When Dan asked me to write this article I wanted to give my honest insight into the industry and how I think PT’s, whether starting in the role or a long term trainer, should view any potential skills and training courses.
Its a minefield out there….
Where Do I Start Looking?
In the last few years there has emerged a broad spectrum of teaching bodies and
companies selling their wares to anyone looking for a quick certification to start
working as a PT and then to continue their education.
Amongst all this the standard of whats available has declined, at least in my opinion,
and people are paying money to expand their CV, not necessarily getting their
monies worth, and subsequently devaluing themselves professionally. Possibly even
putting their clients in positions of danger from inaccurate or incomplete training on
their part. Remember, no two clients are the same so you can’t consider training them
the same either.
I genuinely believe that anyone entering the field of professional health and fitness
instruction needs to take a few things truly to heart before they hand over any money
and sign up to any personal trainer courses.
Narrowing the Field Of Choice
Think about who you are and where you want to go!
No-one’s career in anything is perfectly direct or linear so don’t try to acquire your
entire arsenal of abilities in just one or two courses. Its fine to delve into many
different disciplines, decide what skills and information you want to retain and then
move onto explore even more fields. I’ve spent years reading mountains of books and
attending lectures, only to perhaps take a few paragraphs or a dozen points away from
each to add to what I do.
Look at what exactly is offered from anything that draws your eye. Think about what
would deliver a good base of knowledge and what may be more valuable to specific
clients or training.
Be aware what you are paying for. When you look at the barrage of courses available
to qualify as a trainer or to upgrade your skills, consider that an awful lot are brand
associations or product placements and aim to stretch a few hours of instruction into a
one day course to make a lot of money off of people.
Equipment introduction courses have their place, but bear in mind there isn’t a course
in the world that teaches you everything you will need to know. Evaluate whether
twenty courses for your CV would be as valuable to you as perhaps a couple and then
you reading, watching and experimenting how to use the same bits of kit or methods
by yourself, in your own work outs.
Personally I wouldn’t hire a trainer with a CV full of certificates over someone that
clearly knew a lot from their own studying and knowledge. In my mind
‘Mr 3-page-CV’ has spent a lot of time building up a very expensive collection of
t-shirts and emptying his bank account. A lot of knowledge is learned from mileage,
theres no short cut. I’d value a good mentor and ‘time in the trenches’ over dozens of
five hour courses.
Don’t kid yourself that you can draw comparative value from a subject that you know
should require serious, possibly full time, study from one of those ‘get qualified in
two weekends!’-style courses. You won’t, and again, anyone that has an interest in
those skills will certainly check where and how you qualified.
What Kind of Personal Trainer Do You Want to be?
Why are you looking to become a PT? What has brought you to this profession?
Is it a change of career? Have you been through a significant experience personally,
be it rehabilitation, fat loss or sports based and are looking to follow that into a
career? Do you simply think it looks like something you would like to try your hand
Look beyond the idea of working out and wearing trainers at work for a second…
Are you prepared to put serious effort, time and money into your continued education
for as long you are a PT? You are going to move into an environment where you will
be asking the trusting public to put their very health and wellbeing in your hands, and
pay you at the same time.
Will I make it as a ‘Personal Trainer’?
This should be something that is always present in your mind when selecting what
and how you learn, and in how you choose which level of training and course to
undertake. A good trainer needs to be more than a walking Youtube reference.
You’ll be your clients confidant, their motivation in a lot of cases and be someone
they are likely to be readily vulnerable in front of. A poor physical condition often
comes with emotional and mental issues, are you ready to take on that form of
relationship with the group that will make up your client base?
Are you committing fully to a new career or just a possible nudge to your income
with some part time work?
This is another important consideration, the more serious your intent then the more
in-depth you should look at subject knowledge. Don’t panic thinking you have to
learn every facet of everything in one go. Instead look at progressive paths for you,
through your own studying and accompanied training.
Those giving personal training a serious shot, consider what the genres and areas are
you have personal interest in/that you intend to target for your client base AND what
things do you think you should at least have a basic understanding of as an important
addition to your skills and knowledge.
If you are looking at running the odd bootcamp or taking on only a few clients then
consider your market from the off. Don’t spend large amounts on subjects
or fads that you most likely are never going to incorporate with your clients. A
bootcamp instructor for example has no professional need for a dance-based
certification or an acupuncture course, so unless you have a personal interest there,
why give up the time and money studying them?
Whichever way you envisage your career, remember that education and your work
environment, especially in the ever-changing world of fitness, isn’t going to be rigidly
linear. Instead it needs to be fluid and allow you to draw in new areas as well as push
aside things you no longer need or that can take a back seat for a while.
Which Personal Trainer Courses do I Really Need?
There are going to be some things you are going to find compulsory.
Since your first job is most likely going to be in a franchised gym, you are going to
need to achieve the current industry standard entry level certification.
Theses steps are whats needed to show you have a base level of knowledge, you’ll
soon exceed them with a little work and experience.
(Don’t think that this ‘cert’ really qualifies you in any way worthy of note, despite the
bit of paper you’ll now have to wave about. I know I’m not alone in saying that the
level of information and skill needed now to get employment in a gym is woeful
compared to a decade ago. So hit the ground running and make sure you are
expansively reading and drawing knowledge from even this early stage)
First Aid at work you will need also and keep it renewed or you may find your
professional insurance is voided in the event of any incident. Its illegal to operate as a
activity-based professional dealing with the public and not have training to any level
at all. If someone offers you a job and doesn’t put you into a course or check your
current then you’ll be opening yourself up to possible grief in the future.
Most group training instructors require some specific group certifications before
gyms or brand franchises allow them to start representing them and teaching their
(On the group/bootcamp front. check the local laws and rules for any outside space
you are thinking of using. I know councils across the UK have been gradually
introducing fees to anyone working within parks and public spaces, with many
requiring that you approach them for a special ‘permit’ to operate at all.)
If you are going to be working with any special populations, like children, the elderly,
those with high blood pressure etc, then you may need a more comprehensive FA
course or have to take a specialised one. Its highly possible that certain clients and
career paths require highly specific qualifications, such as those needed for a PT to be
considered for GP referral work.
Food, diets and nutrition ‘plans’ (IMPORTANT)
Giving food, diet and nutritional advice to clients can be a sticky subject depending
on where you live, your professional insurance and what premises you work from.
Certain countries, gyms and certifying bodies don’t allow or recognise trainers as
being able to program eating guidelines or advice into their professional services
without separate additional study and certifications.
If you intend to make nutrition a part of your skill set then be sure to find out where
you stand on this matter, again make yourself aware as to the specialisations you need
to cover before you spend money on one course or another.
Check the laws for the district, county and country in which you are working.
Different locales have different rules for entering the fitness field. Take great steps to
find out the required entry level education you need to be recognised as legal to
operate as a nutritionalist-cum-trainer.
Become a Member
Join the Institute of Personal Trainers for business and marketing resources that help you get more clients.