Hello there! I’m very happy to hear that you’re interested in learning how to become a personal trainer.
Here are my thoughts about joining the fitness industry…
Personal Training Certifications:
Bizarre fact: certifications don’t actually provide much practical information that helps you train people. Much of the content is theoretical, and doesn’t impact your day-to-day training very much.
That said, good certs will still provide a base of knowledge to build upon. Most importantly, you’ll want to get one accredited by an NCCA-accredited certifying body so that you can obtain liability insurance. This is a must, whether you’re working on your own, for a corporate gym, or a studio like MFF.
We generally recommend the NASM-CPT or NCSA-CPT. The NCSA-CSCS is the most reputable certification in the industry, but it’s highly specific to training sports teams, and not particularly relevant to personal training or group exercise with the “general population.”
It’s also worth noting many “big box” gyms (ie Equinox, New York Sports Club, etc.) will hire you without a certification, and will help you get your certification while working for them. Some will even offset the cost/ offer discounts. Equinox has a particularly strong in-house education program for new trainers.
Although I don’t think there’s too much actionable knowledge in the traditional training certs, there are other certifications which can be great for aspiring fitness professionals.
I think the Functional Movement Screen is a great certification to pursue as you’re learning to look at movement. It helps create a foundational understanding of movement that will serve you throughout your career.
Of the certifications that actually teach you how to coach (surprisingly rare!), the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) and SFG (StrongFirst) are excellent for kettlebell work. Each of them have a pretty rigorous performance test that needs to be passed to receive the cert. I generally recommend starting with their 1 day courses to learn the basics before diving into the three day certification courses.
In addition to the above, there are lots of other good seminars and workshops and certifications. But get started with the basics and hit me up after you’ve looked into those.
From Jon: I agree with Mark’s sentiments as they pertain to certifications. For more thoughts on the subject and a comparison chart, you can learn more here:
Learning By Reading:
Always place a high priority on education.
When it comes to learning by reading, I think a great entry way is to start with fitness blogs. In the beginning, it will be normal to not understand everything. This is normal. If you really want to be in this business, and you truly want to be great, stick with it. After 12-18 months, you will suddenly find the information will start to “rhyme.” You’ll begin to see concepts repeated over and over, and will slowly deepen your understanding.
Below is a good list to start with. It’s not exhaustive, but will give you some good people to read as you get started. This list will always be in flux, as active bloggers tend to come and go.
For now, get started with:
Blogs and Websites
- Girls Gone Strong
- Jen Sinkler
- Dick Talens
- Neghar Fonooni
- JC Deen
- Tony Gentilcore
- Adam Bornstein
- Dan John
- Nick Tumminello
- Precision Nutrition
- Personal Trainer Development Center – (Particularly great for actionable ideas on building your business as you cut your teeth)
- The Fitcast (This is actually a podcast, but a great source of info)
PRO TIP: Download the app Feedly for your phone. It also works on your desktop.
Feedly is a blog reader where you can “add” the blogs and then bookmark it on your browser. This way you can check all these blogs once every day or two on your phone, iPad, or computer and read them in one sitting. Much more time efficient than checking out websites individually.
Learning By Reading… BOOKS!:
Once you’ve been reading blogs for a period of time, you’ll want to start to dive into books. You may find books are gibberish at first, and choose to focus on blogs for the first 6-12 months. Normal!
In time, you’ll start to get a handle for more complexity, and slowly, you’ll start to prefer books (and DVD’s) to blog content. Blog content is by definition less information dense. This is great in the beginning, but the deeper you go, the more you’ll crave deeper dives.
Here’s a list of books to start with:
- Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Training Career – Jonathan Goodman
- New Rules of Lifting For Life – Schuler/ Cosgrove
- New Rules of Lifting For Abs – Schuler/ Cosgrove
- Strong – Schuler/ Cosgrove
- Simple and Sinister – Pavel Tsautsoline
- Supple Leopard – Kelly Starret
- Strong Curves – Bret Contreras
- Lean Muscle Diet – Schuler/ Alan Aragon
- Fat Loss Happens on Mondays – Hillis/ John
- Never Let Go – Dan John
- Can You Go – Dan John
- High Performance Handbook – Eric Cressey (ebook)
- Physical Preparation 101 – Mike Roberston
The above list are mostly written for the “general population” by high caliber coaches, which make them the perfect place to start your reading.
I’m Certing, I’m Reading… How Do I Start Working In The Field?:
If you’re in a big city, I think most people do best by starting in a commercial gym. For most people, this isn’t their dream, but it’s a necessary evil to cut your teeth. Most studios, my gym, Mark Fisher Fisher included, require at least 1-2 years of experience before they’ll consider taking you on.
Depending on what you want out of your career, you can actually do quite well at an Equinox or a Crunch. It’s not for everyone, but there are certainly some advantages to working in a corporate gym setting.
Keep in mind, the hours of training SUCK. By definition, you’ll be working in the early morning AND late evening with long stretches of nothing in between. Sadly this doesn’t change much even when you achieve success. The fact is people generally train before or after work.
Financially, there’s not much money to be made in the beginning. You’ll be working the floor, often for minimum wage, trying to pick up clients. Nonetheless, this can be an important experience for many new trainers to get to know the industry and get some experience.
This is not a field for the faint of heart.
If you truly want to be great, there will be very real costs of your time, energy, and money.
But just as Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own:
“If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”
I love this industry. I love helping people fall in love with themselves and embrace the transformative power of movement. I hope you will too. The industry needs more superheroes.
Mark Fisher is just one of the sensational speakers that will be appearing at the PTDC’s Strong Pro Summit this summit. Early bird registration is still available at: