I get a lot of emails from newly qualified personal trainers looking to start out in London. I should have written this post a long time ago to save myself from having to type out the same information over and over again! If you have no interest in becoming a PT or living in London, skip this post.
First of all, if you are not yet qualified, there is the matter of choosing a course provider. I studied with Fitness Industry Education, which I reviewed here. FIE isn’t the best-organised company, but they are cheap and offer flexible payment options. In my experience as a gym manager, most gyms just look for the certification – they don’t really care where it’s from. Unless you are NASM-certified or have an exercise science degree, most gyms won’t look twice at your provider.
I already had a decent background of anatomy and physiology, but if you need a thorough course that provides both excellent theory and hands-on experience I would recommend Premier Training, YMCAfit, The Training Room or Discovery Learning. To work as a personal trainer you need a Level 3 Personal Trainer certification; however, you must first become certified as a Level 2 Fitness Instructor.
Once you have your certification, you must become insured through an organisation such as FitPro or the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs). All personal trainers must register with REPs to prove their status as a registered PT (and your REPs membership will also give you discounts at Lululemon, among other places!).
In terms of finding a job, there are generally three options available to trainers:
- Work in a commercial gym and earn an hourly wage: Gyms such as Virgin Active and Equinox provide you with clients and you earn a fixed amount per session, varying greatly. My sources tell me that Equinox customers pay £80 per hour for a personal training session, but the PT themselves only see £18 of that. Most other gyms are more likely to split the price of a session 50/50. I would say this is the best option for someone starting out, as you will have a steady stream of clients without having to pay any upfront fees (i.e. rent).
- Work in a commercial gym and pay a monthly rent but retain all income: LA Fitness and Fitness First charge a fixed rent for personal trainers to use their space. You are allowed to train as many clients as you want and you get to take home all profits – the more sessions you complete, the more money you take home. In theory, you can charge as much as you like, but you will be competing for clients against 10-20 other trainers who work out of the same gym. A word of warning is that these gyms make the set-up sound a whole lot more lucrative than it is – when I first became qualified, I was offered a job at LA Fitness and they claimed I could be making £1000+ profit a week. It’s just not feasible to make that much money as a PT unless you work day and night, and you have to harass members on the gym floor to get clients. In the outer suburbs of London, rent can be as low as £600 per month but in central London you’re looking at about £1200-1300 – a significant amount to pay up-front if you don’t have any clients.
- Work as a freelance personal trainer out of a park or private studio: This is really the ideal option as you can decide your hourly rate without any outside interference while limiting your rent costs. Some private studios allow you to pay rent by the hour, but you can also train people outdoors or in their own homes or offices (you will need a special licence to do so, however). Generally, you will need your own website and marketing material and a solid client base before being able to rely on this option.
When I started out, I was somewhat option A but now I’m freelancing. I was working out of a private personal training studio, both training my own private clients and working as a subcontractor for the studio, splitting the profits 50/50. I now train my own private clients at the gym I train at and keep 80 per cent of the income, bearing in mind that I’m only doing about five hours of PT a week now that I’m working full-time again.
- Location is everything! If you are in London, find a gym in a wealthy area such as Mayfair, Kensington or Chelsea. I was charging £80 for an hour session with me, or £600 for a block of 10 sessions – I couldn’t get away with charging those prices outside of Kensington. Location will also determine the cost of your studio rent – in Kensington, I was paying £18 an hour to rent space but in Putney I’m only paying £7.50 for gym members or £10 for non-members. Finally, location will also affect your working hours. Most people know that the downside to personal training is the hours – almost everyone wants to train in the early hours of the morning or in the evenings. In Kensington, however, most of my clientele could train in the middle of the day. In 18 months, I only had one client who trained outside of the hours of 10am-4pm. Talk about a dream schedule!
- Have patience! They say it takes about six months to build up a “full-time” client base. For a personal trainer, that means about 20-25 hours a week. If most clients do 2-3 sessions per week, that’s about 10 clients. You can’t really expect to do a full 40 hour work week as a personal trainer. Not only is it mentally draining having to coach that many people, but you will never have a constant flow of clients all the time. The one downside to working in Kensington is that all the residents go on holiday for July and August. I’m not exaggerating – the whole neighbourhood shuts down and most trainers have to take enforced holiday. I would recommend having a decent pile of savings or finding an additional means of supplementing your income before you start.
- Provide a personal touch. The most important piece of advice I can give anyone looking for work as a PT is to make sure you talk to the gym owner in person. I used to receive dozens of emails a week from personal trainers, and 99 per cent went straight in the trash folder. Most gyms do not advertise when positions become available, as they fill the spot through word of mouth. I sweet-talked my way into my job. I had found the studio online but when I showed up they were closed. Instead of giving up and going home, I rang the number and waited for the owner to return. We luckily got on great and talked for half an hour, even though they didn’t have any positions available. I was newly qualified as a PT so knew I couldn’t offer much in that sense, but I used my other skills in journalism and marketing to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. I had done my research on the company and convinced them why they needed to hire me. I started out as their marketing manager, but as fate had it, their operations manager quit two weeks later and I took over that role, while gradually building a client base. If it is at all possible, drop off your CV in person and try your hardest to talk to the owner or manager. Every trainer we hired subsequently was found in a similar way.
I think that just about covers everything. Let me know if you have any other questions and I will do my best to answer them!