Many group fitness and personal training jobs are part time,
but many workers increase their hours by working at several
different facilities or at clients’ homes.
Night and weekend working hours are common.
Most fitness workers need to be certified.
Employment prospects are expected to be good because of rapid
growth in the fitness industry.
Nature of the Work
Fitness workers lead, instruct, and motivate individuals
or groups in exercise activities, including cardiovascular
exercise, strength training, and stretching. They work in
commercial and nonprofit health clubs, country clubs, hospitals,
universities, yoga and Pilates studios, resorts, and clients’
homes. Increasingly, fitness workers also are found in workplaces,
where they organize and direct health and fitness programs
for employees of all ages.
Although gyms and health clubs offer a variety of exercise
activities such as weightlifting, yoga, cardiovascular training,
and karate, fitness workers typically specialize in only a
Personal trainers work one-on-one with clients either
in a gym or in the client’s home. Trainers help clients assess
their level of physical fitness and set and reach fitness
goals. Trainers also demonstrate various exercises and help
clients improve their exercise techniques. Trainers may keep
records of their clients’ exercise sessions to assess clients’
progress toward physical fitness.
Group exercise instructors conduct group exercise
sessions that involve aerobic exercise, stretching, and muscle
conditioning. Because cardiovascular conditioning classes
often involve movement to music, outside of class instructors
must choose and mix the music and choreograph a corresponding
exercise sequence. Pilates and yoga are two increasingly popular
conditioning methods taught in exercise classes. Instructors
demonstrate the different moves and positions of the particular
method; they also observe students and correct those who are
doing the exercises improperly. Group exercise instructors
are responsible for ensuring that their classes are motivating,
safe, and challenging, yet not too difficult for the participants.
Fitness directors oversee the fitness-related aspects
of a health club or fitness center. Their work involves creating
and maintaining programs that meet the needs of the club’s
members, including new member orientations, fitness assessments,
and workout incentive programs. They also select fitness equipment;
coordinate personal training and group exercise programs;
hire, train, and supervise fitness staff; and carry out administrative
Fitness workers in smaller facilities with few employees
may perform a variety of functions in addition to their fitness
duties, such as tending the front desk, signing up new members,
giving tours of the fitness center, writing newsletter articles,
creating posters and flyers, and supervising the weight training
and cardiovascular equipment areas. In larger commercial facilities,
personal trainers are often required to sell their services
to members and to make a specified number of sales. Some fitness
workers may combine the duties of group exercise instructors
and personal trainers, and in smaller facilities, the fitness
director may teach classes and do personal training.
(Workers in a related occupation— athletes, coaches, umpires,
and related workers—participate in organized sports; this
occupation is described elsewhere in the careers
Most fitness workers spend their time indoors at fitness
centers and health clubs. Fitness directors and supervisors,
however, typically spend most of their time in an office,
planning programs and special events and tending to administrative
issues. Those in smaller fitness centers may split their time
among the office, personal training, and teaching classes.
Directors and supervisors generally engage in less physical
activity than do lower-level fitness workers. Nevertheless,
workers at all levels risk suffering injuries during physical
Since most fitness centers are open long hours, fitness workers
often work nights and weekends and even occasional holidays.
Some may have to travel from place to place throughout the
day, to different gyms or to clients’ homes, to maintain a
full work schedule.
Fitness workers generally enjoy a lot of autonomy. Group
exercise instructors choreograph or plan their own classes,
and personal trainers have the freedom to design and implement
their clients’ workout routines.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Personal trainers must obtain certification in the fitness
field to gain employment, while group fitness instructors
do not necessarily need certification to begin working. The
most important characteristic that an employer looks for in
a new group fitness instructor is the ability to plan and
lead a class that is motivating and safe. Group fitness instructors
often get started by participating in exercise classes, and
some become familiar enough to successfully audition and begin
teaching class. They also may improve their skills by taking
training courses or attending fitness conventions. Most organizations
encourage their group instructors to become certified, and
many require it.
In the fitness field, there are many organizations—some of
which are listed in the last section of this statement—that
offer certification. Becoming certified by one of the top
certification organizations is increasingly important, especially
for personal trainers. One way to ensure that a certifying
organization is reputable is to see whether it is accredited
or seeking accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying
Most certifying organizations require candidates to have
a high school diploma, be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation
(CPR), and pass an exam. All certification exams have a written
component, and some also have a practical component. The exams
measure knowledge of human physiology, proper exercise techniques,
assessment of client fitness levels, and development of appropriate
exercise programs. There is no particular training program
required for certifications; candidates may prepare however
they prefer. Certifying organizations do offer study materials,
including books, CD-ROMs, other audio and visual materials,
and exam preparation workshops and seminars, but exam candidates
are not required to purchase materials to sit for the exams.
Certification generally is good for 2 years, after which workers
must become recertified by attending continuing education
classes. Some organizations offer more advanced certification,
requiring an associate or bachelor’s degree in an exercise-related
subject for individuals interested in training athletes, working
with people who are injured or ill, or advising clients on
Training for Pilates and yoga teachers is changing. Because
interest in these forms of exercise has exploded in recent
years, the demand for teachers has grown faster than the ability
to train them properly. However, because inexperienced teachers
have contributed to student injuries, there has been a push
toward more standardized, rigorous requirements for teacher
Pilates and yoga teachers usually do not need group exercise
certifications like the ones described above. It is more important
that they have specialized training in their particular method
of exercise. For Pilates, training options range from weekend-long
workshops to year-long programs, but the trend is toward requiring
more training. The Pilates Method Alliance has established
training standards that recommend at least 200 hours of training;
the group also has standards for training schools and maintains
a list of training schools that meet the requirements. However,
some Pilates teachers are certified group exercise instructors
who go through short Pilates workshops; currently, many fitness
centers hire people with minimal Pilates training if the applicants
have a fitness certification and group fitness experience.
Training requirements for yoga teachers are similar to those
for Pilates teachers. Training programs range from a few days
to more than 2 years. Many people get their start by taking
yoga; eventually, their teachers may consider them suited
to assist or to substitute teach. Some students may begin
teaching their own classes when their yoga teachers think
they are ready; the teachers may even provide letters of recommendation.
Those who wish to pursue teaching more seriously usually then
pursue formal teacher training. Currently, there are many
training programs through the yoga community as well as programs
through the fitness industry. The Yoga Alliance has established
training standards of at least 200 training hours, with a
specified number of hours in areas including techniques, teaching
methodology, anatomy, physiology, and philosophy. The Yoga
Alliance also registers schools that train students to the
standards. Because some schools may meet the standards but
not be registered, prospective students should check the requirements
and decide if particular schools meet them.
An increasing number of employers require fitness workers
to have a bachelor’s degree in a field related to health or
fitness, such as exercise science or physical education. Some
employers allow workers to substitute a college degree for
certification, but most employers who require a bachelor’s
degree require both a degree and certification.
People planning fitness careers should be outgoing, good
at motivating people, and sensitive to the needs of others.
Excellent health and physical fitness are important due to
the physical nature of the job. Those who wish to be personal
trainers in a large commercial fitness center should have
strong sales skills.
Fitness workers usually do not receive much on-the-job training;
they are expected to know how to do their jobs when they are
hired. The exception is newly certified personal trainers
with no work experience, who sometimes begin by working alongside
an experienced trainer before being allowed to train clients
alone. Workers may receive some organizational training to
learn about the operations of their new employer. They occasionally
receive specialized training if they are expected to teach
or lead a specific method of exercise or focus on a particular
age or ability group.
A bachelor’s degree, and in some cases a master’s degree,
in exercise science, physical education, kinesiology, or a
related area, along with experience, usually is required to
advance to management positions in a health club or fitness
center. As in many fields, managerial skills are needed to
advance to supervisory or managerial positions. College courses
in management, business administration, accounting, and personnel
management may be helpful for advancement to supervisory or
managerial jobs, but many fitness companies have corporate
universities in which they train employees for management
Personal trainers may advance to head trainer, with responsibility
for hiring and overseeing the personal training staff and
for bringing in new personal training clients. Group fitness
instructors may be promoted to group exercise director, responsible
for hiring instructors and coordinating exercise classes.
A next possible step is the fitness director, who manages
the fitness budget and staff. The general manager’s main focus
is on the financial aspect of the organization, particularly
setting and achieving sales goals; in a small fitness center,
however, the general manager usually is involved with all
aspects of running the facility.
Some workers go into business for themselves and open their
own fitness centers.
Fitness workers held about 205,000 jobs in 2004. Almost all
personal trainers and group exercise instructors worked in
physical fitness facilities, health clubs, and fitness centers,
mainly in the amusement and recreation industry or in civic
and social organizations. About 7 percent of fitness workers
were self-employed; many of these were personal trainers,
while others were group fitness instructors working on a contract
basis with fitness centers. Many fitness jobs are part time,
and many workers hold multiple jobs, teaching and/or doing
personal training at several different fitness centers and
at clients’ homes.
Opportunities are expected to be good for fitness workers
because of rapid growth in the fitness industry. Many job
openings also will stem from the need to replace the large
numbers of workers who leave these occupations each year.
Employment of fitness workers—who are concentrated in the
rapidly growing arts, entertainment, and recreation industry—is
expected to increase much faster than the average for all
occupations through 2014. An increasing number of people spend
more time and money on fitness, and more businesses are recognizing
the benefits of health and fitness programs and other services
such as wellness programs for their employees.
Aging baby boomers are concerned with staying healthy, physically
fit, and independent. They have become the largest demographic
group of health club members. The reduction of physical education
programs in schools, combined with parents’ growing concern
about childhood obesity, has resulted in rapid increases in
children’s health club membership. Increasingly, athletic
youth also are hiring personal trainers, and weight-training
gyms for children younger than 18 are expected to continue
to grow. Health club membership among young adults also has
grown steadily, driven by concern with physical fitness and
by rising incomes.
As health clubs strive to provide more personalized service
to keep their members motivated, they will continue to offer
personal training and a wide variety of group exercise classes.
Participation in yoga and Pilates is expected to continue
to grow, driven partly by the aging population demanding low-impact
forms of exercise and relief from ailments such as arthritis.
Median annual earnings of personal trainers and group exercise
instructors in May 2004 were $25,470. The middle 50 percent
earned between $17,380 and $40,030. The bottom 10 percent
earned less than $14,530 while the top 10 percent earned $55,560
or more. Earnings of successful self-employed personal trainers
can be much higher. Median annual earnings in the industries
employing the largest numbers of fitness workers in May 2004
were as follows:
Other amusement and recreation industries
Other schools and instruction
Civic and social organizations
Because many fitness workers work part time, they often do
not receive benefits such as health insurance or retirement
plans from their employers. They do get the unusual benefit
of the use of fitness facilities at no cost.
Occupations that focus on physical fitness, as do fitness
workers, include athletes, coaches, umpires, and related workers.
Sources of Additional Information
For more information about fitness careers, and to find universities
and other institutions offering programs in health and fitness,
IDEA Health and Fitness Association, 10455 Pacific Center
Crt., San Diego, CA 92121-4339.
For information about personal trainer and group fitness
instructor certifications, contact: