have the option to coach clients one-on-one. You can do this either as a gym employee or freelance trainer. Certified personal trainers who work independently are responsible for assessing their clients' fitness levels and working with them to create an exercise programme that will work effectively with their personalities and body types. Personal trainers also teach proper techniques to help clients avoid injury and achieve their goals. You may work out of your home gym if you have one or travel to a client’s home, and some gyms will allow you to use their facility for a cut of your income. 

Next steps 

If you love working with people and are passionate about exercise, personal training could be a rewarding career for you. Take your first step by researching certification programmes to find the one best suited for you. Build your CV by taking courses to increase your knowledge base, such as Science of Exercise or NASM's Nutrition Coaching Essentials. Once you've prepared and earned your certification, you’re well on your way to achieving your career goals in personal fitness.

Article sources

  1. Glassdoor. "Personal Trainer Salaries in India,,5_IN115_KO6,22.htm?clickSource=searchBtn." Accessed March 13, 2024.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

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.