How to Become a Personal Trainer - Requirements, Skills and Career
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What Does a Personal Trainer Do?
A personal trainer helps his or her clients assess their level of personal physical fitness and set and reach personal fitness goals. People attend gyms for a variety of reasons, including increasing their muscle mass, losing weight, toning and sculpting their bodies, enhancing their performance in a specific sporting discipline or generally improving their emotional and physical wellbeing. Whatever their reasons, personal trainers provide them with personal training programmes tailored to their specific requirements and help them maintain their commitment to the agreed programme.
The main skill of a personal trainer is the ability to apply their general knowledge of physical fitness and exercise to the requirements of individual clients and their specific physical characteristics, and to provide them with the support they need - including from a motivational point of view - to help them reach the goals they have set.
A personal trainer’s first meeting with a new client is focused on gathering information from the client - including data regarding their health and medical history. The personal trainer needs to be able to assess a client’s health and fitness, their motivation and their goals and also find out how often they will be available for training sessions. To do this, personal trainers often use general fitness assessments, body composition tests, as well as a number of other specific health and fitness tests, such as muscular strength tests, to evaluate their client’s physical condition.
The personal trainer uses this data to design a personalized training programme whose aim is to enable the client to reach the goals they have set. A good training programme should be sustainable over time, produce the desired effects and be compatible with a client’s physical condition.
Once the goals, timing and methods have all been established, the personal trainer is responsible for assisting the client during their exercise sessions in the gym, helping them to perform all the set exercises correctly and safely and ensuring there is no danger or damage to the client’s health. For example, the trainer will ensure that the training equipment is properly adjusted, select the right weights for workouts and suggest corrections if the client is performing an exercise incorrectly. They also provide motivational support, encouraging the client to complete their training sessions and achieve their goals, as well as providing advice on nutrition to help the client lead a healthier and more active lifestyle.
Personal trainers generally work in a gym, fitness centre or sports club, which will contain all the equipment required for the client to follow their training programme (e.g. benches, dumbbells, barbells, running machines etc). However it is also possible to work as a mobile personal trainer, conducting sessions at clients’ homes or at other locations and focusing on exercises that do not require equipment or that use home fitness equipment.
A personal trainer may work on a self-employed basis or be part of the staff at a gym, fitness centre or sports club. Working hours are flexible and may include shifts and working at weekends.
Personal Trainer Duties and Responsibilities
The duties of a personal trainer include:
- Assessing a client’s physical fitness and health
- Establishing the most suitable training programme for each individual client
- Designing training programmes that are effective and sustainable
- Monitoring training performance and progress achieved and modifying programmes where necessary
- Helping clients perform exercises correctly
- Providing advice on leading an active and healthy lifestyle and on nutrition
- Encouraging clients to regularly attend their gym sessions with a view to achieving their training goals
How to Become a Personal Trainer - Education, Requirements, Training
Some form of education in Sports Science or Physical Education is required to become a personal trainer. There are university programs (which include medical and scientific subjects, such as anatomy, nutrition, biomechanics and physiology of sport) as well as courses organized by sports federations, bodies and institutions. Personal trainers require an in-depth knowledge of sports and physical activity, from both a practical point of view (i.e. how to correctly perform exercises) and in terms of safety (i.e. ability to identify movements that may pose a health risk for a client).
Personal trainers also need good analytical skills to help them identify a client’s needs and potential and on this basis establish a training programme that will enable them to achieve their goals. A passion for physical activity and sports is another important requirement, as this will make it easier for trainers to identify with their clients, which will in turn increase client engagement - an essential ingredient for any successful gym.
In addition, having some marketing knowledge may also be of use, since a personal trainer’s ability to use his or her own personal image (alongside that of the gym and its clients) as a promotional tool is an increasingly important factor in attracting new clients.
Skills and Qualifications
The skills most frequently cited in job advertisements for personal trainers include:
- Knowledge of physical fitness and sports
- Ability to design effective, tailor-made personal training programmes
- Knowledge of health and nutrition
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Good personal physical fitness
Personal Trainer Career Path
Working as a personal trainer may lead to a career in the world of fitness, which offers a vast range of opportunities. In addition to coaching individual clients, personal trainers may choose to branch out into teaching groups, focus on a specific discipline, a martial art or a sport (as a sports instructor) or study to become a fitness coach. Alternatively, they may decide to study for a specialist healthcare qualification, as a physiotherapist, for example, focusing on assisting clients with musculoskeletal problems (such as back pain) and using retraining techniques and posture correction exercises. A further possibility is to specialize in organizing weight loss and toning programmes.
A personal trainer working as part of the team staff at a fitness centre may progress to a management role, for example as gym manager, where the responsibilities will include managing the fitness area and the club’s instructors, monitoring timetabled courses, organizing shifts and supervising all gym equipment.
An alternative route is to set up your own business, which will involve looking for own clients and managing the administrative side of things, too. This option definitely involves more work, but the potential financial rewards are greater than in a salaried position. Other options include working as a mobile personal trainer and conducting training sessions at people’s homes or opening your own gym.
Finally, another possibility is a career in sales, for example as a salesperson for a manufacturer of sportswear, sports equipment or health or dietary supplements.
Top Reasons to Work as a Personal Trainer
One of the main reasons for starting a career as a personal trainer is the desire to inspire others to leave a healthier lifestyle and improve their physical fitness.
Personal trainers are usually people who love what they do and want to share their passion for fitness with others and use it to make a difference. What this job is not, however, is an opportunity to be paid while exercising. Personal trainers are required to pay close attention to what their clients are doing, so focusing on their own workout is not an option.
A key aspect of the role job is client psychology. Since clients’ expectations are often not realistic, part of the personal trainer’s job is to help them to set goals that are feasible and then to support and motivate them in their efforts to achieve those goals.
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