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What Type of Trainer Should You Be? Tips for Choosing a CPT Path

Where do you even begin to look for a job as a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)?

This is a common question when first starting out as a newly minted CPT. The good news is that there are more employment options available than you might think at first glance. The challenging part is deciding which one(s) are right for you. While this can be a daunting task, remember that if you land at a setting or employer that isn’t as fulfilling as it should be, there are always multiple employers to consider.

This article will provide a list of factors that goes into choosing the perfect setting for you and common environments that personal trainers can thrive in. We’ll start with important considerations and some questions as thought-starters.

Some important factors to consider:

1. Your Interests

What gets you excited? Do you “geek out” about human movement science? The latest articles on strength and hypertrophy? Performance conditioning topics?

Human Movement Science - CPT Term

Getting a sense of the topics you gravitate toward and are passionate about will assist you in selecting an environment. Certain settings will naturally provide you with more stuff to get excited about, along with mentors that have experience in walking the path you’re just starting on. For example, if you’re a strength and conditioning fan who enjoys working with young athletes, a facility that focuses on youth performance conditioning will check more boxes.

2. Your Sales and Marketing Skill Set 

How comfortable are you with presenting your services to individuals or groups? Do you feel confident in your ability to market your services to your target audience?

Different facilities approach marketing differently. Some will market personal training services for you, others simply provide training space and depend completely on you to make the phones ring. Some companies also provide in-house sales training. How much guidance you require in these areas relative to how much is provided by your employer may impact your decision.

3. Preferred Clientele

Who do you enjoy working with? What client goals get you excited?

This should have a significant impact on your chosen place of employment. Do you love working with beginners? Athletes? Physique transformation clients? If you can’t get excited about and be committed to your clients’ goals, you’ll be less successful and won’t last as long in that setting.

4.  Desired Income

How much income do you need to meet your monthly expenses? If transitioning from part to full time is part of your plan, is there anything to understand about changes in pay or benefits as you do so?

Gaining a crystal clear understanding around how each prospective employer pays its employees is vital to deciding if your income needs will be met. There may even be multiple fitness department pay structures within a single company depending on the service. For example, a company or studio may use one pay structure for one-on-one training versus group training sessions.

5. Business management

How much of your business do you want to manage?

Managing a training business involves many moving parts: marketing, sales, employee development, insurance, equipment, leases, permits, contracts, taxes, client management systems, etc. How much of that you want to take on should be considered and impact where you want to work.

Common Settings

While not an exhaustive list by any means, below are some common employment settings for personal trainers to work.

1. “Big-Box” Gyms

This can range from low price/high value facilities with the basics, to full-service high-end health clubs with spas, pools and multiple exercise studios. Some advantages here are that marketing, insurance, equipment, scheduling systems, payment systems, and prospective client leads are often provided if you are an employee.

If you feel like you need professional development as a newer trainer, fitness directors and managers are often there to support your growth and learning in these health clubs. These are also great facilities to “cut your teeth” when new. You can then move on from there, knowing what kinds of practices and programs match your needs and preferences as a professional. Be sure to understand how you get paid and that the company’s practices are a fit with your personal philosophies.

2. Independent Studios

These can at times be a lucrative choice for trainers because you keep more of the session rate and have even more freedom when it comes to your schedule. Remember, what you earn in additional income may be traded in your time spent marketing, generating leads, maintaining your own equipment and insurance, etc. Be sure to understand the terms of your agreement and that often you will be considered an independent contractor in these situations. Seek out facilities with fair terms that provide additional perks such as educational discounts or workshops.

3. Clinical Settings

Many physical therapy and chiropractic offices have personal trainers on staff that receive patients released from treatment. When clients are released from rehabilitative work, you serve as a crucial bridge to normal activity. This can be especially rewarding work if you enjoy serving these populations. Pay and client volume may at times be lower than other settings in a clinic.

4. Mobile/In-home Personal Training

You oversee all aspects of your business, plus the time and cost of traveling from client to client. While there is a high level of freedom and potential income, be sure to assemble a clear picture of your expenses and how your time is being spent.

5. Sports Conditioning Facilities

If you enjoy performance coaching, many franchises exist that focus on this clientele, particularly for young athletes. This can be a fun and fulfilling environment for many. Pay structures vary but are often flat rates paid for group sessions.

6. Group Training Studios

Many boutique studios structure their training models around small group training sessions. Some advantages here are that marketing is done for you and your classes are filled by the business. You get to show up and coach. Also, many of your workouts will be pre-choreographed to reduce the amount of time away from the session that you spend on programming. It’s important to understand the pay structure in theses facilities as they many times are flat hourly rates and may or may not include a bonus or commission structure.

7. Corporate Wellness

For many, the consistency and stability of corporate wellness is the major draw. You will likely not have to spend as much time prospecting, selling, or generating leads relative to a big box facility. You may work in an onsite facility for larger companies, or for a third party contracted by a company to provide wellness programming and services. Pay structure and responsibilities vary quite a bit so do your research and ask questions during interviews.

Wrapping Up

No matter where you decide to work, be sure to get clear on key items: workplace culture and feel, pay structure, available support systems, and training philosophy. This will ultimately affect your happiness in your place of employment.

There’s also no harm in learning the ropes in one environment and transitioning to another after you’ve learned what you can from the first employer. Remember, you are a skilled professional and are not tied down to any setting. Take the time to find the right fit regarding your income needs and professional fulfillment. It will be worth it in the long run.

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The Author

Rich Fahmy, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES

Rich Fahmy, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES

Rich began his career in fitness in 2000 and has since built a solid reputation as a personal trainer, educator, and leader. Rich has been fortunate to hold amazing positions in management, consulting, and higher education while focusing on corrective exercise and special populations with his clientele. His is currently an NASM Master Instructor and the Director of Club Programs for VillaSport Athletic Club and Spa, an upscale, multi-purpose athletic club company. In his director position, he supports business operations of fitness, group exercise, aquatics, sports, and childcare. Rich hopes to help others understand that small changes in lifestyle can lead to dramatic improvements in fitness and health.

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