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Becoming a Personal Trainer For Dummies

Becoming a Personal Trainer For Dummies

4.2 5
by Melyssa St. Michael, Linda Formichelli

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Want to turn your passion for fitness into a lucrative career? Each year, more than 5 million Americans use personal trainers to take their workouts to the next level—and this plain-English guide shows you how to get in on the action. Whether you want a part-time job at the gym or a full-time personal training business, you’ll find the practical, proven


Want to turn your passion for fitness into a lucrative career? Each year, more than 5 million Americans use personal trainers to take their workouts to the next level—and this plain-English guide shows you how to get in on the action. Whether you want a part-time job at the gym or a full-time personal training business, you’ll find the practical, proven advice you need in this indispensable resource.

Becoming a Personal Trainer For Dummies is for you if you want to become a certified personal trainer and start your own business—or if you’re a certified trainer looking to improve upon your existing practice. You get a thorough overview of what it takes to get certified and run a successful business, complete with expert tips that help you:

  • Find your training niche
  • Study for and pass certification exams
  • Attract, keep, and motivate clients
  • Interview, hire, and manage employees
  • Update your training skills
  • Expand your services

This user-friendly guide offers unique coverage of personal trainer certification programs, including tips on selecting the right program and meeting the requirements. You’ll see how to develop your training identity as well as practice invaluable skills that will make you a great personal trainer. You also receive savvy guidance in:

  • Choosing the best fitness equipment
  • Creating a business plan, a record-keeping system, and a marketing campaign
  • Performing fitness assessments
  • Developing individualized exercise programs
  • Advancing your clients to the next fitness level
  • Managing legal issues and tax planning
  • Offering additional services such as massage and nutrition consultation
  • Training clients with special needs

Complete with ten great starter exercises and a valuable list of professional organizations and resources, Becoming a Personal Trainer For Dummies gives you the tools you need to get the most out of this fun, fabulous career!

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“…This non-nonsense book covers every conceivable aspect of the personal-training industry…straightforward, informative and easy to read…” (Muscle & Fitness, March 2005)

Product Details

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For Dummies Series
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Read an Excerpt

Becoming a Personal Trainer For Dummies

By Melyssa St. Michael Linda Formichelli

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-5684-3

Chapter One

Personal Training 101: Do You Have What It Takes?

In This Chapter

* Understanding what personal trainers do

* Being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses

* Knowing what's involved in getting certified

* Preparing to start and build your business

* Helping your clients achieve their goals

When it comes to choosing a career, unless you're a masochist, you probably want to do something that you enjoy. Well, here's news that may interest you: Personal trainers love their jobs. According to a survey of personal trainers by IDEA (a professional fitness organization), 88 percent of respondents reported that they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their work, compared to the national average of 71 percent.

Numbers don't lie - personal training is indeed a fulfilling and rewarding profession. Watching your clients achieve health and wellness as a result of your guidance is an incredible experience.

To an outsider, personal training may look pretty easy - you just stick your client on a piece of equipment, throw some weight on the stack, and start yelling at him to "do one more!" until he drops, right? Not exactly. This chapter gives you the scoop on what it takes to become a personal trainer and how you can get started in this challenging and rewarding field.

Determining Whether You and Personal Training Are a Match Made in Heaven

If we asked you what a successful personal trainer looks like, what would you envision? A guy or gal in great shape, with California good looks, a bright white perma-smile, and an everlasting bronze tan? Now what if we asked you what an unsuccessful personal trainer looks like? Maybe you'd think of your local gym rat, perched on top of the piece of gym equipment you want to use, glorifying the benefits of the latest fad supplement.

Truth be told, you can't tell a "good" trainer from a "bad" trainer based on looks alone. No matter how much a person looks the part on the outside, what makes trainers good is what they have on the inside - solid skills, knowledge, experience, intuitiveness, dedication, professionalism, and understanding. Take all those attributes, roll them up with the ability to teach, and - voilà! - you have the stuff great trainers are made of.

The question is, do you have that stuff?

Defining the role of a personal trainer

By definition, a personal trainer is a fitness professional who uses the body's response to exercise to improve clients' overall physical health. Trainers do all the following:

  •   Perform in-depth evaluations of their clients' base fitness levels.

  •   Prescribe exercises appropriate for their clients' level of conditioning and specific fitness goals.

  •   Show clients how to properly implement the prescribed exercises.

  •   Monitor and record clients' progress, making adjustments as necessary to ensure clients reach their goals in a safe and healthy manner.


    Think that's the whole shebang? Not quite. Much like your old Aunt Bertha, personal trainers wear many hats. When working with clients, personal trainers act as friend, teacher, motivator, disciplinarian, troubleshooter, therapist, equipment rep, and wellness consultant, all wrapped up in one. When working alone, personal trainers take on the roles of secretary, salesperson, student, accountant, business owner, and customer-service rep.

    Knowing what skills you need

    Being a personal trainer requires more than knowing exactly where your gluteus maximus is, or what the best exercise is to keep it from drooping. As a trainer, you need many skills to match the many roles you play for your clients. Here are some of the skills you need to hone before putting up your shingle.

    You need to be accountable

    You alone - not your clients, not your mother, not your annoying neighbor with the yappy dog - are responsible for yourself and your actions. If you're continually coming up with reasons (read "excuses") as to why you were late, why you didn't write out the new travel program, or why you had to cancel, clients and employers will lose trust in you. Being able to own up to the truth of your actions and working to prevent those snafus from happening in the future gains you trust and credibility in the eyes of your peers.


    When you're a trainer, the only thing you have is your credibility and your reputation.

    You need to be agile

    No, we don't mean physically agile! (We know you can touch your toes!) In this case, we mean mentally agile - as in, the ability to come up with a completely different course of action on the fly if the original one isn't working out. Working with people's bodies requires insight and the ability to think outside the box. Each client's body is unique, and what works for one client may not work for another.


    Melyssa had a client who had suffered a stroke and lost the ability to use her muscles - she was in a wheelchair, because her brain couldn't communicate with her muscles to tell them to walk, sit, or even lift things. She had hired Melyssa to show her how to "work out" with her disability. Melyssa was perplexed - how do you work out if you can't lift a weight? Then she realized that, even though the client couldn't lift the weight, she still had the ability to resist the weight (this is called a negative in trainer-speak). Bingo! They created a workout consisting of negatives in every sort of manner. Negative bicep curls, negative leg extensions - you name it, they did it. The client made great strength gains and, as a result, was eventually able to perform small lifting movements. Now, that's being agile!

    You need to be a good teacher

    Good teachers inspire and excite their students by involving them in the activity. They watch their students carefully, discover how they learn, and match their teaching methods to their students' learning methods.


    As a personal trainer, you need to take the time to discover how each of your clients learns. By not overwhelming your clients with too much information at one time and allowing them to lead the learning process, you'll ensure that your clients retain what you teach them. When your clients realize that you've taught them something, their perceived value of you and your services increases. When you give your clients that precious gem of knowledge, they'll be back for more - guaranteeing that you'll have repeat business.

    You need to be a good leader

    Leaders inspire people to do their best by example. Trainers need to walk their talk and be a role model for their clients. The old "do as I say, not as I do" adage doesn't cut it in this biz. You won't be getting any repeat business if you tell your clients they need to watch their fat intake - while you're stuffing a candy wrapper in the trash can. Clients follow trainers who have demonstrated that they can be successful with their clients on a consistent basis. People naturally want to follow someone who is confident, charismatic, and successful. In this profession, that means creating a successful clientele, and working with each client as if she's the only one you have. You must provide positive reinforcement to your clients, even when they have setbacks, and celebrate each and every one of their victories, no matter how small.

    You need to be a good listener

    Sometimes, being a personal trainer is like being a therapist - the closer you get to your clients, the more they open up and divulge personal information about themselves. By listening more than talking, you'll find out a lot about who your clients really are - which not only helps you understand where they're coming from and why they're working with you, but also prepares you to help them as a trainer.

    You need to be a good observer

    In addition to being a good listener, you need to be a good observer. Sometimes, your clients will tell you something different from what they're really thinking or feeling. Figuring out how to read your clients' body language, tone of voice, and physical cueing will help to improve your communication with your clients as well as the programs you create for them.

    You need to be knowledgeable

    Today, trainers are often expected to know the answers to just about everything related to health and wellness. Does the ThighMaster really work? If I put black yam cream on my thighs, will I burn fat faster? Not only do you have to master the technical and practical aspects of training, but you also need to know what science is saying about the latest fitness fads. Being able to separate fact from fiction - and to explain the difference - gives you credibility points in the eyes of your clients.

    You need to be likeable

    Have you ever met someone who rubbed you the wrong way from the start? You can't quite put your finger on what it is about her that you don't like, but for some reason you two simply don't hit it off. No matter how hard you try, you can't prevent this from happening with at least some of your clients. For one reason or another, not every client is going to like you - and you aren't going to love every client. But you're a professional, and working with all types of people comes with the territory.


    Being likeable means knowing how to mirror a client's tone, actions, and body language until you've developed enough of a rapport that he feels comfortable with you. If your client is the strong-but-silent type, recognize this, and don't blab away about the latest strongman competition on ESPN. By using the skills discussed earlier in this chapter, such as being a good listener and observer, you can match your tone and actions to those of your client, creating a smooth start to your relationship.

    You need to be passionate

    Having passion about what you do and the people you do it for is essential to being a good trainer. It means being in the moment with your client, with every ounce of your attention focused on him. It means giving her 100 percent (or more if you can spare it), day in and day out. It means being upbeat and positive, and showing your client how enthusiastic you are about helping him achieve success.

    We bet you've been in a gym and witnessed a trainer sitting down on the floor or on a piece of equipment, staring off into space while his client struggles through an exercise. You've probably also seen a trainer who's whipping her client through what looks to be a pretty intense workout, all the while smiling and offering the client encouragement. Which trainer would you want to work with?

    You need to be professional

    Being professional sounds easy if you're waltzing around a plush office with an Armani suit and a leather briefcase. It's not so easy when you're a personal trainer on your tenth client of the day, completely exhausted, and running late because of a traffic accident. Your client yells (even though it wasn't your fault), and now you still have to work with her even though you're boiling mad. No matter how badly you want to walk out, you tell her that you hear her and understand how she feels, apologize for the inconvenience, and get on with the session. Now that's professionalism.

    You need to be positive

    Much like that nasty strain of the flu that goes around every year (but without the nausea), enthusiasm is contagious. If you maintain an upbeat outlook, you'll be able to keep yourself and those around you motivated. Having a positive outlook and manner helps retain clientele - after all, working out is hard enough for your client without having to deal with a depressed trainer on top of it. Your clients aren't paying you to lament about your woes of the day. They hired you to motivate them and positively support their efforts. Think about it - would you want to work out with a crying Christina or a sobbing Sam?

    You need to be understanding

    Being understanding means remembering why you became a personal trainer in the first place. You're here for your client, not the other way around. You don't need to lecture your client when she fails to comply; she knows she didn't do what she was supposed to.


    When your clients don't follow your plan, it's not that they're dissing you, or that they don't believe in what you're telling them. More likely, what you suggested doesn't work for them for whatever reason. Your job is to understand what went wrong - why they didn't/wouldn't/couldn't do what you told them to in the first place. When you understand the reasons behind the snafu, you'll be able to adjust your plan so they can succeed at the task. Understanding is putting yourself in your clients' shoes - getting beyond yourself and being aware of your clients' needs.

    Assessing your skills

    No matter how much you know about adenosine triphosphate or how well you can demonstrate the clean and jerk (if you think that's a system for getting your significant other to pick up his dirty socks, you're in trouble), knowledge and technique are only a small portion of what makes a successful personal trainer. How you perform your job on a day-to-day basis and how consistent you are in your job are what makes you successful and your job enjoyable.

    For all the aspects of personal training that you can control - like your attitude and your knowledge - there are twice as many intangible things that you can't - like your schedule, your work location, the type of people you work with, your management, and so on. These are the little things that you can't plan for and that make any job loveable or leaveable. The personal training industry has quite a few intangibles that have been known to break a trainer or two. So before you sign up for the job, take an honest look at yourself and decide whether you have what it takes.

    Answer true or false to the following 15 statements to determine whether you've got the goods for personal training:

  •   I am at my best any time of the day.

  •   I get along with everyone I meet.

  •   I can do several things well at once. (Walking and chewing gum doesn't count.)

  •   I have a flexible schedule.

  •   I enjoy working with different types of people.

  •   I enjoy a fast-paced life.

  •   I perform well under stress.

  •   I am organized.

  •   I am good at planning.

  •   I am a self-starter.

  •   I am detail-oriented.

  •   I can communicate my thoughts clearly and concisely.

  •   I enjoy explaining "why."

  •   I enjoy being challenged.

  •   I enjoy helping others.

  •   I have a thirst for learning.

  •   I enjoy being mobile.


    Excerpted from Becoming a Personal Trainer For Dummies by Melyssa St. Michael Linda Formichelli Excerpted by permission.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

  • Meet the Author

    Melyssa St. Michael is a renowned fitness expert who appears on national news channels and has been interviewed for major publications. Linda Formichelli writes for Men's Fitness, Muscle Media, and other magazines.

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    Becoming a Personal Trainer For Dummies 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Just a totally complete book that deals with EVERY conceivable aspect of personal training, from making sure that personal training is your cup of tea, to choosing the right certification, to covering the business aspects, and even how to draw stick figures! Can't imagine a personal training book being too much more complete than this.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I have been a personal trainer for nearly two years and I thought I had a handle on everything. I was given this book as a gift and I was blown away with the comprehensive information that it provides. I learned the most from the True Stories sections as they provided extra tips and really expanded upon the knowledge contained in this book. I would highly recommend this book to anyone thinking about becoming a personal trainer and encourage current personal trainers to read it as well. I only wish I would have read this book a lot sooner.
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