How to become a personal trainer or group instructor

Hey friends, how are you today? I spent a miserable couple of hours at the dentist yesterday (dental work is the worst).  So a little sore, but so glad to be done with that for now.

I have gotten a few questions about how I came to be a personal trainer and group instructor. So I wanted to share a little about my personal journey and how to go about getting certified.

To start, a little background on me and why I wanted to pursue being a personal trainer and instructor in the first place.

I have always loved being active. I started swimming on teams when I was six (if you ask my grandpa, I started swimming before I could walk) and kept it up into high school. I also tried my hand at a variety of other sports and activities, with limited success. My coordination would impress no one, so my basketball career was pretty much over before it began.

I also loved fitness classes and the gym from the first time I tried them out. Now, I wouldn’t say I have always lived the healthiest of lifestyles, but the working out part, I have always been a fan of.

While I have belonged to a gym and had my regular classes I would take since my teens, I never really thought about working in fitness. I just didn’t see myself as a trainer.  If we’re being honest, I think a lot of it was I didn’t feel like I looked like a trainer. Which I feel a little self conscious talking about even now, but we all have our perceptions and insecurities we struggle with.

After I had my babies I was loving being a mom but felt I was a little lost in who I was now. I wanted to get back to some of the things that I did just for me, and not just in a participant way. I wanted to really know how to develop a workout plan, I wanted to know how and why things worked, and I wanted to connect with folks who shared my interests. I also found that I didn’t really care about how I was supposed to look for the role anymore.

So, about a year and a half ago I did some research, decided on a personal training certification program, studied my tail off and got my certification in November 2016. By the end of the year, I was doing one on one sessions and getting ready to start teaching a regular boot camp class. Over a year of teaching and training later, it is still one of the best decisions I made.  I love teaching, I love connecting with people, and I love watching my clients get stronger and accomplish their goals.

If are interested in becoming a teacher or instructor, here are some tips to help you get started.

  1. Decide on what you want to do. You may already know or this may take some research. If you love, love, love barre, then looking into barre certification might be right for you. I chose personal training first because I feel most comfortable interacting one on one or with a small group and because I really wanted to know the ins and outs of how the body worked and how to develop safe, effective and personalized workouts.

  2. Once you know what you want to do, do a little research on what is required. I would also suggest checking on specific requirements of employers if you know where you want to work. Some gyms require a certain certification. Many studios require you be certified in a specific method.  For example, Barre3 instructors are certified by Barre3, so another barre certification would probably not qualify you to teach there.  I ultimately decided to seek certification through NASM because they are widely accepted, have a great reputation and because several trainers I know and respect are certified by them.

*******the rest of these steps are specific to becoming a personal trainer, other certification may be similar, or more focused on certification through a workshop or conference*******

  1. Decide on a package. Through NASM there was an online option, an online plus mentoring at a participating gym, an independent study (basically, the textbook), and an in-person training.   I went with the online, but I feel that this is a know yourself time, where you need to think about how you best learn. I am good about studying on my own, so online worked for me. That being said, I have heard the in-person training is amazing and I want to take it one day for professional development.

  2. Make yourself a study and practice schedule. My personal training study materials were broken into chapters. I focused on 1-2 chapters a week and made sure to complete all the practice quizzes and activities before moving onto the next chapter.  I also designed a workout plan for myself by month and designed workouts for friends and family for practice. I found that the designing of workouts and then practicing training my loved ones really got me thinking about how to utilize what I was learning and identify areas I needed to spend more time on.

  3. Get CPR/First Aid certified. Or find your card if you already are, you will need it get your certification.

  4. Study, study, study.

  1. Schedule your test, if you are working or have a less flexible schedule you may want to do this a bit in advance.  For the NASM test, you have to actually schedule a time at a local testing center.   It was my experience that most available test times are during the work week and during the day, so you may need to take a little time off or arrange for childcare.

  2. Test day. Take a deep breath and do your best. I’m sure you will do great! Test results are available immediately following.

  3. Once you have your certification, get promoting! Make a training specific resume, and start applying.

  4. You’re hired. Make sure you are prepared to work with your clients. Find out if an assessment tool is provided, if not, find or develop your own. Take the time to prepare quality workouts, individualized to your client’s needs prior to each session.

*Bonus tip:  While thinking about seeking certification, studying for your exam, on the job hunt, or once you become a certified instructor – attend classes or take some groups, and ask chat with the instructors.  I have learned some great techniques from some of my favorite instructors and have found some new favorite exercises chatting with other trainers.

I hope this is information is helpful.  If you have any questions, please let me know, I would love to connect with you and help you on your journey.

If you would like more posts on instructing, training or diving into the fitness world, let me know.  I am still on my journey as well and have so much more I want to learn.  I would be happy to share about my fitness loves and adventures with you as I discover them.

Hope you have a great day!


42 thoughts on “How to become a personal trainer or group instructor

  1. So interesting this is your post today, because I’ve been thinking I either want a second PRN nursing job that’s a little different, or something else before school gets too intense in the next two years…and debated group fitness because I’m craving something outside of nursing…definitely something to consider! I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but how long did you study? I’ve heard people take months so I’m just curious what the time commitment looks like!

    1. Hey Amanda! For the personal training certification I took about 3 months from when I started to when I took my test, and I felt really good going into my test. I was working full time and had the two minis at home, so I wasn’t studying around the clock, but did study some every day. Depending on what type of groups you want to teach, the requirements vary. I know some groups have weekend training programs, others it’s a little bit longer. I eventually want to do yoga teacher training, but it is a pretty big time commitment. What do you want to teach? It is fun!

    1. I’m sure you would be awesome at it! It is a lot of fun, I really enjoy getting to know my clients and figuring out a plan that works for them.

  2. I am so glad I found this post because this is something I have been considering for a bit! My goal was always graduate with my bachelors, go to law school, become an attorney but now I feel like I can do so much more! I want to be involved with ministry which is normally not the most full time job so I have been thinking about supplementing as a Personal Trainer since I am already at the gym 5:15 AM every morning and can’t get enough. You gave me a lot to think about!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this! Getting my personal training certification has been in the back of my mind for a long time. Love your tips!

  4. Great post! I have had doing either personal training or group instructor certs in the back of my mind forever. One thing that has held me back is the cost of the programs. I want to do a well respected cert that would get me jobs anywhere and those are quite costly! How did you manage study time with kids? Was the study material very science based?

    1. They can be expensive, if you have one you are seriously considering I would call them about possible discounts and payment plans, I know at least NASM does offer some. Some of it was very science based, particularly for the personal training and their is a lot of anatomy memorization. My kiddos were on fairly regular sleep schedules when I started it, so I would block time right after they went to bed and sometimes before they got up in the am to study. I would also block time to study during their naps on the weekend and the hubs would grab them if they woke up early so I could utilize that full time to study. I also made flash cards and would have the hubs quiz me when we were all hanging out, which was helpful to cram right before my test.

    1. Thanks. Try to relax and be yourself! Also, be prepared to have to demo a little bit or do a mini training session.

  5. This was a great post! If you want to just do class instruction such as spin or zumba, do you have to have a certification in personal training as well?

  6. You know whats funny, my job at the gym made me become a personal trainer, something I always wanted. The minute I started studying I realized human mechanics are not as interesting to me as nutrition! ha ha That being said I’m super happy I did it!

    1. Makes sense, I found the human mechanics stuff really interesting, but would like to go deeper into the nutrition stuff.

  7. That’s awesome you’re doing something you really love. I don’t think I’d ever want to be a trainer, but I DO want to get more active so I’d love to read more posts along this line. It’s definitely interesting to me!


  8. We just started working with a personal trainer and I had wondered about the background training involved, so this was quite timely to hear the behind-the-scenes prep work to get there. Thanks for laying it out so clearly!

  9. Great tips–you make it sound really doable! I’m still trying to get my body back after having another baby, so people would be more inclined to laugh at me than listen to me, ha, ha!

    1. How to start working out again after baby is a time a little support can be a huge benefit, you could provide real
      insight to folks!

    1. There are personal trainers who run their own business, I would suggest making sure you research the appropriate insurance if working independently/out of your home.

  10. YAY!! This information is so helpful; thank you for sharing your journey! I love learning about both why you started coaching and also how you went about getting certified. This is so helpful. I can’t wait to start looking into certification requirements as you suggest – I love love love les mills body pump classes 🙂

  11. Thank you for the helpful insight about how to pursue becoming a Personal Trainer/ group fitness instructor. I got my personal trainer certificate years ago, but wanted to add a specialism. I decided I wanted to become a certified barre instructor after I realized how obsessed I was with taking barre at my local gym. I was encouraged to take the American Barre Technique barre instructor certification, it was highly regarded by my barre teacher and she went through them so I went for it! The certification was perfect for me, I completed it all online and in my spare time. After I got barre certified I started teaching barre classes immediately. The class turnout is always at full capacity (I had never experienced full classes until I got ABT barre certified). Getting certified to teach barre has been the best career move for me thus far. I definitely recommend adding a specialism to your credentials, it helped me tremendously with increasing my client list. If you’re thinking about teaching barre, go through American barre technique. Here’s their website:

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