Trainer with clipboard

How to Become a Personal Trainer

Personal training is serious business with more than 22,000 active trainers operating in the UK. The industry is worth an estimated £620m with an average annual growth of between £3.5-5.0% (£18.7m-£31m) per annum. With such positive growth potential, it’s clear that the future is bright for those working in this sector.

So what does it take to become a personal trainer?

Trainer teaching a squat


Qualifications underpin any profession and the health and fitness industry is no exception. Not all qualifications are equal however and some companies offering personal training courses issue their own certificates and don’t certificate through a reputable awarding organisation – this can cause serious issues later when looking for employment and/or considering taking higher level qualifications. It’s crucial therefore to do your research early and pick a course and provider that deliver qualifications recognised industry-wide.

There are a variety of awarding organisations offering personal trainer qualifications but two of the most widely recognised, and as such sought after, are YMCA Awards (formerly CYQ) and Active IQ. Both of these awarding bodies work almost exclusively in the active leisure sector and employ specialist staff who have industry specific experience and qualifications; other more generic awarding organisations don’t always have the same specialist people or resources.

The most frequently completed qualifications include:

  • Level 2 Certificate in Instructing Gym-Based Exercise (a pre-requisite for the Level 3 programme)
  • Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training
  • Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training (Gym-Based Exercise)
  • Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training and Instruction

It is also possible in some situations to acquire the required qualifications via a work-based learning programme like an apprenticeship. This is normally completed while in employment as a ‘trainee’, and involves a combination of a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) and a range of other employability skills programmes.

Trainer teaching a bench press


There are a number of educational establishments (schools, colleges and universities) and private training providers where it is possible to complete the required qualifications. There are also a number of ways in which it is possible to complete the training, including:

Direct delivery courses are normally taught in an entirely face-to-face manner and will involve both theory and practical teaching and assessment. Many colleges and universities deliver their courses over a full academic year alongside their core academic programmes. This clearly delays the time it takes to get the knowledge, skills and qualification, and any subsequent access into employment. Most private training providers deliver their courses more intensively, often over a number of weeks or months. Shorter courses may be more affordable but run the risk of being ‘cheap and cheerful’, whereas longer courses will inflate the tuition costs and may prove difficult to attend because or work or family commitments. It’s important therefore to find the right balance.

Blended delivery courses normally involve a period of independently completed home study with a brief period of intensive training and assessment. Blended programmes offer a more affordable route to getting qualified because the provider can reduce their costs somewhat because there is less direct contact. These courses are also somewhat more flexible than direct delivery programmes making them easy to complete alongside a busy schedule. There are a number of reputable ‘blended’ training providers but there are also a few that don’t have the support services, resources and expertise to deliver training in this manner.

Online/home-study courses involve training and assessment that is exclusively delivered from home. Learning activities are normally completed online and then any final assessment would then be uploaded, or posted to the provider in video format for assessment by their staff. The core theme with most online courses appears to be minimum student contact and maximum automation, thereby maximising the provider’s profits.

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