12 Things You Didn't Know About Personal Trainers

Personal training is an industry we've probably all heard of. Especially now, in our social media-saturated culture, it's hard not to be aware of the presence of personal trainers in the world of health and wellness. Many people, however, may not fully understand what a trainer is and is not. So, what is a personal trainer? What do they do? There are some fascinating aspects of their job field that you may be surprised to learn about. First, though, let's define the trade.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the occupational role of personal fitness trainers is to "lead, instruct, and motivate individuals or groups in exercise activities, including cardiovascular workouts (for the heart and blood circulation), strength training, and stretching." Along with teaching various exercise routines for fitness and injury prevention, trainers monitor clients for correct and safe techniques, provide adaptations or alternative options, and teach about sports, recreational activities, and proper exercise equipment use. In some cases, personal trainers may also provide information on nutrition and healthy lifestyle.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that many Americans lead insufficiently active lifestyles, and has created a National Physical Activity Plan that includes activity recommendations, including weight training or personal training where appropriate. The CDC states that another important role for sports and fitness professionals is to promote increased physical activity for members of their communities. Trainers should also be prepared to provide emergency first aid if needed (via First Response Training International). It's important to note that qualified personal trainers are educated and know how to safely train and monitor clients to help them fulfill their highest potential. Let's explore some little-known facts on the profession.

A qualified personal trainer is board certified

A qualified personal trainer is certified and has been tested on exercise science. Although some trainers may be working without certification, an exam is required for those using the title "Certified Personal Trainer" (via Become). Reputable personal trainer certification programs are accredited via an overseeing body such as the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). NCCA accredited organizations such as the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) educate, test, and prepare trainers. They also provide a professional codes of ethics and ongoing continuing education opportunities. Keep these qualifications in mind as you think of questions you should be asking your personal trainer.

Personal trainer requirements typically include a high school diploma, although a degree in fitness or health-related studies may be preferred by employers (via the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Gyms and fitness centers usually only employ personal trainers who are credentialed. Fitness instructors may also sometimes pursue specific certification for specialized areas like yoga. Certification exams cover human physiology, exercise technique, fitness assessment and monitoring, and safety (via NASM). First aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillators (AED) training are also typically required for certification. Depending on the certifying body or specialization, apprenticeship or training hours may also be needed. 

Effective communication and an encouraging attitude are key parts of their job

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) encourages trainers to "help people lead healthier, happier lives." An effective trainer is an adept listener who can get behind the eyes of clients in order to better understand their habits, behaviors, driving motivations, and limits (via NESTA). This allows a trainer to more easily motivate a client to create sustainable, healthy changes. Along with fitness, the U.S. The Department of Labor suggests that those who enter the field should possess good communication skills and listening skills, a friendly and polite demeanor, and the ability to encourage and motivate positive behavior. A personal trainer should be adept at providing a sense of empowerment through offering workout options to promote a feeling of success.

"Trainers have to motivate their clients constantly," Heather West Matthews, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer and owner of HLM Fitness, told Health Digest. "Exercising is sometimes perceived as more of a chore than anything, so trainers have to work hard to change or uplift a client's mood upon arrival. We also have to constantly push the client to work harder throughout the entire session. Every minute of the hour you are like a personal cheerleader and that can be really draining."

Personal training is a relatively new field, but has ancient roots

You might be surprised to learn that although personal trainers have actually only been around since the 20th century, the job has ancient roots. According to the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers, the earliest records of some form of personal training are wall drawings found in an Egyptian funeral chapel that date back to around 4,500 years ago. Archaeological evidence indicates that weightlifting was common during the early Greek period. Galen the physician developed systematic strength training and early isometric exercises to improve athletic prowess during the 2nd century, A.D. It was not until the 20th century, however, that modern fitness programs and physical education became a part of life. Initially, however, the industry focused on bodybuilders and military training. 

World War II had led to fitness research, including that done at the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory (via the CDC). In 1954, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) was formed with the intent to promote increased American fitness (via the University of New Mexico). In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy invested in the development of the President's Council on Physical Fitness. Dr. Ken H. Cooper, known as the father of modern fitness, then introduced the concept of aerobics in 1968, emphasizing exercise as a preventative health tool. His ideas established the basis for our modern concepts of fitness training. The 1980s then saw trends like Jazzercise, Nautilus, and a proliferation of fitness classes, gym chains, and fitness industry certifications (via U.S. News). Today, personal training is a commonly recognized trade.

Personal trainers have to be creative

People may think of trainers primarily as physically talented athletes or jocks, but in reality personal training is a highly creative field. There are a wide range of ways to design, format, and implement workout routines. According to the National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT), building a personal training brand can involve a variety of creative approaches such as fitness blogging, writing, presenting, teaching, and creating community wellness workshops, webinars, and events. Especially for private certified personal trailers, creative approaches to building business are a must in today's industry. 

Tulane University notes that personal trainers have become even more creative in response to COVID-19 pandemic-era challenges. Virtual training sessions and group classes, outdoor classes, and increased social media utilization have evolved as the industry has worked to adapt to changing client health concerns. Previously recorded training sessions have also become an increasingly popular option in recent years.

Personal trainers are not dietitians or nutritionists

Personal trainers are not nutrition experts. Beyond general nutrition info, they should not offer diet tips or meal plans without additional certifications or training. Although the National Federation of Personal Trainers states that discussing basic nutritional needs and healthy lifestyle aspects of an exercise regimen falls within the scope of practice of a personal trainer, even a certified personal trainer should not ever offer what might be considered medical advice or restrictions. A personal trainer should also not provide dietary advice, or recommend supplements, diets, meal plans, or information on food portioning or timing.

The exception to this rule would be if a personal trainer has also earned additional credentials in this area, for example as a dietitian, weight loss specialist, or Certified Nutrition Coach. A trainer who is also certified as a nutrition coach is qualified to offer more detailed education on the nutritional content of foods, behavior modification, and to coach you on making nutritional changes for improved fitness. Like becoming a Certified Personal Trainer, these certifications require study, an exam, and ongoing education. It's important to check professional qualifications closely before accepting diet-related advice from a fitness professional. 

Personal trainers are increasingly in demand

People are utilizing personal trainers at higher rates. U.S. Department of Labor Statistics states that personal trainer employment growth is projected to increase 19% from 2021 to 2031 — a higher rate than the average for all occupations. An average of roughly 65,500 fitness trainers openings are expected each year until 2031. The increased demand will partly be due to a need for replacement workers for those exiting the field for reasons like retirement. As employer awareness of employee health and wellness increases, incentives to join gyms and even on-site workplace fitness facilities are expected to increase, along with the demand for instructors and trainers. The fitness industry is also expected to expand as aging baby boomers seek low-impact training to combat illness and injury. Yoga and Pilates are also expected to continue to be in increased demand as low-impact forms of relief for arthritis and other age-related ailments.

The virtual fitness industry also saw remarkable growth during the pandemic. Many Americans opted for the safety of at-home and online fitness programs. According to the Phoenix Business Journal, the industry, valued a bit over $6 million pre-pandemic, is projected to be worth $59 million by 2027.

A good trainer adapts exercise plans to suit any body

The best trainers can adapt training to suit a variety of needs (via NFPT). Anyone can benefit from personal training if the trainer adapts workout plans appropriately. Luckily, the fitness world is evolving to be more inclusive of people with all types of bodies and ability levels. Advocacy organizations like the Christopher & Dan Reeve Foundation say that fitness and health practices should be easily accessible for anyone who wants to pursue them. The organization points out that adaptive fitness does not mean a trainer just saying, "Do what you can." Adaptive Fitness "is a workout one can do, period. A workout that can be adapted to meet anyone's needs." Whether you are navigating pregnancy, injury recovery, disability, or fitness limitation of another kind, a good personal trainer can create solutions to help you pursue your goals in a way that works for your unique body. (At times you may find a trainer who cannot or will not adapt training to your ability level, but know that you should find a new personal trainer if this happens.)

The Adaptive Training Foundation (ATF) was created by former NFL player David Vobora and Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, a veteran and quadruple amputee. After training together, the pair decided to channel their passion for adaptive training into creating an organization to bridge the transition from physical rehabilitation into adaptive sport fitness. "We are now accrediting our adaptive training philosophy to train trainers all over the country how to serve these 40 million+ Americans living with a disability," Vobora told Authority Magazine. "The world doesn't need more gyms. It needs more trainers and facilities to open their doors to serving and including this population."

Personal training is an increasingly diverse industry

Zippia reports that personal trainers are 36.7% women, while 63.3% are men. In 2021, female trainers earned roughly 96% of what male trainers earned. The average age of a working personal trainer is 37. Personal trainers are also about 77% Caucasian.

However, more and more people of color are now entering the fitness industry. ACE emphasizes that as the personal trainer demographic grows, the industry will grow more diverse, and in turn become more welcoming to clients who may have previously not felt at home in their community gym. "The makeup of the industry today is a lot more diverse than it ever has been," said Ewunike Akpan, Certified Personal Trainer and owner of Maryland-based LOTUS Fitness, to ACE. Akpan added that when she first began her 20-plus-year fitness career, she was "one of a handful of Black people" at her first trainer conference. "Since that time, I have seen a serious change, not only in the participants, but also among those who are presenting at conferences."

Personal trainers can help you fight the aging process

New research is showing what weight training can do for your life as you age. The CDC reports that benefits for the aging population include increase in muscle mass, improved general physical function, improved bone health, blood pressure and insulin regulation, among other benefits. According to The New York Times, an August 2022 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that while aerobic exercise or strength training is associated with lower mortality risk, doing both is correlated with an even lower risk. The large study, which followed 416,420 surveyed between 1997 and 2014, is the latest addition to a growing body of research highlighting the power of strength training in relation to health and longevity. After researchers adjusted for age, gender, education, income, health, and marital status, they found that those who engaged in one to two weekly strength training sessions a week had a 40% lower mortality risk than those who engaged in no exercise at all.

Luckily, some personal trainer professional organizations like NASM now offer specific certifications for safely and effectively working with senior populations so that the aging can benefit from these positive outcomes.

Personal trainers often have nontraditional schedules

Many personal trainers work long or nontraditional hours. As of 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median pay for a personal trainer was $40,700 per year. Yet those in the field are also often likely to work into the night, at the crack of dawn, and on weekends (via ACE).

"My day starts at 7:00 AM and often ends at 6:00 PM and a lot of days I go right through ... A client comes in every single hour and I don't usually get a break to eat, so I'm eating protein bars real quick during a bathroom break," NASM-Certified Personal Trainer Heather West Matthews explained to Health Digest. "Trainers often sacrifice to do what they do for clients." ACE warns new personal trainers to prepare for adjusting to hourly pay and a nontraditional schedule, and to prioritize time management and scheduling skills.

You can utilize a personal trainer without leaving the comfort of home

Many trainers offer house calls or virtual training. Renting business space is costly, and the pandemic has lent itself to more virtual options. According to Forbes, the COVID-19 pandemic caused downloads of leading fitness apps to increase by a striking 84% from 2019 to 2020. Virtual training can offer a number of benefits. For instance, it can allow you to fit an exercise session into your schedule more easily, give you more abundant options than the gym class schedule, and offers a chance for you to work out in private, which might be desirable if you find a group atmosphere intimidating (via Fitness First).

You also don't need to worry about paying for expensive gym memberships or equipment. Instead, your trainer can teach you the best workouts that you can do without going to the gym. "COVID impacted my business a lot. I actually had to switch all of my clients to online, so I started training from my basement on an iPad," NASM-Cerified Personal Trainer and private gym owner Heather West Matthews explained to Health Digest. "I was worried about the lack of equipment that we could use training people on that iPad from their house, and actually we found out we could easily get a great workout in with every client using little to no equipment at all. You think you need to go to a gym, you convince yourself that you need dumbbells, kettlebells, whatever. You really don't need anything. You can do a great workout on your kitchen floor and that's what we learned from COVID."

Personal trainers can help boost your mood

Clients may not leave their personal stressors at the door when they come in for training sessions, and it's not uncommon for them to vent to a trusted trainer. It's important to note, though, that a qualified personal trainer will offer empathy but not counseling, which is outside of the Certified Personal Trainer scope of practice, according to the NFPT. And personal training is not a replacement for mental healthcare. In cases where a client is facing a mental health problem that may require treatment, their trainer might refer them to a psychologist, clinical social worker, or therapist.

However, research indicates that exercise is a great tool for improved mental health (via Maturitas). For instance, a 2018 meta-analysis published in JAMA Psychiatry found that resistance training may significantly ease depression symptoms (per Harvard Health Publishing). And The New York Times has highlighted how weight training can even help decrease the ill effects of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. So, while your personal trainer may not be able to offer mental health advice, they can still positively impact your brain and mood by evaluating your needs and preferences, adjusting their workout plan, and offering motivation and encouragement to help you get the exercise you need (via ISSA).