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Successfully Transitioning to a Career as a Trainer

by April Durrett on Feb 22, 2017

So how do you actually switch from your current career to personal training? That depends upon several factors, including your time availability and your finances. Will you need to work full- or part-time while you study to become a trainer? Can you live with parents or friends to save money? Are you the sole breadwinner of your family, so you’ll need to continue a full-time job? Here are some options:

Study, and don’t work at a paid job. “The advertising agency I worked for was downsizing, and I had the option to stay or go,” explains Root. “With a little severance and a lot of free time, I hit the books and started closely observing personal trainers. After I got certified, I papered La Jolla with my training resumé and jumped right in.”

Work part-time at a nonfitness job. Tara Sabo decided to pursue her personal training certification and continue to work in advertising. While she was waiting for her course to start, her employer let her go. (This was during a tough economic time.) She moved back to her parents’ home to save on expenses, and she also took a retail job to generate some income. She now works as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor and fitness director at South Shore Health & Racquet Club in St. Joseph, Michigan.

Work part-time at a fitness job. When Grand left her nonfitness career, first she worked as a group exercise instructor. This position proved helpful both financially and as a way to make connections in the fitness industry. “For me, stepping into the role of personal trainer was a natural extension of the small-group fitness classes I was teaching. Part of my certification process required me to complete a 20-hour practicum, creating programs and providing one-on-one training sessions for 20 different ‘clients.’ I recruited from my group fitness classes, and I gained experience as a trainer by working with those people.”

Collman also worked part-time and learned on the job. “I got an interview at Nuffield Health. I started on a zero-hour contract and put in around 24 hours a week. Then they offered me a 40-hours [per week] contract. I did exercise programs, inductions, indoor cycling classes and health assessments. After a few years I moved into a managerial role, and 2 years ago I became a health mentor as well as a personal trainer.”

Work full-time in your original career and part-time in training. Donna Meeker-O’Rourke, MPH, works full-time as an administrator in the department of anthropology at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey. She has stayed at her university job and has spent a few years building her private training business: DMO Fitness in Clifton, New Jersey. She works at DMO before and after her full-time job, and she plans to leave the university in the future.

Riggs continued her sales job while studying to become a trainer. “It kept my income stable, and I studied in the evenings and on weekends. Once I was offered a training job, I gave notice at my old job. I wanted to [be able to] give my all to becoming a great personal trainer.”

Go full-time as soon as you can. “I trained my first few clients for free while I worked my full-time job,” says Jordan. “But, ultimately, if you are going to learn to swim, at some point you have to get wet! Once I had strategically developed my skill set and client niche, I fully invested my time and effort in helping my target market: obese clients.”

To read more about how to switch to a career as a fitness professional, please see "Changing Careers" in the online IDEA Library or in the June 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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About the Author

April Durrett

April Durrett IDEA Author/Presenter

April Durrett is a contributing editor for IDEA Fitness Journal.