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Fitness Trainers Careers

Fitness trainers work to motivate and instruct clients on physical fitness, exercise programs and nutrition. Fitness instructors work in a wide variety of settings, including gyms, universities, hospitals, exercise studios or homes of clients. Fitness professionals might be trained in the use of various types of equipment, including specialized gym machines, basic weights, aerobic exercise aids and more.

Fitness trainers are in a position to help others with their goals for physical health and lifestyle wellness. From working with an athlete who needs strength training to helping someone learn how to control their weight through diet and exercise, fitness trainers are often a first line of defense in physical health. Though there is some risk of injury during the course of the job, fitness trainers have the advantage of knowing how to take care of their bodies in order to avoid problems, as well as the training to help them recover.

How to Become a Fitness Instructor

While there is no guarantee of employment, the following steps may help open doors to fitness instructor jobs:

  1. Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent in order to enter a higher education program.
  2. Earn certification in CPR, which is often required before a student can enter fitness instructor training.
  3. Adhere to credit hour obligations and other requirements in order to complete a training program.
  4. Determine the prerequisites for certification, and satisfy the requirements necessary to receive certification.
  5. Depending on personal and career goals, enroll in an associate degree or bachelor's degree program in a relevant field (for example, physical education or exercise science).
  6. Gain specialized qualifications in areas of interest, such as group exercise or personal fitness training.
  7. Meet additional requirements for training and continuing education, depending on the employer.

Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing

Some facilities require only basic certifications for fitness instructors, while others require a certification degree program for fitness instructors. Further certification might be required for specializations, such as that of yoga instructor or group aerobics instructor. Depending upon the chosen professional direction, continuing education credits might be needed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that certification is often necessary in order to obtain employment. Many private institutions and organizations offer certification programs in a wide variety of specialties. Advanced certification may call for an associate or bachelor's degree. After employment begins, on-the-job training with an experienced fitness trainer is usually required before a new instructor can work directly with clients.

Fitness Instructor Specialties

The world of fitness training offers numerous specialities for those who want to focus their work, from kettlebell weights to mixed martial arts. The following is a sampling of available specializations:

  • Core conditioning
  • Group fitness
  • Kickboxing
  • Fitness nutrition
  • Sports training
  • Triathlon
  • Yoga

Fitness Instructor Job Growth and Average Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects national employment for fitness trainers to increase by up to 24 percent between 2010 and 2020, with faster than average growth. This expansion in fitness instructor jobs could be spurred by employers looking for ways to keep their employees healthy, an aging population, and the desire to combat obesity and disease through exercise and nutrition. Certain activities, such as yoga or Pilates, are expected to increase in popularity as clients look for low-impact forms of exercise to help offer relief for health ailments such as arthritis (bls.gov/ooh).

For fitness trainers and aerobics instructors in the U.S., the median annual wage was $31,720 as of May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,630 per year, while the upper 10 percent earned more than $66,530 per year. The highest levels of employment were found in the amusement and recreation industries, civic and social organizations, local government, schools and personal services. Fitness instructor salary can vary according to factors such as location, experience and education (bls.gov/oes).

List of Related Careers

Other options are available to those interested in the world of physical fitness. To learn more about potential paths for fitness-minded students, select from the list of careers below:

  • Athletic Trainers: Work to diagnose, treat and prevent injuries and illnesses in clients, from young children to professional athletes. The BLS notes that this position requires a bachelor's degree.
  • Physical Therapist Assistants: Under the supervision of a physical therapist, help patients recover from injuries, regain range of movement and manage pain. Most states require an associate degree to enter this position.
  • Recreational Therapists: Plan and coordinate recreational programs for those with serious illness or injury, including programs that maintain the emotional and physical well-being of clients. This position usually requires a bachelor's degree.

Links to Sources and Associations

Websites such as the following offer more information on fitness instructor training:

American Council on Exercise

Fitness Trainers and Instructors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

Fitness Trainers and Aerobics Instructors, May 2012, Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics

National Strength and Conditioning Association

National Academy of Sports MedicineNational Federation of Professional Trainers