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IDEA Fitness Industry Salary Survey 2004

Benchmarks for choosing and compensating productive and loyal fitness staff.

As fitness businesses hire qualified staff to handle current customers and new exercisers, the good news is that 81% of fitness staff stay with the same business for 1 year or longer, according to the newest IDEA Fitness Industry Salary Survey. Such loyalty benefits businesses, but, more important, allows staff members time to build relationships with the exercisers who seek their guidance and inspiration.

For the teacher who loves exercise and wants to Inspire the World to Fitness, the employment outlook is likewise positive. Employment in the fitness sector is expected to grow, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), because of increasing interest in fitness activities. “Fitness trainers and aerobics instructors” are among the fastest-growing occupations in the United States and are expected to grow “faster than average” through 2012 (U.S. Department of Labor 2005).

What are employers looking for? How is compensation in fitness determined? These questions are answered in IDEA’s bi- annual compensation survey, which collects salary and wage information, along with hiring and pay criteria, from IDEA member businesses. Owners and managers report on how they compensate the people who work for them. The businesses represent the growth and diversity of the industry, from health clubs to yoga studios, from personal training gyms to parks and recreation.

New this year is the addition of a “Pilates or yoga instructor” position, as well as clearer identification of the number of yoga or Pilates studios and personal training businesses represented.

“Stable” is the watchword of this year’s survey. The criteria for hiring and for determining pay are similar to those used in prior years. Some salaries have risen, while most hourly wages have stayed the same or increased $1–$4; hours worked are about the same as in prior years. Salaries have kept pace with inflation compared to 2000 figures, although most hourly wages have not.

Benefits have stayed the same or increased a bit from 2002, a year when benefits dropped compared to 2000. About half of the staff positions can expect a pay raise in 2005, with the likely candidates being directors and fitness floor staff.

Detailed comparisons of compensation in years 2000, 2002 and 2004 are in the “IDEA Fitness Industry Salary Survey 2004” report, available through IDEA Educational Development, www.ideafit.com.

Fitness/Program and Personal Training Directors work full-time, about 40 hours a week, and are employees paid by salary (78%). Directors tend to be eligible for benefits and incentives, probably because of their full-time employee status, which indicates that their effective earnings are higher than their salaries.

Most directors also conduct training sessions or teach classes in addition to having management responsibilities. Those paid separately for teaching (52%) can augment their earnings that way.

Trend 2002–2004: For directors paid by salary, hours stayed stable and salaries increased. For those paid hourly or per class/session, wages were stable and hours worked increased.

Group Exercise Coordinator is a transitional position divided between management and staff duties. Although still primarily employees, coordinators are as likely to be paid hourly or per class/session as they are to be paid by salary. Those paid by salary work about twice as many hours a week (31 hours on average) as coordinators paid per hour or per class (16 hours on average). Hourly wages for coordinators are about the same as for group fitness instructors.

Trend 2002–2004: Coordinators paid by salary had a small drop in pay, but they also worked fewer hours than in 2002. Coordinators paid hourly worked more hours, while their wages decreased slightly ($2 per hour).

Personal Trainers are split between employee and independent-contractor status, but virtually all are paid a wage. They work an average of 18 hours a week and are more likely to be eligible for cash incentives (38%) than for benefits. About half (54%) of trainers are paid a percentage of each client’s fee, with 60% typically going to the trainer. Personal trainers have a real opportunity to adjust their income based on the number of clients they can competently train.

Trend 2002–2004: Trainers worked 1 more hour per week and earned $1 more per hour in wages.

Fitness Floor Staff positions are often entry-level. Some personal trainers and instructors are required to work on the fitness floor, helping facility members, in addition to teaching sessions or classes. Fitness floor staff are hourly workers with a 15- to 18-hour workweek. Almost all (90%) are employees, although a few are eligible for benefits.

Trend 2002–2004: Hours stayed steady, as did wages.

Group Fitness Instructors teach classes such as step and mixed-impact, whereas Specialty Instructors teach classes requiring specialized training (e.g., indoor cycling or martial arts). Specialty instructors teach 1 more hour per week than group fitness instructors, although both earn about the same amount of money per hour. Employee status is slightly more prevalent for group fitness instructors (55%) than for specialty instructors (49%), but this may be because instructors for specialties like karate are hired from outside the company.

Trend 2002–2004: Hours and wages for group fitness instructors remained the same, but wages for specialty instructors decreased. This decrease may be a function of removing Pilates and yoga instructors from this category in 2004, since these instructors have higher-than-average earnings.

Fitness Instructors work in both the one-to-one and group environments. This title is seen in wellness or recreation programs in corporations, colleges and hospitals. Fitness instructors work over twice as many hours as other group instructors (10–13 hours per week versus 4–5 hours) at about the same rate of pay. While group fitness and specialty instructors are more likely to be paid per class (64%), fitness instructors are more likely to be paid per hour (58%).

Trend 2002–2004: Fitness instructors are seeing a steady increase in hourly wages and in hours worked, although they are still firmly part-time.

Pilates and Yoga Instructors are evenly split between employee and independent-contractor status. Paid per class, they earn the highest wages reported in this survey, even higher than most personal trainers. The workweek of 4–6 classes is comparable to that of specialty instructors.

Trend 2002–2004: Unavailable. This job title is new for 2004 survey.

What are the top three traits employers look for when hiring or considering a promotion? The percentage of agreement in this category indicates that most managers are looking for similar traits.

For all the job titles, the number-one criterion for hiring or promotion is “skills and abilities.” Next is “certification.” “Years’ experience” is the third criterion for management positions and to a lesser degree for Pilates and yoga instructors. For group fitness instructors, personal trainers, specialty instructors and floor staff, personality is important.

The criteria used to determine pay are less consistent across job titles, implying that businesses base pay to some extent on factors independent of workers’ skills. Although less unanimous than the criteria for hiring and promotion, “skills and abilities,” “certification” and “years’ experience” once again top the list, however.

On the following pages you’ll find the details of compensation for each job position. More data are available in IDEA Fitness Manager and IDEA Trainer Success.

The complete results of this survey, including a breakdown of all the results by type of business and region, are available through IDEA Professional Education.


Ryan, P. 2003. 2002 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Survey. IDEA Health & Fitness Source, 21 (1), 51.

Ryan, P. 2001. 2000 IDEA Industry Compensation Survey. IDEA Health & Fitness Source, 19 (1), 55.

U.S. Department of Labor. 2004. National Compensation Survey: Employee benefits in the private sector in the United States, March 2004. http://bls.gov; retrieved January 17, 2005.

U.S. Department of Labor. 2005. Occupational Outlook Handbook. http://bls.gov/oco /ocos058.htm; retrieved January 17, 2005.


IDEA business, program director and personal trainer members who gave IDEA permission to e-mail them were sent three e-mails in October 2004 linking them to a Web-based survey. The survey was designed and tabulated by an independent research firm. Respondents included 40% owners, 14% fitness directors and 12% personal fitness trainers, among other titles. There were 517 completed questionnaires representing the United States and Canada, for a 13% response rate.

At a 95% confidence level, the margin of error is ±3.9%. Canadian dollars have been converted to U.S. dollars. Additional surveys received from members outside the United States and Canada are not included because of the inconsistency in currencies.

Salaries are not shown for staff positions because there were too few respondents. 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 Inflation Affects Earnings

Inflation is the “overall general upward price movement of goods and services in an economy,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Among other measurements of the economy, the BLS reports the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation as experienced by consumers in their day-to-day living expenses.

If you are curious about how inflation affects your earnings, the Bureau has an online inflation calculator that uses the average CPI for a given year. You can put in a dollar amount and choose the year to compare it to at www.bls.gov/cpi/home.htm#data.

More calculators for inflation, housing costs and com-parisons among cities are available from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at www1.jsc.nasa.gov/bu2/inflate.html.

What the Terms Mean

A salary is a fixed amount of money paid to an employee. The salary does not vary according to the number of hours worked.

A wage is paid to hourly workers, who may be employees or independent contractors. In the fitness industry, wages are also paid for sessions/classes. A wage goes up or down depending on the number of hours worked.

For employees, owners are required by U.S. federal and state laws to contribute to Social Security, Medicare and other funds and to withhold income tax. Independent contractors pay their own taxes and contributions to Social Security, Medicare and other funds. For more information on each status, visit www.irs.gov.

The n 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 found by adding all the answers together and then dividing them by the number of respondents. Because of this, a mean 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.

This section of the article is still in the process of conversion to the web

Patricia Ryan, MS

Patricia Ryan, MS, develops educational content for leaders and professionals in the wellness, fitness and older-adult marketplaces. Ryan has conducted market research and authored numerous white papers, survey reports, industry analyses and research reviews along with producing educational webinars. She holds a master’s of science degree in instructional technology aimed at designing professional education. She was IDEA’s first editor in chief and developed the Gold Standard of content for which IDEA is still known.

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