How to Be a Successful Personal Trainer in 2023

Welcome to the ultimate PTPioneer article featuring tips on the quickest methods on how to be a successful personal trainer, which includes the following:

  • Building your own brand
  • Looking for specializations to fit you
  • Working independently

By the time you finish this article, you’ll know what you must do to crush it as a successful personal trainer absolutely.

Since your personal training career starts with obtaining the right certification, I recommend that you take the quiz to find out which one best suits you.

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Without any more delay, let’s dive in!

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If you want to know how to make it as a personal trainer, you’ve come to the right place.

For those of you who aren’t already certified personal trainers, I recommend choosing from one of the best personal trainer certifications.

As you can see, there are different online personal trainer certifications and even nutrition certification programs.

But no matter which certification you choose, there’s no doubt you’ll learn how to become the best personal trainer that you can be.

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Right off the bat, one of my top tips for becoming a successful personal trainer is to consider combining the CPT with a nutrition certification.

When you integrate nutrition coaching with the physical training skills you learn in the certified personal trainer certification, you are much more likely to deliver amazing results to your clients.

Providing great client results is key when it comes to making a great personal trainer salary and having a great personal training career.

To supercharge this, I recommend a further specialization such as group fitness instructor, corrective exercise specialist, or strength and conditioning coach.

Fitness specializations build on the knowledge you get in your CPT with a specific type of training or clientele in mind.

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This helps you become an expert in a certain area of fitness, allowing you to earn more money and serve more niche, higher-paying clientele.

If you combine the triple threat of a CPT certification with nutrition and a fitness specialization, you will absolutely crush it relative to only having the basic personal training certification.

Additionally, completing additional coursework to earn continuing education credits (CEUs) is required for maintaining your personal trainer certifications.

The great news?

The nutrition coach and additional specialist certification count towards these CEUs, with each knocking out a full two years of continuing ed coursework.

I personally recommend doing these additional certifications as soon as possible after getting your CPT.

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This allows you to benefit now from the credential as opposed to delaying the specialization until a year and a half into your training career when you are scrambling for CEUs.

After all, that is a long time to be earning less than your full potential!

The bummer is that doing three certifications gets very pricey, especially when purchasing the certifications separately, which is common amongst my students who delay completion of CEUs.

If you are motivated to succeed faster and choose the ISSA CPT program as your base certification, I recommend checking out the ISSA Elite Trainer package.

The Elite Trainer bundles the internationally-recognized ISSA CPT, the ISSA nutritionist certification, and an ISSA specialization of your choice at a steep discount compared to each individual certification.

issa-elite-trainer

Although there are many great CPTs on the market, the ISSA is definitely my top choice.

Periodically, the ISSA runs deals on their website for the Elite Trainer program.

If they are currently running a discount, it’s tough to pass up.

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If you aren’t yet convinced about the ISSA CPT, consider taking my quiz to determine which personal training certification is best for your goals.

With that said, let’s dive into the steps to becoming a personal trainer.

1. Select The Best CPT Program For Your Goals

Which personal training certification should you get?

That decision depends on your long-term goals in the fitness industry.

Generally speaking, my top choices for personal training certifications are ISSA, followed by NASM, and then ACE.

However, your specific situation may vary, and I highly recommend taking my quiz to determine the best CPT for you.

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In terms of prerequisites to becoming a personal trainer, all NCCA accredited certifications have essentially the same following criteria:

  • At least 18 years old
  • Current and valid CPR/AED certification
  • High school diploma or the equivalent (GED)

If you meet these criteria, let’s skip to more personal trainer tips.

2. Earn Your CPT

The first steps in learning how to be a successful personal trainer are to select the CPT program of choice, but then to study and pass so that you actually get your certificate and start working.

Course duration and exam difficulty vary based on multiple factors, such as time dedicated toward your studies, previous related work experience, educational background, and more.

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Another influential variable in how long it takes to become a personal trainer is the certifying body you choose.

Additionally, the easiest personal training certifications tend to take less time than harder ones.

Regardless, all the following certifications will require months of preparation to guarantee a passing score.

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) CPT

Founded in 1988, ISSA has been led by some of the top fitness experts and exercise scientists in the field.

There are roughly 400,000 students and ISSA-certified trainers spread throughout 174 countries.

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Without a doubt, the ISSA-CPT is my top choice for personal trainer certifications.

Before digging any deeper into this certification, you should know that there are two versions of the exam, one of which is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

While there is no difference in the materials used to prepare for the exam, the NCCA-accredited version is a bit more difficult and worth having the accredited status.

NCCA accreditation is the gold standard for certification in the fitness industry.

The ISSA-CPT programs will teach you to assess someone’s fitness level and goals to customize effective results-driven exercise programs that are individualized to fit clients.

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As a future fitness professional, you will also gain knowledge of human anatomy, exercise techniques, biomechanics, and basic safety and emergency procedures in a gym/exercise setting.

By finishing your ISSA CPT, you’ll be set to coach your first fitness sessions.

Thinking long term, I always recommend combining the CPT with a specialization certification such as group fitness or corrective exercise and then topping it off with a nutrition coach certification.

This is by far the most reliable method to speed up your fitness career and start acquiring high paying clients sooner.

Combine the nutrition coaching and niche appeal of specialization on top of the excellent general knowledge in the ISSA CPT program. You’ll be well ahead of trainers who have the CPT alone.

Some great news on this front regarding the ISSA CPT is that you have the option to bundle it with the ISSA Elite Trainer Program.

The Elite Trainer gets you the ISSA CPT, ISSA nutrition coach, and a third specialization for a steep discount compared to buying them individually – plus, you knock out 4 entire years of recertification credits.

issa-elite-trainer

The ISSA routinely runs deals on the Elite Trainer Program directly on its website.

I would strongly consider checking any current promotions from ISSA – a deal on the Elite Trainer is tough to pass up.

You can also start studying for the ISSA-CPT now before spending any money with the free ISSA Study Guide and ISSA Practice Test.

I also recommend looking at paid third-party ISSA study guides that offer exam pass guarantees and comparable quality study materials.

For example, my students report being much better prepared for the ISSA exam via third-party study guides such as the Trainer Academy ISSA CPT Prep Course.

Courses like this often speed up the time it takes to prepare by helping you focus on the key knowledge points needed to pass the test.

As they say, time is money, so any time saved in your exam prep means you’ll be racking up clients sooner than a delayed, drawn-out study process.

Overall, with its high-quality fitness education, pricing ranges, and bundles, the ISSA is a solid choice for personal trainer certifications.

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) CPT

Established in 1987, NASM is an NCCA-accredited fitness professional certifying agency that has grown to become one of the most prestigious online certifications.

Besides their Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certification, there are other specializations, such as:

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While those certifications also provide great education, this portion of the article only focuses on the NASM-CPT.

And in my perspective, the NASM-CPT curriculum excels across most domains relevant to new personal trainers.

For example, NASM effectively teaches the underlying exercise science that is fundamental to delivering client results.

The famous NASM Optimum Performance Training (OPT) Model seamlessly allows you to progress clients from the early stabilization phase through multiple periods of training.

This ultimately leads to power and performance training.

While the OPT Model may be effective sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to use it all the time.

Some clients may have other, more complex goals that you’d have to tailor their program more specifically and less strictly.

Aside from this, NASM provides great tips on behavioral change, special populations training, and basic business skills, including sales.

And if you want to know how to be a successful personal trainer financially, then NASM is definitely known to produce business-savvy trainers.

Whereas the NASM-CPT is only briefly covered in this article, I have written a full NASM review that goes in-depth on the skills you’ll acquire and the NASM-CPT curriculum quality and content.

So now you think you want to become NASM-certified?

While the NASM-CPT exam really is not impossible to pass, it’s sure as hell not easy.

As of 2021, the NASM-CPT final exam pass rate is roughly 60% for first-time test takers.

Failing to plan is planning to fail, so if becoming a certified personal trainer and starting your career is important to you, then do your due diligence to do your best.

While some students anticipate spending three months at a minimum preparing for their exam, others may anticipate spending longer or shorter times.

To help you study and pass your NASM-CPT exam, check out this free NASM study guide and free NASM practice test, as well as review some critical NASM exam information.

That’s a wrap on how to be a successful personal trainer with NASM.

Finally, there’s just one more personal trainer certification I must share, and that is ACE.

American Council on Exercise (ACE) CPT

ACE is a leading nonprofit exercise professional and health coach certification organization.

The ACE mission is simple: get people moving.

And to meet this mission, ACE offers a range of NCCA accredited certifications in various health and fitness industry professions, one being the ACE Certified Personal Trainer, which I’ll explore.

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The ACE-CPT curriculum does a phenomenal job of teaching the basic concepts and skills needed to be a successful personal trainer.

The comprehensive ACE Integrated Fitness Training (ACE-IFT) Model gives you the framework needed to program for clients of all abilities and fitness goals.

Stacked on top of the great IFT model is the ACE exercise library, which contains hundreds of exercises with descriptions and videos, categorized based on the IFT model.

This is great for newer trainers who are still building a repertoire of exercises they like to coach.

Furthermore, the ACE-IFT exercise library makes getting creative with your exercises much more straightforward and allows you to modify existing programs without hassle easily.

ACE also covers the basics of behavioral change coaching skills and the importance of being stern but friendly.

Those are some of the most important personality traits that are best for personal trainers.

Between the ACE-IFT and behavioral change skills, the ACE-CPT curriculum gives even the best personal trainers all the essential skills.

From my perspective, the biggest weakness I notice with the ACE-CPT curriculum is its lack of sales skills in the business section of the certification.

To learn how to be a successful personal trainer, you must learn sales skills and effective personal training marketing strategies.

Concepts such as sales funnels, leads, prospects, and other sales jargon are vital for ensuring you close prospective clients and have people paying you to train them.

Fortunately, for the most part, a good gym will teach you how to sell personal training on the job.

But unfortunately for self-employed trainers, getting ACE-certified alone will not prepare you to build your own fitness business.

But even if you’re an ambitious person, no CPT certification alone will ever cover this topic because it is simply beyond the scope of a basic personal trainer certification program curriculum.

Overall, the ACE-CPT will prepare you for the job of screening, programming, and instructing your clients safely and effectively, but just be sure to learn some sales skills from outside resources.

While I only faintly covered the ACE-CPT here, I have written a full ACE-CPT review for you to gain more in-depth knowledge of the certification program.

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If you think that the ACE-CPT fits you, then I’d recommend reviewing my free ACE study guide and free ACE practice test, as well as reviewing some ACE exam information.

Summary

Decisions, decisions.

Before you commit to one certification, you’ll need to assess your career goals and see if that specific CPT matches up.

And if you’re still unsure which one to choose from, then I definitely recommend that you take the quiz to find out which personal trainer certification is the best fit for you to obtain.

How to be a successful personal trainer?

Start with obtaining the right certification for you and your career path.

3. Update Your Resume and Determine Optimal Employment

So let’s say you’re a freshly certified personal trainer.

Maybe you explored some personal training internships and are now ready for your next big step – employment.

strength and conditioning coach job

While your experience, education, and certification are all factors that affect your chances of gaining employment, it’s also important to have a well-written resume.

It never hurts to seek out personal trainer resume advice to teach you the essentials of a well-put-together resume.

A good resume helps you establish a good rapport with your potential employer.

4. Build Your Own Brand

If I could travel back in time to give myself this one tip, I would have been more successful in the personal training industry earlier.

This should apply to you whether you are a self-employed personal trainer or an employee at a studio or a commercial gym.

In the instance that you work for a commercial gym, you will not be technically building your “brand name,” but you can still make a name for yourself within the industry.

Most people who register a business name register their first and last name.

In a sense, you will represent what your business stands for by the knowledge you hold and the people you help.

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One of the most helpful tips for personal training in regard to building your own brand is to purchase a bunch of business cards.

The largest font on your card should be your first and last name.

It should also let potential personal training clients know what you specialize in regarding personal trainer certification programs.

If you are running your personal training studio, you must have your studio or gym’s name spread throughout your town.

In this case, your brand name will most likely be your studio or the place where you train.

As I mentioned above, you should still definitely make business cards that you can hand out.

Instead of your name being the main attraction, it should be the name of your studio on the card.

Underneath your studio’s title should be your name, as well as the type of personal training that you specialize in.

You can’t afford to neglect some web presence for your business today, so at least consider creating a Facebook page, a Google Plus profile, and an Instagram profile.

Not only are these social media platforms the most popular, but they are incredibly effective.

Every profile should have your hours of operation, personal training contact information, a personal training about page on your personal training techniques, training programs, and location.

Always keep these web profiles up-to-date with events, promotions, and general information.

This is by far the best way to get your name out there and is a valuable investment if you have the time and money to hire someone to help you with your own website.

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Though some may argue that having a website looks a lot more professional than a social profile, social profiles are increasingly popular and can, in fact, generate even more income.

For instance, having a certain number of followers and/or affiliate marketing (clothing, supplements, training equipment) can help you grow your business and your pockets for sure.

5. Grow Your Clientele

Once certified and you’ve established some online presence, now it’s time to grow your clientele.

First, I suggest reading up on some of the best personal training tips for beginners.

This will help you get the gist of personal training and build your network of other trainers, clients, and your community.

Next, you’ll want to learn effective methods to motivate your clients inside and outside the gym.

Maybe you’ll offer great tips for beginner core workouts to new clients.

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Are you a group fitness instructor or want to become a group fitness instructor?

Personal trainers who are also group fitness instructors learn a wealth of small group personal training tips and apply them to keep their workouts safe, prepared, and effective.

And as a personal trainer, time management matters not only to you but to clients as well.

Once your existing clients see and feel the results they want, more and more people will take an interest in your style and want to train with you.

Though word-of-mouth is by far the best way to obtain and retain clients, you can also become an online personal trainer so you can reach out to clients all around the world.

6. Specialize In Your Training

Since the health and fitness industry is constantly changing, you need to roll with the times and keep up with your education.

Multiple times every year, a new workout routine or training style explodes and gets famous.

Exercise science is a quickly growing science, and breakthroughs happen all the time, so it never hurts to get two or three additional certifications to the one you already have.

Not only will your employer love it, but your clients will thank you as well because you will be better able to help them reach their fitness goals.

Most certifying agencies require certification renewal approximately every two years.

The best way to fulfill this requirement is to merely get certified through a different certifying agency or get an advanced certification.

If you would like to focus more on the corrective exercise training, a good option would be to study for NASM-CES or the ACSM certification.

If you want to start working with more athletes or have additional knowledge for your existing athletic clients, you could consider the NASM-PES or the CSCS.

Interested in the CSCS?

I know I haven’t mentioned this unique certification until just now, but don’t fret.

Before taking the CSCS exam, I suggest you head to my free CSCS study guide and free CSCS practice exam and review basic CSCS exam information to see if this certification is right for you.

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Also, you can check out my list of the best strength and conditioning certifications to see which one works for you.

ACE offers a fantastic health coach certification if you are trying to become a health coach.

Successful trainers will start a fitness business with some idea of who they want to work with or their niche and then find the proper specializations to enhance their training sessions.

While some trainers specialize in personal training for seniors, others may specialize in personal training for prenatal, perinatal, and/or post-natal women.

Whatever you decide to specialize in, it will be a tremendous move for your fitness trainer career.

Specializations make you a much more diverse trainer, and your clients will see the results that they are striving for because of it.

Once clients see excellent results, they’re walking advertisements for your personal fitness business and brand.

This will magnetize lots of new clients for you and therefore make becoming a successful personal trainer a walk in the park!

7. Working Independently

Suppose you’ve worked in the personal training industry for a while and are still working for a corporate gym.

In that case, you might consider making the transition into working entirely for yourself.

The amount of money you make working for a gym is approximately 1/3 of what you can make if you successfully work for yourself.

You may have questioned, or are currently questioning, how to be a successful personal trainer independently.

And it’s simple.

Start by either renting or owning your training studio, working with clients in your own house, in their homes, or even outside.

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Also, I’d recommend purchasing personal trainer liability insurance to protect you from clients taking any legal actions on your behalf.

Since being an independent personal trainer takes a lot of planning and hard work, though, it would be best to have an extensive network of clients or potential clients to make this transition.

While working for yourself can be a significant investment at first, it will definitely pay off in the long run.

If working independently interests you, I recommend reading my article on building your own personal training studio, which goes much more in-depth on this matter.

8. Deliver Insane Value During Every Training Session

Clients know what they want, and that’s why they hire you – the ultimate fitness expert.

They trust you with helping themselves commit to a health and fitness routine and stay accountable as time goes on.

That’s why it’s crucial for trainers to deliver the utmost quality and insane value during every training session.

Know your clients, their current selves, and their goals.

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Learn their bodies, limitations, and modifications (if any), as well as likes and dislikes in terms of how they like to move.

The point is, if you want to know how to be a successful personal trainer, then you must be present with your clients so that you can deliver the best, most effective, tailored fitness program.

9. Commit to Continuing Education and Career Growth

If you’re like me and want to know how to become a better personal trainer, then this section is crucial.

While a good personal trainer carries themself with the appropriate knowledge and implements all necessary skills, the better personal trainer is the one who never stops learning.

Nurture the knowledge and skillsets you have acquired, but by all means, commit to a career of never-ending learning.

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Immerse yourself in related areas of interest by maintaining your CEUs and even by doing some personal research and reading.

For instance, maybe weight loss interests you, and you want to discover how to be a successful personal trainer and weight loss specialist.

There are so many options CEUS for personal trainers about weight loss.

Also, you can browse through some certification-specific CEU options, as listed below:

Whatever it is that fascinates you, the personal training and fitness world is vast, and there are many ways to stay in the know with the latest topics.

Learning how to be a successful personal trainer is one thing – staying a successful personal trainer is another, which is done through your commitment to never-ending education.

Stay sharp!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the best tips on how to be a successful personal trainer?

If you want to know how to become a successful personal trainer, here are some tips. First, choose a personal trainer certification that best aligns with you and your career path. Study and pass your CPT exam, so you’ll obtain your official certification. Prepare a resume and apply for jobs. There are no limits – the personal training world is your oyster. How to be a successful personal trainer starts with you and is determined only by you.

Do you have to be certified to be a personal trainer?

While you can legally work as a trainer without certification, it is near impossible to build a lucrative training career without becoming certified. Additionally, most gyms require trainers to be certified with an NCCA accredited fitness certification.

How long does it take to become a certified personal trainer?

It typically takes 3-6 months to pass a CPT certification depending on the difficulty of the exam and your background knowledge.

How much does it cost to become a certified personal trainer?

The cost of becoming certified as a personal trainer depends on which certification you choose. Typical costs range from $300 at the low end to over $1000 if you purchase expensive study packages from the organizations.

Can I make good money as a personal trainer?

While personal training is not a get-rich-quick job, there is high earning potential for skilled trainers in profitable niches and successful gym owners. Trainers employed in a standard arrangement can expect anywhere from $40,000 to $70,000 a year on a full-time schedule.

Are there educational requirements to become a successful personal trainer?

Most personal training programs do not require an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree. Advanced specialties and advanced certifications may have different requirements.

How hard is it to become a successful personal trainer?

While all the greatest tips on how to be a successful personal trainer may help you begin your journey, it requires a lot of hard work to launch your own brand. And that’s why most trainers start their careers as an employee at a gym or a studio.

Can anybody become a personal trainer?

As long as you fulfill the prerequisites, pass your CPT exam, and are willing to work hard to build and maintain your clientele, anybody can become a personal trainer.

What are the best tips on how to be a better personal trainer?

To be a better personal trainer, see what areas you consider yourself weak in and do everything you can to improve. Even if it’s 1% each time, you’ll improve and become better at your craft.

What are the best ways to learn how to become a great personal trainer?

In my perspective, the best ways to learn how to be a great personal trainer cannot be taught but learned – and that’s only through experience. You can obtain so much knowledge on personal training and tips on being a successful personal trainer, but true greatness comes from learning and applying your knowledge.

How to Be a Successful Personal Trainer: Conclusion

I hope I was able to offer you some valuable information on how to be a successful personal trainer.

These are the best tips on how to be the best personal trainer that I can share with you, so make sure to remember these tips and apply them to your own personal training business.

I guarantee that if you apply all my tips on becoming a personal trainer, you’ll have much better success in the industry overall.

Happy training!

Tyler Read

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT. Tyler holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Sonoma State University and is a certified personal trainer (CPT) with NASM (National Academy of sports medicine), and has over 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. He is a published author of running start, and a frequent contributing author on Healthline and Eat this, not that.

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