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The Future of the Personal Trainer Job Market

Here’s a little confession: before becoming a fitness professional, I was a history geek. Seriously, at one point, I thought about becoming a (cool) high school history teacher, which is why it’s fun for me to study the history of the fitness industry; because by understanding the past, we can make better decisions for the future.

History of the Fitness Industry 

Let’s start with some history about the fitness industry. The modern fitness industry is approximately fifty years old. The first personal trainers were professional bodybuilders hired to help other bodybuilders prepare for a competition or to work with non-bodybuilders who were interested in having the same overly muscled appearance.

Imagine if you could travel back in time to the late 1960s, grab an early personal trainer out of Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach, CA and bring him or her to the year 2019. How do you think he or she would react to the 21st century version of personal training?

The Gold’s Gym trainer would not recognize the modern fitness industry. Fifty years ago the health club industry was in its infancy. There were primarily bodybuilding gyms or women’s fitness centers. Thanks to the explosive popularity of fitness studios and health clubs along with technology like social media and smartphones, the fitness industry seems to have changed more in the past 10 years than in the previous 40.

There are now numerous ways that a personal trainer can work with clients. Besides the traditional health club, the modern personal trainer has options that include working in a studio, a non-profit fitness center, an outdoor workout program in public parks, a corporate fitness facility, or this would completely blow the Gold’s Gym trainer’s mind, coaching clients online.

Potential Personal Training Career Opportunities

As the calendar prepares to turn the page to the third decade of the 21st century, it’s a good idea to take a moment to reflect on how the industry has changed over the past decade and use that to think about how it might evolve over the next 10 years, especially when it comes to career opportunities in the field of personal training.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for employment growth between the years of 2016 and 2026 estimate that there will be at least a 10% increase in the number of ‘fitness instructors’ (the federal government’s category for our jobs), growing to a total of 330,000 individuals working in the field by 2026.

There is no possible way to predict the future with any level of certainty. However, based on my 20 years of experience in the field, current fitness trends, and projected changes in population growth, it is possible to use the past to make some educated guesses as to what the future might look like for the industry. The following are 9 ways the job market might change for personal trainers in the coming years.  

1. The Health Industry

In an effort to keep people healthy so they can avoid becoming sick, many hospitals and medical facilities have been adding fitness centers, which means that personal training will become more closely aligned with the allied health professions. It won’t be long before doctors with patients experiencing health risks due to an inactive lifestyle could write a prescription to see a personal trainer. This could mean many changes for the industry, but the end result is a steady stream of clients who will need the services of an NASM Certified Personal Trainer.

2. Wearable Technology

Just as it has for years, technology will continue to disrupt how we live our daily lives, especially in the form of wearable devices. Health insurance companies and employers are already starting to offer incentives like reduced premiums or cash rewards to employees and customers who upload the data from their fitness tracker to show they’re staying healthy through exercise. As this practice becomes mainstream, a new generation of wearables that collect data, including ear buds and clothing, will be introduced to the market. This will create opportunities for personal trainers who can help clients learn how to use the latest technology to optimize their health and wellbeing.

3. Online Coaching

Online coaching has provided some of the biggest growth opportunities for personal trainers over the past 10 years. While there are numerous options for how technology can deliver fitness to the end user and despite that online coaching will continue to grow in popularity, it’s important to recognize that people still crave connection. This means that live personal training will never go away. Over the coming decade, there will be tremendous opportunities for personal trainers who successfully learn how to integrate online coaching with live, in-person training.

4. The Economy

Recently there have been indicators like an inverted yield curve (every time it has happened in the past it has not been good for the U.S. economy) which suggest the economy might be going into a recession. IF the economy dips into a recession, it is going to drastically change the landscape for boutique fitness studios where consumers have been paying upwards of $30 or $40 a workout. The good news is that most of these fitness fanatics won’t stop working out. Instead, they’ll simply become members of low-cost, budget-friendly health clubs. 

One thing to consider is that as consumers return to health clubs, they may not have the disposable income for personal training and instead may choose group coaching. Group coaching is a different skill than one-on-one training; personal trainers who want to recession-proof themselves and create earning opportunities should learn how to coach group workouts if they are not already doing so.

5. Youth Exercise

The obesity epidemic doesn’t just affect adults. It also is a serious health risk for children and the fact that many school districts have reduced physical education only makes this issue more critical. The good news is that personal trainers who learn how to work with youth will have plenty of opportunities with a whole new market demographic. Plus, most kids get out of school between two and three in the afternoon, when many health clubs are not that busy. Personal trainers who have the knowledge and skills to work with youth will be able to find clients for those mid-afternoon hours when most adults are not available for training.

6. Sports Performance

Another opportunity in the youth segment is sports performance coaching. Many parents want to see their children succeed at a chosen sport and have started sending their kids to sports performance facilities to help make that happen. Personal trainers who learn how to design exercise programs for performance enhancement will have numerous opportunities for tapping into this growing market segment. Here’s something to think about: ALL major sports stars grew up playing sports. Your workout program could help a 15-year-old high school baseball player grow into a major superstar, creating many unforeseen career opportunities.

7. Public Speaking

As the fitness industry grows, there is an ongoing need for educators to help prepare the fitness professionals of the future. Personal trainers should develop the skills to be an educator or public speaker. Hint: teaching group fitness is a great place to start and you will have opportunities for becoming a master trainer or presenter who can create and deliver the education that prepares future fitness professionals for career success. Yes, being up on stage teaching at a large fitness convention looks easy and exciting, but it takes a lot of work and YEARS of practice to develop the skills to earn that opportunity.

8. Faith-based Opportunities

Over the past few years, a number of faith-based organizations have begun offering wellness programs to their congregations and followers, which is creating job opportunities for fitness professionals who can design and coach workouts for this market. The Minister, Imam, Rabbi or Priest can help followers work on their spiritual selves, while a personal trainer can help them improve their physical beings.

9. Leadership Roles

Finally, as the fitness industry grows to serve a rapidly aging population, there will be numerous career opportunities for personal trainers who want to grow into leadership roles like department manager, general manager, regional manager or even to the executive level. Personal training requires one set of skills, while leading others and managing a business requires a completely different skillset. Personal trainers who want a long career in the fitness industry that doesn’t always involve waking up before dawn to work with clients should start developing management and leadership skills in an effort to prepare for those opportunities when they arise.

These are a few different personal trainer career paths that might evolve over the coming decade. While this list covers a number of possible scenarios for growth, it is by no means exhaustive because we simply have no idea what the future has in store. Let’s be real, it would be impossible to explain what the heck an “Instagram fitness influencer” is to a 1970s era personal trainer, which means that the future will hold opportunities that we simply can’t conceive of today. However, what we do know is that if you’re interested in a long and successful career helping others, it would be a great idea to start identifying areas of opportunity for how you can guide your career growth. 

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The Author

Pete McCall

Pete McCall

Pete McCall is a NASM-certified personal trainer, a NASM-Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), international presenter, host of the All About Fitness podcast, fitness blogger and an author of several articles, textbook chapters and the book Smarter Workouts: the Science of Exercise Made Simple. In addition, Pete holds a master’s degree in exercise science and has been educating fitness professionals for more than 15 years. Currently Pete lives in Encinitas, CA where he is an education consultant and content creator for Core Health & Fitness, Terra Core Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness.

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