How to become a Personal Trainer, Fitness Instructor or Group Exercise Instructor

With the fitness industry booming and more and more people turning to assisted exercise to get fit, achieve their fitness goals or maintain their health, more people are turning their passion for fitness into a career.  Personal trainers and coaches, once only utilised by athletes and the rich and famous, are now mainstream as many people seek personalised solutions to achieve their fitness goals.

To work successfully as a fitness professional and gain a good following and results for your clients, you need to ensure that you set yourself up correctly.  Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from those interested in starting a career in fitness.

What are the main roles of a Personal Trainer?

The main role of a Personal Trainer is to provide support and guidance to clients, helping them identify achievable targets, and plan individual fitness regimes enabling them to meet their goals.

Key duties will also include:

  • Helping clients set personal goals, motivating them to achieve and adapting to their individual needs
  • Supporting clients with lifestyle changes to support long term exercise adherence and positive changes eg, nutrition, exercise, everyday life balance
  • Running one-on-one sessions with clients, ensuring safe and competent exercise technique
  • Keeping up-to-date the latest fitness developments and innovations, ensuring that clients are always given the best guidance and advice
  • Maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle


Do I need to have a qualification to train people in fitness?

It is not necessary to have an academic degree, but it is essential to have an accredited recognised qualification specific to the industry, as well as relevant work experience. Example, Level 2 Gym Instructor, Level 3 Personal Trainer, Level 2 Exercise to Music, 200 hours Yoga Instructor.

It is essential that your qualification is internationally recognised and is accredited.  There are many ‘cheap and quick’ online courses available on the internet, most of which are not accredited and will not give you the skills and knowledge you require to be successful as a fitness professional. They will also not be recognised by potential employers or professional bodies.  Be wary of online courses in fitness – after all this is a very physical and practical career, so it would be difficult to feel competent without physically and practically studying with professionals.  Do your research!  Make sure your course is internationally accredited by a credible body in fitness and will give you the skills and knowledge you require.  If in doubt, seek the advice of your nearest branch of the regulatory body for fitness – REPs (Register of Exercise Professionals).


What is the difference between a Gym Instructor and a Personal Trainer and a Group Exercise Instructor

These roles have become a little blurred over recent years, however the knowledge of the Personal Trainer is more in depth and the skill set more specialised than that of the Gym Instructor.

Gym Instructor – has basic exercise goal setting and programming skills, a good understanding over human anatomy and physiology and the principles of training.  They can produce general health and fitness programs for individuals or small groups, and are knowledgeable in gym floor health and safety, equipment and can give basic advice on exercising within a gym environment.

Personal Trainer – has a much broader skillset including advanced knowledge on how to program fitness plans for a variety of fitness specific goals with different types of clients. They have indepth knowledge of training principles, anatomy & physiology, nutrition and assessment and can produce detailed individualised training plans. A personal trainer will give one to one advice and often works on a long term basis with clients and has a greater responsibility and accountability to clients for achieving their fitness goals. They can also choose to specialise to work with particular groups of clients by taking further courses in eg, pre-post natal, strength and conditioning, sports related training, older populations, rehabilitation.

Group Exercise Instructor – similar to a gym instructor, has basic exercise goal setting and programming skills, a good understanding over human anatomy and physiology and the principles of training.  They also have specialised skills in coaching exercise to groups of people a complete exercise class format.  They will also be skilled in adapting group exercises to meet needs of individuals in a group as well as be able to utilise music within the session to provide a motivating workout experience.


What else do I need to become a fitness coach or personal trainer?

Key to becoming a Personal Trainer, Group Exercise Instructor or Gym Instructor, is the enjoyment of fitness. If you panic at the thought of stepping on the treadmill or attending a spin class, this career may not be for you!

One of the most vital skills for any Trainer is a motivational personality. You should feel the desire to want help others with their fitness goals and enjoy seeing people succeed and change their lives.  You will also need to remain patient and supportive at all times, encouraging clients to succeed. You will also be well organised, and able to keep training schedules varied and exciting.

Other key skills include:

  • An outgoing and enthusiastic personality
  • Good communication skills
  • Excellent listening skills, able to adapt to the needs of the clients at all times, and handle any objections during training
  • Patience and understanding – being human!
  • An in-depth understanding of physiology and the human body, as well as the impact of different diets and other lifestyle factors


Where can I work as a Personal Trainer, or Fitness Instructor?

The obvious choice, especially for newly qualified fitness trainers, is to work within a fitness facility such as a gym, leisure centre, sports centre or boutique fitness centre.  Here you will have the support of your peers and colleagues to help you book sessions, as well as equipment on hand to use.

Personal Trainers can also work with clients at home or outdoors, sports clubs, health care facilities*.

Group Exercise Instructors can often be found working in gyms and fitness clubs either as full time or part time instructors*.

*In many countries the environment and conditions which you can work as a PT, Group Fitness Instructor will depend upon Government policies on labour, so always check first to ensure you are working legally.


What sort of career progression is there for Personal Trainers

Personal Trainers can choose to continue to train and go into specialisms, for example, sports specific training, strength and conditioning coaches, training special populations.  They could also choose to go into management; eg team management, club or facility management, PT business management.   There are many CPD (continuing professional development) courses that a qualified trainer can take to further their careers or to branch into specialisms.  Other career options include moves into fitness education, fitness research, online or social media fitness coaching, corporate wellness, life-coaching.

So if fitness is your passion, you can turn this into a career you love by simply taking the first steps and getting a recognised qualification in fitness – the rest is up to you!


Julie Willetts, Institute Manager, The Wellness Institute, Muscat.