At a time when the prevalence of obesity and chronic health conditions is ballooning, fitness trainers provide a vital service. They help people maintain a healthy lifestyle by doing the following:
- Providing information and resources about weight loss, nutrition and similar topics.
- Leading exercise classes and demonstrating fitness routines.
- Adjusting routines based on a client's health needs and physical ability.
- Monitoring clients to ensure they are doing exercises correctly and safely.
- Tracking client progress toward health goals.
What are fitness trainer specializations?
Most fitness trainers share the same core duties of leading exercise routines and promoting good health. However, they may specialize when it comes to the types of clients they serve or where they work. A fitness trainer school can prepare you to work as one of the following.
- Personal fitness trainers may work with clients one-on-one or lead small groups. Some may be employed by gyms and fitness centers while others meet clients in their homes.
- Group fitness trainers are often hired to lead larger exercise classes in aerobics, cycling, strengthening or other fitness activities. Group fitness trainers may create their own exercise routines.
- Specialized fitness instructors may lead classes in a certain style of exercise such as Pilates or CrossFit.
- Fitness directors have duties beyond leading exercise classes. They are also responsible for administrative tasks such as meeting with prospective clients, ordering fitness equipment and developing workout incentive programs.
How to Become a Fitness Trainer
In general, becoming a fitness trainer involves the following steps:
- Earn a high school diploma.
- Complete a fitness trainer degree program, whether a certificate program or an associate or even bachelor's degree.
- Stay educated. Keep up-to-date with the latest in the industry to stay valuable to employers and improve chances of career growth.
As noted, you'll need at least a high school diploma to become a fitness trainer, but many employers prefer to hire those with postsecondary education. Trainers need to know more than simply how to exercise. They also need to have a good grasp of the following subjects which can be taught in a fitness school:
- Exercise techniques
You'll find additional detail about what's involved in becoming a fitness trainer, below.
Fitness trainer degree programs
There are no standard fitness trainer education requirements. However, many employers are looking for certified workers, and specialized programs exist to prepare people for certification exams. For some jobs, such as those of personal fitness trainers, a degree may be required as well. Here's a look at your options.
- Certification Preparation Program: Earning a voluntary certification from an organization such as the National College on Strength and Fitness or the American College of Sports Medicine can open the door to many jobs. These organizations offer short-term programs designed to help students prepare for their certification examination.
- Certificate/Diploma: You can also earn a certificate from fitness schools, colleges and universities. These programs provide an introduction to body sciences, client services and nutrition. Certificates and diplomas can often be earned in one year or less and may cover the material needed to pass certification exams.
- Associate Degree: When it comes to how to become a personal trainer, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes more employers nowadays are looking for job candidates with degrees. A two-year associate degree in applied exercise, fitness or a related field may go into greater depth than a certificate or diploma. Students may learn about gym operations, business basics and weight management.
- Bachelor's Degree: A four-year degree isn't required to work as a fitness trainer, but it can be helpful for those who want to learn advanced training techniques and how to work with specialty populations such as those with disabilities. It can also be used to pursue a career as a trainer for sports team.
Fitness trainer schools
You might assume you'll have to attend classes in person, but online fitness schools are available. Their programs rely on interactive lessons in which instructors and students can see and communicate with each other in real-time. Some classes may also make use of discussion boards and multimedia presentations that can be reviewed by students at any time that is convenient for them.
Certification for fitness trainers
Being certified is a key requirement for many fitness trainer jobs. The following professional organizations are among those that offer a certified personal trainer designation.
- American College of Sports Medicine
- American Council on Exercise
- National Council on Strength and Fitness
- National Strength and Conditioning Association
Each group creates its own eligibility standards, but typically, applicants must be at least 18, have a high school diploma and a current CPR/AED certification. Applicants must pass a written exam and, in some cases, complete a practical assessment to demonstrate their skills. Once certified, organizations may require continuing education credits to maintain the credential.
In addition to the personal trainer designation, organizations also offer certifications for group instruction, health coaching, medical exercise and other specialties.
Fitness trainer career advancement
Experience and education are two keys ways to advance a fitness career. Keeping up with trends in the fitness industry helps. Employers may promote trainers with experience to work as a facility's head trainer or in another supervisory role. Meanwhile, earning a bachelor's degree may allow personal trainers to move into higher paying jobs as athletic trainers or into positions in sports fitness.
Top Fitness Trainer Programs in the U.S.
Many schools offer fitness trainer programs, but some colleges stand above the rest. We scoured data from the U.S. Department of Education and National Center for Education Statistics to find institutions with a track record of student success, affordability and flexible learning options. Based on our methodology, the following are some of the top schools for fitness trainer degrees.
Mt. San Antonio College offers its students the full college experience. It has more than 260 degree and certificate programs, dozens of support services and more than 50 student clubs and organizations. The college has a range of flexible learning options, an affordable tuition rate and a diverse student body. More than half of those enrolled study on a part-time basis, and three-quarters of students receive financial aid.
Fitness trainer programs at Mt. SAC: Students can earn a fitness specialist/personal trainer certificate at Mt. SAC. The programs requires 16 credits and prepares graduates for professional certification from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine among other groups. Other fitness-related programs at the college include certificates for coaching, athletic trainer aides and Pilates professional teacher training.
Serving Mississippi students since 1922, Holmes Community College offers dozens of academic and career/technical programs. The school has a dual enrollment/dual credit option for high school students who want to get a jumpstart on their college education. It also offers eLearning for those who would rather learn online than in a classroom. Holmes Community College has an affordable tuition rate and a variety of student support services such as tutoring and counseling.
Fitness trainer programs at Holmes: Within its health, physical education and recreation program, Holmes offers an athletics training degree. The two-year program covers anatomy, nutrition and first aid among other topics. Other degrees that may be of interest cover exercise and kinesiology, recreation, secondary education-physical education/kinesiology and sports management.
As one of the largest community colleges in Michigan, Lansing Community College enrolls more than 23,000 students in its 200+ associate degree and certificate programs. The school has one of the lowest tuition rates in the state, and financial aid is available to those who qualify. It also has a dual enrollment option for high school students.
Fitness trainer programs at LCC: The Kinesiology and Person Fitness Leadership program at LCC offers two certificates and two associate degrees. For a short-term program, you can select from a group fitness instructor certificate and a personal trainer certificate. Two-year associate degrees are available in kinesiology/exercise science and professional fitness leader. All programs can be completed online, in person or through a hybrid format.
More than 22,000 students take classes at Central New Mexico Community College, making it the largest community college in the state. The school offers more than 200 degrees, certificates and training options. All come at an affordable price, and students can choose to learn on-campus or online.
Fitness trainer programs at CNM: Fitness programs at CNM are housed within the School of Health, Wellness and Public Safety. Students can choose from a certificate of completion in either fitness or yoga instructor. Each can be completed in three terms, and many of the courses within these certificate programs overlap. CNM also has an associate degree in exercise science and wellness for those who are seeking a higher level of education or who plan to transfer to a four-year school.
There are numerous reasons to consider Sinclair Community College. The school says its tuition is nearly a third less than the average charged by other Ohio community colleges. It offers small classes with a 19:1 student-faculty ratio, and many students participate in hands-on learning through co-ops, clinical experiences and internships. While Sinclair Community College has five campus locations, it is also one of the largest online education providers in the state.
Fitness trainer programs at Sinclair: Future fitness trainers have two education options at Sinclair. The college has a short-term exercise specialist technical certificate and an associate degree in exercise science which is a continuation of the subject matter covered in the certificate program. Both should prepare students to take national certification exams.
Founded in 1916, Riverside City College delivers academic and career training to more than 19,000 students each semester. Those enrolled get access to a full college experience at a fraction of the cost charged by state universities. Riverside City College has athletic teams, student clubs, an honors program, study abroad options and more. For distance learners, online courses are available.
Fitness trainer programs at RCC: The Kinesiology Department at RCC offers an associate degree in exercise, sport and wellness. It can be earned with an emphasis on athletic training, coaching or fitness professions, and those interested in fitness can take courses in yoga, personal training and group fitness instruction. Students learn from instructors with industry experience.
A part of the State Center Community College District, Reedley College enrolls approximately 15,000 students each year. While it operates on a traditional fall and spring semester schedule with 18-week classes, summer courses are available on an accelerated format and may be as short as four weeks. Reedley College has a number of student support resources, including the Hoonuit Online Learning Framework which contains more than 50,000 tutorials.
Fitness trainer programs at Reedley College: The associate degree in physical education at Reedley College offers students the chance to study swimming for fitness, weight training, aerobics and more. Core classes in the program cover anatomy, nutrition and athletic training among other topics. High school students may be able to take classes early through a dual enrollment program.
Thanks to the San Diego Promise program, California residents who are first-time, full-time college students could attend San Diego Miramar College for free. That's only one reason to select this school though. You're also in store to receive a quality education with flexible learning options. San Diego Miramar College has more than 150 degrees and certificates spanning both academic and technical fields.
Fitness trainer programs at Miramar: The fitness programs at Miramar are housed within the School of Mathematics, Biological Exercise Physical Science. Options include a certificate in personal training, a yoga instructor program and an associate degree in exercise science and nutrition. Graduates of the yoga instructor program should meet the requirements to become a 200-hour registered yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance.
Columbus State Community College was one of two community colleges to receive the 2019 Leah Meyer Austin Award from the Achieving the Dream network of schools. The honor reflects the college's commitment to helping students from diverse backgrounds find academic success. To do that, it takes a student-centered approach to learning and offers an affordable tuition rate.
Fitness trainer programs at Columbus State: Columbus State has a number of fitness-related programs in its Health Sciences Pathway. These include degrees in exercise science, physical education, recreation and sports management. There is also an exercise specialist certificate and a youth coaching certificate. The exercise specialist programs prepares students to apply for Certified Personal Trainer designations from the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Amarillo College is focused on student success. It seeks to create a culture of caring and a no excuses philosophy. This approach to education supports students in a positive way so they can complete their program and achieve success in the workforce. Amarillo College separates its programs into nine communities including business, public service and STEM.
Fitness trainer programs at AC: Sports exercise science is a part of the liberal arts community at AC. The program is intended to provide the first two years of education toward a bachelor's degree in the field and isn't designed to take students directly into the workforce after graduation. Those selecting this program can choose from coaching/officiating, group exercise leader and personal training options.
Skills and Qualities for Fitness Trainers
A large part of how to become a fitness trainer involves developing physical skills. Trainers have to not only be able to do exercises themselves but also demonstrate them in such a way as to make the movements clear to clients and fitness class members. To do that, you'll need the following skills and abilities:
- Multi-limb coordination: Many exercises, particularly aerobic exercises, require arms and legs to move at that same time in a coordinated fashion.
- Extent flexibility: This refers to a trainer's ability to stretch, bend, twist and reach.
- Stamina: Fitness trainers may spend hours on their feet leading classes and working with clients. Good stamina is essential for getting through the work day.
- Instructing: It isn't enough for personal trainers to do exercises themselves. They must also be able to clearly demonstrate and teach them to others.
- Social perceptiveness: People may feel self-conscious about starting an exercise routine or have conflicting priorities in their life. Fitness trainers need to be able to recognize and understand these and other obstacles clients may face.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Fitness Trainers
Fitness trainer salary data can vary depending on a person's workplace as well as whether he or she has a degree or is certified. However, if you want to know how much do fitness trainers make, the chart below provides nationwide averages. Job prospects for fitness trainers can also vary according to their education, certification and experience. Still, as the numbers below show, the profession is expected to have a positive outlook in the coming years:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Fitness Trainers and Aerobics Instructors||308,470||$44,580||9.8%|
|Recreation and Fitness Studies Teachers, Postsecondary||16,490||$72,190||9.6%|
Professional Resources for Fitness Trainers
While your fitness trainer school should be a good source of information about the field, you can also familiarize yourself with the following professional organizations:
- U.S. Registry of Exercise Professionals - Run by the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals, this website is a good resource to view all the accredited credentials available to fitness professionals.
- American Council on Exercise - Known as ACE, this organization has a mission to get people moving. In addition to advocating for the exercise industry, it provides certification and professional development opportunities to fitness trainers.
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association - Founded in 1982, IDEA offers a range of professional development resources from insurance products to online continuing education classes.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- The school must offer at least 1 program for the subject in question
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following variables:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificates conferred for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Fitness Trainers and Instructors, Accessed January 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm
- Career Diploma Personal Trainer, Ashworth College, Accessed January 2019, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/career-diplomas/certified-personal-trainer-course/
- Get Certified, American College of Sports Medicine, Accessed January 2019, https://www.acsm.org/get-stay-certified/get-certified
- Associate in Applied Exercise and Fitness, Bryan University, Accessed January 2019, https://bryanuniversity.edu/programs/undergraduate/associate-degree-applied-exercise-and-fitness/
- Fitness Trainers and Aerobic Instructors, O*Net Online, Accessed January 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/39-9031.00
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- Holmes Community College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.holmescc.edu/
- Our College, Lansing Community College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.lcc.edu/about/
- Facts and Figures, Mt. San Antonio College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.mtsac.edu/about/overview/facts-and-figures.html
- About CNM, Central New Mexico Community College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.cnm.edu/about
- Sinclair Community College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.sinclair.edu/
- About Us, Columbus State Community College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.cscc.edu/about/
- Leah Meyer Austin Award Winner, Columbus State Community College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.cscc.edu/go/leah-meyer-austin-award.shtml
- Outreach and Welcome Center, Riverside City College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.rcc.edu/services/outreach/Pages/WhyRCC.aspx
- Riverside Ready, Riverside City College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.rcc.edu/departments/careertech/Documents/Brochures/318551%20Kinesiology%20Brochure.pdf
- Reedley College Mission, Reedley College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.reedleycollege.edu/about/index.html
- San Diego Promise, San Diego Community College District, Accessed September 2019, https://www.sdccd.edu/about/departments-and-offices/student-services-department/promise/
- Mission and Values, Amarillo College, Accessed September 2019, https://www.actx.edu/president/mission-and-values