How to become a personal trainer

Authored by Hiscox Experts.
7 min read
image showing personal trainer guiding client in gym

From 2011 to 2021, the percentage of personal trainers in the UK (external link) has increased by 145% – and the fitness industry is re-emerging from the pandemic restrictions transformed. In a new landscape, possibilities have broadened, allowing PTs to offer a mixture of services and create an exciting work pattern.

In this guide, we cover how to become a personal trainer, including setting up an online offering, what qualifications you might need and the options available within the field.

What are the steps to becoming a personal trainer?

Research the profession – is it the right fit?

Being a personal trainer isn’t all battle ropes and kettlebell swings – there’s a lot to consider about the day-to-day reality of this work.

No matter your experience, talking to established industry professionals about how they carry out their work can help you identify which business model might be the right fit for your circumstances.

For example, you might wish to become an online personal trainer, or welcome clients to your home gym – learning how that’s been achieved by someone else can be invaluable.

Topics to research

Here’s a list of topics that might be helpful when researching the PT profession:

  • Salary expectations – how much can you expect to earn
  • Required/desirable experience
  • Required skills
  • Required qualifications
  • Ongoing development required and ways to diversify
  • Business model possibilities
  • How to drum up business and gain clients
  • Insurance requirements

What do personal trainers do?

It’s not all about pumping iron and working up a sweat 24/7. The exciting, and appealing, nature of being a personal trainer is that the role can be varied, depending on client needs.

However, there are fundamental principles and duties all PTs will adhere to day-to-day.

These include:

  • Helping clients to set fitness and health goals – both short-term and long-term
  • Educating clients about safe and effective exercise
  • Designing fitness programmes for clients based on goals previously discussed
  • Coaching clients through their programmes
  • Carrying out fitness assessments and checking progress – such as heart rate measurements
  • Offering feedback and advice based on programme results
  • Promoting PT services and administrative tasks – especially relevant when self-employed

What makes a successful personal trainer?

When you’re beginning your journey into the world of fitness and looking into how to become a personal trainer, it’s good to know what it takes to be an effective PT.

Aside from qualifications, successful trainers have certain skills that make them ideal for the role – these include:

  • A genuine passion for health and fitness
  • Creativity
  • Customer service skills – being a ‘people person’ is essential
  • Effective and clear communication
  • Organisation skills
  • Patience, empathy and open-mindedness
  • An understanding of how to motivate different individuals
  • In-depth and varied sport and training knowledge

What qualifications do I need to become a personal trainer?

There are three different levels and qualifications to becoming a personal trainer:

  • Level 2 Gym/Fitness Instructor Course
  • Level 3 Personal Trainer Course
  • Level 4 Elite Personal Trainer Course

How do I know which qualification I need – and how long will it take?

To start out, the first qualification you can gain is the Level 2 Gym or Fitness Instructor qualification. Courses vary in length and content, but on average this can take about six weeks (external link) of learning.

Once complete, you’ll be able to lead gym inductions, carry out basic fitness testing and design general programmes and lead group classes if you have the appropriate qualifications for the activity.

However, in order to be fully qualified to work one-to-one with clients as a personal trainer, you will need the Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification as a minimum requirement.

This qualification can take up to 12 weeks to gain and, once complete, you will be able to take on clients. The specialist knowledge you’ll have gained will enable you to offer specific programming, nutritional guidance and charge higher sums for your services.

A Level 4 Elite Personal Trainer Course is the next progression in the career of a PT and means you’ll be able to offer specialist services. This includes those with medical conditions and professional athletes. This can take anywhere from four to 10 weeks, depending on the provider and course structure.

Before you pay for a qualification, check your course is accredited by (Registry of Exercise Professionals). Increasingly, clients and gyms are looking for CIMSPA (The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity) accredited qualifications, too.

Ensuring you have the correct letters beside your qualifications helps potential clients and gyms understand that you’re a dedicated professional.

How and where can I earn my qualification to become a personal trainer?

The qualifications you need to become a personal trainer can be gained via a course at a college, through an apprenticeship or through a gym chain.

Gyms such as PureGym and training providers such as Origym, HFE (external link) and Future Fit offer accredited courses for you to gain your qualifications and get started.

Some providers also offer amalgamated courses resulting in the level 2 gym instructor and level 3 personal training qualifications once completed.

Blended learning is also available, so how you do your training to become a personal trainer is up to you – whether that’s an online course, fully in-person, or a mixture.

Once I’m qualified, should I diversify what I offer as a personal trainer?

Once you have all your personal trainer qualifications, you may think about diversifying what you offer to stand out.

The decision is a personal one, but it’s always good to keep in mind that not everyone enjoys exercising in the same way.

Your clients will likely have differing needs – and not everyone will feel comfortable with gym-based exercise, so you may choose to add other services to your offering.

By taking a GP referral course (external link), for instance, you could perfectly position yourself as a PT who helps people recovering from illness or those with medical conditions.

This can be achieved through a Level 4 qualification, too – so do your research and discover the right course for what you’d like to achieve.

You might decide to add class instructor qualifications to your repertoire – such as for teaching yoga, Pilates, spinning or legs, bums and tums (LBT – or stick to one-to-one sessions.

How to get started as a personal trainer

There are various routes into becoming a personal trainer – including work experience before or during taking your course.

Once you’ve completed your learning and gained your certificates, there are several ways you can use your qualification.

Work at a gym

When you’re looking into personal training as a career – you may first think of working in a gym or fitness centre as an employee, and this can have many benefits. You’ll benefit from a guaranteed wage and an established client base. However, what this option offers in stability, it lacks in flexibility – you’ll likely have to share clients with colleagues and may find it difficult to earn more by expanding what you offer.

Freelance at a gym

Being a freelancer within a gym setting can have many benefits for a personal trainer. You can build a personal brand and enjoy the satisfaction of growing your business with less risk than being fully independent. Freelancing in an established setting means you can also gain business from gymgoers while bringing in your own clients and use the equipment at the facility. However, what you are able to earn may be restricted by the ground rent you’re charged and how many other PTs the gym employs – both factors are out of your hands.

Go independent

Becoming a completely self-employed, independent trainer will offer you the biggest chance to expand. Being your own boss means you can focus on a speciality and work in a flexible way – with a mixture of hard work and luck, this could also be the path towards earning more. All these potential pros come with the cons of independent training. You’ll have to source your own equipment and PT space, you’re responsible for gaining, maintaining and growing your client base and there’s no salary guarantee. Plus, you could be liable for a wider range of risks to clients and third parties.

Go digital

How you become an online personal trainer will be a very similar path to training independently in person. You’ll be in control of, and also responsible for, sourcing and maintaining clients who want to train online. With digital technology at your fingertips, however, you’ll be able to design paid-for plans, an app, video call sessions, a website – the possibilities are exciting. You’ll also eliminate the cost of paying for space and equipment.

At Hiscox, we want to help your small business thrive. Our blog has many articles you may find relevant and useful as your business grows. But these articles aren’t professional advice. So, to find out more on a subject we cover here, please seek professional assistance.

Hiscox Experts

The Hiscox Experts are leaders valued for their experience within the insurance industry. Their specialisms include areas such as professional indemnity and public liability, across industries including media, technology, and broader professional services. All content authored by the Hiscox Experts is in line with our editorial guidelines.