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Personal Trainer Jobs and Careers

A job as a personal trainer might interest you if you are committed to physical fitness and enjoy sharing your knowledge with other people. With an increasing number of people keen to lose weight and get into shape, this newer career area looks likely to grow. Busy lives and limited free time mean that more and more people who are on good income are choosing to spend their money on a personal trainer so that they can get fit, lose weight and become healthier without creating too big a dent in their spare time.

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Another dimension to this career is fitness training in the workplace, as businesses offer workout sessions to their employees as a benefit. Workplace health benefits the employer in terms of fewer sick days taken, greater productivity and higher motivation levels.

As a personal trainer, your role combines fitness and education. You will have to know what is right for people in working out fitness and exercise programs, communicate effectively with people and also motivate them. Most trainers specialise in a few areas of fitness and have five or fewer disciplines, such as aerobics, yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, weights, etc.

What is Involved in the Job?

Sessions with individual private clients usually last one hour. This does not include your travel to and from their home or the gym where you arrange to meet. Your first meeting will involve a lot of fact finding in the form of a consultation about the client's lifestyle, health and fitness levels. Together, you will establish short and long-term fitness and health goals.

You will take initial measurements of the client's physique and their heart and respiratory rates, weight and body mass index, etc. Working with this information, you will prepare an exercise program that is tailored to the client's current physical ability, building fitness without compromising their safety by introducing risk of injury. You will explain and agree fitness goals with the client. Depending on the individual, you may also make recommendations about other areas of their lifestyle, such as nutrition or stopping smoking, that impact upon health and fitness.

At sessions, your role is to demonstrate various exercises and support the client as they work through them. Exercise programs may involve weights, aerobics or floor exercises. You may be involved in offering physical support by facilitating some exercises.

Much of the work is personal support in terms of helping to keep the client feeling happy, motivated and understood. In this regard, the personal fitness instructor develops a closer relationship with their clientele than the instructor who works only with groups.

However, many trainers initially build their experience as group instructors, and use this as the basis for a developing career as a personal fitness instructor. Many clients will feel safer with personal trainers who have this experience behind them and who have experience people's differing fitness levels. While building up a personal clientele, trainers may also be working in health clubs, country clubs, community venues, hospitals or adult education classes.

Other daily activities include writing up reports on the day's sessions, undertaking administrative work, and pursuing new business through promotion and marketing activities, such as distributing flyers. The benefits of this work are that you can be improving your own fitness while focusing on somebody else's. If you love exercise and its benefits, then it can be enormously satisfying to see the same satisfaction manifest in a client as their health and fitness improve.

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Hours and Conditions

Much of the work is going to take place in clients' homes or in health centres and clubs, with a small amount of time being spent on office duties. Hours spent with individual clients will invariably be at hours to suit them, which will often mean working in the early morning or evening. However, if you are drawn to this line of work, it is likely that you already appreciate the variability of different working hours that come with working independently.

If running group classes, you will be working at irregular times and to different schedules every day. Locations will include health centres, colleges, village halls, etc.

If you combine this role with corporate work, then your locations will be more varied, as you will also be working in offices and other business locations.

The payoff for irregularity is a high level of autonomy, with some free time during the day when the majority of people are in 9 to 5 jobs.

Most personal trainers are going to find success in more densely populated urban areas, due to the availability of clients within shorter travelling distances.

Type of Person Required

In addition to your sports and fitness knowledge and skills, you must demonstrate that you can utilise this knowledge in a one-to-one advisory role. This means looking at the individual client's lifestyle and identifying areas where improvements can be made through exercise and, sometimes, diet. You have to show that you can look at and evaluate their current exercise - or lack of activity - before formulating a program that will suit them.

A genuine liking for people and desire to work closely with them is essential. Working with individuals presents its own challenge and you must be able to handle this. You have to show that you can respect your clients, without being judgmental about their lifestyle, while commanding enough respect to have your instructions followed. At the same time, some flexibility is required to change plans when clients' situations demand it.

It is a delicate balance. It is enormously important that you can be bright and positive with clients, even if circumstances in your own life make you feel otherwise.

An interest in fitness is not enough. You must be prepared to stay up to date with the latest research and findings in your sector, as these can have a great impact on health benefits for certain clients. It is vital that you consider safety at all times and are always mindful of other people's physical limitations or the health issues that have brought them to you in the first place.

A high level of personal organisation is needed, as you will be organising your own time and appointments. Punctuality is a must, as you must be dependable - even if clients are not.

Personal integrity is vital. A client must be able to trust you, not only with their personal information, but with you being given access to their home. It follows that they must be able to expect confidentiality from you.

How to become a Personal Trainer

Many courses are available for personal fitness trainers, but these do not replace the direct experience gained by working in gyms and health centres, and by running fitness classes on an ongoing basis. This provides a vast experience of working with a wide range of people and provides an opportunity to develop valuable people skills.

The precise nature of the training you receive depends on your specific type of fitness work. Certification is available for personal trainers that teaches you how to teach, as well as safety considerations to be remembered. After certification, you will often work in an organisation alongside more experienced trainers. Early experience of running classes is usually preceded by a form of audition. All this experience will provide you with skills and develop your abilities in communicating instructions in the simplest way to yield results that are safe for the clients.

Greater standardisation is starting to occur in forms of exercise that have undergone rapid growth in recent years, such as yoga and Pilates. This has largely been due to the incidence of injuries caused by inexperienced, self-appointed teachers. Training may take the form of weekend workshops or year long programs. Membership of professional teaching associations is one way of demonstrating your level of not only certification but ongoing training - many associations require annual update training of 200 hours or more. Associations are also important in highlighting accredited schools.

While much business development will be through word of mouth, you can show your serious intent by undertaking serious qualifications and joining an association, demonstrating that your standards are externally recognised.

It is not required, but many people who are seeking a career in the fitness industry now undertake a bachelor's degree in sport or exercise science. In a competitive field, this may be worth considering, although it does not replace certification.

Salaries and Prospects

Around 10% of fitness workers are self-employed and many of these are personal trainers, on either a full or part-time basis. Employment levels are likely to increase rapidly as client interest in this area of fitness and exercise increases as a result of awareness-raising information. This also applies to corporate clients. Approaches such as yoga and Pilates are growing at an immense rate, attracting people who appreciate a less competitive form of exercise, as well as older people who require low impact training. Part-time roles will always be easier to find than full-time, but as considered in this article, many people combine roles while developing their personal trainer role.

It is hard to specify salaries due to the variability of hours and the fact that many trainers have a mix of income sources. However, newly established trainers in the US can expect to earn in the region of $10-15,000 a year. This can rise from $30,000 after a decade in this area of work. In the UK, this might range from £15,000 at the outset to £20-30,000 a year. In reality, however, the majority of personal trainers are looking at an hourly rate rather than a salary.

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