This post is a long time coming. One of the most popular questions I receive from readers via email is “How can I start working in fitness?” Well, the answer, of course, is not the same for everyone. Today, I’m going to give you the history of how I started working in the fitness industry, with some tips on how you can do it too.
Here’s how it all went down …
From the back of the group fitness studio to the front
After college, I was living in Orlando, Florida and working at a public relations agency as an account manager. I joined a gym for the first time ever (having been someone who did nothing but cardio on the treadmill at my apartment complex before that). I began taking Les Mills BODYPUMP classes after work regularly, found a nice routine and quickly got addicted. When I first started attending classes, I was always in the back of the room, and I slowly worked my way up to the front as the weeks went on.
I was so interested in the movements, form, technique and choreography of it all (which was so different from running, my only other form of exercise), that I studied the instructor and tried to do everything as perfectly as I could, while keeping the beat of the music. One particular instructor noticed. She saw my progression from having never lifted weights to increasing my weight over the course of months and pulled me aside one day and asked if I wanted to train to become an instructor as well. I brushed it off. Not just once, but the first three times she mentioned it. I was a regular gal working in the corporate world and never saw myself having anything to do with fitness, outside of my own exercising, although I knew I really enjoyed it.
Attending a Les Mills BODYPUMP initial training weekend
One day, I decided to take a leap of faith and embark on this fun fitness adventure. Even though I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to teach, when a training for Les Mills BODYPUMP landed on the calendar near my parent’s house in Southwest Florida, I took a day off of work and went down for the three-day workshop (which has now been shortened to two days, by the way). I went through all the steps required by Les Mills after that training and eventually became an instructor (which was not easy, by the way), was hired by Lifestyles Family Fitness (which has since been acquired by LA Fitness) and began teaching BODYPUMP twice-a-week, while working a 40-50 hour public relations job. This continued for a few years. Fitness was just a hobby and something I did before work, after work and on the weekends only.
Beginning to teach additional programs Les Mills programs
Fast forward to three years ago, and shortly after Dave and I got married, we moved to San Francisco. During my first year in the City, I got hired right away at 24 Hour Fitness and Bay Club and taught a lot of group fitness classes, worked in various contract public relations and writing jobs (including one at the Les Mills West Coast office) and started to get certified in additional Les Mills programs (CXWORX and BODYATTACK). As I had more programs under my belt that I could teach, I found myself teaching closer to six or seven classes a week and spending much more time learning about, reading about and interested in all things fitness.
During that time, I started working in a new full-time public relations job in the City, which was less than a great work environment for me. And it was in that role, that I realized how much I wanted to take my fitness endeavors to the next level, leaving behind the corporate scene. While still working in that job, I set some meetings in the evenings to chat with a few personal trainers who were employed at gyms where I taught classes, and I also met with the director of fitness for a couple of gym chains to learn more about the potential career growth. They all gave me advice on how to get started, so I decided to sign up for the NESTA personal trainer workshop and certification. I began studying for the test and looking at trainer jobs in the area.
While all this was happening, I left the public relations job and threw myself into teaching a lot of group fitness classes and studying fitness. All the stars aligned, and right at that moment I saw an ad for Equinox, because the company was opening a brand new gym in San Francisco and was looking for trainers. I emailed my resume, and the recruiter said I didn’t need to have any experience, because they would teach me all I needed to know. And teach me, they did. I quickly got hired by Equinox, began attending their exclusive daily training and courses for the team, passed my NESTA personal trainer certificate and continued teaching Les Mills classes all at the same time. It all started to happen quickly over the course of two months after leaving my public relations job, and it was a little bit scary, but exciting at the same time.
Getting a ton of experience as a personal trainer at Equinox
Next thing you know, I’m working as a full-time trainer at Equinox and still teaching Les Mills classes on the side, also continuing to get certifications in other fields, like Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness, Kettlebells, Power Plate and more, most of which were coordinated through Equinox.
While I knew a good amount about teaching classes, nothing gives you the background and knowledge about the body and science like working first-hand as a trainer in a gym, so I soaked it up and loved everything that I learned. And let me tell you, working as a personal trainer is an incredibly hard job. Incredibly hard.
Combining personal and group as a Fitness Coach at Orangetheory
Then, once Dave and I decided we were going to move out of the City to the East Bay, I began scaling back at Equinox and focusing more on group programs, as that’s where more of my interested was/is. I quickly found a job with a brand new Orangetheory Fitness as a Coach, which I secured long before the studio even opened or we moved to Walnut Creek. And I was able to get that job, because I had a combination of both group fitness and personal training experience.
And today, I teach anywhere from 9-15 classes a week combined at Orangetheory Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness (where I teach Les Mills and freestyle classes), giving me a chance to mostly work with people in the group setting, but also offer assistance before and after class. While I don’t have any personal training clients right now, I haven’t ruled out starting that back up one day. But right now, I’m pleased with working primarily in the group space (in addition to writing, of course), and that’s my story!
It wasn’t a clear path for me, and it certainly wasn’t quick. I got certified to teach my first group fitness program in August of 2009 and didn’t work in the industry full time until May of 2014. A long road, for sure …
How to break into the fitness industry
There are many ways to get into fitness, but I like to think that working in group fitness is a great way to put your toe in the water, especially because that’s how I did it. Here are some other tips …
- BE A STUDENT: Take as many group fitness classes as you can, at as many studios as you can, to figure out what style of classes you like. Find out your niche and start there. You can’t be a pro in everything at first, so choose your favorite and get really good at it as a student, before you try to become an instructor of it.
- WORK IN THE GYM: If you have free evenings, try working at the front desk of a gym or studio. You can usually take classes for free while interacting with other fitness professionals.
- GO LES MILLS: Consider going through a Les Mills group fitness training, because you can get certified and begin to teach without additional national certifications, and you won’t have to make up your own workouts, which is a great way to start. That way, you’re only worrying about teaching and not about creating. If you want a general certification, there are many options for that, like ACE and AFAA.
- MOONLIGHT: Keep your day job! You should dabble around in fitness, while keeping your day job, because it takes time to grow a client-base and make enough money from fitness alone, whether you are doing group fitness or personal training. Get your feet wet in the industry before jumping in.
- NETWORK: Meet with fitness industry professionals in your area. If you go to the gym, ask a couple of the personal trainers or group fitness instructors there if you can take them to get coffee and pick their brain. Networking is just as important in fitness as it is in any other industry. Finding a mentor is huge!
- GO BIG: Know that working for a big corporate gym has it perks. You will have a built-in client base, lots of in-house training and the chance to work alongside more experienced trainers. However, corporate gyms will take a big share of the money that clients pay to train with you and keep it. I think it’s worth it for the first-hand, hands-on experience, especially with an awesome company like Equinox (known as the best in the business when it comes to personal training!).
- TRY A WORKSHOP: If you want to be a personal trainer, when you select your personal trainer certification agency, try to go through one with a hands-on workshop in your area, because it makes the learning process so much easier. I did mine with NESTA, and that two-day workshop taught me way more than studying on my own.
- ACCEPT CHANGE: Realize that your schedule and life will change. Working in fitness often means early mornings, late nights and weekend shifts, so if that’s not okay with you, you may need to reconsider entering the business. People like to work out when they aren’t working, so your hours will likely be everyone else’s off times.
- SAVE UP: If you are planning to transition to working in fitness from a regular corporate job, there’s a good chance that you will take a big pay cut at first. You should start saving up and reduce your expenses to plan ahead. At times, client-load and class-load can waiver, so you’ll want some reserves to fall back on.
- KEEP IT ON THE SIDE: Consider keeping fitness as a hobby and just teaching classes or training clients on the side. Things change a little bit when you decide to begin working full time in fitness. The gym isn’t really your “happy place” any longer, because it means responsibility, work and long hours. If you’re not okay with that, consider adding fitness as a side-job, which you can do in addition to your regular profession. You’ll still be part of the industry, even if the majority of your work is unrelated.
Everybody has different motivations for joining the fitness industry, and for me, it was a long road that I wasn’t even planning to take. But I’m sure glad that I did, because I love connecting with and sweating with others. If there’s one thing that I know is true, it’s that you will always need to continue to learn and grow as a fitness professional, and that’s perhaps the best part.
If you want to read more about my certifications or tips, check out the Fitness + Workouts page.Need a change? Here's how to break into the fitness industry. #FitFluential #SweatPink #Fitness... Click To Tweet
Questions of the day
Have you ever thought about working in fitness?
What do you do for work?
Do you have any other questions on this topic?