If you love working out, eating well and are constantly on the lookout for the latest news in health and fitness, a career as a fitness trainer probably sounds like a dream come true. Many people wrongly assume that becoming a fitness trainer will be difficult or expensive, but this handy guide aims to dispel those myths, covering the basic skills, personal qualities and qualifications required to become a fitness trainer, as well as handy tips and advice to make sure that you hit the ground running!
Although there are no set qualifications required to become a fitness trainer in the UK, you will have to undergo training (see below), and be able to demonstrate a specific set of skills and personal qualities. First of all, you should be in excellent physical health – think of yourself as a walking advertisement of your services; if you aren’t in great shape yourself, why should your potential customers trust you to help them achieve their fitness goals?
It is a good idea to broaden your horizons in terms of exercise. For example if you are a boxing expert, why not complement your high-impact, cardiovascular workouts with some low-impact Yoga or Pilates? Experiment with equipment such as kettle balls and resistance bands, and familiarise yourself with techniques such as interval training. By developing an all-round knowledge, you will gain credibility and have more to offer in the increasingly competitive fitness market.
It is also important to ask yourself if you have the personal qualities suited to working closely with other people: among other things, you must be patient, intuitive and a strong communicator with a passion for what you do.
You should be a practical person as you will need to able to use equipment such as heart rate / blood pressure monitors, and you should have the analytical skills to use and interpret data to follow the progress of clients.
In the United Kingdom, you can study towards an accredited awarding body qualification in fitness training, either through Further Education establishments or with independent providers such as HFE, Premier Training International or YMCA Fit.
Studying an appropriate university degree can also set you in good stead to become a fitness trainer, but you may also have to go through Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) or Accreditation of Prior Achievement (APA).
With an accredited qualification or degree, you are now eligible for Level 3 Register of Exercise Professionals (REP) status.
Should you specialise?
There are a range of specialised roles within the fitness training industry. These include working with specific age groups, people with disabilities, people with chronic illnesses, even expectant mothers. Some fitness trainers offer an integrated exercise plan covering a variety of disciplines, whilst others specialise in one particular type of exercise. Specialising allows you to cater for a niche market, which can be valuable in today’s competitive fitness industry.
What about nutrition?
Since fitness and weight-management go hand in hand, many fitness trainers also offer nutritional advice.
Although there are no set requirements to become a nutritionist (different from a dietician, see below), your local Further Education college is a good place to start, with a range of accredited qualifications such as A-levels, BTECs, NVQs and NCFEs available. Nutritionists look at a client’s diet and recommend changes to overcome a range of problems.
Unlike nutritionists, dieticians are formally trained and approach food and nutrition from a scientific perspective, translating their understanding into practical dietary advice for the client. Dieticians in the UK must be registered with the Health Professionals Council, and must have a relevant degree or postgraduate qualification.
Being able to offer sound nutritional advice to complement your fitness programmes is a useful addition to the resume of any fitness trainer.
Where do you want to work?
Fitness trainers can work in a number of locations. Many gyms, health clubs and spas offer personal training services, so check regularly for vacancies. The tourism industry is another source of employment, with many larger holiday resorts and cruises employing fitness trainers (though the work may be seasonal).
It is also possible to work long-distance, sending personalised fitness programmes to clients via email, though many are more comfortable working one-on-one with their trainer.
Don’t forget about HR
If you are self-employed, there are many things to do to keep HM Revenue and Customs happy. You will need to register as self-employed and complete your own taxes, or hire an accountant to do this for you.
As a fitness trainer, some of the documents you should prepare include a fitness questionnaire / pre-assessment for new clients, a contract, and a medical release form. To protect yourself from any legal complications, make sure your HR documents are air-tight and written or checked by professionals.
Now you’re a certified fitness trainer, it is important that people know your name. Design business cards and ask your friends and family to help distribute them. Consider taking out a paid advertisement in local newspapers.
In the modern world the Internet can be your most important marketing resource. Set up a good quality website and utilise social media to spread the word about your services and develop a relationship with clients. One of the most cost-effective solutions to boost your marketing in the short term is ‘pay-per-click’ advertising on Google or Facebook.
And the future?
Becoming a fitness trainer opens up a range of career directions in the future. These include fitness consulting, writing for fitness magazines, books or websites, professional coaching for athletes and sports teams, teaching group classes – even opening your own gym.
Perhaps the best part of being a fitness trainer is getting to do what you love all day – and the enormous satisfaction that your support and motivation helps others to live a healthier, more active life.