What’s Wrong With the Personal Training Industry (and What to Do to Fix It)

“To hell with this.”

That was my reaction one day while at the gym at the end of a string of eight or so clients. At this point, I think there was little blood left in my body as the majority had been replaced with coffee. To say that I was a bit tired and cranky is an understatement.

This had nothing to do with the clients that I was working with or the gym where I worked. My clients and coworkers both kicked some serious ass. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder than I did during some of those hour-long sessions.

Still, personal training eventually drove me nearly crazy and finally led me to step to the side to pursue a different avenue. Now, admittedly, some of this was due to me personally wanting a career switch. I want to freelance full-time and needed to get some things in line to make that happen. The other factors, however, are still happening across the country and causing trainers to fail and drop out in droves.

The attrition rate for personal training is absolutely astounding. If you take a look at the trainers in your local gym one month, there’s a good chance that you won’t see the exact same faces the next month. In my opinion, attrition is somewhat needed as it continues to force out individuals who aren’t good at their job. In another sense, it can be alarming.

Having worked in the industry for several years in a variety of clubs and situations, I can tell you for sure that it’s becoming more and more difficult for personal trainers to live and earn a full-time income. I’m not saying that there aren’t personal trainers out there making a killing and living an amazingly lavish lifestyle thanks to the fitness boom and the obesity trend. Of course there are. But, for every one individual that’s a huge success, there are thirty others that have come and failed.

Here’s why:

Low barrier to entry

It’s no secret that any Joe Schmo off the streets could become a personal trainer tomorrow. The credibility of the certification and his ultimate success as a personal trainer would be extremely questionable, but he’d tell friends that he was indeed a personal trainer.

Compared to other industries, the personal training field is extremely unregulated in terms of certifications. That’s not always a bad thing. In fact, I think having a variety of certifying bodies is beneficial as it allow individuals to pursue whatever interests them. However, it also allows anyone to create a certification and confuses the mass public.

I know very little about medical school. In fact, my best friend is currently putting the finishing touches on medical school. But despite following his progress from day one, I would have a hard time detailing the process of medical school and becoming a doctor. Still, when he’s operating on me twenty years down the road, I can be at ease knowing that he took the exact same test that other practicing doctors have taken – and passed (hopefully). Same thing goes for dentists and nearly every other medical professional.

Personal trainers? The tests take a variety of forms – some written, some fill in the blank, some practical.

This has two main effects:

  1. Allows the educated and experienced individuals to rise to the top. After only a few hours in a gym, it becomes extremely obvious whether they took an hour long course and got a paper certification or whether they spent years learning and refining their craft.
  2. Generates a public distrust of personal trainers in general. I would argue that the mass public have the idea that personal trainers are only good for writing a hard workout and making you sweat. Very few would say that personal trainers know anything about hormones, biomechanics, or lifestyle optimization in any fashion. This is partly due to how the media portrays trainers as steroid-filled freaks that wander around the gym and speak in bro-terms. It’s also a case of the many ruining it for the few. When a trainer injures their client through stupid programming or a variety of other mistakes, that trainer furthers the public mistrust of fitness professionals and makes the job harder for everyone out there trying to do their best to provide great, quality service.

Let me reiterate: I’m in no way saying that personal trainers are not educated or forego staying on top of industry standards. Quite the contrary. There’s a revolution of trainers out there kicking ass, attending conferences, and spreading the good word (check the community at the PTDC for evidence).

Sadly though, for every trainer that attends a conference or gets an extra certification, there are ten more printing off their online credentials that would rather play a video game than read a book about anything related to fitness.

(Small point: If you’ve been working with your particular trainer for over a year, ask them about the last continuing education session or learning opportunity they went to. If they can’t name any way they’ve furthered their learning, please pick someone else. Good trainers that have a passion for their job make it a point to stay ahead of the curve.)

Public Misunderstanding of the Industry

I literally overheard someone talking about getting a personal training certification the other day utter this exact statement:

Yeah, I’m thinking about getting a personal training certification. I mean, I know a good bit about working out and stuff. I train all of my friends anyway. It would be a nice way to earn some cash on the side.

I also watch a ton of HGTV (House Hunters, mainly) but I don’t go ripping out my cabinets or applying to become a realtor on the weekends.

Good personal training is far deeper than simply putting someone through a tough workout and leaving them gasping for air on the gym floor. Anyone can do that.

A sucessful personal trainer also knows how to help someone change their life. That takes time – a lot more than just a few days on the weekends.

Bad Business Models

If you can’t sell, you can’t train.

It really is that simple. The current business model for most commercial gyms is one that supports numbers rather than results. In case you didn’t know (which none of my clients did), most personal trainers are paid completely off commission. That means they are only making money when someone buys something (usually sessions) or when they are working with clients. All those individuals clad in black that you see down at the coffee bar are making a whopping $0.00 that hour.

In all honesty, the current business model is understandable. Commercial fitness owners can’t ease the mind of shareholders after a dip in revenue with the rationalization that clients still lost a ton of weight. Someone has to be paying attention to the bottom line.

In most scenarios, results and sales go hand in hand. If you’re getting great results, you’re probably going to stick with a trainer.

But, there are certain scenarios where terrible trainers happen to master the art of sales. They’ll talk your pants off of you in a matter of minutes.

In a successful business model, these sales-oriented trainers would then make commission off the sale and pass along the clients to the trainers that just want a shot at helping someone squat better. The sales-oriented folk (that really don’t want to train all that much) get to go out and woo the next gym member that stumbles in for a free assessment.

That’s not the case at most commercial gyms.

Trainers are often expected to sell and service, meaning they have to generate revenue and train their clients. For some, they learn to master the art of selling after a series of failures. For others, they end up hating half of the job.

Here’s the underlying problem, commercial fitness gyms are looking at the bottom line number. For those trainers that happen to have the gift of sales, they are handsomely compensated and continue to succeed as they are driving more revenue to the company. They rarely have to adapt to become a better trainer in the commercial sector because there will always be more fish in the pond so to speak.

So, you have an atmosphere that promotes individuals good at selling and doesn’t necessarily benefit those extra good at training.

So, sales is a huge part of the job. So why don’t many certifications speak to the sales aspect of personal training? Most certifications are neglecting the most important part of success (at least for being successful out the gate).

The Current Workload of a Successful Trainer

When time is money, you want to be as busy as possible. That’s fine if you also have a cot at the back of the gym and a hook-up for free coffee in the cafe. It’s no secret that personal trainers are a highly caffeinated group. Any good-hearted trainer will tell you that working with clients is the best part of your day. They’re also lying if they say that they’ve never had a time when they prayed desperately for someone to cancel so they could have an hour off.

The business of personal training is, in fact, the business of exertainment or the art of listening to people talk and carrying on a conversation while simultaneously having them perform a variety of exercises.

In order for a personal training session to be successful, the client must be entertained otherwise they will get bored regardless of how many jean sizes they have dropped. Picture it like being the host of a party and focusing all of your energy on entertaining one or more individuals. After seven hours of your party, you would probably rather sit by yourself in silence with a bottle of wine than have another conversation with someone about the last movie they saw and how great their kid was doing in basketball this year.

Now, extrapolate that example to five days a week. That can get really exhausting.

The successful trainer is typically working with clients between 25-35 hours a week. That’s 25-35 mini-parties they are hosting. Extremely ambitious trainers are working more than that.

Compound those busy weeks over the course of a few years and you get burnout. It’s a difficult lifestyle to maintain as you try to manage your own health and fitness while also cramming in food between sessions and somehow finding the motivation to work out after eight hours in the gym.

What has to change?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to fixing the personal training industry. (That’s why I’m asking for your feedback in the comment section.) I do know that personal training is a highly rewarding and much needed profession given the rate of obesity in the country. The trick is making it sustainable and rewarding for those that want to stay in it for the long haul.

The following ideas are listed to solve the problems above. They’re listed in no particular order of importance.

1. Create an industry standard for certifications. Get rid of anyone that doesn’t have (or isn’t willing to maintain) the standard. The standard should include a college degree of some sort. I realize that their are a lot of very successful and educated personal trainers out there without a college degree, but times are changing. A college degree is virtually required in every other profession so why not personal training? Plus, this gives individuals something to fall back on if personal training doesn’t work out.

2. Include sales training in certifications. The basics of business including how to market, sell, and build excitement for your product (ultimately, you) should be required learning for all personal trainers prior to working with a single client. Also, teach trainers how to manage their money being that most get paid solely off commission rather than a dependable salary.

3. Find some way to pay trainers based on the results they get. I realize that trainers aren’t directly in charge of someone losing weight since they can’t directly control what the client eats outside of the gym. But, investors are paid based on the return they secure and they can’t predict the stock market.

Find some way to compensate trainers based on how successful they are. Some how also reward them for their retention rate. This will help to weed out the bad trainers and reward the good ones.

4. Fix the public image of personal trainers. All of the steps mentioned above can help change the public persona of personal training. Personal trainers need to be seen as necessary for maintaining a healthy lifestyle rather than a quick fix for weight loss or a lazy man’s solution to working out.

5. Internet regulation. I can hop onto this blog and spout off my opinions on anything fitness-related if I so choose. So can everyone else around the world. This leads to a massive amount of shitty information on the web partly due to content farms that hire out unqualified individuals to generate keyword rich content that hit the top of search engines and individuals that recognize they can create a post about six-packs and score well in Google (although this is changing).

6. Forced continuing education. Although this is mandatory for individuals to maintain their certifications, it needs to be even further more regulated and encouraged. Simply put, if you’ve been training for 10 years without going to a conference, you don’t know what you’re doing.

I don’t understand why fitness professionals fail to attend more conferences. They’re great for learning and building relationships with other people that share your same passion.

7. Develop a way for trainers to earn more money while not requiring more client facing hours. In the land of those who “make it”, they can simply charge $150-$200/hr and have a successful income within a few days. For those starting at the bottom, it’s a work-till-you’re-successful mentality that leaves many qualified and blossoming professionals out to dry.

The Personal Training Development Center is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to build more small groups or start an online coaching program. Trainers need more of those kind of resources.

8. Make it difficult to be a personal trainer. Part of the benefit of medical school being seven or more years long is that it weeds out people that actually want to be there compared to those that want to earn a doctor-like salary. Create the same thing for personal trainers and force out those that just want to make a good living by hanging around the gym all day.

9. Force trainers into an internship type of program to start. Have them follow around a successful trainer for a month including their client hours and programming time. You’ll take care of three things at once:

  • People will realize very quickly what personal training is all about and will drop out if they don’t like it.
  • Companies will save on hiring costs. It costs a ton of money to hire someone on as a trainer assuming the gym has some type of on-boarding training. When these trainers quit a month in, these gyms lose out on a ton of revenue.
  • The young trainers will get introduced to the gym. Part of building your business is getting over the “new-face-in-the-crowd” syndrome.

10. I want to hear from you. What do you think needs to happen? I don’t care if you’re a trainer or just a gym enthusiast. Give me your opinion.

55 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With the Personal Training Industry (and What to Do to Fix It)

  1. This resonated with me on quite a few levels the low barrier to entry probably the most though. Here in the UK all it takes is enough money and a week and you a become personal trainer responsible for the health and well being of whomever you train the gym you’re work at. I know it’s not the same in every country, such as New Zealand where you need a university degree like you suggest, but I think it’s far too easy in most places and it just reflects poorly on the rest of those that actually provide an extremely high level of quality.

    1. I completely agree James. It’s far too easy in most countries to become a personal trainer. In my opinion, it would be helpful to limit the amount of available certs. Most gyms don’t hire those without a recognized cert but still a problem for the public image of personal trainers.

  2. Personally, I feel you hit the nail on the head with ideas of creating an industry standard and regulating ceritification for trainers. I think that this would ultimately have a “trickle down” effect and in turn help to improve several of the other points that you make as well (i.e. improve the public image and forced continuing ed). While I agree with you and feel it is somewhat beneficial to have multiple certifying bodies that offer certifications of varying focuses, I feel that this creates too much confusion. These could still exist as continuing education outlets and subsets to a larger, state regulated board certification exam, that is recognized by all. While this may at first alienate some long standing, highly qualified professionals at the outset, over time it would balance itself out. Besides, as you point out, almost every trainer worth their weight in medicine balls, already welcomes furthering their level of knowledge and expertise. This should not change with the additional requirement of examination. Most every medical or allied health professional is required by law to have taken and passed some sort of licensure exam that usually varies on a state to state level and this is definitely the biggest step in moving the profession of Personal Training forward towards the respect and regular compensation that it deserves in regards to quality trainers.

  3. I’m currently a student at the University of Florida studying to become a personal trainer. I love your point about getting a degree in this field- it is necessary for every other job so it definitely should be necessary for personal training. I was on the fence about getting my degree in physiology/kinesiology because it is hard to make a living, but I am just going to follow my passion and do whatever it takes to help other people get fit. Thanks for the inspiring words.

    1. Hey Katelynn,

      Thanks for the thoughts! I went for the degree in Ex Phys and it’s paid off. Following your passion would be my advice. Are you working at the Rec Center? Darcie Burde is a fantastic resource on campus for developing yourself as a personal trainer. I’d highly recommend seeking her out.

  4. I think the idea of creating multiple sources of revenue instead of just logging more hours training the client is huge. There is a reason LMTs can’t work 50hrs a week. They’d get carpal tunnel pretty quickly. I think exploring the world of online training, as well as nutritional programming (such as John Berardi’s Precision Nutrition Certification) can be great contributing factors to making personal training a sustainable career. Nutrition is such a complex subject that it needs to have a session devoted to it on its own, rather than trying to discuss nutrient density and timing while the client is doing a set of Turkish get ups.

    1. Online training is a definite avenue for trainers to make extra (and sometimes full-time) income without main hours in front of clients. Definitely underutilized. Thanks for the comments Brian!

  5. Considering I know all of Roman’s rules and live them everyday, I think I should win. PS. I haven’t read the article (I will later), I am just a sucker for free swag!!!

  6. This is one of my biggest issues right now- I’m working on my personal training business, and yes, I’m certified by ACE, but worry is making sure that I am 110% on top of everything and learning everything I can. I know I could got to some sketchy gym and train clueless clients, but that’s not what I want. I want to get my clients to crush their goals and do so in the most holistic and knowledgeable way–including physically, mentally, psychologically, and hormonally. Continuing education is one of the most important things a trainer needs to do!

    1. I agree Chuck. Continuing education is vitally important. The majority of your clients aren’t going to really know whether you’re on top of your game or not. It’s up to trainers to hold themselves responsible.

  7. Most important to me is actually am internship. Real hands on experience is definitely hard to beat!

  8. Great topic
    I’ve been at a commercial gym for the last 5 years and have carved a niche working with older clients. In that time I’ve seen so many trainers come and go. When I first started I had no concept of what being a trainer takes out of you. The early starts and late finishes can take it out of you physically and mentally until you establish a steady client base. The cert course I did painted a rosy picture of training but did not prepare me for the reality. Now I don’t want to frighten anyone with those statements but it will test how much you love the industry. The short length of courses churn out a steady stream of trainers that like the idea of training but are unprepared for the business of training. I agree that an intern style would allow people to decide if training is really for them.

    I love when people like yourself discuss these kinds of issues because it’s crucial if we want to be taken seriously by the general community.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts Darren. I agree that it’s an important issue to discuss. I recently saw an ad on TV that promised a six-figure salary as a personal trainer and I chuckled. So few trainers are making 100k+ a year and most are barely scraping by as they figure out the industry. I think your point about carving out a niche and building relationships is key. That’s how people survive in the business.

  9. I am a NASM certified personal and I chose to become certified through NASM because they had a reputation of being one of the best certifications out there. I think that there needs to be a national certification exam that is required to be passed before you can become a certified personal trainer. I also think there should be a national certifying body who is comprised of the best minds in the fitness industry. I think of people like Alwyn Cosgrove, Rachel Cosgrove, Gray Cook, Tyler English, Craig Ballantyne, and several others should comprise this group.
    I am constantly learning and attending conferences to improve my knowledge about fitness. I do agree though that it is tough scraping by when you first start out as a personal trainer. I also think that insurance companies would be willing to cover personal training if there was a strict regulation on what certifications were accepted. I also would like to see more specializations within personal training such as fat loss, muscle gain, sports performance. If you want to be a great trainer you need to focus on a specialty that way you actually know what you are talking about.

    1. Great thoughts Ben! Thanks for stopping by. A national certification of sorts would eliminate many of the folks just trying to get in and make an easy buck. I also think some sort of practical exam along with the written test should be required.

  10. I loved this article it really resonated with me. It is exactly the same here in the UK, you can be a Personal Trainer after just 6 weeks. They seem to teach people an adequate way to train people but pay no heed to teaching them how to sell their service; despite their role being all sales out of the gate.
    I think that it is disgraceful that the industry has not picked up on this sooner. I run a business academy for personal trainers in order for them to learn what they never learnt on their training course and it feels amazing to help these people.

  11. Well I’m 19 years old and I’m testing for my ACE personal training certificate on Jan 24th. I’m currently a sophomore entering my second semester in the exercise phys field. A few of my friends same age as me have already gotten there cert, but in reality we all know this is going to be more of a side job because we see bigger and better things in the future. (EX: Physical Therapy, Strength and conditioning coach, Athletic Trainer). It’s just going to be nice to fall back on 🙂

  12. Hi
    This has definitely given me a lot to think about. As somebody who has a degree in Commerce and has been working in the financial industry for the last ten years, I am looking at a career change and doing one of those ‘six week’ courses to become a personal trainer. I would love to go back to University to do a science degree but I don’t have the time or money to do that and I would also run the risk of being in exactly the same position I am in now. This provides me with an opportunity to be able to switch careers without taking too much risk. I agree that there should be more regulation around the industry, however there is no point in going back to University when it’s not needed. The industry definitely needs more regulation but I also believe it’s an industry you can’t survive in if you’re not very good at it and I realise it’s not gong to be an easy road.

    1. Hey Danielle – thanks for stopping by. I definitely agree regarding the university. While going back to school would obviously be the “preferred” option to establish a firm foundation, you can also learn a ton through just going to conferences and shadowing experienced trainers. There’s nothing wrong with learning on the fly. I think you just need to make sure you work within your ability level in terms of clients. Develop a niche and never stop learning about that particular type of training.

  13. Hey Jeremy,

    What a fantastic post, really eye opening.

    I did a 6 week Gym Instructor & Personal Trainer Course by Premier. It was that fast and that crammed together, by the end of it I was still asking the question ‘why?’ to many topics (I like everything to be explained properly and challenged).
    I didn’t feel I could go into a gym to work and train people as I had no experience. I personally don’t enjoy gyms anyway, I have always lacked motivation in them so overall it left me feeling like a complete fraud. Many people on my course had already got interviews and jobs in gyms lined up and I felt really awful about myself and thought I couldn’t do it!

    After the course I spent 6 months going over everything I had learned, looking online to answer any questions I was doubting and got in touch with personal trainers all over the country to find out their views on certain topics to give me a better understanding. After this 6 months I felt a little more confident and started training friends and family on a free basis so try out the skills I had learned and gain a bit of experience. Later to start up on a self-employed basis and completed my GP referral qualification.

    I have had a few clients since starting, some wanting their summer fix and others wanting a more permanent trainer, which is great, however money is tight for the majority.

    The only problem I have found is I am not getting many clients in the area I live in which means I am travelling over half an hour to every client taking up much of my time. I have tried the fliers approach to advertising which I got 0 from but I have no ideal about sales and marketing.

    Its bad enough not knowing how to sell in a gym environment where people are walking through the door every day never mind being self employed and having no clue.

    I feel I have hit a complete brick wall. I do not want to give it up, I am so passionate about what I do and I take care of each individual clients (majority with back problems), I would love to be working 20 hours a week minimum (currently only working 10 max). I have a few classes running but I don’t know how else to get the clients. Any advice would be appreciated, you seem to know your stuff haha!

    Thank you for this fantastic post!!!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing Sarah! As far as advice, I would point you to ThePTDC.com. Honestly, I’ve never worked outside of a standard gym environment so I don’t have any experience working as a self-employed trainer. Jon has created quite the collection of advice there from a ton of trainers with very different backgrounds. There will definitely be some great advice there for you!

  14. Nice article & now I can feel my trainers pain too — lol
    I often ask my pal and coach about getting in the business.
    He’s a top notch person and has been promoted and recruited
    Tells me ( soon to be 50 ) to stick with my Golf Fitness Specialist and Teaching Golf career as the money is tough and tight for PT.
    My gut says try – though.
    Thanks for your time and insightful article —
    What are your thoughts when a newbie is 50?
    Take care!

    1. Money can be tough and tight, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot! I think success in the PT industry is more about taking the right approach and structuring your business correctly from the start (specializing your training, focusing on referrals, etc). I don’t think it has a ton to do with age.

      1. Thanks Jeremey! I keep watching you and give y’all an update.
        Another thank you for your inspiration 🙂

  15. I think the biggest issue with commercial gyms is that a lot more are going towards sales trainers who in other words are just sales people. So they get a cut, the gym gets a cut then the trainer left with maybe a third if even that of the pie. It’s become all about the sale and not the SERVICE!

  16. wow pessimist much!!! Look every career is not rose collourede path for success you want to succeed you have to work. Personally I took an offnce to your article why first you downgrading those people who dont have college degree yet want to train may I ask you how getting some college degree in kinsiology or whatever money grab ing college institute offer will make u better personal trainer ? Not to mention student loan and debt todays college grads go through. I am new to personal training and I recieved my certificate i am 42 year old and guess what I quit ,my job as an accountant to become personal trainer why because this is the career I can see myself doing for rest of my working life. I was tired of sitting at office being corporate slave and lookiing at spreadsheets all day long . Why are u bringing down craeer of personal training jhust because you got disastisfied and lacked ambition to carry on . What made me offended was you saying how “easy” to become personal trainer and all i have to ask i Really Really?? Yes we dont go to “medical” school(i dont event know why you are comparing both) but the studey material we get and have to study On our own without help of colleg teacher we have to put an effort on this . Can a layperson name all the mucles of body their movements what Joint and ligaments attached to which muscle , and what are inerstion and origin point of that muscle gorup? Listen you think personal training is worthless good for you , since you want to be digital monkey , but I enjoy what I do. No i dont have college degree yes I may make some mistake on my job since I m just geting started but I know this is what I want to do . So thank you for your “enoucraging” words .

    1. Thanks for the thoughts Jason. I really do appreciate your comments (although they are riddled with spelling errors) despite disagreeing with several of them. The fact remains that it is exceptionally easy to get an online personal training certification, and those certifications do very little to prepare you for actual training.

      Why are u bringing down craeer of personal training jhust because you got disastisfied and lacked ambition to carry on

      I’m not putting down personal trainers or the industry at all – just pointing out some obvious flaws in the system that do exist whether you’ve recognized them yet or not.

      I wish you the best moving forward Jason!

  17. Great article. I think there are a lot of trainers out there, myself included, frustrated with the industry standard. For every fitness professional out there putting in the time, money and effort, there are ten more “personal trainers” looking for an ego boost and quick cash. Sad to see so many business owners with no educational background or training expertise. Personally irritated at the stories and injuries from clients with previous trainers who did not know what they were doing. What we do as trainers can have serious consequences on someone’s standard of living–if you don’t know how to properly screen and assess a client, you have no business being a trainer. If you’re not qualified, you should be sticking with group fitness and staying out of the profession. Period.

    1. Personally irritated at the stories and injuries from clients with previous trainers who did not know what they were doing.

      This is extremely frustrating – you’re right. Thanks for chiming in!

  18. I would not do a pay on results because that could lead to trainers to try to force their clients to do more before they are ready just to make more money.

    1. I definitely agree this could have some negative consequences George. The same way you trust your mechanic to work on your car and not screw you with additional parts that aren’t needed, it would have to be a system based upon trust and a few ground rules. Definitely would require thinking through thoroughly.

  19. I have been doing research on personal training certification for close to three months now. I am currently taking a NESTA course in Sports Nutrition (which I am sure my cat could get certified in) because I wanted to get an idea of online schooling.

    In a perfect world, I would go back to school and do a Post-Bacc and then get my Masters in Health and Fitness. However, I am already in 40,000+ debt to my first degree. To pay that off, I need to stay at my full time job. I work in a school and I coach. It takes up a lot of time and keeps me from the luxury of attending school. Online is my only option.

    I LOVE coaching. I am also a runner and triathlete. I am ALSO a girl who loves to lift. 🙂 I will be the first to admit, I am considering a cPT for the sole purpose of educating myself. I don’t think I would be good at just training people. I want to coach people! My true passion is in Nutrition. I love to be able to get my cPT and a few certs (nutrition,triathlete coach, USAT Level 1 cert) and be able to combine fitness and nutrition plans for people.

    I am considering an A.A.S in Dietetics but it is very hard to find the time to attend classes (some aren’t even offered at night) and I haven’t found anything online that sounds legit enough. Nesta is partners with a “university” but it is not accredited, which leads me to believe it would be a complete waste of time. The other option I have found and I am considering is Precision Nutrition. Also not accredited but it does seem the most legit I have found. I have been reading their blog/article every day and have been in contact with others who have taken it and say it is worth it. However, no one can really say if taking it furthers their career or if the certification is actually accepted anywhere. In other words, do people take it seriously. I am very motivated to start this journey, despite my roadblocks, but I do not want to waste my time and I want to be taken seriously.

    I am all over the place here, sorry. In summation, what I am asking is this: what are your thoughts on the online degrees? Do you think I am wasting my time/money and if I can’t get a real degree I should bag it?

    I appreciate your time and response.

    1. In my personal opinion, experience trumps degrees every time. It’s one thing to have a BS in Exercise Science. It’s a completely different story to work with athletes on a daily basis and have proven results. It’s certainly necessary to have some education and not overstep your qualifications, but quite a few trainers chase certifications in my opinion rather than getting better at their craft.

      The PN cert is excellent from what I’ve heard. I haven’t taken it myself, but from my point of view, it’s very well-respected in the fitness industry. As to how that affects your scope of practice, I’m not really sure. As far as I know, the only folks that are allowed to prescribe diets and meal plans are registered dietitians, which requires more schooling. If you’re looking to write out specific meal plans, you will want to go that route just to protect your butt down the road! However, if you’re just looking to up your personal information and work with clients on general nutrition habits (not prescribed diets), I think PN is the way to go! Provided you’re practicing the info offline, I don’t see any problem with credible, online-based certs like PN.

  20. Great post. You have identified many of the problems with the fitness industry I faced as a trainer, facility manager and head of professional development.

    I would add that there is one more crucial problem that frames this whole industry: the lack of viable ongoing engagement tools. With this industry still operating on many antiquated client management systems and a lack of good tools for tracking performance (there are many for consumers but few for gyms and trainers), the sales opportunities usually become limited to the first walk-in, then any kind of orientation and/or assessment to get started. After that, most don’t have an effective re-assessment protocol, if any, and the sales pool is limited to renewing existing clients, those approaching the fitness staff on their own, and the new members. For those that don’t have a trainer, the best they can hope for is a written program for them to follow or fill out as they go, but rarely is it more than one phase or personalized to them and their goals. In addition to turning the trainer into a salesperson as you mention, this also is the reason why most bigger gyms default to a pressure sales model during the assessment knowing they probably will not have another opportunity until that member comes to cancel.

    This also frames that trainers have to sell their time in 1-hour blocks, as gyms are not able to measure and see the value of ongoing engagement otherwise, so they make the job commission based. Since the trainer still needs to work those unbilled hours in between clients finding new ones and the gym needs to make their cut, the price of personal training is artificially inflated to the consumer. The difference is an average hourly price of training that is $65 for clients, while trainers take home an average of $15.25 for the hours they work (when unbilled time is factored in). For the same reason of limited sales opportunities other than sign-up, most gyms also institute minimum package sizes encouraging weekly training over long periods. The result is that personal trainers become unaffordable to most.

    For those that do come back for a reassessment, the only measure of progress over time is the scale and measurements, while very rarely do those written programs come back completely filled out, if at all. Even if they have worked with a trainer, tracking, measuring and adapting a program to an individual is difficult to do with current tools. Trainers lack the viable tools to offer a lower engagement service than the standard weekly offering such as monthly programming, which could provide the more passive income stream you talk about.

    The solution lies in empowering trainers as you said. I was glad to see you make the comparison to doctors because with fitness as the best preventative medicine, personal trainers are still outside the circle of care. Your post highlights the reasons for the two big challenges to this: that most trainers get into the profession because they want to be caregivers and end up being salespeople, and the public distrust of trainers stemming from the lack of efficacy as a performance measurement. With an increasing obesity epidemic and money spent on healthcare, only 2.4% of the US population has their fitness (preventative healthcare) plan advised by a professional.

    The key to fixing this industry lies in making trainers more accessible and affordable through tools that properly track and measure performance and progress. This way, more people can have guidance from a professional and the trainers with the best results and methods will rise to the top regardless of certification. I guess my point is that the problems you have raised here not only plague the personal trainer, but also have effects on the member and facility as well, plaguing the whole industry.

    1. Nick and Jeremey … could not agree with you more!
      All points make sense!
      Lack of tools is something that my partner and I are addressing.
      We are designing a business tool for self-employed personal trainers to run their practices utilizing an intuitive user interface, mobile access, and all of the functionality necessary to operate their businesses remotely, in real time. As we grow our business we want to develop strategic partnerships to address many of the points made here … Love the article and comments

      1. Jason, good to hear it, I am working on a business tool myself, but more focused on the fitness programming space than business management/communication. We just might be one of those strategic partners you are looking for. What is your product called?

  21. Nice piece man.

    Just an fyi that the link to theptdc leads to the wrong site. You have it going to ptdc.com. Personal Trainer Development Center is theptdc.com.


  22. I agree with your train of thoughts Jeremey. As a physiotherapist in Belgium, I personally find certain offers that come from fitness institutions and spin-offs lacking education. The trend seems to be gathering some guru concepts and selling them to the public. But what is the contenance of this training program? Do those personal trainers know the basics in physiology and biomechanics? I watch in horror while the mass public falls for these new institutions.prentending to be the natural way to develop while personal trainers like yourself with good knowledge are the victim. The solution would be conforming every personal training course with a obligated basic package (physiology, biomechanics, etc.) so that the right government agency can recognize and officiate right courses from wrong courses.So label every good course with a mark of quality.

  23. Love this blog.

    I am 51 and studied Food Science and Nutrition over 25 years ago; my passion has always been in health, wellness and fitness, but following your dreams is hard, especially for women, when you’re trying to juggle bringing up a family, work and everything that goes with it.

    However, I hear where you’re coming from, I also see many PT trainers, often very young, with little experience in life or the skills of being able to communicate. Some of them are good in that they “know their textbook stuff” but can’t always relay it to others.
    I decided to take the plunge and have recently started a recognised Personal Training Diploma. I have opted to specialise in the over 50’s, pre & post natal and GP referrals so my course will be a lot longer than the 6 weeks that I could have gone for, 12-15 months.

    This is not a quick fix course; I go to the gym regularly, have always been active and want to learn my profession thoroughly.
    Next week I am taking time off work to attend a 3 day nutrition and health course in London, nothing directly to do with my PT course, but in the hope that I can continue to add to my knowledge and get some up-to-date facts and advancements from the experts.

    I will run my business for women and the over 50’s and want to make sure that I do my clients justice by giving them a first class service; be it exercise, nutrition, counselling, listening etc.etc.

    I love health and fitness, I want to learn how to make people live better happier lives and I know that when I’m qualified I will enjoy helping people on their journey to reach their goals.

    I never feel that age is a barrier to me and I will never stop learning my profession, because that’s what it is, a really important profession; a bad Personal Trainer can destroy your self esteem and put you back years, but a good one can change your life and make you feel on top of the world. I hope that I will be one of the a good ones.

  24. While I agree with you 100%, It’ll never happen. Too much politics between certifying bodies and industry organizations like ihrsa.

    I gave a similar presentation on this very topic, hitting on similar key points in 2014.

    “Anyone can make you tired, sweaty & sore, but a real professional will make you better, stronger, and feeling great”

  25. In some countries you just become personal trainer if you want to. You just wake up and you think you know stuff have nothing else to do and you become a personal trainer, frustrating!

  26. I am NASM certified. Gyms have not been interested in hiring me, I think because I am 60. I’ve had to cobble together jobs here and there. I currently work in four different sites. I HAVE prayed for cancellations because I’m exhausted. I’m an introvert and you’re right about the party. I never thought the “people” interactions would be so tiring. I loved the work but I could never do it for hours. The gas costs kill me too. Very hard job.

  27. I agree fully. A degree gives you more insight, more time to decided weather you wana be a trainer, the practical experience and full on knowledge how can you have good knowledge with less than a years practice

  28. Great article. Found this a little late because I just recently started doing more researching on what folks are saying regulating our fitness industry.

    I have stated in other peoples blog posts over the years, we need to create a TOUGH BARRIER FOR ENTRY. Meaning, just like taking a test for MD, DC, DPT, OD, or even the ATC, it needs to be tough enough that NOT EVERYONE makes it.

    I am retired military and some of the jobs, especial in the Special Operations community, whether it’s SEAL’s (BUDS Training), Special Forces selection or Q-Course, Ranger School, Airforce Pararescue, etc… these are very tough schools to not only get into, but to try and pass and make the cut.

    You even see in the civilian sector when folks try to take the Bar Exam after law school or sit for the State Test for once passing medical school, everyone out there that does it, knows it’s hard, but in the end, they are the small few, the best of the best, that pass the exam or the school.

    Here is what I believe since being around the industry since the late 80’s how personal trainers and even strength coaches should be evaluated and authorized to test or be certified, very similar to the athletic training field and the ATC:

    1) Have a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in the Exercise or Health Sciences, no other degree, unless you show proof of a Master’s degree like a MBA, M.E., etc… and show a GPA of 3.0 or higher

    2) Once you apply to take the PT cert, it can only be with one of the three GOLD STANDARD groups, either NSCA, ACSM, or NASM. Maybe ACE, but all the other groups would be dissolved and we wold only have these four to choose from.

    3) In order to sit for the exam, you would have to show proof of 500hrs of logged internship with a qualified PT or CSCS. Similar to folks going for their ATC, they have to have the hours first.

    4) At the state level, their could be an exam also similar to what LMP’s, DPT’s, DC’s MD’s, etc… to be what we call State Board Certified….this way you have a national certification and are State Boarded so you could work in the medical fitness field, hospitals, clinics, etc… and insurance companies would look at it the same way they do for chirpractic treatment, massages, etc… folks could have fitness classes deductible and we could bill insurance companies….we would be taken more serious by the civilian sector

    5) Lastly, you would have to recertify every 2-years or attend CEC’s or CEU’s just like doctors and other professions to maintain your cert and keep your state credentials.

    I believe if a national certifying body that oversaw all four of the aforementioned groups would make it tougher to get certified…..The cream would rise and all the starving actors, bartenders, etc… who only do personal training or coaching part-time or until their next gig or job, would be weeded out and no longer trainers or coaches……BEST OF THE BEST would be around and our fitness industry would survive and be a whole lot better for the stiff requirements and qualifications to stay in the field.

    That’s my 2 cents and overall solution to bettering the fitness industry.



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