What Are Fitness Trainers?
Fitness trainers teach and encourage clients in the pursuit of physical fitness, working with groups and individuals of various ages and skill levels. Fitness activities and physical exercise could encompass cardiovascular workouts, strength training, aerobics classes, stretching and more. Fitness trainers might work in gyms, fitness clubs, health clubs, hospitals, exercise studios, universities or the homes of clients. They track the progress of their clients and may advise them on healthy lifestyles. For more information, see our fitness trainer career page.
Fitness Training Program Information
Fitness training programs can be found in vocational schools, colleges or universities, as well as through fitness centers and dedicated fitness instructor schools. Courses may include physical fitness, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, weight management, exercise and aging, and more. While online studies are available, students also opt for hands-on training, and some programs might require a hybrid approach in order to evaluate and test students on their physical competencies and ability to work effectively with clients.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that almost all fitness workers have a high school diploma, and employers are increasingly seeking trainers with a degree in a related major. Employers may also prefer to hire certified fitness trainers and instructors. Being certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR is often a prerequisite for fitness trainer certification. A variety of different organizations offer certification. Some advanced certifications may require an associate or bachelor's degree in a field like fitness training, physical education or kinesiology. (bls.gov/ooh)
Fitness Training Program Types
Programs such as these are available for those who want to pursue a career in fitness training:
- Certificate: Fitness training programs that culminate in a certificate vary in length, depending on the subject matter. Certificate programs are offered by a range of training providers, including local, private institutions and online colleges. Programs have different emphases, but some are designed to teach the basics of fitness training, allowing students to seek employment or gain further training on the job.
- Associate Degree: Wide-ranging subject matter choices include exercise science, nutrition and business skills, in addition to general education classes. Associate degree programs offer courses in person, online or in a hybrid format. Flexible scheduling of web-based courses can help busy parents and working professionals balance studies with other responsibilities. Accelerated programs might be completed in one year, while typical programs take up to two years of full-time study.
- Bachelor's Degree: Programs focus on physical fitness, as well as courses in business and management. General education coursework in subjects such as English and math could strengthen entrepreneurial and communication skills. Available in person or online, the typical bachelor's degree takes about four years of full-time study, but an accelerated program could compress the work into two to three years, depending on the student's schedule.
Fitness Training Course Descriptions
While some fitness training programs might have varying advanced electives, certain topics are found in most programs. The following common courses are likely in fitness instructor schools:
- Exercise Science: Students review fitness principles for individuals of all ages, including their varied goals
- Body Assessment: Courses pinpoint the needs and physical abilities of clients, as well as limitations that might change the exercise plan
- Nutrition: Classes examine the properties of foods, calorie requirements and weight management
- Management: The goal is to promote understanding of the business side of the field, for example, dealing with clients and training facilities
- Group Fitness: Students can find out ways to lead, motivate and inspire groups in the pursuit of physical fitness
Fitness Training Specialties
Some organizations offer certifications in specializations that allow fitness trainers to focus their practice on one particular area of work or one particular type of client. Here are some of the specialties available:
- Mixed martial arts conditioning
- Triathlon coaching
- Heart rate performance
- Speed, quickness and agility
- Sports nutrition
- Functional training
- Lifestyle weight management
Related Career Options
Fitness trainers may pursue related careers, which could demand additional experience or education. Potential career paths include the following:
- Athletic Trainer: Focuses on athletes and finds solutions to issues relating to sports injuries or performance. At least a bachelor's degree is needed, according to BLS.gov.
- Fitness Center Manager: Oversees the day-to-day operations of fitness centers, including the supervision of fitness trainers and the ordering of equipment.
- Physical Therapy Assistant: Aids physical therapists in helping patients with mobility issues. Typical requirements include targeted studies at the associate degree level, depending on state regulations.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following sources can provide more information on fitness training:
Continuing Education Programs, National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association
Fitness Trainer and Aerobics Instructor, National Institutes of Health
Fitness Trainers and Instructors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
International Sports and Fitness Trainers Association
National Board of Fitness Examiners