shutterstock 232770370Fitness culture and the need for people to “get healthy” has increased in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), personal trainers will see a 13% growth over the next ten years; which is up 8% from the national average for all occupations.

Many fitness career options are available for those with and without college degrees. Although most personal training certificates only require a High School diploma, students may pursue higher educational degrees related to health and fitness. While higher education is an option, it seems that success in the health and fitness industry is not directly correlated with whether or not you have a bachelor’s degree. Lucrative payouts are available for both certificate-trained and college-bound students. It truly depends on personal goals and career ambitions.

A list of careers in the fitness industry may not be limited to traditional health clubs (gyms). Surprisingly, fitness industry careers are seen in traditional health clubs, non-traditional health clubs, retirement or assisted living communities, Community and college recreation centers, luxury resorts and hotels, cruise ships, virtual platforms, education or marketing, and corporate wellness programs. Many health and fitness career ideas are available, if you know where to look. Most careers in fitness pay well with better pay given to bachelor’s-prepared students. The BLS states that fitness instructors have a median pay of $39,820 per year, with the highest paid fitness instructors in metropolitan New York. Personal trainers that have earned bachelor’s degrees have a median pay of $47,510- $49,270 per year.

This promising growth should give students peace of mind when choosing a career in health and fitness. Are there career opportunities other than working at a gym for a personal trainer? Yes, many openings are available for personal trainers.

Traditional health clubs

To begin, traditional health clubs are stereotypical places to meet personal trainers, and for good reason. Freshly certified and vested personal trainers usual start out in traditional health clubs. Some big names in the industry are:

Among these global gyms are over 1,800 locations in the United States. The odds of an entry level personal trainer getting hired at one of these health clubs is high based on the shear number of locations. Each location needs several personal trainers to run effectively, leading to hundreds of job openings. Jobs in fitness without a college degree are in high demand; this is good news for trainers eager to use their crisp and shiny new certificates.

Many accrediting bodies suggest that newly certified personal trainers begin their careers in traditional health clubs. The American Council of Exercise (ACE), National Federation of Professional Training (NFPT), and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) agree this is a good action plan for entry level personal trainers. Independent contracting and career ventures outside of traditional health clubs are best left until after experience is gained.

Nontraditional health clubs (intense fitness)

Nontraditional health clubs are geared for more advanced athletes or clients looking for intense fitness sessions. These gyms often require coaches to have more specialized training. These gyms focus on client-athletes, thus allowing a more intense approach to fitness. Some nontraditional gyms include:

  • Strength and conditioning centers
  • CrossFit gyms
  • Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting/Kickboxing clubs
  • Boot camp locations (off site)

Students may obtain a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology or Exercise Science, and then pursue a strength and conditioning specialty certification. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) offers a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certificate. This would be a good route for students who are interested in coaching at more intense fitness clubs.

CrossFit is its own independent brand of fitness and requires its coaches to be certified through their facilities. CrossFit offers CrossFit Level 1, level 2, level 3, level 4 and CrossFit Kids Certifications. Personal Trainers may start an entry-level position at a CrossFit gym as long as they get certified through the company.

First made popular by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fights, standalone MMA and kickboxing clubs are becoming quite popular. These gyms require specific training to lead classes; training that usually takes years to reach expert level. It often takes years to gain expertise at these types of gyms. Working as a personal trainer at a nontraditional gym is competitive and home to elite trainers and elite fitness members. Not to say it cannot be done, just know, it will take time and training to get to this level.

Taking a step back from intense MMA and kickboxing, is the world of boot camps. Camp Gladiator has made use of this specialized niche in fitness. Often held off-site at parks, parking lots, churches, or anywhere space is available, boot camps are held for clients interested in a unique, intense training session. Personal trainers lead sessions and gain better relationships with clients because boot camps are fun, unique ways to present fitness. Entry-level positions are available for personal trainers at boot camp training sites nationwide.

Retirement or assisted living communities

Personal trainers can get jobs working with elderly clients at retirement and assisted living communities. Often times, these facilities will hire independent contracted personal trainers to come in a few times a week to work with clients. This would not be a fitness-minded class, but one that is more focused on movement, stretching, and possibly light cardio. This type of personal training would be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. Jobs listed under this category include “senior fitness exercise instructor” or “Independent living skills instructor”.

Community and college/university recreation centers

Local parks and recreational facilities hire personal trainers to lead group classes, single training, and general fitness sessions. Local community centers, termed “rec centers”, allow a steady flow of clientele for personal trainers. These types of facilities can be compared to traditional health clubs with slightly less volume. Members want to be there, and they are looking for ways to improve health. Group classes are popular at these facilities so prepare to get an additional “group fitness instructor” training certificate or on the job training, once hired.

Colleges and universities hire personal trainers to train non-athlete students, staff and faculty members. These are often fitness outreach programs for students, non-students, and instructors. Many universities offer a “pay per semester” system that is convenient and guarantees clients for an extended period of time. Students and employees take advantage of discounts offered for on-campus recreation centers. Group fitness is also popular at these facilities, so don’t be surprised if you need group fitness experience before being hired. Currently, employed trainers at Universities are NASM, ACE, and NCSF certified.

Luxury Resorts and Hotels

A perk of personal training is getting hired at luxury resorts and hotels. Fitness classes offered at various luxury resorts and hotels are very appealing to entry-level and experienced personal trainers. Often times, you will stay on-site and work several weeks as a contracted employee. This is a fun way to travel to various locations and also pursue your career. Most jobs listed under this category require 1-3 years of experience with an emphasis in group fitness. Jobs posted under this category include: “Luxury fitness and spa director”, “fitness manager”, or “spa attendant”. Further investigation of the actual job duty of a spa attendant, determined mostly management of the fitness center and pool. Jobs posted as “spa” are interchangeable with fitness center attendants.

Cruise ship fitness instructors

All aboard! Personal Trainers can work on cruise ships! How exciting it is to see actual job postings for cruise ship fitness instructors. What better way to give the gift of fitness than atop a cruise ship! Apparently, there are two major companies that manage cruise ship fitness instructors: Steiner Leisure (One Spa world) and Canyon Ranch Spa Club at Sea. Some cruise lines managed by these two companies include: Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise line, Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruises, and Norwegian Cruises. These sites also urge applicants to be aware of scams and state that applicants do not need to pay a fee in order to get an interview. Scams found related to this job asked applicants to “pay a fee” before applying. These websites stress that no payment is needed in order to be legitimately interviewed. Be wary if asked to pay…your skills and expertise are enough.

Online/Virtual Training

The age of technology is upon us. Healthcare is moving to telemedicine, so it makes sense that fitness is moving into the digital age along with it. It is the age of online… well, everything. Virtual online fitness coaching is changing the way people exercise and train. Virtual fitness coaches are in charge of guiding and instructing clients via virtual platforms such as apps or websites. A popular fitness app, NOOM, had job listings for a personal trainer that required a 12-week program, and weekly co-host video commitments. Other apps offered jobs that split in-person training and virtual training. For example, you coach in the morning or evening sessions in-person, then are responsible for 30-75 online clients during your off-time. The fitness watch, “Fitbit” also has job listings for a “certified health coach”. The virtual age allows for more remote jobs and flexibility, but seems harder to start there as an entry level employee. These jobs seem to be saved for those with more experience. Nevertheless, a fascinating time to be involved in fitness and technology.

Education or marketing/sharing your expertise

The old saying, “but who will teach the teachers?” sheds some light on the fact that teachers are needed in all fields in order to continue. Personal trainers can teach newly certified personal trainers or those looking to brush up on certain skills. ACE offers continuing education classes for personal trainers, and who better to teach these classes, than experienced personal trainers. Education jobs are few, but seem to be a rewarding job for personal trainers who are looking to change from “in-person” client sessions.

Marketing jobs such as fitness modeling, fitness magazine editor, or fitness apparel design are available for personal trainers. These are avenues in which personal trainers can share their expertise. Such jobs are saved for those with several years of experience or those that have enormous success in a short amount of time.

Corporate wellness programs

Lastly, personal trainers can team up with corporate entities to help with their “wellness programs”. These programs equip staff and support members in the pursuit of healthier lifestyles. Often times, corporations offer discounts to team members that show signs of healthy lifestyles and complete certain objectives set forth by the company at the beginning of the year. Personal trainers may come on-site to lead certain fitness classes or give health-minded lectures to staff.

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to start your personal training career at a traditional gym to gain experience. However, there are career opportunities other than working at a traditional gym for personal trainers. It is possible to branch out into other avenues of fitness. The latter requires a confident attitude, education, and experience. Personal training is a relatively easy career to begin entry-level with only a certificate, but it is up to you as to how far you want to take it.

Tessa Chatham

Master of Science (M.S.), Nursing Education| Aspen University

Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Nursing| Texas Christian University

Bachelor of Arts (B.A), Psychology and English| The University of Texas at Arlington

October 2019

More Articles of Interest: