2015 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Trends Report

by Jan Schroeder, PhD on Sep 20, 2015

Eight years after the economic downturn, things are mostly looking up for professionals who power the fitness industry.

The Great Recession forced the U.S. economy through a bruising workout in a fight to survive, and after the first shocks had rattled the system, the country suffered the equivalent of a massive dose of delayed-onset muscle soreness. Pain spread gradually, sidelining the vulnerable. While most workers picked themselves up, unfortunately many Americans are still struggling to make gains or even to find jobs.

This edition of the IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Trends Report shows that while recovery has taken some time, things are looking up for fitness professionals—for the most part. Since this survey was last published in September 2013, the national unemployment rate has once again decreased (from 7.6% in April 2013 to 5.3% in June 2015) (U.S Department of Labor 2015a). With the economy improving, job prospects in our industry continue to grow; growth in fitness-related positions is expected to be as fast as the national average (13%) over the next decade (2012–2022) (U.S. Department of Labor 2015b). We also appear to be rebounding overall within the industry after declines in pay in almost every position since 2013.

In addition to positive job prospects, this survey shows that pay rates for all nonsupervisory positions surveyed except fitness floor staff are above the national average ($22.07 per hour, June 2015) (U.S. Department of Labor 2015c). And our nonsupervisory positions of floor staff and group exercise instructors have seen an increase in their hourly pay since 2013. Personal trainer wages have remained stable, while Pilates and yoga instructors are still experiencing declines in hourly wages.

Some of our supervisory positions are also bouncing back from the economic downturn, with group exercise directors getting salary increases. Personal trainer director salaries have remained stable, while those for program directors are still slightly down from 5 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, stable or lower numbers should be considered losses in traction for these positions.

This report not only provides information regarding current wages in the industry; it also drills down for details on benefits as well as hiring and promotion criteria. The survey data can be used to position yourself or your company competitively within our growing industry.

Dive into this year’s analysis to see how you and your colleagues are faring.

Survey Demographics

  • Respondents are 26% group exercise instructors, 21% personal trainers, 17% hybrid fitness professionals, 7% mind-body instructors, 6% personal training studio owners, 5% owners, 5% fitness directors, 5% group fitness directors/coordinators, 4% program directors, 3% general managers and 2% personal training directors.
  • Of the facilities surveyed, 75% hold for-profit tax status. Facilities average 13,623 square feet in size with a membership base of 5,420.
  • Members are more likely to pay for individual sessions/classes or for a “package” of sessions or classes (87%) than they are to pay membership dues in other ways.
  • Facilities have more part-time employees (88%) than full-time employees (55%) or independent contractors (45%).
  • Seventy-three percent of staff stay with a business for 1 year or longer.
  • On average, facilities employ 8 personal trainers, 18 group exercise instructors, and 7 Pilates or yoga instructors, with 41% employing hybrid fitness professionals.

Survey Demographics (n = 1,281)

Type of Facility  
multipurpose health club 16%
fitness-only health club 15
corporate fitness center 13
YMCA/YWCA/JCC 10
personal training gym 9
personal training clients’ homes 8
Pilates or yoga studio 5
group exercise studio 5
personal trainer’s home 4
college/university 4
park or recreation center 3
hospital fitness center 3
personal training, outdoor setting 1
virtual trainer/instructor 1
Organization's Tax Status  
for profit 75%
nonprofit 25
Geographic Region  
Northeast 26%
Southwest 25
North Central 18
Southeast 16
Northwest 16
Location of Business  
large city 39%
small city or town 35
suburb 22
rural area 4
Number of Members/Clients  
mean 5,420
median 500
mode 500
minimum 1
maximum 300,000
Number of Square Feet of Entire Facility  
mean 13,623
median 3,000
mode 1,000
minimum 30
maximum 340,000

Industry Position Overview

Seven fitness industry positions were examined in the 2015 survey. Results are reported from individuals classified as having a managerial assignment. Highlights of our findings are offered below.

1. Fitness/Program Director

Fitness/Program director hires and supervises staff; manages equipment; schedules or oversees scheduling of classes, lectures/clinics and training; prepares budgets.

  • The majority of fitness/program directors teach classes or sessions in addition to having management responsibilities (82%), but only about half are paid separately for these classes or sessions (47%).
  • Of the facilities surveyed, 50% employ a fitness/program director, with 93% of these directors listed as employees.
  • The majority of fitness/program directors are salaried employees (77%), averaging a 41-hour workweek.
  • The 2015 survey shows about a $3,000 decline in salary ($43,317) compared with 2013 ($46,723) and a $7,000 decline in salary compared with 2010 ($50,639).

In 2015, a higher percentage of directors are eligible for benefits (76%) than were in 2013 (69%). Director benefits are now back in line with 2010 (75%).

2. Personal Training/PFT Director

Personal training director hires, supervises and schedules trainers; plans department services; prepares budgets.

  • Of the facilities surveyed, 30% employ a personal training director.
  • Personal training directors average more hours per week when they are salaried (39 hours) than when they are paid an hourly wage (28 hours).
  • Most personal training directors in this survey are classified as employees (96%), while 2% are independent contractors.
  • Annual salary for this position has remained stable ($43,051) since 2013 ($43,164).
  • The opportunity for PFT directors to receive benefits has remained stable at 80%, the same as 2010, which is still up from 64% in 2008. The percentage of PFT directors who can earn cash incentives rose dramatically this year, jumping from 38% in 2013 to 54% in 2015.

3. Group Exercise Director

Group exercise director hires, trains and supervises group exercise instructors; schedules classes and teachers; may teach classes; follows budget.

  • Of the facilities surveyed, 27% employ a group exercise director.
  • The percentage of directors who are paid a salary (68%) increased. In previous years, only about half of directors (“coordinators” in earlier surveys) received a salary (50% in 2006, 47% in 2008, 44% in 2010, 53% in 2013).
  • Salaried directors work more hours per week (35 hours), on average, than those who are paid in other ways (20 hours).
  • The average salary ($37,871) has rebounded to 2010 levels ($37,538) after a drop in 2013 ($32,733).
  • The percentage of those receiving benefits has also recovered to pre-2013 levels (65% in 2015; 59% in 2013; 63% in 2010; 64% in 2008). Education funds continue to decline (53% in 2015; 59% in 2013; 66% in 2010; 67% in 2008). Cash incentives still are not at 2008 levels, but are coming back (24% in 2015; 16% in 2013; 9% in 2010; 28% in 2008).

4. Personal Trainer

Personal trainer instructs individual clients; monitors and records progress; enrolls new clients; collects fees.

  • Of the facilities surveyed, 65% employ personal trainers.
  • The majority of the trainers in this study are paid per session/class (62%), with 50% earning a percentage of the client’s fee, and with the fee-split remaining at about 60/40, similar to findings since 2004.
  • Program directors report that in their facilities more personal trainers are working as employees (62%) than as independent contractors (28%).
  • In 2015 the average hourly rate ($30.50) is consistent with 2013 ($30.50), but lower than it was in 2010 ($34) and 2008 ($34.75). When the 2010 hourly rate is adjusted for inflation ($37.08), we see an even greater decline in pay.
  • The average number of hours trainers work per week (18) has come back to 2010 levels (18) after declining slightly in 2013 (16).
  • The average session fee has increased for 30-minute sessions (to $37.75 in 2015 vs. 34.50 in 2013); 45-minute sessions ($51.50 in 2015 vs. $48.50 in 2013); and 60-minute sessions ($60.75 in 2015 vs. $56.50 in 2013).

5. Fitness Floor Staff

Fitness floor staff monitors equipment, supplies and people in the fitness center.

  • Of the facilities surveyed, 30% employ fitness floor staff.
  • Most fitness floor staff are employees (97%) who are paid by the hour (93%). They work approximately 19 hours per week (up from 17.5 hours per week in 2013) and earn an average of $12.25 per hour (compared with $10.75 per hour in 2013 and $11.75 per hour in 2010).
  • For the third consecutive survey, eligibility for benefits has trended downward for these staff members (34% in 2015; 37% in 2013; 41% in 2010; 43% in 2008). Access to educational funds has decreased by 9 percentage points to 28% after modest gains in recent years (37% in 2013; 35% in 2010; 30% in 2008). The percentage of floor staff who can earn cash incentives has increased slightly since the last survey (11% in 2015; 9% in 2013; 17% in 2010; 11% in 2008).

6. Group Fitness Instructor

Group fitness instructor teaches general classes set to music, such as step and mixed impact.

  • Of the facilities surveyed, 60% employ group exercise instructors.
  • Group fitness instructors teach an average of 5 hours per week, a decrease from previous years (5 hours per week in 2013; 6 hours per week in 2010 and in 2008).
  • Instructors in this category are typically paid per session/class (62%) or per hour (39%).
  • They currently earn an average of $27.50 per hour. This reflects the second consecutive increase after a decline ($26 in 2013; $24.50 in 2010; $25.75 in 2008).
  • Eligibility for benefits has declined significantly in 2015 to 11%, after remaining fairly stable for several years (17% in 2013; 18% in 2010; 21% in 2008). Cash incentives have stayed steady (17% in 2015, 2013 and 2010; 19% in 2008), while access to an education fund has continued its slide (26% in 2015; 31% in 2013; 41% in 2010; 35% in 2008).

7. Pilates or Yoga Instructor

Pilates or yoga instructor teaches classes and has specialized training in yoga or Pilates.

  • Of facilities surveyed, 56% employ Pilates and/or yoga instructors.
  • These instructors teach an average of 5 hours per week, which is an hour less than in 2013 and 3 hours less than in 2010.
  • The average hourly rate for Pilates and yoga instructors is $31.25, a decline from 2010 ($32.50) and 2008 ($33.00).
  • Few instructors are paid by salary (2%), so the results should be interpreted with caution.

Regional Differences in Wages and Salaries.

Living costs vary by region, and, consequently, so do salaries and wages. The 2015 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Trends Report provides regional comparisons of average pay rates for fitness professionals located in the Northeastern, Northwestern, North Central, Southeastern and Southwestern states.

  • Fitness directors in the Northwest lead the earnings chart with a higher salary than their counterparts in all other regions.
  • Personal training directors make more money in the Northeast and Southwest regions than they do in other regions of the United States.
  • Group exercise directors in the Northwest earn the highest salaries for their position, while those who work in the North Central and Southwest regions earn the least.
  • There is about a $6 per hour difference between personal trainers across regions.
  • Fitness floor staff who work in the Southwest make almost double the hourly wage of those who work in the Southeast region.
  • Group exercise instructors in the Northwest make approximately $8 more per hour than those who live in the North Central United States.
  • Pilates or yoga instructors who work in the Northwest make more per hour than instructors in the Southeast.

Benefits and Discounts

  • Full-time employees are more likely than part-timers and independent contractors to qualify for benefits and discounts.
  • The benefits that full-time employees are most likely to receive from their employers are paid vacation time, health insurance and free or discounted membership.
  • The top three benefits that part-time employees receive are free or discounted memberships, liability insurance, and commissions or incentives.
  • Independent contractors receive very few benefits.

Hiring and Promotion

In 2015, the top three criteria for hiring in all positions are certification, skills and abilities, and personality.

  • Certification and years of experience were important criteria for determining pay upon hiring.
  • Performance was reported as the most important criterion used to determine pay for merit raises in all positions.
  • Leadership and communication skills were key factors for determining promotion in all positions.

Continuing Education

  • Of the facilities surveyed, 56% require staff to complete an in-house training program.
  • Over half of the facilities (59%) provide an education fund for staff members, with 15% covering the entire cost of continuing education and 44% providing partial coverage.
  • While more than half of facilities pay for in-service-training (62%) and workshops (62%) for their staff, only a third pay for association membership fees (34%).

The Personal Trainers, Group Exercise Instructors and Pilates and Yoga Instructors Report on Compensation.

For the second time, IDEA surveyed personal trainers, group exercise instructors, hybrids, and Pilates or yoga instructors on individual compensation matters. These groups of fitness professionals represent the majority of the survey respondents. Let’s look at what they have to say.

Personal Trainers

  • Personal trainers work at an average of 2.2 facilities (range of 1–10 facilities).
  • Personal trainers who are classified as employees are paid as follows: hourly (45%); by class or session (64%); by participant (21%); and by salary (9%).
  • Personal trainers who are independent contractors make over $20 more per hour, class or session than employees; independents also work nearly twice as many hours per week as those who are employees.
  • Session rates for employed trainers and independent contractors are comparable.
  • A personal trainer who is classified as an employee receives on average 49% of the client fee when splitting with a facility, while a personal trainer who is classified as an independent contractor receives 66% of the split.

Group Exercise Instructors

  • Group exercise instructors teach at an average of 2.5 facilities (range of 1–10 facilities).
  • Group exercise instructors classified as employees are paid as follows: hourly (45%); by class or session (59%); by participant (8%); and by salary (4%).
  • Group exercise instructors who are independent contractors make over $7 more per hour, class or session than those who are employees.

Pilates or Yoga Instructors

  • Pilates or yoga instructors teach at an average of 2.5 facilities (range of 1–9 facilities).
  • Pilates or yoga instructors classified as employees are paid as follows: hourly (48%); by class or session (70%); by participant (31%); and by salary (0%).
  • Pilates or yoga instructors who are independent contractors make about $5 more per hour, class or session than those who are employees; independent contractors work 6 hours more per week than employees.

Fitness Journal, Volume 12, Issue 10

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About the Author

Jan Schroeder, PhD

Jan Schroeder, PhD IDEA Author/Presenter

Jan Schroeder, PhD, is a professor of kinesiology, specializing in fitness, at California State University, Long Beach. Dr. Schroeder has authored over 40 research and applied science articles in the area of exercise physiology and fitness and presents regularly at national and international conferences. In addition, Jan is a certified group exercise instructor and teaches in the private and academic sector. Certifications: AFAA