What’s the reality of being a personal trainer?

The common perception of a personal trainer’s job is probably someone who spends most of his day in the gym teaching individuals or groups how to exercise correctly and doing very little else. Oh, and is very well paid for those hours. It sounds like a cushy number. But is it really? What do we reply when people ask us what's it like being a personal trainer? Pros and cons abound.

Firstly, most personal trainers share two main drives – they are passionate about their own fitness, and they want to help others to achieve their fitness goals. These drives will largely influence the decision to become a PT, but once you're working full-time as a trainer they may end up mutually exclusive, as idealism takes a back seat to practicality.

Starting out

The reality of a personal trainer’s day to day job will largely depend on which stage of your career you're at. In the beginning, most trainers start work as freelancers at a gym, instructing clients as required on an hourly paid basis. It’s a financially insecure and quite stressful start to a career but it's usually the only way to get work as a newly qualified PT. The upside is gym-based trainers have plenty of time in the gym to keep up their own training and fitness levels.

After some time working in the gym, a good trainer should have some private clients of their own, gained through referrals or possibly advertising, and have an idea of how much to charge. The much higher hourly rate will serve as an incentive to go full-time as a private personal trainer and not work as a sub-contractor for the gym. This, however, is where the reality of daily life starts to change.

Marketing yourself

In order to have enough clients to survive, a personal trainer must market themselves successfully. This can take the form of advertising in local papers, listing in a reputable trade directory, or setting up a website. All of the above cost time and money, which eats into the income earned from instructing clients. Only when they're used effectively will these marketing methods bring in more money than they cost. In addition, each client will require their own personalised workout schedule with targets and goals set. If you are offering nutrition advice, there’s another area which will need planning, communicating and monitoring. There’s also the daily business of arranging clients’ workout schedules and making sure they are paying on time for the lessons. Indeed, this is such an overlooked part of the whole package that Alexandra Merisoiu, founder of the The Merisoiu Technique Institute, goes so far as to state:

"It's a myth that you stand next to your client and just count to 10. We put a lot of physical, mental and emotional effort into coaching."

Thankfully, many of the tasks above can now be largely automated through the use of dedicated apps for personal trainers, which can free up a lot of time.

Apps can help PTs with scheduling, marketing, client management and more.

Apps can help PTs with scheduling, marketing, client management and more.

Career growth

This free time will not be spent down the pub however. To continue to grow as a PT and attract more clients through reputation requires constant work. This work will entail taking CPD courses to expand your knowledge base, reading books and fitness journals, talking to other professionals, writing blog posts to keep an engaged audience on social media, and so on. If there’s any time left you'll want to try and do your own training to keep up your own fitness level.

Ironically the more successful a fitness professional becomes, the less time they have to do their own workouts to keep up their own fitness. It’s a dangerous dilemma, as a busy trainer needs a lot of energy to work effectively and obviously nobody wants an unfit trainer as an instructor. There are other dangers lurking for the successful PT, as Scott Laidler points out in his sardonic article for The Telegraph. He says you’ll become a coffee addict, as you rush around from client to client. You’ll need to do a lot of laundry, as you spend all day working with clients or working out. Your social and sexual life will be entirely based around the gym and your private clients. But enough about the downsides of being a personal trainer!

Why be a PT anyway?

There are of course many positive aspects to being a personal trainer, or let’s face it, it wouldn’t be a growth industry. Remember that drive we mentioned at the start – helping other people to achieve their fitness goals. That’s a powerful one and it really inspires trainers to see the results of their own and the client’s efforts. As formerly London and now Dubai-based trainer Abbey Sketch told us,

"The most satisfying part of my job is seeing my clients getting fitter and happier!"

Being a personal trainer has its good points

Being a personal trainer has its good points

At the end of the day, is it worth being a personal trainer? Is it a good job?

To sum up, it is physically and mentally demanding, but it can be tremendously rewarding emotionally – and if you’re really good at it, financially too.