What To Do With a Personal Training Certification - Erin's Inside Job

What To Do With a Personal Training Certification

Since passing my NASM exam and becoming certified as a personal trainer, a lot of my questions have sprung from one major one: “What next?”

There are so many pathways to take with a personal training certification and as someone who likes to plan and have the answers ahead of time, you can imagine that I was left feeling very unsettled. I did have the foresight to expect this problem because it quickly became evident as I was studying that the exam only gets you a certification based on objective anatomical and NASM-specific training information. There is no practical component to the exam or any job experience necessary to becoming a personal trainer.

This explains why there are so many mediocre, if not downright awful, personal trainers. I’m not saying that it is their fault, but if you start training someone based on only information from the textbook, then you really only have half the picture. You have to figure out pricing (if you’re on your own), people skills, how to accommodate any issues relating to the training plan, and that each person is going to need something different than the last.

I believe that training is specific to each individual person and is comprised of much more than a prescribed set of exercises. Training is about the entire person: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually and that is most definitely not covered in the textbook.  There is some mention of motivators and strategies to help increase compliance, but I feel that it goes a little deeper than that with each individual person.

So I set out to annoy kindly ask all of the personal trainers I know roughly 2316571 questions about their experience and what they have been doing with their certifications. I even shadowed one for 10 hours over the weekend. This way I am able to get a wide variety of responses and develop my own philosophy and practice. Here are some of the things that I have found that you can do with a personal training certification:

What To Do With a Personal Training Certification

1. Work at a Gym

This is a great opportunity for people starting out. You are guaranteed clients and are able to learn the ropes from more seasoned trainers. You get familiar with developing training plans using a wide variety of equipment available at a large gym.

  • Pros: steady base of clients, learning experience, less work marketing yourself
  • Cons: paid less than going on your own, can require a lot of selling yourself in order to attract new clients

2. Private Clients

Having private clients means that you do the work to grow your client base. You can set your own hours, figure out if you want to train clients at your home, their home, online, or at a commercial space (usually requires a small payment to use the space). You also keep the entirety of the fee you charge.

  • Pros: flexibility, all profit, choose who you want to work with
  • Cons: a LOT of marketing of your services, lack of consistency until a solid base is built (risk), administrative tasks of running your own business

3. Group Fitness

Some establishments require that you also be group exercise certified in order to teach classes, but others do not. If this is something you are interested it, ask local businesses what their requirements are. If you can teach group fitness as a personal trainer, it is a great way to make connections with a larger group of people. For clients, often having other people around them will cause people to pick up the pace and challenge themselves during workouts.

  • Pros: able to see many people at one time, fun atmosphere, can make connections with people who may also later become personal clients
  • Cons: have to lead a large group (some people may not be comfortable with this), not as much time for individual attention to form correction

4. Corporate Wellness

Many businesses and corporations are now realizing the importance of health and wellness. Check and see if any near you would be willing to have you lead a group class a couple times a month. If the business is large, they may have their own gym or fitness center in the building. If not, many gyms rent space for a monetary fee for you to hold your classes. To approach businesses about any ideas you may have, check places like LinkedIn for “Wellness Coordinators” or other similar job descriptions to find a point of contact.

  • Pros: tend to pay higher for one class than teaching at a gym/studio, can develop a lasting relationship which leads to steady employment
  • Cons: infrequent opportunities (better as supplemental income), requires more self-marketing, not all business have budgets for health/wellness for employees

5. Programming

If you aren’t as interested in training or teaching all the time, you could simply program workouts to be used in classes or for other trainers. This may not be a lucrative choice, but could bring in some extra income.

  • Pros: can be done from anywhere, relatively easy with experience
  • Cons: not sustainable as sole income source, usually included under the other categories

6. Fitness Writer/Contributor

If you like to write about fitness, being certified as a personal trainer will give you a reputable voice in the community. You can offer to write for local papers, magazines, and websites.

  • Pros: good supplemental income, gets your name out in the community, ability to write (if you love it like me)
  • Cons: not sustainable as sole income source (unless you write lots of books), could take time away from training clients

So those are some of the options that I have discovered over the past couple weeks. For me, I have an interest in all of these except for working in a commercial gym. Programming can also fall within most of these categories because unless you are teaching/training a pre-programmed workout, you will be developing one on your own.

My hope is to get a mix of private clients and fitness classes. As you know, I am already working with a Sweat Life as a writer, but now that I am actually certified I plan to reach out to more publications in an attempt to get more writing under my belt. WRITING EVERYDAY.


  • Do you have any other jobs to add to the list?
  • If you’re a personal trainer, how do you structure your training?
  • If you’re not, what’s your job?


20 comments on “What To Do With a Personal Training Certification

  1. Take me with you where you go 😀
    I was about to be a trainer (group fitness, though I didn’t want to be, I wanted to be one-on-one) at a country club, then got my desk job. Then I was approached out of the blue by two fellow bloggers about training them. Then I did that post and got a few more clients. Now I am a coach. I would love to be a marathon and running coach long term–I think that is my goal with all of this.
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…Ragnar Chicago Race Recap and Post Race RecoveryMy Profile

    1. You should talk to Rick. He was a college level running coach for a number of years. I think you’d do great at it.

  2. Great information here! I’ve thought about getting a PT certification to get that extra legitimacy when I write about fitness on my blog, but I don’t know if the return on investment is worth it for me yet. 🙂 My yoga and running coach certifications have been really helpful, though!
    Beth @ Running with the Sunrise recently posted…Ragnar Chicago RecapMy Profile

  3. I do know that registered kinesiologists can help out in Physiotherapy offices. The physio treats the problem and then works together with the kines to set up a rehab program and a preventative program etc.
    Suzy recently posted…Get Out the StupidMy Profile

    1. Oh yeah I forgot to talk about that! I talked to a local PT clinic to see about collaborating and having PT as an adjunct to therapy. Thanks for reminding me!

  4. If you were in Topeka I would definitely hire you as a personal trainer. I am currently doing PT for a groin injury and I have realized just how much I enjoy having someone show me what to do.

    1. Hey Johanna, I just stumbled across this blog by chance. I started skimming comments and Topeka caught my eye. I am also from Kansas (Hays)

  5. I love being a personal trainer, and agree with you when you say there are a LOT of “bad” trainers out there – it’s too bad there is no practical portion. I studied Kinesiology and Exercise Science in undergrad, and worked in a physical therapy clinic for a few years before going the training route. ASK ME Q’S if you want!! Happy to chat 🙂
    Jess @hellotofit recently posted…Link Love #22 and wedding seasonMy Profile

  6. I went to school for kinesiology and exercise science, recieved my degrees and pt certs. Now I work in recreation and have a side business of private coaching for swimmers and runners.

  7. I’m very late to the game (just came from Kate’s blog) after reading your guest post.
    Thanks a lot for posting this! I also just received my personal training certificate (on Jan. 11!) and haven’t quite decided what I’ll do with it either.
    I currently work in PR/marketing and don’t necessarily want to quit my day job but also don’t want to work a full time job and then extra on evenings/weekends. We will see!

  8. Hi Erin, My name is Jeff and I just read your blog and like it more than anything I’ve read in this space, and I’ve read a lot. This is the first response I’ve written to anything. I am currently more that halfway through the ACE PT certification course and your approach sounds like me in that I want to explore all the opportunities available. Like you, I think I would be happiest teaching classes and working in a corporate wellness setting. I too strongly believe that fitness is a lifestyle and a philosophical frame of mind toward wellness. I pay myself first: Exercise, FUN exercise, makes the day.
    I liked your honest introduction. That is something I’ve wondered about. I’ve always periodically exercised in my life; I’m 57 and now fit. Thing is, for the last several years I, grieving, me and Jack Daniels spent way too much time together and my life was in a bad way. I was wondering if I should tell that by way of saying, hey if I can come back, so can you method of motivation. It can be misunderstood and backfire I think. And, I want to write. So that’s me right now. What do you think about this. Especially the drinking thing. Thanks, Jeff
    P.S. for me, at this stage in my life following my passion and helping others if I can is the most important path I want to pursue. I would love to teach and inspire others to be what ACE refers to as being intrinsically motivated. That would be very satisfying.

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