I will explain the differences between commercial and private gyms in this article.
I will also review other kinds of gyms that may require your services once you get certified, like:
- Big Box Commercial Gyms
- High-Performance Facility Gyms
- Premium Up-market Gyms
- …and lots more!
At the end of the article, you’ll realize which kind of gym suits your personality. Let’s get going.
So you’re a certified fitness trainer and need gym Options for Your PT Career, look no further; I have it all figured out.
Whichever the case, once you’ve got your credentials, you’ll want to plan what to do next. As a fledgling trainer, you could start grinding for private clients, figure out independently, and figure out the system.
The problem with this is that in the beginning phases of working as a personal trainer, your access to clients will be ZERO unless you have some form of reputation or popularity preceding your certified status.
For example, if you are influential, a former pro athlete, celebrity, or fitness influencer, you can easily start raising a sizeable client base simply off your social status.
But alas, most of us aren’t blessed with popularity, so you’ll need to position yourself in an environment where you are exposed to prospective clients at a high enough frequency that you can start building enough experience and a reputation.
If you are yet to be certified, you do so by getting certified with the best certified personal trainer programs.
Get your CEUs by applying for specialization courses and increasing your physical trainer salary.
After all that, you’ll need to start off working in a gym, of course.
In this article, I will help you choose which gyms are best and where to begin your career in fitness.
Trust me; I’ve worked in various commercial gyms and private studios for over ten years, so I know what I am saying. So buckle up, and let’s jump straight into it!
First… A Few Considerations
Before you decide which gym or type is best for you to work out of, you need to consider a few things to help with the decision-making.
Which Gym Works For Your Training Style?
Having a great insight into your personality is important in deciding the type of gym you should work in.
So, your area of specialization, strength, and schedule will invariably impact your final choice.
As an individual, you have individual tastes, preferences, and styles. As an individual trainer, you will have your strengths and areas of focus when delivering health and fitness services.
As such, you need to figure out which gym works for your style of fitness training.
This is especially important if you’ve gained a specialized certification.
You will, of course, want to work in a gym that offers the infrastructure that supports your area of specialty.
If, for example, you specialize in training combat sports such as MMA, Jiujitsu, or Boxing, you’ll likely be looking at a private fighting gym and not necessarily a run-of-the-mill big box gym.
You also want a gym that suits your style regarding the schedule and access requirements.
One of the reasons many people get into personal training is because of the promise of flexibility and self-governance in their time management.
On the other hand, some like a preexisting structure that they can slot into. Sort of like having a 9-5 framework but with the benefits of having a career in on-your-feet fitness.
Your personality style would also influence your gym option for your PT career.
Are you a team player or a lone wolf? Do you work well under management, or are you a born leader? Are you a socially fluid people person or direct and straight to business?
You, of course, know yourself and can decide which gym works for your personality type, allowing you to be you.
What Sort of Opportunities Are You Looking For?
Knowing the personal benefits you want to derive from the fitness training industry will also set the tone for the type of gym you want to work in.
This will save you from wasting valuable time working in a gym that does not align with your goals.
Another important consideration is what opportunities you are looking for.
Are you looking to make a ton of money, or you’re just seeking the fulfillment of helping others while making a comfortable living?
To this end, you’ll need to consider your income target and find a gym that gets you as close to that.
You might also be looking at educational opportunities. Perhaps you’re in it for some CEUs or using the experience to learn how to run and operate your gym one day.
Whatever it is, you need to list the opportunities you’re seeking and determine which facility will offer that.
What Employment Style Are You After?
In this section, be prepared to discover the employment style that suits you best.
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You will learn about the pros and cons of each establishment and how it will affect your overall career goals.
Another important one to consider is the form of employment attachment you seek.
Each has its pros and cons.
For example, full-time employment at a big box facility like Planet Fitness will likely mean a low income and a rigid schedule. Still, it comes with job security and typical employee benefits.
On the other end of the spectrum, where you are a private professional simply renting access to a facility, you may be free to control your schedule, pricing, and income. Still, that income is not protected, and you will shoulder any overhead costs and administrative duties.
What Is Your End Game?
Every individual has career goals, and I know you are not an exemption.
Your goals should align with your certifications and also the industry you will work in.
Having the right guide to walk in your chosen career path is necessary.
What are your career objectives in the long term? You want to consider this when deciding which gym to go to.
How you start will greatly influence where and how you get there.
If you want to open your private gym at some point, you will benefit from working through smaller, boutique-style gyms.
If you want a steady job and benefits while working your way up an established institution, then one of the big box gyms is what you’re looking at.
Maybe fitness is not your endgame; you’re just using it as a springboard to a different career path. A lifestyle coach and a hospitality specialist.
In that case, you’ll want something less formal and more experience-based.
Wherever you want to take things, you need to have at least a basic roadmap of what you want your career to be before choosing which gym to base yourself on.
My best advice for figuring out the answers to these questions is to take a test drive.
Call or email to inquire, or visit a bunch of gyms and figure out which could work for you, your style, and your goals.
You will also need to learn which gyms accept which certifications.
It’s often the case that certain gyms favor certain certifications over others.
As long as you have a certification accredited by NCCA or DEAC, you can get your foot in the door with most big box gyms.
Some gyms will have rigid specifications, especially the more personal and premium style. You will even come across gyms that require you to complete their in-house cert and won’t accept anything external.
I have an entire in-depth article on which gyms accept which certs. You can check it out right here.
With that said, let’s look at the best gyms you could work for.
Best Gyms To Work For
Big Box Commercial Gym
Are you interested in working in a fitness industry that promotes specialization with some flexibility?
This section will teach you what is obtainable and the qualifications you need to maximize their opportunities.
A big box commercial gym is any fitness facility that belongs to a chain or franchise of gyms and studios.
These gyms are typically the largest in terms of sheer size and client/member numbers, and job opportunities for personal trainers.
They cater to the fundamentals of fitness while offering some degree of practice, specialty, and flexibility.
They are typically well-equipped with all the standard equipment and infrastructure.
Because of their hyper commercial structure, they are often termed “fast fitness,” alluding to their similarity with rapid turnover industries such as fast food and fast fashion.
While there is a significant personal trainer opportunity in such gyms, most activity is based on set large group classes or member autonomy, where people who more or less know what they’re doing use the facilities according to their training style.
Commercial gyms are great if you’re starting your career in fitness and want the initial safety of fixed, secure employment. Still, I wouldn’t consider them the best gyms for personal training if you have any lofty career aspirations.
As with any option, weighing the pros and cons is important.
- Little to no prior experience is needed
- Most commercial gyms accept most accredited certs
- The large volume of potential clients
- Secure income and employment benefits
- On-the-job training
- Opportunity to grow in the corporate structure
- Relatively low income
- A rigid corporate structure and schedule may be overwhelming for some
- Does not encourage ingenuity or initiative, just hard work, and grinding
Commercial big box gyms are a great way to dip your toes into the game and gain technical experience while playing below the radar.
I strongly suggest you start here if you have no experience or notion of the fitness and exercise industry.
Examples of Big Box Commercial Gyms Include:
- 24 Hour Fitness
- LA Fitness
- Planet Fitness
- Orange Theory
- Crunch Fitness
- Snap Fitness
- Chuze Fitness
- Gold’s Gym
- Blink Fitness
You are in the right place with the vast opportunities available in small group training.
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This section will show you the benefits of working in a place that lacks a rigid corporate structure and how helpful it will be to your career goals.
Next up is the private studio or boutique gym. This can be anything from a mom and pops garage fitness studio to a premium quality state-of-the-art private facility.
The common theme with such gyms is the lack of a rigid corporate structure.
That’s not to say they are not commercial. Many boutique and private facilities will charge a higher premium for their services.
That’s because they tend to be more specialists than regular big-box gyms.
They tend to offer specialist facilities and equipment while targeting a specific niche.
These gyms will target medium to high-income clients, a large portion of whom already have a fitness background and are just looking for a place to maintain or expand their fitness level.
Because of the higher technical standard, you’ll need to be an experienced trainer to be considered by hiring management.
Usually, this means offering a service that adds diversity to the current business structure while remaining in the confines of its mission statement.
When it comes to certification, things can vary. Some boutique gyms will require a specific cert, typically based on what the owners have or some endorsement deal with a certifying agency.
The employment model is also more fluid. In most private gyms, there is the opportunity to be full-time, part-time, or independent.
As a full-time employee, you earn a salary and benefits; as a part-time employee, you usually pay a commission on what you make. As an independent trainer, you would pay a fixed monthly rent and have a contractual agreement with the gym.
Private gyms are a great place to grow if you have a great experience as a trainer. The versatility of income options is awesome, and the opportunity to join small group training is golden.
- Premium clientele willing to pay more
- Specialized facilities for more focused and effective training
- Variety of employment and income options which means higher income potential
- Targeted niche market, which means you can stand out through association
- More flexibility when it comes to self-management of schedule and income
- Difficult to get into, especially without prior experience or somewhat of an existing relationship with management
- Tend to be small and offer less equipment in comparison to commercial gyms
- The Independent option means a higher operational overhead expense and more administrative duties.
- Requires more self-promotion and marketing
Premium Up-market Gyms
If you have the qualification and reputation needed to work with High-Income clients, this is the right place for you.
All you need do is acquire the experience and be at your best always.
Premium gyms are similar in structure and operation to big box commercial gyms.
The only difference is they are aimed at high-income clients, those with relatively large amounts of disposable income and who require exclusivity.
This top-tier client bracket will earn you the big bucks, but they are also elusive and hard to capture.
First, you need to gain entry into one of these excellent facilities.
A lot of them require extensive credentials and prior experience. Some will have you complete in-house certification in addition to your existing credentials.
Premium gyms allow various employment options, from full-time employment to independent, commission-based relationships.
In these gyms, the clients aren’t just buying your training; they are buying into you as a person. They are buying into your reputation as a top-tier professional.
These gyms typically require you to be vastly experienced and always at your best.
That’s because while your reputation can shoot up drastically, it can also be destroyed by one influential client who has had a bad experience.
Pros and Cons include:
- Access to high-income clients, boosting income potential
- Great state-of-the-art facilities and an upmarket location
- Great way to build a reputation and achieve celebrity trainer status
- Great launchpad for building your brand, gym, or company
- Massive educational opportunities
- High entry barrier due to exclusive nature requiring stringent vetting and credential prerequisites
- It would be best to have a great reputation and marketing strategy to net the big fish.
- Your reputation is vulnerable with such high-profile clients.
Premium gyms are a great place to work if you want to make a comfortable living as an employed fitness professional with all the benefits that come with it.
They are also great if you want to launch into greater things and have dreams of your fitness empire.
Examples of such types of gyms include:
- Lifetime Fitness
- Bay Club
- Burn Fitness
High-Performance Facility Gyms
While you may not need a college degree to kick-start a fitness career, your degree in Kinesiology will be in high demand in a high-performance industry.
You must be a thorough expert to deal with the medical populations or dedicated athletes.
A high-performance facility is where things kick into top gear.
Here you are dealing with two types of clients, dedicated athletes, and medical populations.
When it comes to dedicated athletes, you deal with people who are already fit and healthy.
That means it’s straight to business, and you need the experience to back it up.
You need to know your stuff inside and out because the goal is to maximize the athletic potential of individuals whose careers depend on performance in many cases.
About medical populations, you are dealing with almost the opposite.
You often provide rehabilitative or therapeutic exercise solutions for people recovering from injuries or permanently incapacitated for whatever reason.
The delicacy of such clients requires precise knowledge and technical implementation, which requires massive amounts of experience and education.
Because of this, the entry barrier is at an all-time high.
You will likely need a college degree in exercise science or sports medicine. Kinesiology, biokinetics, or physiotherapy are good ones to have under your belt.
Good specialist certification is also a good idea to show you are equipped with contemporary, practical skills.
Many high-performance centers are skills-specific, as they will focus their services on training for one sport.
In this case, it pays to have somewhat of a sound knowledge or experience in the sport in question, perhaps even being an active participant or former athlete yourself.
An example of this would be a cycle lab geared towards improving the capabilities of cyclists through in-depth applications of exercise science.
High-performance centers also have a heavier leaning towards the nutrition aspect than other types of gyms.
That’s because nutrition is the main driving force in performance and recovery enhancement.
For this reason, I suggest you pick up some nutrition credentials if you hope to work at such a facility.
So what are the pros and cons of working in a high-performance center?
- Rich learning environment
- Earning potential that comes with working with delicate population groups
- Reputational growth in the upper echelons of the fitness community
- Increased job satisfaction and a sense of meaning
- The exceedingly high entry barrier
- Requires a high degree of specialization
- High-pressure environment
Some examples of high-performance facilities include:
- La Palestra
- Sports Center at Chelsea Piers
- Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning
- Institute of Human Performance
- D1 Sports Training
- Drive 495
Lastly, let’s analyze gyms that cater to specific population groups.
You will discover that most of you will be doing fun physical activities.
Specialty gyms cater to specific population groups such as the youth, the elderly, or women.
Women-specific gyms, in particular, are very popular.
The driving force behind this popularity is that women tend to feel uncomfortable in the often hyper-masculine environment of commercial gyms and other fitness facilities.
Such gyms allow women to focus on training and not worry about scrutiny or male attention.
Female-only gyms also emphasize equipment and programs that are more popular with female fitness consumers, such as pilates, yoga, and spinning.
Because of this, the entry requirements will often stipulate the need for any prospective trainers to be women.
The system is specific for other specialist gyms, such as kids’ or youths’.
Of course, working at a kid’s gym requires extensive background checks, including criminal history, for obvious reasons.
You would also be better off getting a certification in training youth populations.
Specialist gyms can have any structure, from big-box-commercial to up-market, so you’ll need to see each requirement.
Another type of specialist gym is the recreational gym setup.
These gyms are intended to offer fun physical activities instead of just health and fitness.
An example of this would be a kids’ summer camp or a wellness retreat.
- Allows you to focus on a niche area if your career objectives line up with the gym’s target market
- Has versatile income potential
- Easier to market yourself in a specialist field
- Allows for unique educational and career experiences
- Provides a more comfortable environment as a female trainer in the case of women-only gyms
- A very narrow set of accepted credentials and requirements
- Limiting in terms of career growth
- Can limit what sort of clients you have access to, as well as client volume
- It can sometimes limit your ability to work due to seasonal demand.
- In the case of women only-gyms, training options are often limited to stereotypically “feminine” exercise methods
Examples of specialist gyms:
- Delta Life Fitness
By now, you should be able to fathom which type of gym you want to work with as you enter the fitness industry.
The key is that it should align with your career goals.
Which Gym is best for you depends on where you are in your career and where you want to take it.
No “best” option exists unless you hone in on individual variables.
If your goal is to earn as much as possible, then your premium gyms are the place to go. If you are looking for job security and benefits and are just dipping your toes in fitness, your best option is a commercial gym.
Whichever it is, your key strategy is to run inquiries and determine if the requirements match your qualifications and if the pros outweigh the cons.
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2 thoughts on “Best Gyms To Work For In 2023 – Options For Your PT Career”
Thank you for all that you do and have done Tyler. You continue to help this stranger out year to year. From the first email sent to me 3 years ago to me being certified now. Thank you for all the guidance and information. Great article!
I’m glad all of the information has helped you out period congrats on becoming a certified personal trainer. you are going to have an awesome career!