Humans have a remarkable ability to observe someone performing a task and declare, “I could do that!” Abstract painting? No problem. Stand-up comedy? Of course! Leading a group fitness class? Can’t anyone? The reality, however, is that many of these jobs—like being a personal trainer—are far harder than they appear. The best trainers boast movement expertise, motivational aptitude, and an ear for upbeat music. Here are five things you should know to develop your skills as a personal trainer.
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1. Everything Starts With Education
Before you can kick off your career as a personal trainer, you have to get certified. Four of the most popular certifications are from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association, and American Council on Exercise (ACE). Each one has its own testing fee and renewal requirements, so do your research before choosing one. (Read our deep dive into the topic here.)
A personal training certification equips you with the basic knowledge you need to safely train clients or teach a class, but it won’t explore the minutiae of the various modalities that you will be using in your work. To really understand how to queue with a TRX Suspension Trainer, coach kettlebells, or program a Spin class, you need to keep taking individual certification courses. The good news? Not only will additional education help you become a better trainer, it counts toward continuing education credits to maintain your certification.
2. Find Your Niche and Specialize
It’s cool if you’re a Jack or Jill of all trades who’s really good at coaching every fitness discipline; it’s still better to specialize. Pick one or two modalities, like TRX or Zumba, that you can become known for and commit. Specializing will help you develop your skills and market yourself to a targeted audience.
Think of it this way: most people who excel in a field are known for excelling in one thing. That doesn’t mean you don’t have other talents, but if you try to present yourself as an authority in four, five, or ten disciplines, it ultimately dilutes your credibility in all of them.
Specializing is also useful for networking and teaching opportunities.
On the networking side, many modalities have trainer networks to help you connect with other trainers and find additional work opportunities. Zumba has the Zin network, Spinning has the Spinning Program Instructor Network (SPIN), and TRX has CORE. When you specialize, you can capitalize on those resources. And, as you build relationships with your peers and the brand, you may even find teaching and course development opportunities.
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3. Keep Your Material Fresh
Which trainer would you choose? The one who recycles the same exercises session after session, or someone who is constantly innovating and changing things up? The body responds better to the latter, because change keeps muscles engaging in new ways.
Personal training is a results-driven field. Personality will help you get started, but clients expect to see changes in their physical appearance or performance. That means your programming, whether for individuals or groups, has to evolve. From a performance perspective, a trainer platform is smart investment for new workout ideas can help you save time while keeping clients happy.
In the new TRX CORE platform, trainers can access a Workout Builder to build customized workouts for individual clients from a library of hundreds of TRX exercises. (That includes outlining sets, reps and rest times, as well as program supersets.) With Workout Builder, you can build guided workouts for your clients, which they will consume and follow in a separate app.
Another perk to CORE is TRX Video On Demand—a streaming service with a rich library of TRX-produced videos on a variety of themes and topics. There will be new videos every week, including exercise science explanations of programming, business advice from leading personal trainers, effective program sequencing guidance, interviews with fitness experts and personalities, and more. Life as a trainer can be hectic, but CORE gives you the resources you need for success in one place.
4. Align Yourself with a Trusted Brand
Connecting with an established brand can help you build credibility—and a client base—as you start a career as a personal trainer. The reason? People gravitate toward brands they trust.
Humans like filters. Political parties are a classic example. Most people vote straight ticket because they know their personal beliefs align with their chosen political party; party affiliation serves as a filter for candidates. Many of us have a similar filter when it comes to picking fast food on a road trip. There may be other good options around, but we stick with a brand that’s familiar.
The same reasoning applies to fitness. Clients who regularly ride at SoulCycle, Cyclebar, or FlyWheel in their hometowns are likely to stick with those brands for indoor cycling when they travel because the companies act as a filter. The studios are different, the instructors are different, and yet the brand name creates trust.
That doesn’t mean you have to teach at Barry’s or Barre3 to be successful: only that associating yourself with a well-known fitness brand can serve as a cognitive filter to encourage potential clients to choose you. For personal trainers, TRX can be that filter.
TRX is one of the most-trusted brands in the fitness world because the company devotes considerable time and resources to exercise and movement research and education. TRX’s signature product, the Suspension Trainer, is known across the globe for being safe and effective. When trainers become TRX-qualified, they carry that mantle of trust into their practice.
Whether you choose to associate yourself as a trainer with a certifying body, like ACE or NASM, a modality like Spin, CrossFit, or Zumba, or product like TRX or BOSU, finding the right brand can jumpstart your career.
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5. Music Matters
A personal trainer is not a deejay, but music sets the tone for a workout. While your personal taste in music will come into play, curating a playlist for a class or client session isn’t just about queuing up your favorite jams. Your music should appeal to your clients.
One of the most important things you can do is know your audience and offer variety—not just in genres, but in artist selection. In some markets, an artist’s personal life may factor into how your clients perceive the music. (For example, playing an R. Kelly track may not go over well given the abuse allegations against the artist.)
As you create a playlist, match the tempo of the beat to the speed you’re looking for in a specific exercise. Make sure that you can access your playlist without an Internet connection. When WiFi goes down, the show must go on. Many trainers use a service like Spotify Premium ($9.99/month) because it allows you to upload your own music—outside the Spotify library—to a playlist and download your playlist locally to a device.
Working as a personal trainer is rewarding, but it is work. Seek out industry-leading education, specialize, and build your network and brand connections, and you’ll be well on your way to success.