Becoming a Personal Trainer (Part One)

I often get questions from aspiring personal trainers who want my advice on how to begin. Before getting to that (which I do in part two), I first need to dispel some common misconceptions about what it means to be a personal trainer.

The Client is the Star (Not You!)
Personal training is not about how great you look in a tight shirt or how much you can lift – it is about your clients! Your job is to be there for them. Just like a good parent must put the needs of their child before their own, a good trainer always puts their clients’ needs first.

Knowing How to Train Yourself Doesn’t Make You a Trainer
Since most of your clients are not going to be athletically inclined, the workouts that you do for yourself are rarely going to have any relevance for your client. If I took a new client and tried to get them to do a pistol squat or even a pull-up, it would likely be embarrassing for both of us. You must understand the beginner’s mind as well as what they are capable of. Just because an exercise is easy for you, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy (or appropriate) for your clients.

Certifications Don’t Matter
Sure I learned some stuff from studying textbooks and preparing for exams, but it’s nothing compared to what I learned from actually training people. Just like reading a book about working out won’t make you fit, getting a PT certification won’t fully prepare you to train people. Some of the worst trainers I’ve ever met had all the credentials in the world and some of the best weren’t even certified at all. Knowledge and experience matter more than a piece of paper ever will, even if you spent a lot of money to get that piece of paper.

Your Clients are Your Boss
A lot of people think that being a trainer means you get to make your own schedule. This couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth. Most personal training clients are busy professionals who will need you to work around their schedule. Say a potential client has to be in the office by 9am and they want to work out in the morning. You’re going have to get your ass out of bed before sunrise to meet them before work or they’ll find another trainer who will.

On the other hand, some people prefer to get their workout in at the end of the day; 7am is one of the most popular times for personal training, but so is 7pm. If you’re not willing to put in long hours, you are not going to succeed. I’ve had countless days where the span of time between when I met my first client and when I ended my last session was 13 or even 14 hours. Don’t like long days? Personal training isn’t for you.

All or Nothing
If I had a dollar for every wannabe trainer who’s said, “I really want to be an actor/dancer/model/etc. but I figured I could make some extra money on the side by training people,” it would add up to a lot more than most of them ever made as trainers. The truth is, if you want to be a successful trainer, you have to fully commit yourself to the trade. If you’re turning down clients to go on auditions, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Sure a handful of people are able to find the balance between pursuing their art and pursing a career as a trainer, but they are few and far between. If personal training isn’t something you feel passionately about, don’t do it. You must be willing to sacrifice things in your life for this dream, or you will never make it.

Read part two for more of my advice on how to be a personal trainer.

Check out my brother Danny’s new book, Everybody Needs Training for more proven success secrets for fitness professionals!

36 thoughts on “Becoming a Personal Trainer (Part One)

  • By Timothy Bell -

    Great stuff as always Al! This is very, very true and it’s painful to see so many “part time trainers” out there abusing our profession to make a quick buck. Being a personal trainer/fitness coach is a great responsibility, you’re dealing with someones long term health and wellness. If you’re not 100% committed to being a trainer as a long term profession, then please pursue something else.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Tim! It’s good to hear other trainers’ thoughts on this topic.

      • By Aaron -

        Al, Do you think that a certification is neccessary to be a personal trainer and if so what would you reccomend?


        • By Al Kavadlo -

          I’m pretty sure I made my opinion on this clear in the article, but I’ll elaborate. I don’t think a certification proves that an individual is a competent trainer, however you might learn a couple useful pieces of info by attaining one. On the other hand, for liability/insurance purposes, a cert is necessary. For the record, I have a CSCS certification, which is a highly regarded cert in the industry and it certainly has helped me to be taken more seriously by my peers, but years of first hand personal training experience has more to do with my success than any other factor.

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  • By Rick Seedman -

    It’s a great post Al. You’re a true pro:)

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Rick! That means a lot coming from a guy like yourself!

  • By Stefan Hedengren -

    Good post Al! As someone who’s been thinking about going down this road for a few months now I’m really interested to read part 2.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Stefan! I’m excited for you to read part two as well, but I’m gonna let the anticipation build through the weekend.

  • By Djstark -

    I would add that once you have a base knowledge of training, VOLUNTEER !!! Become a strength coach for a team of athletes training for a non-profit like Team in Training (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society), National Heart Assoc, National Cancer Society, Susn G. Komen fo rthe cure (breast cancer). You will learn more in one season that most people learn in a year. You will meet every shape and every personality and figure out how to work with each. When I first got into coaching athletes that’s what I did (Ironman triathlon team for Team in Trainng). the best experience in my coaching career yet.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      That’s great advice – Thanks for sharing! Even something as simple as just going to watch a Marathon or an Ironman can be a great learning experience for a trainer, especially if you aren’t a “cardio person.”

  • By John -

    Al, you do embody these requirements. I have had several trainers and never stuck with it or them. You have this profound effect of making the relationship feel like a team environment and most people never want to let their teammate down.

    I am glad you found your true calling and I am glad to have a great trainer.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Wow – thanks, John! That’s one of the nicest comments anyone’s ever left here.

      Remember that we’re still teammates when you’re choosing your dinner tonight!

  • By James -

    Great read Al! I’m a seasoned teacher and I’m about to embark on my own business where I’ll be training people to become fitter and lead a healthier lifestyle. Looking forward to reading more!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Right on, James! More to come soon!

  • By Erica -

    Al, I have a question for you. What do you do if the type of exercise your client wants to do is sub-optimal? I’m not a trainer but I’ve had girl friends ask if they could train with me after seeing the results that I’m getting, but they don’t last because they want to use machines, ridiculously high reps, and do isolation work like bicep curls. Which is of course better than being sedentary but people often want to work out in a certain way and they don’t want to do push-ups or heavy squats; they find it unpleasant. What do you do in this situation?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Good question, Erica. It can sometimes be a delicate balance between doing what you know is best for a client and doing what they want to. In a situation like that, I would gradually ease them into harder exercises. You gotta make it enjoyable for them or they won’t keep it up. Also, if you can explain why squats are more effective than the adductor machine in a way that they can understand, then perhaps they will be more open to trying them.

  • By Anthony L. Gonzalez -

    Excellent and accurate article describing personal training. It is written very well ! I liked the part when you are describing the model/dancer/actor. I agree, very few can pull that off, but it is possible. Most importantly a personal trainer should be successful first as a personal trainer before pursuing other interests.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Anthony!

  • By Kartik -

    Great post. This totally explains why I’ve been training with you for as long as I have. Much appreciated by the way.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Kartik! Your dedication as a client is appreciated as well!

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  • By Matthew Myers -

    This is a great post! I’ve actually just decided to pursue my dream of becoming a personal trainer. Luckily, I actually want to help other people, not myself, so hopefully I won’t run in to some of these problems you’ve mentioned. I’m planning on taking the NASM PT cert, and then moving back to America from Japan this summer. Will be on the look-out for jobs at big commercial gyms, and am praying that I find some outlet for my passions. I’ll be thinking about your advice all the way. Thanks for this great post.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Matthew! Good luck with your new career path!

    • By Primal Rick -

       Good luck with NASM-CPT exam. It’s tough, but very rewarding. It’s an excellent beginning.

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  • By Personal Trainer Directory -

    Great being as consistently Al! This is very, actual accurate and it’s
    aching to see so abounding “part time trainers” out there abusing our
    profession to accomplish a quick buck. Being a claimed trainer/fitness
    drillmaster is a abundant responsibility.

  • By Personal Trainer Directory -

    Great being as consistently Al! This is very, actual accurate and it’s
    aching to see so abounding “part time trainers” out there abusing our
    profession to accomplish a quick buck. 

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    I was looking for this particular info for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

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    I was looking for this particular info for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  • By Nolle Prosequi -

    A personal trainer is a fitness professional involved in exercise prescription and instruction.

  • By pasadena fitness boot camp -

    I love this article because I’m a floor Asst in a Gym and I’ve been in this field for last 5 years and I’m about to get got promote and going to be a personal trainer . SO in my carrier I think this Article would helpful to me.

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  • By Revend -

    Its a fantastic post and i really like it. This information is useful for me because i also want to be a personal trainer so i will try to follow this information. It is a great learning for me.

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