How to Become a Personal Trainer
For 60-year-old fitness enthusiast John Leber, that dream became a reality about a year and a half ago, when he got his personal training certification.
Leber (pictured left) had always loved to exercise but didn't seriously consider personal training until after retirement.
His yoga instructor, inspired by his fitness level even after a string of injuries, urged Leber to consider training others. He shook off the advice, unsure he could do something so different from his previous job in telecommunications repair. The New Jersey retiree reconsidered a week later, however, after his gym instructor announced that the gym's owners were looking to hire members as trainers.
The coincidence was too great. "It's like God was talking to me," he says.
Leber studied, took a workshop and an exam, and within a couple of months got his Certified Personal Trainer certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
Although personal training has been associated in the past with young bodybuilder types, a growing number of Americans are entering personal training as a second career, industry officials say.
About half (52 percent) of NASM's certified trainers are now over 35, according to the organization. More than half--57 percent--are women. And 75 percent are doing it part time, meaning 24 hours a week or less, NASM says, which was great for Leber, who was already collecting a pension but was bored to tears.
The average hourly pay for a personal trainer is $43.78, according to a 2008 survey by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. However, in-demand trainers can earn as much as $160 an hour in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles, trainers say.
What's more, with the population aging, there's more demand for mature trainers who are familiar with the physical changes and common injuries that age can bring.
"My clients feel very much at home because I'm not a 24-year-old Adonis," says Neil Pire, 52, president of InsPire Training Systems in Ridgewood, N.J.
Getting into personal training is relatively easy. There are no professional licensing requirements for personal trainers, according to Tom Weede, who authored Entrepreneur Media's Start Your Own Personal Training Business guide.
That means anyone can hang out a shingle and start selling their services. But having the right credentials and certifications has become increasingly important, as consumers have become more savvy, says Pire.
Hundreds of organizations offer certifications, but only about a dozen are recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, the accreditation body of the National Organization for Competency Assurance, which sets quality standards for credentialing organizations.
The major certifying groups include:
Choosing one requires a little research. Some organizations offer only testing programs, while others provide training programs that lead to certification.
Most require certification in emergency cardiac care (CPR) or the Automated External Defibrillator (AED). And some offer specializations for working with certain populations, such as diabetics or pregnant women.
Before you choose, ask yourself these questions:
1. What are the requirements of the clubs or spas I am interested in working for? Many gym chains require certification through specific organizations.
2. What are my goals? And how much time to I have to devote to my training? Certain certifications and specializations require more study or training.
3. Who do I want to work with? Make sure the course work you are doing fits the needs of the audience you plan to serve, whether it's athletes looking to improve performance or injured seniors looking for rehabilitation.
Building Your Business
Once you've gotten certified, you can start building your business, either training people at their home or in a gym.
This is the hard part, trainers say. Many choose to work with a chain that will refer business, give them access to medical benefits and allow them to solicit clients on the gym floor.
In some cases, trainers can also sell memberships to earn extra income between sessions with clients, says Shari Aber-Corring, a 50-year-old trainer in Bergen County, N.J. Still, Aber-Corring says she had to work her day job as an attorney for almost a year before she could make a go of it.
"You work a lot of hours and don't sleep much," says Scott Ramsdell, a former Minneapolis police officer who became a personal trainer and now leads NASM's live workshops for certification.
For many, the job involves working a split shift--hitting the gym at 5 a.m., going home and then returning in the evening and closing up at night.
Of course, you won't spend that time hunched over a desk, which makes it easier to meet your fitness goals.
But you will have to be on the gym floor talking to people and offering advice to get people to sign up for your services, Aber-Corring says. Consequently, this career might not work for the very shy.
The payoff for this job, most agree, is in changing people's lives, either by helping increase their confidence or their quality of life.
Leber remembers one executive he coached who had four herniated lumbar discs and was finally able to go horseback riding with his daughter and play golf on vacation free of pain. Aber-Corring talks about helping a man in his 70s with neurological problems maintain his mobility.
"As our population ages, someone older does have an advantage," Aber-Corring says. "You can earn trust a little faster, and [clients] will listen to you because they know you're not going to tell them to lift 100 pounds over their head."
SecondAct contributor Melinda Fulmer writes regularly about issues of health and wealth for publications such as the Los Angeles Times and web portal MSN