Fitness trainers and instructors lead, instruct, and motivate individuals or groups in exercise activities, including cardiovascular exercises (exercises for the heart and blood circulation), strength training, and stretching. They work with people of all ages and skill levels.
Fitness trainers and instructors typically do the following:
- Demonstrate how to perform various exercises and routines
- Watch clients do exercises
- Demonstrate or explain correct exercise techniques to minimize injuries and improve fitness
- Provide alternative exercises during workouts or classes for different levels of fitness and skill
- Monitor clients’ progress and adapt programs as needed
- Explain and enforce safety rules and regulations on sports, recreational activities, and the use of exercise equipment
- Give clients information or resources about nutrition, weight control, and lifestyle issues
- Give emergency first aid if needed
Both group fitness instructors and specialized fitness instructors plan or choreograph their own classes. Classes may include cardiovascular exercises, such as aerobics or dance; strength training, such as lifting weights; or both. Instructors choose music that is appropriate for their exercise class and create a routine or a set of moves for participants to follow. Some may teach prechoreographed routines that were originally created by fitness companies or other organizations.
Personal fitness trainers design and carry out workout routines specific to the needs of their clients. They may work with individual clients or teach group classes. In larger facilities, personal trainers often sell their training sessions to gym members. They start by evaluating their clients’ current fitness level, personal goals, and skills. Then, they develop personalized training programs for their clients to follow, and they monitor the clients’ progress.
Fitness trainers and instructors in smaller facilities often do a variety of tasks in addition to their fitness duties, such as tending the front desk, signing up new members, giving tours of the facility, or supervising the weight-training and cardiovascular equipment areas. Fitness trainers and instructors also may promote their facilities and instruction by various means, such as through social media, by writing newsletters or blog articles, or by creating posters and flyers.
Gyms and other types of health clubs offer many different activities for clients. However, trainers and instructors frequently specialize in only a few areas. The following are examples of types of fitness trainers and instructors:
Personal fitness trainers work with an individual client or a small group. They may train in a gym or in the clients’ homes. Personal fitness trainers assess the clients’ level of physical fitness and help them set and reach their fitness goals.
Group fitness instructors organize and lead group exercise classes, which can include aerobic exercises, stretching, or muscle conditioning. Some classes are set to music. In these classes, instructors may select the music and choreograph an exercise sequence.
Specialized fitness instructors teach popular conditioning methods, such as Pilates or yoga. In these classes, instructors show the different moves and positions of the particular method. They also watch students and correct those who are doing the exercises improperly.
Fitness directors oversee the fitness-related aspects of a gym or other type of health club. They often handle administrative duties, such as scheduling personal training sessions for clients and creating workout incentive programs. They may select and order fitness equipment for their facility.
The education and training required for fitness trainers and instructors varies by type of specialty, and employers often hire those with certification. Personal fitness trainers, group fitness instructors, and specialized fitness instructors each need different preparation. Requirements also vary by facility.
Almost all trainers and instructors have at least a high school diploma before entering the occupation. An increasing number of employers are requiring fitness workers, particularly personal trainers, to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree related to a health or fitness field, such as exercise science, kinesiology, or physical education. Programs often include courses in nutrition, exercise techniques, biology, anatomy, and group fitness. Personal trainers also learn how to develop fitness programs for clients of all ages.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Employers prefer to hire fitness trainers and instructors who are certified. Many personal trainers must be certified before they begin working with clients or with members of a gym or other type of health club. Group fitness instructors can begin work without certification, but employers often encourage or require them to become certified. Most specialized fitness instructors receive certification for their preferred type of training, such as yoga or Pilates.
Many organizations offer certification. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), part of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, lists certifying organizations that are accredited.
All certification exams have a written part, and some also have a practical part. The exams measure the candidate’s knowledge of human physiology, understanding of proper exercise techniques, and ability to assess clients’ fitness levels and develop appropriate exercise programs. Many certifying organizations offer study materials to prepare for the exam, including books, webinars, other audio and visual materials, and exam preparation workshops and seminars.
Advanced certification requires an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in an exercise-related subject that includes more-specialized instruction, such as training athletes, working with people who are injured or ill, or advising clients on general health. For more information, see the profiles on athletic trainers and exercise physiologists.
Most trainers or instructors need certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillators before applying for certification in physical fitness.
After becoming a certified personal trainer, new trainers typically work alongside an experienced trainer before they are allowed to train clients alone.
Training for specialized fitness instructors can vary greatly. For example, the duration of programs for yoga instructors can range from a few days to more than 2 years. The Yoga Alliance offers several credentials that require a minimum of between 200 and 500 hours, with a specified number of hours in techniques, teaching methods, anatomy, physiology, philosophy, and other areas.
Customer-service skills. Many fitness trainers and instructors must sell their services, motivating clients to hire them as personal trainers or to sign up for the classes they lead. Fitness trainers and instructors must therefore be polite, friendly, and encouraging, to maintain relationships with their clients.
Communication skills. Fitness trainers and instructors must be able to clearly explain or demonstrate exercises to clients.
Listening skills. Fitness trainers and instructors must be able to listen carefully to what clients tell them in order to determine the clients’ fitness levels and desired fitness goals.
Motivational skills. Getting fit and staying fit takes a lot of work for many clients. To keep clients coming back for more classes or to continue personal training, fitness trainers and instructors must keep their clients motivated.
Physical fitness. Fitness trainers and instructors need to be physically fit because their job requires a considerable amount of exercise. Group instructors often participate in classes, and personal trainers often need to demonstrate exercises to their clients.
Problem-solving skills. Fitness trainers and instructors must evaluate each client’s level of fitness and create an appropriate fitness plan to meet the client’s individual needs.
Fitness trainers and instructors who are interested in management positions should get a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, physical education, kinesiology, or a related subject. Experience often is required in order for a trainer or instructor to advance to a management position in a health club or fitness center. Many organizations prefer a master’s degree for certain positions.
Personal trainers may eventually advance to a head trainer position and become responsible for hiring and overseeing the personal training staff or for bringing in new personal training clients. Head trainers also are responsible for procuring athletic equipment, such as weights or fitness machines. Some fitness trainers and instructors go into business for themselves and open their own fitness centers.