We have seen the future, and it’s a disaster for the fitness industry.
How badly did COVID-19 affect personal trainer salary? This bad:
- 58 percent of personal trainers lost some or all of their income.
- 23 percent of trainers were either furloughed or laid off, and 6 percent hadn’t yet found new jobs.
That’s according to the 1,169 fitness professionals who participated in our second annual Personal Trainer Salary Survey, which we conducted from August 6 to 13, 2020.
But the news isn’t entirely bad:
- 21 percent made more money during the pandemic, and about the same number told us their income stayed the same.
- Online trainers, in particular, made significantly more money, both before and during the pandemic.
Most impressive of all, 97 percent of personal trainers plan to continue training clients after pandemic restrictions end, with most of them using some combination of in-person and online coaching.
Just 12 respondents, barely 1 percent, said they’re finished with personal training and moving on—a testament to the resilience and commitment of fitness professionals.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Personal trainer salary: How much money do personal trainers make?
Before the pandemic hit, the average salary among our 1,169 respondents was $46,000. Seventy-five percent expected to make more money in 2020, and just 4 percent thought they’d make less.
That’s a slightly lower average from the $47,700 we reported in our 2019 salary survey.
What might explain the drop? Here’s how this year’s survey participants compare to last year’s:
As we learned in last year’s survey, female trainers were typically older and had fewer certifications. They also made just 70 percent as much as men.
The good news is that female personal trainers reported making a $40,000 a year salary pre-pandemic, an increase of 7 percent over 2019. They now make 80 percent of male trainers’ reported income.
But that wage gap closed, in part, because the average salary for male trainers, $50,800, is 5 percent lower than in 2019. More women making more money couldn’t offset men making less.
Let’s look at what separates the highest-earning trainers.
2. Which personal trainers make the most money?
Just 7 percent of our respondents trained clients exclusively online before the pandemic, but those trainers had an average income of $54,000, 17 percent more than the overall sample.
Another 32 percent describe themselves as hybrid online fitness trainers, working with clients both online and in person. Their average income was $52,250, a 14 percent premium.
Of the 101 respondents who reported a pre-pandemic income of $100,000 or more, 60 percent trained some or all of their clients online.
Also noteworthy: Of the 188 respondents who told us they gained clients or revenue during the pandemic, 78 percent trained clients online before the crisis hit.
Two other qualities distinguish the personal trainers who earn the highest salary from the rest:
About two-thirds of our respondents have been coaching five or more years:
Their average income is $56,900—24 percent higher than the overall average. The most experienced group includes more than 90 percent of our six-figure trainers.
Two certifications stand out
Two certifications are associated with a higher pre-pandemic salary, compared to the overall average:
- Precision Nutrition ($51,200, 11 percent more)
- NSCA ($65,300, 42 percent more)
This is where we emphasize that correlation doesn’t equal causation. But even if we can’t assume cause and effect, we don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most ambitious and skilled coaches seek out those two credentials.
Trainers with NSCA credentials are by far the most experienced (84 percent have been coaching more than five years) and most highly educated (34 percent have a graduate degree) in our survey.
They’re also more likely to be male, which was one of several striking differences between male and female trainers:
We can’t say why male trainers are three times more likely to have an NSCA certification, but it certainly helps explain the gender gap in personal trainers’ income.
3. How will trainers work with clients after the pandemic?
While 39 percent of trainers did some or all of their coaching online before the pandemic, 83 percent say they’ll work online going forward.
And three times as many say they’ll coach primarily online.
Just 14 percent of personal trainers say they’ll coach clients primarily in person once all pandemic restrictions are lifted—a 75 percent decline from pre-pandemic levels.
Here’s a pre- and post-pandemic comparison:
Since many pandemic restrictions were still in place when we conducted the survey, the second column represents trainers’ best guess about how they’ll work when they’re free to choose.
We also asked personal trainers how they feel about the safety of coaching clients in person:
We found some interesting disparities in the responses:
Male trainers and gym owners* were more likely to describe in-person training as “perfectly safe” with no special precautions, while female and middle-aged trainers were more likely to say it isn’t safe at all.
*These were the trainers who told us they had to close their facilities because of the pandemic. Fifteen percent of respondents said they closed temporarily, and another 3 percent said they closed their doors permanently.
4. How can personal trainers increase their salary in the post-pandemic fitness industry?
Our 2020 Personal Trainer Salary Survey reinforces several trends we saw in last year’s survey, and found a few new wrinkles.
Here’s who makes more money than the average fitness or nutrition professional:
Trainers with more education and experience
No matter where you are in your career, you can always learn more, and over time earn more.
Trainers with an NSCA certification
This finding dovetails with the previous point, since you need a bachelor’s degree to earn a CSCS.
There may also be a self-reinforcing mechanism: The most serious and ambitious trainers earn a CSCS because it’s considered the most valuable, and the CSCS is valuable because of all the serious and ambitious trainers who’ve earned it.
Trainers with a credential from Precision Nutrition
It makes sense that trainers who can offer nutrition coaching earn more than those who focus entirely on fitness, especially those who coach online.
Every trainer needs to work with clients online.
This year’s personal trainer salary survey shows why. Personal trainers who coach online not only made more money before the pandemic hit, they were less likely to lose money when gyms shut down.
Online trainers can also offer nutrition coaching to their clients as part of a premium program. That’s why 57 percent OTA graduates also have a PN certification, and 37 percent of PN graduates are Certified Online Trainers.
But the biggest reason to work online is simpler:
If you own a gym, or choose to train clients in person, you have to understand the gym can close at any moment, for any number of reasons, and for any length of time.
An online coaching business is something you can control, no matter what happens in the outside world.
That brings us to our final and most crucial point.
Welcome to the new normal
Don’t think of the COVID-19 pandemic as a one-off, black swan event. Think of it as the future.
Look at what else happened in 2020:
- Wildfires up and down the West Coast
- Hurricanes up and down the East Coast and all over the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico
- More than 100 tornadoes in the southern U.S. on Easter weekend alone
- A derecho that devastated much of the Midwest with 100-plus-mph winds, hail as big as golf balls, and drenching rains
Training clients online gives you an insurance policy. But unlike fire or auto insurance, you don’t have to wait for something to go wrong before you see a benefit. You get paid by every client for every session.
When you’re prepared for disruption, your preparation pays off.
If You’re an Online Trainer, or Want to Be …
You can’t move forward in your career until you learn how to coach fitness and nutrition online responsibly, effectively, efficiently, and confidently.
(Or if you’re already training clients online, making more than $1,000 a month, and looking for a more scalable business model, you may be a better fit for the Online Trainer Academy Level 2.)
(Or maybe you want help getting your own fitness back on track? If so, we can help. Click here to learn more about Online Trainer Coaching—the world’s first online training program specifically designed for fitness and nutrition professionals.)