You actually don't need anything to become a personal trainer.
But being certified really helps when it comes to proving you know what you are doing. If you have ever thought about becoming a personal trainer then I should let you know that it is a highly competitive field and that while some personal trainers train people privately and charge a fair bit per hour, most personal trainers work in gyms can get paid less than $20 per hour.
So right away I must warn you that you probably won't get rich by becoming a personal trainer. It really is more about the lifestyle. Most personal trainers are great one on one, but don't expect them to have any skill with memorizing lines or acting ability to get in front of a camera and have their own exercise TV show. (Not saying you can't attempt to do that, just saying that most people lack the necessary skills.)
For many years now my job has been to teach personal trainer certification workshops. I have done this for as part of several organizations, including the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and the American College of Sports Medicine. I must have certified hundreds of people as personal trainers over the years, teaching classes from New York to Las Vegas, and I must have taught dozens of personal training workships both in the USA and Canada. I even traveled overseas in 2007 to Japan and South Korea to teach sport conditioning classes*, and the highlight of my trip was a class I taught to the Japanese Olympic soccer team.
*Sport conditioning classes are very similar to a personal training class, except that it was tailored more specifically to highly trained athletes looking to get an extra edge on the competition.
So lets “shine some light” on what skills it takes to be a personal trainer for those of you who might be interested in this exciting but not universally well paid profession.
#1. A key attribute of any good personal trainer is to have a good knowledge of how the body works.
For example, human anatomy teaches us without a doubt that leg raises are not done by the abdominal muscles; all you have to do is look at the muscles and bones and it is clear that the abdominals do not attach to the legs, therefore it is impossible for the abs to lift your legs. Hip flexor muscles do this motion. Once you know basic anatomy you can plan an efficient exercise program. Do leg raises for hip flexor work, not for ab strengthening. A good personal trainer knows how to prescribe an effective exercise program for specific goals.
#2. Another key attribute for a good personal trainer is to be a good communicator.
Having a lot of knowledge won't be very useful if you can't explain it to clients in an easy to understand way. A good personal trainer should be able to share this info effectively with others easily and in a friendly manner.
#3. Demonstrate your Knowledge via Writing.
To get certified as a personal trainer with a reputable organization, you will need to pass a test which verifies that you have a certain knowledge level in one or more of these areas: exercise physiology, human anatomy, kinesiology (study of how the body moves), nutrition, exercise program development and prescription, stress control and fitness testing.
Being able to pass the test is a big deal. Some certification companies (and they are definitely for-profit companies) basically just take your money and hand you your diploma. Ideally what you want is to get certified with a respected personal trainer organization that does a really good job of testing you. There are some out there who aren’t worth your time and money because their testing process and reputation is rather weak.
Thus with ELITE Trainers my goal was to make a test so difficult that people would fail it regularly - thus confirming that my company is only certifying the best of the best. To do this I crafted 100 essay questions for each test and set the passing grade at 86%. If you score an 85% or lower, you failed the test.
Furthermore I wanted to make certain that people recognized that some personal trainers have more experience than others. Thus I created a ranking system, whereby every new personal trainer I certify is granted a Rank of 1. And they have to complete a higher ranking and more difficult test in the same field to get a Rank of 2, and so forth, all the way up to 10.
Thus we cream away the best people worthy of being certified and people who lack the necessary skills are rejected. Yes, I admit, its a great money making scheme for me if people come back and try to retake the test, but at least I am honest about it.
I should add that a person’s life experience in the fitness field can add greatly to being a good personal trainer. Yes, you can take workshops and get certified by a variety of companies, but quite frankly, I know some people who don’t have a any formal certification or a college degree in a field such as exercise science, but they know a great deal through self education, and I would still highly recommend them if someone asked me whom to refer. For example one of the people I have certified in the past now runs a personal training company here in Toronto and while I realize he mostly sticks to sports instruction, I know for a fact that is highly skilled at helping people lose weight. Having his certification is really just a way for him to prove he knows what he is doing.
In the past many people have pointed out that personal trainer certifications is basically just a big money-making scam. Even personal trainers and myself will admit to this. However it does serve a purpose.
Having the certification process in place protects the fitness industry from having too many trainers out there that don’t know their biceps from their buttocks!
Many companies out there operate three to five day workshop that you will need to attend. Study materials will be sent to you hopefully before the workshop or provided at the workshop. Most organizations will require both a written exam and a practical exam, with a passing rate of 60 percent or higher. Some places are lower and basically don't even grade you. A few reputable companies similar to ELITE expects a final grade of 80% or higher. The exact amount differs among certifying agencies, but the practical exam will consist of individuals actually demonstrating exercises, administering fitness tests, and answering questions orally. Sometimes this aspect of certification creates some stage fright, as you have to “think on your feet”.
Prices vary for these workshops, but you will pay around $400 to $600 for the three to five days of classes. But that is an investment that can easily be recouped in a short time once you are out there training your clients. (Assuming you get clients - Some people get their certification and then have trouble attracting their first clients.)
If you are thinking about becoming a personal trainer, there are many aspects to consider. Talk to people who are already working as personal trainers, study websites pertaining to personal training, and of course, consider getting your certification from ELITE if you think you have the skills to pass a really difficult test. Personal training is an exciting profession, can pay well if you manage to find a niche market, and can be very rewarding because you are helping others to lose weight, gain muscle and live healthier lives.
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