It’s no secret that the success of a fitness business relies on the people who work in it. A business with modern equipment, a desirable location and plenty of parking still needs creative and attentive staff who can keep people exercising.

The good news is that, even though the overall U.S. economy has been lagging, wages and benefits for the fitness industry have stayed the same or increased over the past 2 years, according to the results of the 2002 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Survey. Five out of the eight positions tracked in the IDEA survey increased their median earnings above the 2000 survey numbers. Only the fitness floor staff made no earnings progress.

How does that compare with other industries? The average hourly wage in the United States in September 2002 was $14.46 for private sector production or nonsupervisory workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). IDEA’s latest survey found that fitness trainers’/instructors’ hourly earnings range between $17 and $28. Of course, the federal dollars include many full-time workers accessing benefits, whereas fitness instruction staff are very part-time. Floor staff earn an average of $9 per hour.

Despite the misunderstandings between owners and staff detailed in the IDEA Work Satisfaction Survey (2001), staff members seem to stay with a company. Respondents reported that an average of 82 percent (%) of their staff stay with the business 1 year or longer. The percents were highest for personal training and group exercise studios.

Other highlights in the survey:

  • Personality—implying the ever-important people skills—is an important hiring criterion for every position. Degrees and/or certification are important for most positions, with “type of class” a key for instructors to be hired. Years of experience, years in the organization and continuing education appear to be key indicators for base pay.
  • Managers paid hourly work fewer hours (10 to 20) than managers paid by salary, who work 40 or 35 hours a week. Working more than 30 hours per week probably enables managerial staff to access all benefits.
  • Independent contractors, as expected, are paid a higher hourly wage than employees.
  • For-profit businesses tend to pay more than not-for-profit businesses for management positions and personal trainers. The exception is salaried group exercise coordinators, who are paid more by not-for-profits. Instructors are paid the same by for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, while fitness floor staff earn slightly more at not-for-profit businesses.
  • In many private sector businesses in the United States, benefits are primarily available to full-time workers. Because the fitness industry has so few full-time employees, benefits access is comparably limited. However, fitness businesses do offer part-time employees and independent contractors liability insurance (for example, IDEA’s insurance covers the facility regardless of staff’s status or hours worked), child care and discounts.
  • Fitness employees have much more access to child care (44% compared to BLS 5%) and, of course, have free or discounted access to wellness programs and fitness centers, offered to only 17% and 9% of other workers (“service-producing” private industry workers tracked by the BLS).
  • Fitness businesses are heavily invested in providing education to staff.
  • While management positions include both hourly and salaried positions, the instructor/trainer positions are all paid hourly or per session/participant, regardless of employee or independent-contractor status.

Comparison With 2000

Compared to the year 2000 compensation survey:

  • Fitness/program directors’ median salary increased by $2,500 and personal training directors’ increased by $4,500, with hours worked remaining at 40 per week.
  • For fitness/program directors paid per hour, the median hourly wage increased by $7 but hours worked dropped by 5; for personal training directors paid per hour, the hourly wage increased by $12 whereas the hours worked per week dropped by 10.
  • Group exercise coordinators paid by salary saw earnings increase by $1,500 per year, and they worked 5 fewer hours. For coordinators paid per hour, the hourly wage increased by $5.50 and hours worked stayed about the same, at 10 per week.
  • Hourly wages for group fitness and fitness instructors increased by $2 and $3 respectively.
  • Specialty instructors increased wages by $5 and worked 1 hour more, for a median of 4 hours per week.
  • The least paid job of fitness floor staff lost about 25 cents an hour to reach a median wage of $8 an hour. Hours worked likewise decreased.

Thoughts on the Survey Results

This survey is answered by IDEA business managers, who often work with tiered pay scales. For the survey, we ask for a single dollar amount. You can assume there are probably ranges of pay for positions whenever various pay criteria are taken into account.

The IDEA members surveyed are primarily using the employee category, even for very part-time positions. As always, a few respondents report giving benefits or paying a salary to independent contractors. The difference between an employee and an independent contractor is a matter of employer control. It is unlikely that the independent contractor status would receive benefits, although a flat-fee retainer is likely—and comparable to a salary. For more information on status, visit the U.S. Internal Revenue Service Web site at

That the fitness industry compensation packages are holding against the U.S. economy is wonderful news. However, it does not replace the need for employers to conduct periodic reviews of local salaries/wages and benefits to make sure that staff members are paid appropriately.

Every fitness staff person looks for the right combination of job tasks, environment and compensation. In IDEA’s Work Satisfaction Survey, staff members were most concerned about unsatisfactory interpersonal relationships with their peers and supervisors. The second most important area of dissatisfaction included “reward structure of pay and benefits” and “security and career advancement.” As owners and managers address these concerns, the fitness industry will be able to attract and retain creative, competent people who can inspire their clients.


Surveys were mailed in July 2002 to IDEA members with management titles in IDEA’s business, program director and professional membership segments. There were 136 usable questionnaires returned, for a 12% response rate. At a 95% level of confidence, there is a ±8.4% margin of error. Questions about pay criteria and methods, continuing education and benefits were aided; all wage, salary and hours questions were unaided. An independent research firm collected and tabulated the data.
Percentages of 0.5 and higher have been rounded up. Hours per week have been rounded to the nearest half hour. Hourly wages have been rounded to the nearest quarter percent. When percentages do not add up to 100, it is because some respondents did not answer the question, the percentages have been rounded up or respondents gave multiple answers.

How to Read the Numbers


  1. is the number of people who answered a question. Of the people who answered, the percent (%) shows how many answered “yes.”
    The mean or average is all the answers added together and then divided by the number of respondents. Because of this, an average can include extremely high and extremely low numbers.
    The median is the midpoint, where half of the respondents answered above and half answered below. The median number is useful because it is not influenced by the extremes of high and low.
    The mode is the most frequently given response. This tells you what the highest number (although it can be a very small number) of respondents answered. There are sometimes multiple modes.