The Best Education Paths for Personal Trainers in 2020

Education Paths for Personal Trainers - image of someone studying on a laptop

As a personal trainer, education and experience are everything in terms of advancing your career. Those trainers who do focus a considerable amount of energy on their education end up advancing their career and personal training salary farther and quicker then those trainers that don’t focus on these things. In this article, we will go over why these things are important and what the best education paths for personal trainers are.

But first, which is better? Education or experience?

This is a universal question and debate that has been going on for years, regardless of the industry you work in. Unfortunately, the answer to this question is entirely subjective on the industry that you work in. It can even come down to what you are trying to do within the industry you work in.

For example, it’s common to associate experience with working your way up the corporate ladder. I can start off as a degreeless data entry clerk getting paid $15/hour and work my way up to being a data analyst making $50/hour through taking on exceedingly more difficult tasks and learning new, self teachable skills. It may not happen fast but it does happen.

However, you don’t ever hear of someone starting off as a nurse and through shear experience, working their way up to performing neurosurgery. This is done through education and can only be done through gaining the necessary education level.

When you look at the personal training industry there seems to be two common education paths for personal trainers:

  1. Getting certified and entering the industry earlier.
  2. Getting a degree and having a little bit of a higher starting salary potential then getting a certification. But you get a later start.

However, there are definitely some prominent benefits and drawbacks to both.

Pros and Cons of getting a personal training certification rather than a degree.

Pros
  • This route takes considerably less time to get educated through. You can get certified in 3-6 months and land a PT job at a gym pretty quickly.
  • You get industry experience much quicker in going this route.
  • Clients don’t really seem to care about a certification vs degree. Especially if you have proven results and good word of mouth. However, this can be dependant on the niche you work in.
  • It is definitely possible to achieve quite a bit of success this route. While it may be take more experience, it still happens quite frequently.
  • Some gyms still require a personal training certification despite having a degree in a related field.
Cons
  • Personal training courses don’t cover material in the same depth as a degree does.
  • You will still have to invest in education as you pursue your personal training career.
  • You might have a lower starting salary then someone with a degree.

Pros and Cons of getting a degree before entering the personal training industry.

Pros
  • You have a very in depth understanding of anatomical systems. This could help you in helping your clients achieve results.
  • It could help you as you are recruiting clients.
  • A degree might expand your initial career options. You could go be a trainer at a medical facility or corporate wellness center.
  • Your degree is more universally recognized. In the case you don’t want to be a personal trainer, you still have your degree to use.
  • Depending on your degree, finding a niche may be easier. For example, getting a strength and conditioning degree might help you appeal to athletes in sports that place an extra emphasis on strength (football, wrestling, etc…).
Cons
  • A degree takes a very long time to get.
  • Degrees are also very expensive. You could amass some serious debt in getting your degree.
  • You will still have to learn business skills once you get a PT job.

There’s no “one size fits all”.

As you can see in going through both of the education paths for personal trainers. There are clear drawbacks and benefits for any option. Getting a degree places more emphasis on education initially while getting a certification places more emphasis on real world experience. However, in either case, you are still learning valuable skills.

What’s your objective?

When it comes to education paths for personal trainers, it really all depends on your end goal. If you want to become a strength and conditioning coach, then a degree is more then likely the best route for you. However,

Education and experience: two sides of the same coin.

For those of you who have gone through a personal training certification course or gotten a degree in exercise science or something similar, you may have a pretty good understanding of what is meant by this. Getting technical knowledge and real world experience are often times very different.

A personal trainer who went through a NASM certification and has 4 years in industry experience will have more knowledge in sales and marketing then a trainer fresh out of college with no industry experience. However, the trainer with the degree will have a deeper understanding of anatomical systems and technical knowledge.

Does this mean the trainer with the degree is a “better” trainer or vice versa? No, not at all. Education is only what you make of it. The route you take take is dependant on what your objective is as mentioned earlier.

Some younger trainers may start with a NASM certification because their main goal is to start a training business or a fitness membership site and they see industry experience as the fastest way to get there. Or maybe they don’t have the cash on hand to afford a degree. On the other hand, someone who majors in exercise science may want to become a coach at a university or

Regardless of the route you take and what your objective is, there is a lot to learn about how to successfully run a personal training business. The one commonality that you will see in either of the option we reviewed above is, you will have to learn how to run a business.

While some courses or degrees will try to teach you these things, you will have to learn most of it yourself.

The best supplemental education resources for personal trainers

Regardless of your education path, there are tons of resources on the internet that can help you in learning valuable skills that, arguably, most personal trainers should know or understand at some point. Whether it’s business management, marketing, or sales, there are plenty of resources out there for you to use.

The Personal Trainer Development Center

While the PTDC has content that focuses on all major skills for personal trainers, they have the Online Trainer Academy that was the first course of its kind. It is completely geared towards helping trainers become online personal trainers. Here’s a high level of what’s covered:

  • Getting started: finding what makes you unique, branding, structuring your day around maximizing productivity, and more of the fundamentals.
  • Structuring your business: how to move your business online, software to use for your business, pricing services, and legalities.
  • Client management and retention: motivating and keeping clients accountable, referrals, rewarding clients for their hard work and expressing gratitude, and client assessments.
  • Getting clients: reshaping what marketing means to you, facebook marketing, email marketing, and more.
  • Key Skills: this is a rather robust chapter on everything from sales calls and copy to operational documentation for your business.

There is no doubt that if you are looking to become an online personal trainer, this is an investment that is worth it. While you can learn a lot of these skills online through YouTube and other courses, this one packages everything up in a very digestible, streamlined fashion.

The Institute for Personal Trainers

The iPT is another site dedicated to supplemental education for personal trainers that goes over valuable skills that aren’t always covered in personal training certification courses or degrees.

The iPT is divided into three main courses or what they call “stages”. Each stage is broken down into modules that cover various topics. Here are the three stages:

  • Stage 1 – Becoming a business owner: this stage goes over setting up a business, mindsets conducive to success, and even how to find funding for your business.
  • Stage 2 – Building a Fitness Business: now that you what goes into being a business owner, this course teaches you how to build a fitness business. Building a fitness business goes over sales, marketing, and how to automate your business to maximize efficiency.
  • Stage 3 – Marketing your PT business: taking what was touched on in the last course, stage 3 expands on marketing your business and teaches you how to connect with your target market and much more.

Fitness Mentors

Fitness Mentors is a personal training certification site that offers everything from free study guides and preparation for some of the flagship personal training certification to their own courses that on a variety of topics.

Here are some of their core courses that they offer:

  • Online personal training certification: this course teaches you how to become an online personal trainer and covers optimizing your programs for delivery over the internet. They even go over how to make passive income. Additionally, thye go over many aspects of what it takes to run an online business.
  • Business & Sales: the core focus of this course is to teach you about business mindsets, sales skills, and how to collect leads. Additionally they cover creating a sales funnel that converts.
  • Program design specialization: the PDS course teaches you how expertly design fitness programs with the human movement system in mind. They teach you about principle of advanced program design and various models that will help you in designing world class programs.
  • Pain management specialization: talk about a possible niche for your personal training business! The pain management course dives into how to work with clients that live with daily pain. This can be due to past injuries, current injuries, and postural issues that cause chronic pain.
  • Special populations specialization: hmm I smell another niche?? This specialization will help you in training older clients who may be suffering from chronic illnesses or conditions. These chronic conditions require a specific type of programming.

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