How To Become A Personal Trainer (Case Study): The Essential 5 Step Plan To A Successful Fitness Career.
Today I’m going to show you exactly how to become a personal trainer (UK). What’s more, I’ll be walking you through how one of our students, Nicola Brown, went from an unfulfilling career in bar-work to being a fully qualified personal trainer in just a few months.
Before completing one of our personal trainer courses, Nicola had:
- No previous sports or fitness qualifications.
- No professional experience working in the fitness industry.
- No fixed base in the UK, due to the fact she worked abroad.
- And no contacts working in the business that she could call upon for help.
As you can imagine, a fully-fledged career as a personal trainer and trail-running coach seemed quite a distance away…
In this article, then, I’m going to show you, step by step, exactly how to become a personal trainer, following the real-life example of Nicola Brown.
I want to show you that, with the right attitude, preparation, and passion for health and fitness, there are no limits to entering what is undoubtedly a rewarding, and potentially lucrative industry.
Chapter One: The Five Key Steps to Becoming a Personal Trainer (UK)
Here are the steps you need to take to start your own successful fitness career:
- Act upon your passion for health and fitness.
- Choose the right course and course provider for you, depending on location, price-plan, and learning style.
- Pass your Level 2 Gym Instructors and Level 3 Personal Training Qualifications.
- Identify the right fitness career path for you: working for a gym, freelance, or self-employed.
- Expand client lists and move your career forward.
Now, don’t worry about getting too ahead of yourself. I’m going to walk you through each step of this process later on in this article, using Nicola Brown as an example of how to become a personal trainer.
After all, it is exactly this five-step guide that Nicola followed in order to transform her hobby of trail-running into a full-time business, building a full client list, and also furthering her career with CPD courses in kettlebell training and boxing.
Pretty impressive, right?
Chapter Two: The Essential Checklist for Prospective Personal Trainers.
Like most things, there are plenty of articles out there telling you why you should be a personal trainer.
That the fitness industry has exploded in recent years, or that there are more working personal trainers than ever before because of the growing market, are just a couple of the reasons that you may be tempted to change your career.
It’s enough to get carried away pretty quickly…
There are, however, distinctly fewer reliable resources that address the topic of how to become a personal trainer (UK).
And if you’re seriously asking how to become a personal trainer, then you’re going to want to know as many of the essential details as possible with regard to that process, right? How else are you going to find out about becoming a personal trainer pros and cons?
That’s where we come in…
Below we have assembled a whistle-stop tour of everything you need to know before fully committing to entering the fitness industry as a PT.
1.1: Do I have the attributes to be a successful personal trainer?
Many potential students and trainers are put off from the profession because of the perceived “type of people” who become personal trainers.
You know what we mean: tanned, big arms, big chest, big legs, just…big in general, likely to turn up in a Baywatch remake and hang out with The Rock…
We’re here to tell you that, in actual fact, there is no one personality type that lends itself to personal training…
Whether you believe you are too old to become a PT, or that a previous injury or disability will hold you back in your career, take it from us that this industry is inclusive and in fact would benefit from more personal trainers coming from a broad range of demographics and backgrounds.
Think about this logically for a second.
If the fitness industry is expanding at a rate never before seen, this means one thing and one thing only: more people, that previously had no interest in the industry, are investing in their fitness.
With this influx of new fitness enthusiasts, the industry needs more trainers. More specifically, we need trainers who can empathise with the types of people who were previously intimidated by gyms and fitness settings, whether this was due to age, disability, gender, or other factors.
While the case for more trainers is compelling, there are a couple of universal attributes that we see time and time again in our most successful students. These include:
A passion for fitness
While you don’t have to be a bodybuilder – in fact, sometimes the traditional-looking gym member intimidates beginners and new clients – to be a personal trainer, you do have to be passionate about furthering other people’s fitness. Without this foundation of motivation and interest, you will find it difficult to sustain a long career in the industry. Luckily, if you’re asking how to become a personal trainer and reading this article, you’re already making steps in the right direction.
As a personal trainer, your job is going to be all about caring for the wellbeing of your clients. So, be prepared to see a lot of people miss sessions or divert from their training plans in moments of weakness. Fitness is hard work, and it’s going to be your job to make sure people reach their goals, without judging or condemning them.
Empathy and the ability to listen and adapt
You need to be in tune with your clients. If you see them making quick improvements, great! Up their training plans and push them to strive for the best. However, if your clients cut a tired and frustrated figure, you may need a change of tact. Remember, listening is not always about what your clients says, but rather how they act when they’re in your company.
You’re going to be spending a whole load of time in the company of your clients, so you better be sure that you’re a socially outgoing person. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be extroverted, or the life of the party, but in our experience you do have to enjoy the company and conversation of others to be successful.
As your business and client lists expand, so will the amount of time you need to dedicate to organisation. Therefore, starting good habits early in your study are a guaranteed way of ensuring later success.
At OriGym, we don’t just teach our students an outline of how to become a personal trainer in terms of their career, but instead strive to teach our students essential business tips and protocols to guarantee them success later in their lives.
That being said, you should always view your soft skills – your personality, and how you approach your work – as one of your essential attributes, and therefore something you should work to improve.
1.2: What does being a personal trainer involve?
Let’s be honest, the answer to this question is going to be way too long to cover in depth here…
Fortunately, I’ve already written a comprehensive guide as to the career paths of personal trainers, in our Ultimate Guide to Personal Trainer Salaries.
For the time being then, let’s briefly go over the three main career paths available to personal trainers.
- Employed directly by a gym
- Freelance for a gym
- Independent trainer
As we discuss in our comprehensive guide to personal trainers’ salaries, each of these career paths come with their own risks and rewards.
Let’s take Nicola Brown’s journey as an example. When she qualified from OriGym, she decided the best path for her was a fixed salary role in a major gym. However, as her profile grew, she earned the flexibility to take on more clients, eventually resulting in her moving full-time into a role as an independent trail-running coach and PT.
More generally, a personal trainer will be responsible for constructing a specific training plan for their clients, covering both exercise and in some cases nutrition. You will be there to offer advice and motivation for your clients, and will monitor their progress to make sure that they stay on track while they move towards achieving their goals.
However, your day-to-day working schedule will change considerably, depending on which career path you take.
Let’s explore that a little further…
Employed directly by a gym
Here, you will be employed directly by an organisation like David Lloyd Fitness or Virgin Active as a trainer or fitness instructor. You will have guaranteed clients, and as such your wage will be set at a fixed rate.
This option is popular for new personal trainers, as you don’t have to worry about fluctuating income dependent upon the number of clients you have. Your working day will also be fairly rigid, split between taking group classes, 1-to-1 sessions, and hosting gym inductions for new members.
Freelance for a gym
While similar to being employed by a gym, being a freelancer offers you a little more freedom once you have built a list of reliable clients.
Here, you will pay a ground rent to a health and fitness facility, who will allow you to use their facilities to train your clients. Your wage and working day here is less prescriptive, and as a result there’s more room for diversification. If, for example, you earn more money from hosting group classes, you can load your timetable with more of those, and concentrate less on recruiting new 1-to-1 clients.
However, because there are more opportunities in this career path, you also have to dedicate more of your time to marketing and administration, as you are now technically responsible for running your own business.
Lastly, an independent trainer has complete control over their working hours and structure. Depending on if you’ve focused on hosting group classes, 1-to-1 sessions, or outdoor boot-camps, as an independent trainer you may own your own gym and equipment, or work from several locations.
As you have probably guessed, independent trainers tend to make more than any other career path, but this is predicated on a certain degree of success and risk.
1.3: What qualifications do you need to become a personal trainer?
There are two qualifications that every personal trainer has to have in order to start practising in the UK.
Also known as a level 2 certificate in gym instructing, this qualification is where most, if not all, personal trainers begin their career.
The level 2 certificate in fitness instructing is not particularly difficult. As a general estimate, the course content equates to around GCSE level study.
The qualification should comprise of modules in detailed anatomy, the principles of exercise, health, and fitness, health and safety for clients using equipment and in the gym, supporting clients, and planning exercise programmes.
Any course provider who doesn’t offer modules in these areas for their level two course should not be trusted.
Having passed this qualification, you will be qualified to work as a fitness or gym instructor in fitness facilities across the UK. You will not, however, be qualified to work as a personal trainer. To do this, you need to have passed your Level 3 Qualification in Personal Training.
Your Level 3 qualification in personal training is where you learn the skills to become a fully-fledged personal trainer.
As such, you drive into more depth on all of your level 2 content, as well as learning a host of new skills. For example, your anatomy modules will explore areas like the skeletal systems, planes of movement, the energy system and types of stretch in far more detail than a level 2 course.
You will then learn about nutrition, the ins and outs of programming personal training and designing plans, how to instruct specific clients (older clients, disabled clients, pre- and post-natal clients, among others), and you’ll gain practical experience teaching exercises related to resistance training and core muscles.
Basically, you’ll learn everything you need to know to succeed in the industry!
Some further considerations when choosing a personal training qualification…
Of course, the sole existence of a course shouldn’t be your only consideration on your journey to becoming a personal trainer.
Let’s talk about accreditation….
You heard right, not all personal training qualifications are born equal.
At OriGym, for example, we have always been dual accredited by REPs and CIMSPA, and also have the backing of Active IQ for all of our fitness qualifications. We also offer flexible learning plans for all of our personal trainer courses, meaning our students can choose from full-time, part-time, or online courses, and in some instances combine a number of learning methods to suit their busy schedules.
Our case-study student, Nicola Brown, for example, decided to fully embed herself in a full-time course at our Liverpool venue. This suited her need to finish the course quickly, and her preference to learn via practical demonstrations, as well as more theory-based content.
You may also find some personal training course providers will provide a first aid qualification with your Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications. However, be cautious. Despite what is widely reported by some fitness training providers, a first aid qualification is not essential in order to become a personal trainer.
If you do your research and consider only providers that have the aforementioned accreditations, you will be well on your way to answering the question of how to become a personal trainer.
1.4: Do I need insurance to become a personal trainer?
While insurance is not a legal requirement for personal trainers, you’d be completely insane not to take out an insurance policy before beginning 1-to-1 sessions and group classes. In fact, most places won’t hire you without insurance (if they don’t insure you themselves), and we’d certainly never suggest starting up your fitness career without insuring yourself.
Accidents happen to everyone, and nobody wants to see all their hard work crumble because of a slip in judgement…or even just a slip.
If you are employed directly by a large gym or healthcare facility, you will probably find that you come under their insurance policy, and you therefore won’t have to take out your own plan.
However, if you are independent, or freelance, the likelihood is that you will need to take out some sort of insurance plan, particularly if you own your own gym and equipment.
The most important insurance plans that you’ll need to look up while you’re researching how to become a personal trainer are:
Like we said at the start, while insurance isn’t strictly a legal requirement, it does lift a pretty big burden from your shoulders.
Chapter Three: Say hello to Nicola Brown: From Working in her Parent’s Bar to Becoming a Qualified Personal Trainer
Now, you’re probably a little overwhelmed with information right now…
Reading the first half of this article is a little like being given all the ingredients you need to make an amazing meal. While ingredients are helpful, you kind of need to know what you’re going to do with them in order to make something worthy of your time.
And that’s where Nicola and her story come in. Think of her as the recipe you need to follow, in order to fulfil your ambitions of working in the fitness industry.
Before training to become a PT with OriGym, Nicola was working in a bar that her parents owned in Lanzarote.
You may be thinking that doesn’t sound all that bad…
Well, as many of you will understand, Nicola noticed that she had started mixing up comfort with what she wanted to do in her life. She could no longer tell whether working in her parent’s bar was what she wanted to do or what she had become accustomed to doing.
Changing this mind-set is difficult. After all, routines become comfortable for a reason. There is security, safety, and knowing, in a routine.
However, it got to the point where Nicola craved opportunity, and when she became increasingly invested in trail running and other forms of exercise, a career in the fitness industry began to look more and more tempting.
And after studying full-time with OriGym, that’s exactly what she got.
But how exactly did she get there?
Chapter Four: The Five Key Steps to Becoming a Personal Trainer: Following Nicola’s Story.
Think back to around fifteen minutes ago. You were just settling down to read this article with a cup of tea, and we’d just introduced you to the five key steps to becoming a personal trainer.
Fast forward to the present: the tea has been drunk, and your head is positively buzzing with all the information about how to become a personal trainer.
But let’s slow it down for a second and recap on the five steps. Fifteen minutes, after all, is a pretty long time (just ask anyone doing a CrossFit Workout).
You’d be forgiven at this stage for thinking something along the lines of “easier said than done”. We get it, making significant life and career changes is a pretty scary business.
Fortunately for you, we’re in the business of guiding people (like you!) through that process.
To give you an idea as to how to become a personal trainer, we spoke to one of our ex-students, Nicola Brown, with regard to her personal fitness journey, and how she turned a passion for trail running into a full-time career.
Acting upon your passion for health and fitness
Nicola started looking to become a personal trainer having developed a strong passion for running while working for her parents in Lanzarote. She had worked there most of her life, but as her enthusiasm for running, later trail-running, grew stronger, she started to contemplate the idea of coaching others rather than dedicating herself to a career in bar-work.
This early idea lead to some amateur trail running sessions with her local community and running club. Of course, having done this for a couple of months using the skills she already knew, Nicola thought: wouldn’t it be great if I could actually get paid for this.
Choosing the right course and course provider for you
Nicola joined OriGym in September 2017. When I asked her why she chose OriGym and what were the most important factors in her decision making process, she said:
I wanted to do a personal trainer course that had a venue in the North west, as I had family there. Accreditation was also important for me when I was comparing different providers. OriGym seemed to tick all these boxes and once I had seen some of the online reviews, it seemed the logical choice for me.
Nicola opted to go for a full time personal trainer course in our Liverpool venue, choosing to fully embed herself within modules and practical sessions. In her words, “I really benefited from the hands-on approach of the full time course, as this tends to be the environment in which I learn best.”
Another aspect that Nicola tells us was important was the option of different payment plans for her course. She said:
Having the flexibility to decide how to pay the fees for the course was something I was really concerned about to begin with. With OriGym, I decided to opt for a monthly payment plan, as the deposit and re-payment amounts were manageable against my income, and meant that I could continue re-paying after I had finished my course.
I also asked Nicola what her favourite aspects of the course were, given that, before studying, she had already practiced as an amateur running coach:
Probably the fact that we were on the gym floor everyday. This is how I like to learn, and learning in a practical environment made the whole process highly enjoyable.
I also already had an acute interest in nutrition so loved the wide breadth of the course content. This, and learning the scientific principles of fitness (rather than a lot of the garbage you see online!) was fascinating for me. Everything, down to the other students, who were learning how to become personal trainers alongside me, made the experience special, and I’m still close to many of the people who were on my course.
Passing your Level 2 Gym Instructors and Level 3 Personal Training Qualifications
Choosing your course is one thing, but passing all of the required modules on a Level 2 or Level 3 qualification is an entirely different prospect. After all, it’s no use just turning up to a personal trainer course if you’re not going to put the effort in and apply yourself to achieving the best grades.
Nicola tells me that, right away, she was welcomed by the tutors (Nicky, Mike, and Dan) which immediately put her at ease. This allowed her to focus all of her energy on studying to the best of her ability.
The tutors were genuinely fantastic, all in different ways. Nothing seemed like too much trouble, and I felt like I was in safe hands throughout. Even things like the marketing team helping with the personal training business helped me, as that was one aspect with regard to running my own PT business that concerned me at an early stage.
With regard to the course content itself, in strict relation to fitness, Nicola said:
While I was pretty comfortable with some parts of the level 3 course, aspects like anatomy, working within training systems, and client analysis were completely alien to me. I’ll admit, this took a little longer to sink in, as I didn’t realise how much planning goes into a client’s programme.
Thankfully, everything was set out in easily manageable chunks, and the online learning resources and videos really helped me through some of those tricky modules in the early stages of the course.
As Nicola says, when you’re completing your course, whatever qualification that may be, you should choose a provider where you are comfortable asking all the questions you need.
Feeling fully supported by the expertise and professionalism of the teaching staff, as well as the resources available through the provider, will have a major influence on your ability to complete your course to the best of your ability.
Identifying the right career path for you
You may be fooled into believing that once you’ve passed your personal training qualifications, then that’s that. Indeed, some course providers may even lure you into believing that this is the case, and that all the hard work is behind you once you pick up your certificate.
In actual fact, your journey has only really just begun following your graduation. Really, a provider’s post-course program should rank highly in your decision making process, as it is crucial in helping you decide what kind of career best suits your strengths and needs:
I asked Nicola if she felt confident following her course, and what kind of support she received to prepare her for the wider world following graduation:
I noticed the benefits of the course pretty much straight away. By the end, I was using fitness terminology like it was a second language. Coming from someone who found the anatomy modules particularly gruelling, that is something I never thought I would say.
In terms of preparing me for the world after the course, on the last day but one we did a full day on marketing, business, CV, and interview preparation.
I was surprised to see how gyms differed from one to another on how they pay their trainers, and also the many different routes of going freelance, being hired by a gym, or going it entirely alone. We also had a couple of hours with the recruitment specialist who showed us how to make our CV stand out, and looked at what questions employers were going to ask and how to answer them.
Nicola told us that this preparation helped her secure her first job working for a major gym. She also spoke highly of OriGym’s unique jobs board, available only to students and alumni of OriGym-run personal trainer courses and fitness instructor courses:
Yeah, the job’s board was great! The day after finishing the course I was straight on there. I really wanted a salary-based role to start off with, especially as I was planning to move over to the UK from Lanzarote on a permanent basis. In that regard, I felt I needed some job security. I applied for a few jobs and landed a couple of interviews within a week, which was exciting to say the least!
Expanding and moving forwards with your career
Since landing a job with a major gym, I asked Nicola how her career has moved forwards, and what kinds of decisions she made to expand her business prospects and client lists:
In the beginning, I was working for a major gym, while building up my trail running and personal training business on the side.
The trail running in particular has really taken off in recent months. I now have over 40 regular paying clients and I’ve moved into this full-time to cater for all the new clients I have taken on.
I’ve actually directly implemented the sales framework and direct debit technique taught to me at OriGym into my business plan, meaning all of my clients pay via direct debit and the vast majority book two sessions a week or more. When I decided to become a personal trainer, starting my own freelance business was always the end goal, so these last few months have been a dream come true.
I also asked Nicola how she was planning to expand her business, now that she had achieved a good degree of success.
I got six free CPDs with my personal training course package, and I have completed the kettlebell CPD and the suspension CPD thus far. I hope to come back and get the other four advanced courses finished when I get a chance, as this has had a real impact on allowing me to rise above my competition in terms of the services I can offer.
In general, I would love to expand further by launching trail running retreats in the UK and abroad. When I was looking at how to become a personal trainer and which areas of fitness I wanted to specialise in, I noticed some running retreats that looked really appealing. Lanzarote also does not have anyone harnessing the beautiful countryside for this purpose, so I think that might be a winner for me.
Lastly, and most importantly, we asked Nicola if she was happy with her new career:
Without a doubt in my mind!
My only regret is not looking to become a personal trainer sooner. No more cleaning bars or taking coffee orders, just focusing now on how to grow my personal training business, which I am excited about more and more every day!
And that’s exactly the kind of career projection you can expect if you choose to make the switch to becoming a personal trainer.
The best part in all of this is that you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, we actively encourage you to contact some course providers and start asking questions, using the step-by-step process and checklist we outlined earlier in this article.
What’s more, if you did have any questions, we want to hear from you. Your first move should be to click below in order to receive your free OriGym prospectus. Aside from our blog content, this will contain all the information you need to get a head start in the fitness industry.
We also want to know what you thought of Nicola’s story. If you found it inspiring, or if there’s someone you think would benefit from reading about Nicola’s journey, be sure to share our resource both with them, and through your social media.
And, of course, if you think we missed anything, leave a comment below and let us know. We’d love to hear from you!