Personal training colleges and institutions sometimes paint a glorified picture for aspiring personal trainers.

The certificates and diplomas are sold on the dream of:

“Become your own boss, stay fit by training at work, and choose the hours you want to work.”

You might assume that as soon as you earn your certification clients will be lining up waiting to be trained by you. There might also be a mention of an overblown average take-home pay that a brand new personal trainer can make.

This hype combined with the overly easy entry into the industry provides an illusion that is hard to match in the real world. It is no wonder that an average career span of a trainer is around a 12 month mark. Just enough to finish one franchise contract in a big box gym.

The truth is that there is no shortcuts to being successful in fitness industry. It’s a challenging and at times stressful task that requires a certain type of personality and hard work behind the scenes to make it into a blossoming career. Even if you can wear shorts and t-shirt to work.

These are facts based in the fitness industry in Australia. Other countries might differ.

Hours of work are often dictated by the location

In the suburbs the personal trainers often do split shift. Busy in the morning before clients go to work and quiet (or at least quieter) from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Then busy again in the evening once clients return home from work.

In the busy business districts mornings and evening are often busy, but there is big crowd during lunch times as well. This will give the personal trainer more flexibility to structure the days around the hours that he or she prefers. It’s not uncommon for established trainers to only work from 6am to 2pm in these areas.

These are of course polarized examples and in reality there is a lot of grey in the middle.

Paid personal trainer positions

It seems that entry-level, paid personal training jobs are becoming more common. However, these are still far and few between.

If you are lucky enough to find an entry-level position it’s something I would strongly recommend doing when starting out. The opportunities to earn are not as high, but neither is the stress. You will have a paycheck coming in each week and often there is an additional commission on top from the sessions you service.

This allows you to learn the ropes of the industry and focus on educating yourself further to become better at what you do. It’s also a good idea to look for a mentor who’s been through what you are going through. This can save a great deal of headaches and unnecessary learning curves.

After all, the personal training certificate (as well as having a current Senior First Aid certificate and CPR) is the minimum entry requirement for the industry. It only provides the very basic knowledge to get by. If you want to become an A-list trainer your education should be an ongoing process that lasts your whole career.

As you gain knowledge and experience you can slowly start dabbling into marketing and the other aspects of the industry. With a weekly paycheck you can afford to make mistakes without overwhelming stress weighing on your shoulders.

In a paid position the hours are often set by your employer.

The wages for paid position

With a paid position you are expected to put in the hours to earn your wage, with usually a commission to be paid on top for the sessions you do. Of course, this is no different than most entry-level positions in other industries. But as new personal trainers are often sold to the illusion of an industry with no down sides, this can feel tougher than it really is.

What the wage is varies, but don’t expect a $80 000 wage as a first job in the industry. Again, this is common sense, but sometimes goes against the promises made by those selling the certificates and diplomas.

Being a franchisee

Personal training positions rarely are a “turn up and train” opportunities. It’s rare to walk into a position where you would have set hours filled with clients on the first day. Most of the positions advertised are franchise opportunities where the trainer will be required to be half business owner, half fitness professional.

The rent

As a franchisee the trainer pays rent to a gym to have access to their space, equipment, uniform, and, in some cases, the membership base.

Depending on the location the rent varies, but it’s likely to be personal trainer’s most significant business expense. As an example, the rents for personal trainers in Sydney CBD are often in excess of $400 per week. Depending on the contract you can usually have two rent-free weeks a year.

In most gyms when a new trainer is starting out there is a reduced rent, or rent-free period of 4-6 weeks. This allows the trainer to get their business on to a solid, or at least less shaky, ground. Paying rent each week can quickly become a debilitating source of stress and unhappiness if the business is not on a solid base by the end of the 6 week period.

This often catches beginner personal trainers off-guard as they get overwhelmed with budgeting, doing taxes, accounting, marketing and selling the training services.

In most cases you are expected to build your own clientele from either using your own marketing platforms (online or offline), or by servicing the “leads” provided by the gym. Then it’s up to you to turn the leads into sales and ongoing personal training clients.

Unfortunately trying to run a business is where most new personal trainers stumble while still trying to learn the ropes of being proficient at the actual training part. After all, the clients rely on the trainer’s expertise to get them results.

The earning potential of a franchise personal trainer

The risks for franchisees are much bigger compared to being a personal trainer on a salary. But where the risks are bigger so are the possible rewards. And this is very much true when being an established franchise trainer running your own business within a gym.

Your earnings as a franchisee are only capped by how many hours you are willing to work and how much you can charge. It is not uncommon for a hard working and experienced franchise personal trainer to make $75 000 – $100 000 net profit a year.

Don’t think of this as common scenario, but if you are an established trainer on high-demand with the business-smarts, a large following, and the training and people skills to match, it’s possible to make $250 000 or more a year. But this is rare.

The location

Again, all of this depends on the location where you run your business. The ongoing rate for personal trainers is higher in capital cities. The renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin has said that the highest hourly rate for personal trainers, anywhere worldwide, is in Sydney CBD.

Of course, you can’t just crank up your prices and expect clients to fork out astronomical rates from week in and week out. It should go without saying that you will have to justify your rates. You will have to deliver on what you promise. Unfortunately this sometimes gets lost with trainers who value money more than they value people.

As a franchisee you have more freedom to set your own hours, if not somewhat dictated by the busy hours of the gym.

Types of clients for a beginner trainer

As a new personal trainer you will learn to deal with a great variety of different people, personalities and goals that clients bring to the table.

If there is one important, and often overlooked skill of a successful personal trainer it’s the ability to relate to a lot of different people. Being able to find a common ground with someone who at first sight might have nothing in common with you.

It’s by building these meaningful coach-client relationships that you can have the greatest influence on your clients’ health and overall lives. All the while earning money from something that you’ll love doing.

The bottom line

Being able to make living from helping people improve their lives is the best job in the world. But don’t walk into your first day at work and expect it to be easy just because you enjoy training and know how the get results for yourself.

A knowledgeable, positive and respectful personal trainer is always on demand. A good word goes around, but a bad word goes around even quicker.

Come in the industry playing the long game. If you are armed with a genuine passion for helping people and the drive to learn, this can become the best job in the word for you too.