PT Business

What it Takes to Become a Successful Personal Trainer

Oct 5
Personal Trainer

Becoming a certified personal trainer is not a difficult thing to do. In most cases, earning your certification simply involves choosing a specialty and passing the appropriate exam, usually comprised of 100 - 150 multiple choice questions. In most cases, the only prerequisite to taking the exam is having a high school diploma or equivalent and AED/CPR certification, the latter of which can be obtained by simply taking a short, publicly offered course.

So no, it’s not difficult to become an officially certified personal trainer. However, becoming a highly effective, sought-after personal trainer that generates an impressive income and experiences significant job satisfaction? That takes a lot more work and forethought than simply passing a test.

Different Types of Trainers

Just because you’ve decided you want to become a personal trainer doesn’t mean that you have it figured out. It’s like deciding to be a doctor. That desire gives you an idea of what direction you want to head in, but it’s also a very broad description that covers a variety of fields. Just like a doctor can be a pediatrician, surgeon, general practitioner, or a professional in several fields, personal trainers also specialize in different aspects of health and wellness.


Strength and conditioning coaches strive to improve the athletic ability of their clients in a safe and effective fashion. Sports nutritionists specialize on the diet side of things, helping clients build menus and meal plans that will allow their bodies to run more efficiently. Corrective specialists specifically deal with clients who suffer from physical ailments and require specialized exercise programs that suit their unique needs. These are just a few of the fields you can work in as a trainer.

Increase Your Knowledge


While you can become certified with nothing more than a high school diploma, getting by on the bare minimum isn’t necessarily a good look. If you want to beef up your academic resume, there are a variety of options. You don’t have to go the whole nine yards and attend a four-year college, though that is certainly an option. Having a bachelor’s or master’s degree in your field will certainly help you land better paying work and clients. There are also vocational and trade schools that offer leaner, more-focused courses that will allow you to earn further certificates to bolster your resume. While these schools don’t offer degrees, the trade-off is that the requirements for earning certificates are much less intensive. If nothing else, even attending a local community college can get you an associate’s degree.

Furthering your education isn’t just good advice for those looking to get into the field, but also for those actively working and trying to attract more clients. It’s never a bad idea to improve upon your education, experience, and resume. Ultimately, the type of education you’ll need depends on what sort of field you’d like to work in. Several fields require trainers to possess bachelor’s degrees in things like nutrition or kinesiology.

Focus on Clients and make yourself Marketable

It’s not just about becoming more knowledgeable, either. You’re also making yourself more attractive to prospective clients. Being a successful personal trainer requires more than expertise in your chosen health field. Salesmanship is just as important a factor, if not more important, in building a career. Being able to sell yourself is what gets your clients in the door, so to speak. Any sort of health or fitness venture is a long-term investment, so you have very little proof to show prospective clients as a way to convince them to pay for your services. You can’t sell them on results they won’t see for a significant amount of time. If you’ve been in the game long enough, you can use existing and past clients as a portfolio. If you’re starting out (and presumably, if you’re reading this article, you are), you have very little tools at your disposal other than a list of credentials and inspiring, unrelenting confidence.

Need to be Charismatic and Personable

Maybe you don’t need a lot of help getting clients. Maybe you’ve paid your networking dues and word-of-mouth is sending business your way. Maybe you’re working for a local gym or a larger personal training company and they’re doing the footwork for you. That’s the first hurdle, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need those personable skills. Just because you’ve gotten them through the door doesn’t mean they’re going to stay. Charisma is just as important in maintaining client relationships as it is hooking them in the first place.

This is where a lot of new trainers get blindsided. While people skills may not be quite as important if you’re training a group, which you may very well end up doing, they are paramount when it comes to one-on-one relationships. You don’t need to be your client’s best friend, but it is something of a symbiotic relationship. Your success depends on their willingness to follow diet and fitness plans, and their success depends on your ability to properly inform, inspire, and motivate. Their needs to be trust, and trust can’t form without a bond. If your people skills aren’t up to par, no amount of knowledge in the world is going to help.

Be Able to Recommend Other Trainers

Of course, sometimes there’s a lack of chemistry that simply can’t be helped, and it’s up to you and your client to recognize those instances and decide whether to continue working together. If you feel that you’re not able to give your client the proper support, and especially if you feel that they might benefit more from a different trainer, you have an ethical obligation to have this discussion. Not to mention, if a client isn’t working out, moving on will free up time that can be spent with clients better suited to your style.

Likewise, if they don’t feel comfortable with you, it’s in their best interest, financially and health-wise, to address these concerns and possibly end the business relationship. You can’t take it personally. While it’s unfortunate when client relationships don’t work out, ending the arrangement without the proper respect and professionalism can only hurt your reputation. Even if you’re not a good fit for a certain client, being pleasurable to work with could result in that client recommending you to friends and colleagues.

Beyond Simple Motivation

Here’s where the relationship gets tricky. It’s not enough to simply be kind and motivating. For one, you need to know what makes your client tick, why they want to improve their life, because utilizing that personal motivation is the key to making sure they follow through. And two, you need to know when to dial back on the kindness and the motivation. It might seem counterintuitive to be anything but nice and supportive to the person you’re relying on to pay your salary, but if you’re too much of a cheerleader, they’ll come to depend on you. If they depend on you too much, they’ll only pursue their fitness goals during your sessions. You need them to want it badly enough that their actively seeking fitness with or without you around, otherwise it won’t work. The fire needs to burn 24/7, not just when the client is in “fitness mode” or at the gym.

In addition to whatever lies at the core of your client’s desire to better themselves - wanting to feel better, wanting to be around for their grandchildren, etc - you will also need to find ways to keep them motivated on a day-to-day basis, in short bursts if need be. In these cases, you’ll find yourself gravitating towards what’s worked for you in the past, but what’s important is what works for them. Some clients will want to load their smartphone up with every fitness app on the market. Some clients won’t want to rely on gadgets or might not even own a smartphone. You need to adapt to their needs rather than ask them to adapt to your methods. It’s fine to have a go-to plan in place. You are the trainer, after all. You just need to have backup plans on hand when something isn’t clicking as well as it has in the past.

Strive for Progress not Perfection

Finally, and this is a bit more specific: focus on ease of movement first and above all. The vast majority of clients seeking your services will be in poor physical health. A good portion will be obese. While beach bodies are nice and a common end goal, it could take a long time to get there, and a good way to ensure your client sticks around for the journey is to get them to a place where they can perform everyday physical tasks without experiencing pain or getting out of breath. When you’ve spent a significant part of your life in poor shape, it’s easy to forget that simple tasks like climbing stairs and even walking shouldn’t leave you winded and sore. While your client’s long-term goals may be a way off, an effective short-term goal is to increase energy levels and make getting around easier and less painful. These changes can be noticed relatively quickly and can give your client the boost they need to follow through on their major goals.

Strive for Progress not Perfection