Our biennial representation of wages and benefits in the fitness industry reveals ebb and flow during times of economic uncertainty.
Since this survey was last published in January 2009, the national unemployment rate has increased from 6.1% (August 2008) to 9.6% (October 2010), which equates to about 14.8 million unemployed individuals in the United States (U.S. Department of Labor 2010a). However, the silver lining for fitness professionals is that even though the national job market has declined, our industry is still expected to see better-than-average growth (29%) in positions over the next decade (2008–2018) (U.S. Department of Labor 2010b).
While job prospects in our industry remain strong, it is striking to see from the latest data that fitness professionals’ loyalty to employers has declined again. In the current survey, 71% of employees report remaining in their jobs for 1 year or more, down from previous years (78%–83% in 2002–2008).
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2010c), the average hourly rate for private-sector production or nonsupervisory workers was $19.04 in July 2010, when IDEA’s most recent survey was fielded. The survey results show that all nonsupervisory positions in the fitness industry are above the national average except the position of fitness floor staff, which averages $11.75 per hour. In addition, while there has been an increase of approximately 4.5% in national wages and salaries over the past 24 months, only fitness floor staff and the supervisory positions (fitness director, personal training director and group exercise coordinator) have experienced this same increase in wages (U.S. Department of Labor 2010d).
The IDEA survey allows us to distinguish earnings in nonprofit versus for-profit clubs. Results show a significant difference between nonprofit and for-profit clubs for group exercise coordinators ($49,667 nonprofit vs. $27,143 for-profit) but not for fitness/program directors ($50,484 nonprofit vs. $50,821 for-profit) or personal training directors ($42,778 nonprofit vs. $42,077 for-profit). By contrast, all those who are primarily paid an hourly wage earn more in the private sector than in nonprofit facilities: personal trainers ($37.30 vs. $24.82); fitness floor staff ($12.54 vs. $10.97); group exercise instructors ($25.93 vs. $22.60); Pilates or yoga instructors ($35.72 vs. $28.18); and specialty instructors ($31.38 vs. $23.33).
The 2010 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Trends Report not only provides information regarding current wages in the industry; it also gives details on benefits and on hiring and promotion criteria. The survey data can be used to position your company competitively within our growing industry. Detailed results follow.
Eight fitness industry positions were examined in the 2010 IDEA survey. Highlights of our findings are offered below, while detailed results are provided in tables at the end of this article.
Fitness/Program Directors average 43 hours a week when they are salaried, but only 26 hours per week when their jobs are compensated hourly. The large majority of fitness/program directors are employees (88%), as opposed to independent contractors (7%). Forty-four percent of facilities employ an individual in this position. Three-quarters of fitness/program directors are paid a salary (75%), which shows very little change from the 2008 survey (76%). The 2010 survey reflects an increase in average salary ($50,639).
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s inflation calculator, which factors in the average Consumer Price Index for a given year, this is well above the 2008 average of $46,920—even after adjustment for inflation ($47,547)—and far above the 2006 average salary of $36,468 (or $39,467 when adjusted for inflation). In addition, about 74% of directors and coordinators teach classes, for which 40% are paid extra, which can push total income somewhat higher. The 2010 data show that a higher percentage of directors (75%) are eligible for benefits than were in 2008 (68%) and 2006 (57%). The majority of directors are also eligible for an education fund (61%), while 30% are able to receive cash incentives.
Personal Training, or PFT, Directors also average more hours per week when they are salaried (42 hours) than when they are paid an hourly wage (27 hours). Most personal training directors in this survey are classified as employees (84%), while 16% are independent contractors. Just 20% of surveyed facilities support this position. The percentage of personal training directors who are salaried has declined from 65% in 2008 to 58% in 2010. Salaries may be augmented by teaching classes and perhaps through individual training sessions.
The 2010 study shows that the average annual salary of personal training directors has increased to $42,364, compared with $39,074 in 2008 ($39,596 when adjusted for inflation). The percentage of PFT directors receiving benefits has jumped significantly, rising to 76% in 2010 from 64% in 2008. An education fund is now available to 74% of those in this position, up from 67% in 2008. However, only 33% can now earn cash incentives, compared with 43% in 2008.
Group Exercise Coordinators have managerial duties—such as hiring, training and supervising group exercise instructors—but they may also teach classes on a regular basis. Group exercise coordinators are employed by 19% of the facilities surveyed. We continue to see a decline in salaried employees in this category (50% in 2006, 47% in 2008 and 44% in 2010), while the rest are compensated by hourly wages (35%) or on the basis of classes or sessions offered (22%). Salaried coordinators work more hours per week (37 hours), on average, than those paid otherwise (25 hours). The hours worked by both salaried group exercise coordinators and those who are compensated otherwise have increased since the 2008 survey (31 hours and 20 hours, respectively). Benefits (available to 63% in both 2010 and 2008) and education funds (available to 66% in 2010 and 64% in 2008) remain strong for group exercise coordinators; however, cash incentives have dropped dramatically (from 28% in 2008 to 9% in 2010). The average salary has risen once again in 2010; it is now $37,538, compared with $33,364 in 2008 ($33,810 when adjusted for inflation) and $29,124 in 2006 ($31,519 when adjusted for inflation). As noted earlier, about 40% of coordinators may augment their pay by teaching extra classes.
Personal Trainers report they are working more as employees (49%) than as independent contractors (38%), with an average of six trainers per facility. Sixty-five percent of the facilities surveyed employ personal trainers. Few trainers report being salaried (8%); therefore, their average salary of $39,182 should be considered carefully, particularly as no trainer salaries were reported in 2008 that can be used for comparison. The personal trainers in this current survey are eligible for benefits (38%), cash incentives (37%) and education funds (50%).
The majority of the trainers in this study are being paid an hourly rate, with 47% earning a percentage of the client’s fees, and the fee split remaining at about 60/40, similar to findings since 2004. The average hourly rate of $34 reflects a decline from $34.75 in 2008. When the 2008 hourly rate is adjusted for inflation ($35.21), we see an even greater decline in pay. Trainers are potentially able to increase their income by working more hours per week; however, the number of hours worked has declined by 1 hour since 2008 (18 vs. 19). Independent contractors make a significantly higher hourly rate ($42.50) than employees ($25.50) and typically work 2 hours less per week (17) than employees (19).
Fitness Floor Staff positions are typically entry level, and responsibilities include monitoring equipment, supplies and people in the facility. Among the facilities represented in the survey, 28% employ fitness floor staff. Most are employees (97%) who are paid by the hour (98%). They average 19.5 work hours per week, earning an average of $11.75 per hour. From 2006 to 2008, their hourly rate increased by just $0.25; from 2008 to 2010, there was a more significant increase of $1.50 per hour. Benefits for this position have held more or less steady (41% in 2010, 43% in 2008), while availability of cash incentives (17% in 2010, 11% in 2008) and education funds (35% in 2010, 30% in 2008) has slightly increased.
Group Fitness Instructors teach general classes set to music, such as step and mixed-impact. Specialty Instructors teach classes requiring specialized training (e.g., indoor cycling or martial arts). Group exercise instructors are present at 47% of the responding facilities, while 25% employ specialty instructors. The average number of group exercise instructors at each facility surveyed is 12.
Group fitness instructors teach an average of 6 hours per week (same as in 2008), while specialty instructors teach an average of 8 hours per week (up from 6 hours per week in 2008). Few of these individuals are salaried (1% of group fitness instructors, 6% of specialty instructors), though a large percentage are considered employees (64% and 61%). The portion who are considered employees has increased, following a dip in 2008 (58% for group fitness instructors and 41% for specialty instructors). (That decline came after years of steady growth: from 2002 to 2006, the percentage increased from 49% to 59% for group fitness instructors and from 44% to 57% for specialty instructors.) Hourly rates have declined for both types of instructors, compared with past data. Instructors report earning an average of $24.50, down from $25.75 in 2008 and only slightly higher than in 2006 ($23.75).
Specialty instructors are earning an average of $27.75 per hour, compared with $31.50 in 2008 and $28.50 in 2006. Benefits (18% in 2010 and 21% in 2008) and cash incentives (17% in 2010 and 19% in 2008) have also declined over the past 2 years, while eligibility for an education fund has increased (41% in 2010 vs. 35% in 2008). Specialty instructors have seen a slight increase in benefits from 2008 (17% vs.16%), a decline in cash incentives (10% vs. 18%) and a boost in education funds (41% vs. 31%).
Pilates and Yoga Instructors average 8 hours per week, an hour more than in 2008. These instructors are less likely to be considered employees (50%) than group fitness instructors and specialty instructors, and few (2%) are salaried. Half of the surveyed facilities employ Pilates and yoga instructors. Benefit eligibility (16%) has dropped slightly from 2008 (19%), as has consideration for cash incentives (17% in 2010 and 25% in 2008). Education funds (37%) have shown an increase from the previous survey (33%). The average hourly pay for this group is the highest of all the instructors ($33.00), and a comparison with the 2008 rate ($32.25) indicates that wages have kept up with inflation ($32.68).
Living costs vary by region, and consequently so do salaries and wages. The 2010 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Trends Report provides regional comparisons of average pay rates for fitness professionals located in the Northeastern, North Central, Southern and Western states. Three of the eight job categories are predominantly salaried, and the rest are paid hourly. There are no significant regional differences among the salaried positions (fitness/program directors, personal training directors and group exercise coordinators).
Among the hourly positions, wages differ significantly between regions for personal trainers, group exercise instructors and Pilates and yoga instructors, but not for specialty instructors or fitness floor staff.
Salaries for fitness/program directors are slightly higher in the West, averaging $54,647, compared with all other U.S. regions, where salaries range from $47,500 to $49,000, approximately. Personal training directors in the Northeast ($35,000), South ($34,667) and West ($37,875) all have similar salaries, while those in the North Central region earn over one-third more ($52,500) than those in other regions.
Group exercise coordinators earn the least in the Northeast ($24,000) and the South ($26,667), with those in the North Central and West regions earning approximately $48,000, on average.
The highest hourly wages vary between regions and positions. The highest hourly rate for personal trainers is in the Northeast ($45.06), whereas the rate in the North Central region is significantly less ($28.78). Personal trainers in the West and South earn similar hourly rates ($32.36 and $32.76, respectively). Group exercise instructors in the West ($27.90), South ($26.41) and Northeast ($24.75) make similar wages; however, the hourly rate in the North Central region is $19.03, significantly lower than in the West. Regional variations are also seen in rates for specialty instructors, who make more, on average, in the Northeast and South ($40.00 and $34.75, respectively) than in the West ($29.38 per hour) and considerably more than in the North Central region ($20.85).
Pilates and yoga instructors in the Northeast lead the nation in average hourly wages ($41.60), with the West not too far behind ($36.83). The South averages $28.43 per hour, and the North Central region averages $25.48 (significantly less than the Northeast). Fitness floor staff average $9.33 in the South, $10.35 in the North Central region, $11.25 in the Northeast and $14.72 in the West.
While compensation from salary or hourly pay may have decreased in some positions, benefits and discounts seem to have increased at least for full-time and part-time employees. Full-time employees are more likely than part-timers to qualify for benefits and discounts. Personnel may also be compensated for their work by employers offering benefits and enticements such as insurance plans, paid vacations, profit sharing and discounts. Liability insurance is offered to 74% of full-time employees (69% in 2008), while only 42% of part-timers (38% in 2008) and 22% of independent contractors (25% in 2008) receive this benefit.
Full-time employees have much greater opportunities for health insurance (78%), disability insurance (65%) and paid sick leave (73%) compared with part-time employees (17%, 18% and 15%, respectively) and independent contractors (2%, 2% and 1%, respectively). These statistics reflect a dramatic growth in benefits for full-time employees since 2008, when 67% were offered health insurance, 54% were offered disability insurance and 57% had paid sick leave.
Almost half of full-time employees (49%) are offered commissions or incentives, while 35% of part-timers and 24% of independent contractors are afforded this potential income elevation. Employees tend to be offered discounts at a greater rate than independent contractors: 68% of full-timers and 59% of part-timers are eligible for discounts, while only 33% of independent contractors qualify.
Comparing the retirement plans, paid vacation time, free or discounted childcare and profit sharing offered to full-time employees in 2008 with those offered in 2010, we see mixed results. Retirement plans (66% in 2010 vs. 54% in 2008) and paid vacation time (81% vs. 66%) show notable increases, while free or discounted childcare (36% vs. 37%) remains stable. Profit sharing has significantly decreased for full-time employees (10% vs. 24%). However, with few exceptions, full-time employees are enjoying greater benefits and discounts than they did in 2008.
Independent contractors continue to receive the fewest benefits. Kristen Horler, founder and chief executive officer of Baby Boot Camp LLC in Sarasota, Florida, explains: “Our instructors are independent contractors who receive many benefits, including discounts on product and class purchases,” she said. Generally, independent contractors work for more than one organization, and flexibility around their schedule is retained by the independent contractor, says Horler. “Independent contractors often work at multiple facilities, so the employer-employee relationship is often best served in an independent contractor relationship,” she says. “Additionally, independent contractors do not have taxes withheld from their pay, and an independent contractor can deduct work-related expenses from taxable income on the federal income tax return. For a fitness professional, possible deductions may take the form of music and apparel required to effectively do one’s job. Employees do not have the same tax benefits.”
Hiring and promotion decisions are based on many factors. When hiring individuals, the top three criteria in all positions except personal training director are skills and abilities, certification and personality, according to survey respondents.
When hiring personal training directors, respondents feel that years of experience is more important than personality, while the other two top criteria are the same as for other positions. Jason Pease, fitness manager at Equinox in Santa Monica, California, relates to these hiring criteria: “When hiring and promoting individuals, managers look for candidates who have the ability to be successful quickly. Experience is important, but with such a changing market and [so much] science [unfolding] in the industry, managers look for individuals [who can] build value in their service and relate their value to a multitude of individuals. These traits are not always found in experienced fitness professionals but in ones who hold a great deal of knowledge [and can] use their knowledge and in ones with infectious personalities.”
After the top three criteria for hiring, the additional criteria that respondents use when hiring differ among job classifications. For fitness/program directors, a degree is important, while personality counts for personal training directors. Years of experience ranks as the fourth highest criterion for group exercise coordinators, personal trainers and fitness floor staff. The type of class/session taught is important for group exercise, specialty and Pilates/yoga instructors. When deciding whether or not to promote an employee to a position requiring additional responsibility and increased compensation, the two most important factors are leadership and communication skills for all positions, with the exception of specialty instructors, where advanced specialty training ranks higher than communication.
Respondents were also asked to evaluate criteria for their relevance in determining hiring and merit pay. While the criteria for pay on hiring differ among positions, the two most commonly used criteria are certification and skills for most positions.
The least common attribute for determining pay is an audition for fitness/program directors, personal training directors and personal trainers; the type of class/session for group exercise coordinators and fitness floor staff; and a university degree for instructors (group, specialty, Pilates and yoga).
When it comes to determining a merit raise, the performance of the individual is the most important criterion for all positions, except group exercise coordinator, with years of service within the industry receiving equal attention for personal training directors and Pilates or yoga instructors and ranking highest for group exercise coordinators. A university degree ranks as the lowest criterion for merit raise decisions for all positions except fitness floor staff; for this position, class attendance ranks as the lowest criterion.
Respondents were asked how likely each position was to receive a wage increase during 2010. They felt that 22% of fitness directors, 12% of personal training directors, 26% of group exercise coordinators, 16% of personal trainers, 25% of fitness floor staff, 19% of group exercise instructors, 14% of specialty instructors and 17% of Pilates and yoga instructors would most likely experience a wage increase this year.
Education and ongoing training for fitness professionals are essential to the continued success of fitness facilities. Facilities may provide education or training through in-house training programs, workshops or in-service training, or by paying association membership fees. An in-house training program for staff is required by 51% of facilities surveyed.
Charlie Hoolihan, personal training director at Pelican Athletic Club in Mandeville, Louisiana, feels this number is “shockingly low but, unfortunately, probably the industry standard.” He adds, “Clubs and individual trainers have yet to realize the importance of adding to a trainer’s skill set, as our knowledge of the body is also very fluid and changing. The lack of a training program hurts trainers and facilities on many levels. First, it locks a trainer into patterns that are first learned upon certification—which, depending on how many years ago [that was], may or may not be sound thinking. There are many examples of concepts and exercises we thought were sound 5 or 10 years ago that we now know are injurious or contraindicative of joint movement.
“Second, it limits trainers’ ability to offer diverse programming that can increase their revenue stream. A strength and conditioning specialist with no knowledge of corrective exercise or myofascial release techniques can only train strength and conditioning. If their client or athlete is injured, they either lose potential sessions while the injury takes care of itself or lose the client entirely. A skill set to prevent injury or to supplement a rehabilitation program allows a trainer to keep his or her sessions and increase their value to their clients.”
Over half of the companies surveyed pay for in-service training (58%) as well as workshops (64%); however, only 40% pay employees’ association membership fees. Approximately half provide an education fund for employees, with 35% offering partial funding for education and 15% providing full funding.
While the U.S. economy continues to experience troubled times, the fitness industry appears to be holding steady. The hourly wages in all positions except fitness floor staff are higher than the national average. But as opposed to years past, wages have declined for personal trainers, group exercise instructors and specialty instructors. Moreover, respondents expect wage increases this year for only 12% (personal training directors) to 26% (group exercise coordinators) of staff. While compensation may have decreased in some positions, benefits for employees have increased above 2008 levels.
When making decisions on hiring, employers place emphasis on skills and abilities, certification and personality, with certification and skills and abilities seen as central for determining pay on hiring. Communication and leadership skills are the two most important factors when employers look to promote an employee, while performance and years of experience are key to receiving a merit raise.