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What does a personal trainer do?
A personal trainer, or PT for short, works with various clients and helps them improve their fitness and overall health. Their role should not be confused with gym or fitness instructors, who typically have fewer fitness qualifications. Personal trainers are more qualified to offer clients bespoke advice, guidance, support and plans.
Personal trainers can work with athletes, children, adults, seniors or those with mobility or medical issues. They can also specialise in assisting clients with specific goals, such as losing weight, gaining muscle or recovering after an injury or illness. Therefore, what personal trainers do depends on who they work with and their specialisms.
A personal trainer’s aim is to support and advise clients and help them achieve their health and fitness goals through motivation and guidance. They also have an essential role in ensuring clients follow their fitness plans correctly and safely, as exercise can cause injury and ill health if not properly carried out.
A personal trainer’s duties may include being fit and healthy themselves, helping clients to set their goals, creating and reviewing fitness plans and programmes, instructing clients on machinery and equipment use, assisting with workouts, monitoring clients on equipment, ensuring clients follow their plans, providing advice, etc. The role may also encompass administrative work, such as keeping records of clients’ progress.
Personal trainers (if employed) can work with various colleagues, such as other personal trainers, fitness instructors, gym instructors, reception staff, maintenance workers, cleaners and other employees. They can also liaise with external stakeholders, e.g. individual clients and their relatives and friends, groups, equipment suppliers, landlords, land owners, insurance companies, local authorities, professional bodies, etc.
Personal trainers usually work in gyms or fitness centres if employed. They can work for various-sized companies, from large nationwide gym chains to smaller fitness and health centres and family-owned gyms. They may also work at clients’ homes, conduct outdoor sessions or work at other venues if they are self-employed or work freelance. There may also be opportunities to rent gym spaces with self-employment and be part of gym franchise opportunities.
A personal trainer’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including who they work for (if employed), their clients, their role and their specialisms.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Ensuring they are fit and healthy to do the role, as they will be role models for clients.
- Keeping ahead of the latest fitness and personal training trends, techniques, developments and equipment.
- Helping clients set achievable short-term and long-term fitness goals based on their needs.
- Assessing clients’ initial fitness level and overall health.
- Creating individual fitness plans and programmes for clients based on their goals.
- Helping clients meet their goals by using motivation, coaching and teaching.
- Showing clients how to exercise correctly and assisting them with their workouts.
- Adapting fitness plans and programmes where necessary.
- Instructing clients on using various fitness machines, exercise equipment, weights and classes.
- Ensuring clients are using exercise equipment and are following their plans correctly and safely.
- Conducting one-to-one sessions with clients or working with groups where necessary.
- Providing advice to clients on lifestyle, health and nutrition and how to make changes to help them achieve their goals.
- Monitoring and keeping records of clients’ progress using various methods, e.g. body fat levels, weight loss and heart rate measurements.
If a personal trainer is self-employed, they will typically need to do other tasks, such as marketing, promotion, business administration and social media work.
A personal trainer’s working hours vary significantly and will depend on where they work and whether they are employed or self-employed. Full-time, part-time, temporary, contract, self-employed or freelance opportunities are available.
Personal training is not usually a 9-5 job, as there will be a need to be flexible to meet clients’ demands. Personal trainers may work early mornings, evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Some personal trainers may have to work more hours during the day, especially if they are self-employed and building up their client base.
Travel may be a requirement for personal trainers, especially if they are self-employed and work in clients’ homes, outdoors and at other venues. Overseas opportunities may also be available for some individuals, e.g. on cruise ships and working with international clients.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a personal trainer, especially if an individual has a passion for health and fitness. The role would suit those who enjoy working with people and helping them to live healthier, happier lives.
The role can be rewarding, as personal trainers will help their clients achieve their health and fitness goals, which can make a positive difference in their lives in the short and long term. For example, if a client has type 2 diabetes due to their weight and lifestyle, helping them lose weight and be more fit and healthy can actually reverse the condition (in some cases). Personal trainers can go home after the working day knowing their role makes a difference.
The role keeps personal trainers fit and healthy, as physical activity is beneficial. According to the NHS, exercise can reduce a person’s risk of major illnesses, mental health issues and long-term (chronic) conditions. Therefore, keeping fit is essential for overall physical/mental health.
There are personal training jobs available nationally and in many specialist areas. There are opportunities for self-employment and freelance work in personal training. Having your own business, setting your own working hours and being your own boss can be attractive. It can give individuals the independence to take charge of their working day and overall career progression.
Boredom will never be a problem for personal trainers, as each client will have different health and fitness goals. One client may want to lose weight, and the next may want to train for a specific event. There are also options to work in various gyms, clients’ homes, outdoors and other venues.
Even though there are positives to being a personal trainer, there are challenges and cons, e.g.:
- Challenging clients – personal trainers must meet their clients’ needs, which can be difficult and stressful if they are demanding or rude. It can also be frustrating putting the time and effort into creating fitness plans and programmes and then clients not following them.
- Unsociable and long working hours – most personal trainers, particularly the self-employed, will work unsociable hours, such as early mornings, evenings, weekends and bank holidays. Therefore, it can be tough to achieve a decent work-life balance. The working hours can also be long, with some doing up to 10 hours daily. However, personal trainers can set their own working hours and adjust their schedules accordingly.
- Low pay and job insecurity – the salaries for personal trainers can be low compared to other careers, especially when starting. If individuals are self-employed, work is not always guaranteed, and some clients may only want short-term training, so there can be fluctuations in income. Also, some people can choose to work out themselves and access free resources online, so if there are economic downturns, people may not use personal trainers, which can affect their job security.
- Physical demands – personal trainers must have a good level of physical fitness and be able to promote a healthy lifestyle. There can be a lot of pressure to remain fit, and clients will look up to them as positive role models. If a personal trainer falls ill or becomes injured, it can impact their ability to do their job. It can also become hard to maintain fitness as individuals age, so they may need to consider alternative career options later in life.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is for them. The role is physically demanding, the pay can be low, there is a job security risk, and clients can be challenging. However, there are many positives too, and those who become personal trainers love working with people and helping them to get fitter and healthier.
When considering whether to be a personal trainer and the type of role, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right qualities to undertake the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a personal trainer
Some of the personal qualities a personal trainer requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for, and an understanding of, health and fitness.
- A positive attitude and energy.
- A willingness to undertake self-development.
- Knowledge of anatomy, physiology, health, fitness, diets and lifestyles.
- Knowledge of the latest fitness trends, equipment and machinery.
- Knowledge of teaching.
- Good physical fitness, movement, coordination, dexterity, grace and endurance.
- Enthusiasm, drive, motivation, friendly, approachable and outgoing.
- Committed and reliable.
- Empathy, understanding, compassion and sensitivity.
- Physical skills.
- Active listening skills.
- Customer service skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Communication skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
- Organisational and time management skills.
- Business management and marketing skills (if self-employed).
- Being thorough, accurate and having excellent attention to detail.
- The ability to understand clients’ needs and deal with objections.
- The ability to develop tailored fitness plans and programmes.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
- The ability to teach, encourage, support and motivate others.
- The ability to work well with others and alone using their own initiative.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain patient and calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use the computer and relevant software packages proficiently.
Qualifications and training
There are many different routes to becoming a personal trainer. Individuals could go to university or college, enrol on a course with a private training provider, apply for an apprenticeship or apply directly. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
An individual does not need a degree to become a personal trainer. However, it can increase their chances of success.
Some examples of degrees are:
- BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching.
- BSc (Hons) Fitness, Nutrition and Health.
- BSc (Hons) Physical Activity and Health.
- FdSc Sport and Exercise Science (foundation degree).
- HND Fitness, Health and Exercise.
The entry requirements will depend on each university. Individuals should check before applying.
Most individuals will begin by undertaking a college or private training course to help them become personal trainers.
Some examples of courses are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 1 Personal Trainer Award.
- Level 2 Diploma in Instructing Exercise and Fitness.
- Level 2 Certificate in Fitness Instructing.
- Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training.
- Level 3 Diploma in Fitness Instruction and Personal Training.
- Level 3 Diploma in Gym Instructing and Personal Training.
- Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training for Health, Fitness and Performance.
Individuals usually need:
- Level 1 – two or fewer GCSEs grades 3 to 1 (D to G) or equivalent.
- Level 2 – two or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
- Level 3 – four/five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent.
Individuals usually require a Level 3 personal training qualification, as a minimum, to become personal trainers. To increase their chances of success, it is better if individuals choose accredited qualifications, e.g. by the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) or UK Coaching.
Private training companies and fitness groups/academies may also offer courses. Some may provide training on how to start a personal training business and be self-employed.
It may also be worth doing low-cost online courses to see if a personal training career is suitable. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble.
Courses and qualifications do not guarantee a role as a personal trainer. However, it will demonstrate to employers that an individual is keen on the job and may give them a competitive edge. Always check the entry requirements before applying.
Individuals could do an apprenticeship to help them get into the role, e.g. Personal Trainer Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship, which takes around 15 months to complete. There may also be physical training instructor apprenticeships with the Armed Forces.
Individuals usually need four/five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English and maths.
Opportunities are on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, Indeed and Armed Forces websites.
If individuals already have qualifications and experience as fitness or gym instructors or coaches, they could apply directly to companies for roles or start their own businesses.
Relevant work experience, either paid or voluntary, can help individuals stand out and build their knowledge and skills.
To gain experience, individuals could (this list is not exhaustive):
- Apply for an assistant or junior role in a gym or leisure centre and learn on the job.
- Undertake a Level 2 fitness instructor qualification and become a fitness instructor before doing PT training.
- Work in a role selling gym memberships to gain experience dealing with clients, especially if wanting to be self-employed.
- Do work experience in a gym, health club or fitness centre while studying.
- Volunteer at sporting and physical activity events, e.g. Parkrun.
- Volunteer with community sports clubs and charities to get experience working in fitness and with people looking to become more active.
Training and experience may be necessary for some jobs and volunteer opportunities.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
We have many examples of approved courses that may be useful for individuals looking at a career as a personal trainer, including (this list is not exhaustive):
- Introduction to health and safety.
- Manual handling.
- PUWER (work equipment).
- Assessing risk.
- COSHH awareness (i.e. if working with swimming pool chemicals).
- Fire safety awareness (if working inside).
- Slips, trips and falls.
- Workplace stress awareness.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Lone working.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Workplace first aid.
- Equality and diversity.
- Understanding GDPR.
- Customer service skills.
- Complaints handling.
- Time management.
- Resilience training.
- Management and employment law (if self-employed with employees).
Professional bodies, charities, non-profit organisations and associations, such as the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA), UKactive, UK Coaching, National Register of Personal Trainers (NRPT), the Association of Independent Personal Trainers (AITP), the National Association of Personal Trainers (NAPT), the UK’s Professional Body for Strength and Conditioning (UKSCA), and other organisations, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become personal trainers and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on who an individual works for, whether they are self-employed and their specialisms. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, allcruisejobs.com, Leisurejobs, Leisure Opportunities Jobs, Leisure People, and many other sites. Also, look at recruitment agencies for temporary and contract roles and individual company websites.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities for individuals. Refresher training is also advisable as it keeps their knowledge and skills up to date.
Individuals can be self-employed and have their own personal training business, work freelance or rent a gym space.
If an individual decides to be self-employed, they will have additional responsibilities. They must:
- Have the correct insurance, i.e. public liability, professional indemnity, personal accident and business. If employing anyone, employers’ liability insurance will be required.
- Register the business with HMRC.
- File tax returns.
- Register with the ICO to hold personal data (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR).
They will also need to factor in certain costs, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Premises, renting a gym space or paying to use other facilities/venues if not working from your or a client’s home.
- Registration, i.e. with the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) and/or the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA).
- Computer and mobile phone.
- Running costs, e.g. utilities.
- Vehicle, fuel, tax and insurance (if mobile).
- Training, CPD and professional memberships.
- Exercise equipment and maintenance.
- Marketing and advertising.
Further advice and guidance on being self-employed is on GOV.UK.
Some personal trainers will drive as part of their role, especially when travelling to meet clients, to gyms and other venues. Therefore, they should have a full driving licence.
Criminal records checks
Personal trainers may need a criminal record check if they work with children and vulnerable adults.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
Where do personal trainers work?
Personal trainers can work in various settings, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Personal training studios.
- Fitness and health centres and clubs.
- Cruise ships.
- Military bases.
- Large businesses with gym facilities.
- Hospitals, hospices, care homes and nursing homes.
- Various outdoor settings, e.g. parks, gardens and sports fields.
- Various indoor settings, e.g. village and town halls.
- Clients’ homes.
- Their own homes.
They can work for various employers, such as:
- Large gym chains, e.g. PureGym, Virgin Active, Gymophobics, etc.
- Private businesses and family companies.
- The Armed Forces.
- Healthcare charities.
- The NHS and private hospitals.
- Cruise lines.
- Local authorities.
- Recruitment agencies (temporary and contract roles).
They can also be self-employed with their own business, work freelance or be part of a franchise.
Opportunities can be nationwide in villages, towns and cities. There may also be roles that enable personal trainers to travel overseas.
How much do personal trainers earn?
A personal trainer’s salary will depend on their role, qualifications, experience, geographical location, employer, working hours, contract and specialist area.
Some examples of average salaries include the following (these figures are only a guide):
- £14,000 starter to £22,000 experienced (National Careers Service).
- £22,425 (Payscale).
- £29,046 (Indeed UK).
- £29,939 (Glassdoor).
- £31,077 (Talent.com).
- £37,000 (Jobted).
The salary for self-employed personal trainers is variable. They typically charge between £20 and £40 an hour. However, those working in London and with higher-profile clients may charge up to £100 per hour. They will also need to factor in various expenses, e.g. premises or rent, tax, national insurance, suitable vehicle, MOT/tax/insurance, fuel, other insurances, supplies, equipment, marketing, memberships, etc.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of personal training to specialise in
As previously mentioned, individuals can work in a specific setting, such as a gym or studio.
They can also specialise in various clients, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Athlete personal training – personal trainers can train professional athletes, and it will require a completely different approach to working with the general public. As athletes compete to win, there is a lot of pressure on these types of personal trainers, and they will require more in-depth knowledge of health, fitness and training programmes.
- Celebrity personal training – if personal trainers become renowned, there may be opportunities to work with higher-profile clients, such as celebrities. It requires individuals to stand out and gain a substantial social media following to be successful.
- Kids personal training – personal trainers can specifically work with children. They help improve children’s fitness levels and instil good habits they can take into adulthood. They can also help build a child’s confidence, especially regarding group sports at school.
- Pregnancy & postnatal personal training – involves providing safe and gentle personal training to pregnant women or those who have recently given birth. It can also help with issues associated with pregnancy and birthing, such as pelvic floor issues.
- Senior personal training – working with seniors, usually over 60 years old. They may focus on lower-impact and strengthening exercises and can deal with clients with age-related mobility and medical issues.
- Women’s-only personal training – personal trainers can offer services specifically to women, as they may not feel comfortable and confident exercising in mixed groups. Some personal trainers may offer female-specific services, such as exercising through menstruation, pregnancy, menopause and after birth or a hysterectomy.
They can also specialise in various areas, such as:
- Exercise therapy.
- Online coaching.
- Overall fitness.
- Medical conditions, e.g. diabetes.
- Nutrition and meal prep.
- Strength conditioning.
- Weight gain.
- Weight loss.
- Sports injuries.
They may also focus on specific exercises, activities or equipment, for example:
- Circuit training.
All specialist personal trainer roles require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All personal trainers must be passionate about health and fitness and be physically fit. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for (if employed) and a personal trainer’s intended specialist areas. Further training may be necessary for specialised roles.
If personal trainers do not do their roles correctly, it can result in poorly designed fitness plans and programmes, clients dropping out, and clients not achieving their goals. In worse cases, it can result in unhappy clients, complaints, a poor reputation, reduced business and even injuries. Therefore, whatever the type of role, personal trainers must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and correctly. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Fitness trends, equipment, products and technologies are regularly changing. Therefore, personal trainers must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives personal trainers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body, charity, non-profit organisation or association (as previously mentioned) can help prospective and current personal trainers enhance their skills and overall career. They may offer different levels of membership, CPD, support and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is an opportunity for career progression for personal trainers. If they undertake a Level 4 qualification, they could become master personal trainers. With further training and experience, they could specialise in specific clients, areas and exercises, e.g. working with clients with medical conditions. Alternatively, they may become gym managers, be self-employed with their own businesses, or work freelance.
Knowledge, skills and experience gained from being a personal trainer can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, individuals could move into other roles, such as gym membership or equipment sales, health and wellness coaching, fitness writing and workout development.
Get started on a course suitable for becoming a personal trainer
Slips, Trips and Falls£20 + VAT View course
Manual Handling£20 + VAT View course
Introduction to Health and Safety£15 + VAT View course
COSHH Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Workplace First Aid£20 + VAT View course
PUWER Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Assessing Risk (Risk Assessment Course)£20 + VAT View course
Employment Law£20 + VAT View course