How I started working in the fitness industry

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.

How I started working in the fitness industry via A Lady Goes West

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.

How I got into fitness - group fitness studio via A Lady Goes West

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.

Les Mills Super Q via A Lady Goes West

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. 

Ashley Pitt Trainer picture from 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 …

Gym equipment via A Lady Goes West

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.

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  1. Great tips, and it’s very inspirational to see how you moved up to becoming an instructor! I’m a software engineer for work (pretty much the furthest thing from a fitness career as you can get!), but I do love taking group classes when I can fit it into my schedule.

    1. Hi Lisa! Taking group fitness classes was always a great way to expend some energy for me when I worked in an office all day, so try and make them when you can! πŸ™‚ Have a lovely day!

  2. What a fun story! I bet it’s neat to look back a few years ago to see where you were and where you are today. So I majored in exercise science in college so I knew I wanted to do something health/fitness related. I started off with some peeps all training at a local gym and I do miss that sometimes but right now group fitness is more fun for me!

    1. That’s great you majored in exercise science – because that backing helps you so much more. I would love to take another certification course to learn even more about the science behind the body. And I’m glad you’re enjoying group fitness right now. πŸ™‚

  3. I am a respiratory therapists at a hospital down in San Diego. While I love my job, I have considered getting my personal trainer license. I love running and working out but the fear of the unknown kind of prohibits me from venturing out into unknown territory. Who knows…maybe in a few years I’ll take the plunge. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Hi Daisy! Well the beauty is that you don’t have to take the plunge, because if you do it on the side, much like I did with group fitness … you can slowly decide if it’s the avenue you want to take! Go for it!! πŸ™‚

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience! I’ve worked as a personal trainer in the past but haven’t done anything in the fitness industry since due to lots of changes in ours lives. Now that I’m a SAHM, my heart has been telling me to go back and explore becoming a yoga instructor. I have plans to start training in the spring and have been thinking about Les Mills too since I have another friend that teaches and loves it! It’s so reassuring to see how all your hard work and dedication have made your dreams of teaching fitness full time come true! Don’t be surprised if I reach out in the future for more advice πŸ˜‰

    1. Hi there! I think you should definitely look into the classes that you most enjoy and go after becoming and instructor! Even if you go through trainings and ultimately decide you won’t teach, the education alone could be very fulfilling! Go for it, lady! πŸ™‚

  5. Very interesting, Ashley! So happy you took the time to share your story. I enjoy ‘A Lady Goes West’ so much and understanding all the hard work you have devoted to your ‘new’ career has to be inspiring to those seeking changes in their life’s path. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Love hearing other peoples stories! Mine began somewhat similar to yours but I left my job teaching second grade to become a mom. Then began teaching as a hobby which it still is for me today since being a mom comes first and foremost πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Giselle! Yes, being able to fit teaching into your other responsibilities is the best part of doing it on a part-time basis! I didn’t know you had been a school teacher. Yay for that! πŸ™‚

  7. Im going to seriously book mark this post! So much helpful info for someone who wants to work in the industry! I would love to someday break into the fitness industry, but Im still trying to figure everything out! Being a personal trainer would be so great though!

  8. Hey Ashley! I really enjoyed reading your corporate world to fitness world story. I’m an oil & gas accountant right now, but always like to daydream about doing something related to my fitness passion. A girl’s got to have dreams! I’ve been thinking about taking my CrossFit Level 1 certificate and possibly coaching a few nights a week… Thanks for showing me that it IS possible to transition between two seemingly different careers.

    1. YES Kait! It so is! Are you big into CrossFit? Then YES, go after become a coach for it. You can definitely make it work on the weekends and evenings and keep your day job. It’s never too late to chase a passion, while still being realistic and maintaining the regular job. πŸ™‚

      1. I was never athletic growing up, but crossfit lit something up inside me that I didn’t know existed. Without sounding completely crazy, it’s been life-changing, and I’d like to share that passion as a coach.
        Thanks for the encouragement!

  9. Thank you for sharing how you went from taking classes to teaching and more! This is right on time as I’ve been thinking about how to make a career out of fitness. I loved taking classes and eventually became certified in BodyPump. During that time, I had two kids and worked full-time. My husband supported my “hobby” so I was able to keep up with it. I did that for a long time until I recently became certified in Attack and now I teach a lot more and work full-time! Attack has taken my fitness game to a new level and I’ve seen amazing results that keeps me wanting more. I know I can’t make a living on teaching classes alone, so I will look into the resources you provided to see how to increase my knowledge on the fitness industry.

    1. Hi Bea, It’s tough to make a living JUST teaching classes, unless you add in some that don’t require you to do the workout (i.e. Orangetheory, boot camps, etc.). But I LOVE that you’re way more into fitness now that you’ve added ATTACK to the line-up. Keep up the great work!! And perhaps a PT certificate is in order?? Think about it!

  10. Awesome post with great ideas! You can just tell your love for group fitness through the screen and I’m so glad you got started with this and away from corporate jobs. I would definitely say moonlighting is the best way to get started so you can make sure it’s something your really want to do!

  11. This is so interesting Ashley! Thanks for sharing. As much as I love fitness classes and running clubs, I don’t really have any plans on getting into that field. I work in technology so this is just a nice thing to do on the side. I have a lot of respect for my instructors and all the time they devote to teaching and learning, and I just don’t think I could handle that right now! Next time I find myself in San Fran I’ll definitely stop in and take a class from you!

    1. Hi Gretchen! That’s SOOO the right mindset. I think sometimes people think they want to work in fitness because it’s glamorous — but it ISN’T!!!! So just enjoy it as your exercise and keep doing your regular job. Thanks for that, lady! Hope you make it to SF one day soon!

  12. thanks for sharing your story with us!! i always love seeing how other bloggers/fitness personalities got their start. super interesting you worked in a corporate/office job and then switched over – it seems so natural and the timing was perfect! That’s always the best when everything just seems to fit. I also train people on the side when I have time, but yes I have a full time corporate job as well. Definitely want to keep balancing between the two for now until i make a serious decision.

    1. That’s the way to do it Beverley! I know you must be a busy lady, but it’s the smart thing to do for now. Glad you enjoyed this story and keep up the great work! πŸ™‚

  13. It’s so interesting to read about other people’s journeys into the fitness world! Thanks for sharing! These are great tips and I love your honesty about the good AND bad!

  14. I get the urge to teach again quite often and this post definitely brings it on. Is there a job as fun and rewarding as being a fitness coach? I think not! Now go get Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness Cert so you can start giving me tips!

    1. Hi Bethann! I can’t imagine what it would be like to not teach one day, but then again, there are perks to that as well heheh! I do love seeing people happy after a workout! And I’m certified already with Pre-Post-Natal, which was one of the most interesting certifications I have to date!

  15. Awesome post, and great information. I am definitely interested in working in the health and fitness field at some capacity, so I found your experienced very helpful!

  16. What an awesome story!

    I work in Healthcare IT, but I really enjoy fitness and healthy life things. I’ve considered getting certified for spin or something similar, but I just don’t want to commit the time, it would leave me so little free time… I need a lot of “me” time haha.

    1. Hi Jessie! I think that’s your answer for now … your “Me” time is pretty important! But of course, you’ll know when you want to add that extra dimension of teaching if ever! πŸ™‚

  17. Hi Ashley,

    I love your blog, and I really enjoyed reading how your career evolved into the fitness industry. I was wondering if maybe you could do a few “day in the life” posts? It would be interesting to see what your normal weekdays/routine entails!


  18. Man this was such a great post! It provided so much clarity about what to expect! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. You know I love to share, Audie! I think the best way to approach going into fitness is chasing the thing you’re most interested in, but being smart not to leave the rest of your life behind hehe. Good luck to you on all your future health and fitness endeavors, lady! πŸ™‚

  19. You hit the nail on the head with “keep it on the side”. This has been my number one reason for not taking on more hours or opportunities. I am not sure I will ever work more than 5 hours a week at a gym (especially while I have little ones at home). I want it to always be my love and I am afraid that being there all the time I will get burnt out.

    1. It happens, Hollie! You are smart to keep it part time, because then you never can get too bogged down with it! You’ve got a good thing going! Rock it! πŸ™‚

  20. Hi Ashley,
    That was a great post!!! I am slowly trying to make fitness my full-time job as well! I am currently working Full-time in an office Monday to Friday then i am working on reception at a health and fitness club on weekends. It is an amazing facility and i feel so lucky to have got a foot in the door with them. I can not wait till i can work in fitness every day, i just have to be patient i guess.
    I actually wrote to you a few weeks ago asking for advice with my ATTACK certification video and how to beat the nerves when teaching. Well i am excited to let you know i filmed my video and passed!! Thanks for much for your advice especially when it came to beating the nerves. I always keep what you said in mind and it really helps! πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Hayley! YAY for you and your video! Congrats!! That’s awesome, and I bet you feel so much better having gotten that done. That’s really cool you’re working at a gym on the weekends, because you’re getting your foot in the door. Keep up the great work, lady! Let me know if I can help again!

  21. Thanks for the great tips, Ashley! I’ve been contemplating adding more fitness to my life (work full-time at an advocacy nonprofit and teach BODYPUMP three times a week) and this is golden advice. Found this post in your 2015 recap πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Jamie!! Yes, as you can see — my transition was super slow, and I did a lot of research before jumping in. Best of luck to you, if the time is right! Thanks so much for reading! πŸ™‚

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