Every year, thousands of personal trainers enter the fitness industry. And every year, thousands leave.
Based on what we hear from frustrated trainers, it often comes down to how much money personal trainers make. It’s hard to get clients. It’s hard to keep clients. And the reward for getting and keeping clients is working such long hours that you soon reach a breaking point.
If the PTDC stands for anything, it’s to help personal trainers build better, more sustainable careers, with time and energy for family, friends, and the activities and passions that make life enjoyable and meaningful.
None of that can happen unless trainers make enough money to support themselves and their families.
But what is the average personal trainer salary? What factors matter most to a personal trainer’s compensation? Education? Credentials? Experience? Setting?
To answer those questions, we performed a large-scale Personal Trainer Salary Survey.
We surveyed 1,021 personal trainers from August 6 to 13, 2019. Three-fourths of our respondents are based in the U.S. or Canada. Their average age was 36, with just over six years of experience as a trainer. Sixty-four percent of respondents were male.
Three big takeaways:
- Experience, education, and credentials are all correlated with personal trainers’ income.
- The highest-earning personal trainers train clients online.
- Female trainers make less than their male counterparts, for reasons we explore below.
- How much money do personal trainers make?
- Which personal trainers make the most money?
- What do online personal trainers earn?
- How much does education contribute to a personal trainer’s salary?
- Does it matter where you train clients?
- Conclusion: How to make more as a personal trainer
How much money do personal trainers make?
The average personal trainer makes $47,700, which is slightly above the median salary in the U.S. in 2019.
It’s also in the ballpark with other sources. ZipRecruiter, for example, says the average is $49,000, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average for “fitness trainers and instructors” is $42,000.
Our average respondent said they work with 23 clients a week, and charge about $60 per session for individual or group training.
Which personal trainers make the most money?
We noticed three trends.
Trainers with more experience make more money
Half our respondents have been in the business more than five years.
Among those trainers, 51 percent earn more than $50,000 a year, compared to 17 percent of those with fewer than five years of training clients.
- Train more clients per week
- Charge more per training session
- Are more likely to train clients in private studios (43 percent, vs. 22 percent for less experienced trainers)
- Have more education (71 percent have a bachelor’s degree or more, while just 9 percent have a high school diploma or less)
- Have three more certifications, on average
To us, this is encouraging. It shows the payoff for staying in the field, earning more credentials, and developing more skill and expertise.
Female personal trainers make less money
In the U.S., across all professions, the median income for women is about 80 percent that of men. But in the fitness industry, our results show female personal trainers earn $37,300 a year, just 70 percent as much as their male counterparts.
Two factors work against them:
- Their average age is 39, vs. 35 for men.
- Just 44 percent have worked five or more years as trainers, compared to 55 percent of men.
This suggests that more women pursue personal training as a second career, which means they get a later start and, perhaps, have family obligations that prevent them from working the long hours typical of younger trainers.
Personal trainers with an NSCA certification make more money
These are the most common personal training certifications held by our respondents* :
One credential is clearly associated with higher income, experience, education, and (for reasons we don’t understand) gender:
Income: Among trainers who earn more than $50,000 a year, 27 percent have an NSCA certification, compared to 13 percent of those who make less. That number rises to 30 percent for those who earn more than $75,000.
Experience and education: Twenty-six percent of trainers with five or more years of experience have an NSCA certification. Among those with at least a bachelor’s degree, it’s 24 percent.
Gender: Just 8 percent of female trainers in our survey are NSCA-certified, compared to 23 percent of men.
We don’t claim cause and effect. Personal training clients don’t know or care about our credentials.
But as we noted in this article, if there’s one certification that’s universally recognized within the fitness industry, it’s the NSCA’s CSCS. Because it requires a bachelor’s degree, and just 56 percent pass the test on their first try, those who earn a CSCS tend to be the most serious about training and coaching.
What do online personal trainers earn?
Just 6 percent of our respondents train clients online exclusively. Fifty-nine percent only do in-person training, while 33 percent combine the two, a model we call hybrid training.
But here’s what jumped out at us:
The more money trainers make, the more likely they are to train clients online. Among those who make $100,000-plus, less than half train exclusively in person, and 12 percent only do online training.
Some interesting trends emerged when we broke out the 335 respondents who use a hybrid model.
On average, they have more experience (58 percent have worked five or more years) and higher fees (61 percent charge more than $50 per session). Eight-two percent are 25 to 44 years old.
How much does education contribute to a personal trainer’s salary?
Two-thirds of the personal trainers in our survey have a college degree, including 16 percent who have an advanced degree.
Our findings are similar to this 2016 study of personal trainers, in which 64 percent of respondents have fitness-related bachelor’s degrees. (We didn’t ask participants to specify what they studied.)
Trainers with at least a bachelor’s degree earn an average salary of $50,300, compared to $42,900 for those without a degree—a 15 percent premium. Frankly, we expected the link between education and income to be more robust.
Three-quarters of those who make between $100,000 and $150,000 have college degrees, which is the highest of any income category. But, in yet another plot twist, 37 percent of those who make more than $150,000 don’t have a college degree.
To be sure, the sample sizes are too small to draw conclusions. Just 97 respondents out of 1,021 earn more than $100,000. We’ll be curious to see if these trends hold up in future salary surveys.
Does it matter where you train clients?
Equal percentages of our respondents train clients in commercial gyms and private studios.
READ ALSO: Where to Work as a Personal Trainer
As we noted earlier, those who train in private studios tend to earn more money. Sixty percent charge more than $50 an hour.
The higher a trainer’s income, the less likely they are to train in commercial gyms. Just 18 percent of those making more than $75,000 told us they work in gyms like LA Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, or Anytime Fitness.
Conversely, three-quarters of the 330 respondents who work in commercial gyms make less than $50,000. Two-thirds of them have worked fewer than five years, and most are 34 or younger.
There’s no difference in education or credentials: 63 percent of gym-based trainers have a college degree, and just 5 percent have no certifications. They’re somewhat less likely to be certified by the NSCA, but that’s expected, considering they’re younger and less experienced overall.
Conclusion: How to make more as a personal trainer
Online training is a valuable tool for experienced trainers
The 66 respondents who train clients online exclusively include some of the most successful, some of the least successful, and everything in between. Half of them have been in the fitness industry three years or less.
On average, they train 16 clients a week, but the individual responses ranged from zero to 100 (the highest number the survey allowed).
If there’s a clear pattern, it’s this:
Online trainers with the most experience have the most clients and highest income. But it’s hard to get that experience online, simply because it’s so hard to get clients to trust you if you don’t yet have proof of your ability to help clients reach their goals.
That’s why Jonathan Goodman recommends training clients in a gym for at least a year or two before transitioning to online training. Even then, based on the responses to our survey, you may want to continue working with some clients in person.
The fitness industry is letting women down
We need to do better. There’s no reason to have so few female personal trainers, or for those women to make so much less than men.
We need to make gyms more hospitable for women, and make sure female trainers have the same opportunities as male trainers.
In future years, I hope our salary survey shows things moving in the right direction.
Experience matters more than education, although education is still important
The most experienced trainers make the most money, train the most clients, are most likely to have a four-year college degree, and have the most certifications, showing a strong commitment to continuing education.
These correlations are the least surprising results in our survey. They’re also the most encouraging. They show us the importance of perseverance. It takes time and effort to build a great career in the fitness industry.
Education is an important step, but how far it takes you depends on how you use it. Same with certifications. On its own, a credential is just a piece of paper. A nice piece of paper, to be sure, but one whose worth comes from what it adds to the value of your service.
That’s what keeps your career moving forward, and it’s what matters most.
For the full survey results, click here.
* I made a typo in the survey question on certifications. Instead of including the ISSA as an option, I typed ISSN, which is a nutrition organization. I didn’t notice the mistake until I saw how many people entered ISSA in the “other” category. I offer my apology to the ISSA for not including them as one of the options, and I send my congratulations to the ISSN for certifying so many personal trainers.
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Starting your career isn’t complicated. All you need is for someone to pay you to train them.
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