Personal Trainer Schools

Written ByRWM Editors
Table of Contents

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 Personal 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.

What Education Do Fitness Trainer Have?

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:

  • Biology
  • Anatomy
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise techniques

You'll find additional detail about what's involved in becoming a fitness trainer, below.

Fitness/Personal Trainers 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.

Fitness/Personal Trainer Certifications

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.

Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics,

Program Costs and Financial Aid

Source: Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of CollegeXpress, a division of Carnegie Dartlet. Copyright © 2020 by CollegeXpress.

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/Personal 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:

Total Employment
Average Salary
Projected Job Growth
Exercise Trainers and Group Fitness Instructors325,500$45,11012.8%
Recreation and Fitness Studies Teachers, Postsecondary15,880$73,7204.5%
*2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

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.
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