So Ya Wanna Be a Personal Trainer?

If you’re havin’ crappy weather I feel bad for you son. I got 99 problems but the sun ain’t one. 

English Bay Sunset

Seriously though. This weather we’re having here in Vancouver is absolutely gorgeous. Nice and sunny yet not too hot. I’ve been soaking it up as much as possible this past week before it disappears into a giant rain cloud for six months. I went stand-up paddleboarding on Friday, hiked the Grouse Grind yesterday, am about to head out for a morning ride on my bike my boyfriend’s bike, and am training one of my clients outdoors this evening.

Life is good. 

I’m in such a great place right now. While in an ideal world I’d be training people and playing fitness full-time, I feel like each day I’m getting closer to being there and am so grateful for the hours I do get to spend training each week.

Lately I’ve had a lot of people ask me about being a personal trainer.

“You’re a personal trainer? That’s soooo cool!”

Why, yes. Yes it is.

There have been quite a few people who I’ve spoken to who are interested in getting into training as well. One of the greatest things about social media is that it connects us with such a wide range of people, and I think it’s so freakin’ awesome that I’ve had complete strangers ask me about becoming a trainer and if I have any advice for them.

SO. For all of you out there who have been thinking about getting certified, or even for those of you who wonder what it’s like to be a trainer besides yelling at people to do more burpees (that doesn’t really happen by the way), this post is for you.

So Ya Wanna Be a Personal Trainer?

 

Piece of Advice #1: Don’t feel like you have to be in amazing shape to be a trainer. 

While you do want to set a good example for your clients, you don’t have to be totally shredded with a six pack to be a personal trainer. I spent over $12k on a diploma in Hospitality Management because I didn’t believe I was “fit enough” to be a trainer at the time. That’s a lot of money and a lot of time that could have gone towards a degree in a field I was more passionate about.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and I don’t know if I’d be where I am now had I not taken that program and accepted the opportunities that came along with it. But looking back I wish I hadn’t doubted my passion for health and fitness because I had a few extra pounds on me.

Jon Goodman puts it perfectly here:

Just because somebody has abs, it doesn’t mean that he or she can help you do the same. Often times a trainer knows what it takes to get shredded and has made the decision to live a lifestyle of balance.

Amen.

In summary, you gotta walk the walk, but you don’t have to look like a fitness model while doing it.

Piece of Advice #2: Pick your certification based on what you want to do with your career. 

BCRPA. Canfitpro. NASM. ACSM. ACE. NCSA. ISSA.

Figuring out which association you want to be certified (or in the case of BCPRA, “registered”) with can be just as tough as actually getting certified. Unfortunately I’m only partially kidding with this one; there are quite a few agencies that only require you to read an online manual or textbook and write an exam, then BOOM you’re a trainer. No requirements of practical experience or anything like that.

So for your sake and for your future clients’ sake, I’d recommend avoiding those ones. The ones I mentioned above are the big ones and each will likely take you in a bit of a different direction.

For example, my registration with the BC Parks and Rec Association allows me to work in the public sector should I ever want to, but the materials learned through the modules really only qualify me to work with the general fitness crowd. In contrast, getting certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association puts you on the path towards working with higher-level athletes.

I chose BCRPA for a few reasons. It allowed me to continue working full-time while I completed my studies at my own pace, it requires both theoretical and practical exams, and it’s widely recognized through the province. It’s not internationally recognized, but that doesn’t matter to me because A), the training industry is unregulated so that doesn’t really mean a whole lot, and B) I’m perfectly happy staying in this beautiful province helping the general population get their fitness on.

Think of the types of clients you want to train and the types of facilities you’d like to work in, then do some research on the different associations and see which will prepare you the best.

Decide who you want to train

Piece of Advice #3: Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to become a good trainer and to train your clients. 

I get a lot of people telling me they’re thinking about getting certified because they want to make some extra cash on the side. Up until a couple of months ago I was working full-time and even now I still clock 32 hours a week at my “day” job, so it’s definitely possible to train on the side for extra cash. But it’s not easy.

There were times during my studies where I went weeks and even months without socializing. I’d be up at the crack of dawn to study all day, would go to work from 3 until 11:30pm, and then would come home and work on programs for my assessments. Last summer was VERY tough, working full-time, completing my practicum, studying for my final exam, keeping up with family and extra-curricular commitments, AND trying to keep up with my own health and fitness goals.

The whole “extra cash on the side” thing really depends on the route you go, and whichever route you do choose, just be aware that it’s going to be a BIG side. Being a personal trainer doesn’t just consist of the hour or so you spend with your clients.

You have to plan ahead for sessions. Keep record of EVERYTHING and continually monitor progress to see if your initial plan needs to be changed. There’s between-session follow-ups, researching injuries that suddenly present themselves, and continuing education credits that need to be maintained. And if you’re self-employed there’s also a business that needs to be looked after.

If you choose to work in a gym when you’re freshly certified, that “extra cash on the side” could mean minimum wage while you work at a front desk or monitor the weight room. If you choose the self-employment route, you have to consider studio fees, equipment fees, setting money aside for taxes, and other business expenses like marketing.

In short, don’t go in it for the money. Go in it because you have a passion for helping others.

Piece of Advice #4: Be prepared for the “But you’re a personal trainer!”

“You eat ice cream? But you’re a personal trainer!”

“You can’t do a pull-up? But you’re a personal trainer!”

“You have an injury? But you’re a personal trainer!”

As much as we might like to think we are, personal trainers aren’t super humans. We’re still susceptible to getting injured. We still have our physical limitations. And while I can’t speak for all trainers, I know many of us still eat foods we enjoy even though we know they aren’t that good for us (and those that say they don’t are probably lying 😉 ).

At first I used to let the above comments get to me. I let myself think “oh my god, maybe I’m not fit to be a trainer because I can down a litre of ice cream in one sitting” (for reals, I can). “Maybe I’m not cut out for this because of my IT band”. “Who am I to coach others to do pull-ups when I can’t even do one myself?”

But then I got realistic. Getting my certification didn’t get rid of my flat, over-pronated feet and internally-rotated hips that contributed to my ITBS. Becoming a trainer didn’t make me exempt from having to do the strength and stability work necessary to execute a pull-up. And it definitely didn’t make my love for ice cream disappear.

But it did give me a greater understanding as to why my injury happened and what I can do to fix it. It allowed me to figure out the exercises that will help me get that pull-up when I’m ready for it, and it helped me develop coaching skills to use with clients that I use with myself when I need to practice willpower and walk away from the ice cream isle.

The takeaway here: you’re a person with a passion for health, fitness, and helping others. You’re no more of a superhuman than anyone else.

Piece of Advice #5: Be ready to be a lifelong learner.

To my understanding, most, if not all associations require you to collect continuing education credits to maintain your certification. This is one of the things that drew me into this profession the most. I love to learn, and there are SO many different courses and workshops to take and books to read.

I recommend you learn beyond what’s required of you. Never settle for “just enough”. Get a solid understanding of human anatomy and nutrition and how it relates to your clients. But also study things like psychology. Time management. Business. Sociology. I guarantee you will find something in every discipline that you can translate to your career as a personal trainer.

Study multiple disciplines

I’m not trying to discourage anyone from wanting to follow the path of becoming a personal trainer. It’s a highly rewarding (and kind of badass) one to take. But I think that a lot of people underestimate what it takes to be a good trainer, which is unfortunate not only for them but also for the people they work with.

I by no means am the top in my field and I still have TONS to learn. But I’m passionate about what I do and I know that’s what’s going to lead me to further success.

Any fellow trainers out there have any more advice for aspiring trainers? And to those of you who aren’t trainers, what do you look for in a trainer, or what would you look for if you were in the market for one? 

If this post wasn’t enough for you 😉 check out where else I’ve been writing up a storm lately!

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15 thoughts on “So Ya Wanna Be a Personal Trainer?

  1. While I am not a personal trainer, I do think you hit the nail on the head as far as things to consider. I would love to get my certification someday but right now isn’t the best time to do it and I am still unsure of the population I’d want to work with! I know that although it can be a rewarding job it certainly isn’t easy!

    • I think you would make a great trainer! Even now, whether you’re certified or not you’re very inspiring and making a positive impact on many peoples’ lives! And you’re right, it’s not easy, but that’s the case for most rewarding things! 🙂

      • Aw thank you! I don’t know if you know this but you were one of the first people that I connected with on Insta and your words and encouragement meant a lot to me! I was sooo nervous posting about my workouts but you were super nice to me and made me feel comfortable sharing and being open!

  2. I left a couple of trainers in the past after a few sessions. They were both rushing through the sessions and their best interest wasn’t there. The best ones are those who are FIRST passionnated about their field, dedicated to their clients’ goals, knowledgeable and know when to push past your comfort zone while keeping you safe from injuries. Also, there has a be a personal connection between trainer and client to make a workout pleasant. My sister is a PT among other specialities so I know it is a demanding field on both levels, theory and practice. Too late for me but if I can go back I’d definitely follow her footsteps.

    • That’s awesome!! I didn’t know your sister was a trainer. It’s NEVER too late to go after what you want. The thing I love about the fitness industry is there are so many different routes you can take besides being a full-time personal trainer.

      Thanks for your feedback on what you look for in a trainer!

  3. Thanks for this post! I know over the summer I kept asking you questions about becoming certified! Great post! Thanks for all of your tips and encouragement!!

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