Do You Have To Be Fit To Be A Personal Trainer? Easy Answer

If you are looking to get into the fitness industry, you may well be a little intimidated by the degree of fitness that may be expected of you. That’s probably why you have searched “Do you have to be fit as a personal trainer?” or something similar.

You might have seen very muscular or incredibly lean personal trainers in your local gym or in magazines and be wondering if you need to look that way in order to work in a gym.

The good news is, that you don’t and in this article, I am going to explain exactly why.

Sound good?

Let’s go….

overweight personal trainer holding a swiss ball in a gym

Being out of shape does not mean that you can’t be a great personal trainer. Fitness is subjective, so people who are overweight themselves may find it more comfortable to exercise with a larger PT. A degree of physical fitness is required for the role, but you do not need to be incredibly fit.

The very fact that it took me a great deal of time to find an image of a personal trainer, or at least someone working in the fitness industry that is not in perfect shape speaks volumes about people’s conceptions of trainers in gyms.

I can tell you from my experience, in most gyms, (especially the larger ones with upwards of 20 trainers) there will trainers of all shapes and sizes.

So can you be a personal trainer without being fit?

In order to answer this question, you really have to look at what style of the trainer you are looking to be.

If you are planning on training ultra-marathon runners or clients that want to compete or do photoshoots, then I would suggest that you would have a much easier time picking up clients if you were in really good shape.

If instead, you wish to train everyday clients that work in offices and have the myriad of postural and diet issues that need correcting, I would say you absolutely do not need to be “fit”, but again being in at least half-decent shape will certainly help.

Why it helps to be in shape as a trainer

Whilst it will help to be in good shape so that members of the gym can see that you not only know what you are talking about but also practice what you preach, there is a much more important reason.

“Personal Training is super tiring!”

Being a personal trainer requires a lot of energy throughout your day.

You will be on your feet for upwards of 8-10 hours per day, demonstrating exercises constantly, completing your own workouts, and almost certainly teaching some classes.

And I can assure you, a client will not be happy with you if you are asking them to do something that you can’t.

Imagine this scenario: You have added pullups to your client’s workout program because they need to work on their lats. Now, if you go to demonstrate proper form for a pull-up and you can’t do one, you are going to feel pretty silly.

The easy way around this is, of course, to not prescribe this exercise, but is this really the route that you would want to take?

You should at least be able to perform the most basic exercises that you would prescribe to the general public several times with relative ease.

Maybe the member wouldn’t mind, but I would be fairly certain that if a member had the option to choose a personal trainer that kept getting out of breath when demonstrating exercises and one that doesn’t, they would choose the person that had no problem completing the exercises.

Can you smoke if you’re a Personal Trainer?

I wouldn’t and not just for the obvious health reasons, but for reasons that are very similar to being overweight or generally out of shape.

A client is far less likely to take a trainer that smells of cigarette smoke seriously than one who clearly takes care of their own health.

And again, if whilst demonstrating exercises the trainer gets out of breath after a few demonstrations of an exercise, why should the client listen to a word the trainer says?

It just doesn’t make sense. You wouldn’t trust a dentist with terrible teeth to work on yours, would you?

So no personal trainers smoke then?

Of course they do.

PTs are people like anyone else, and they will from time to time, smoke.

They may even be full-time smokers, but you generally will not see them smoking around the gym or with their clients.

It’s a matter of professionalism, so again, yes you can be out of shape, yes you can smoke, but it’s going to really hold back your potential to pick up and retain clients, and that’s a very large part of a personal training career.

Obviously, I would very much suggest that you do not smoke if you are looking to become a trainer, and if you already do, you should quit as soon as possible. It’ll make your life a lot easier……and longer.

Why it doesn’t matter if you’re out of shape, but want to be a PT

There are always exceptions to the rules, and in this case, there are a good few instances when it doesn’t matter too much if you want to be a personal trainer and you are a little out of shape.

Your clients may feel more comfortable with someone like them

Gyms can also be incredibly intimidating for people who are in reasonably good shape and just need to move a little more, but for people who are obese or severely overweight, they can be terrifying!

What doesn’t help at all is that some overweight people think that every single person in there is going to look like a Greek god or goddess. This is not true of course, but remember, if this person has very little opinion of themselves, they may see people as being incredibly healthy in comparison to themselves.

In this circumstance, working out with a 6ft trainer with ripped abs and muscles where there shouldn’t even be muscles would be too much to even consider.

Instead, they may feel far more comfortable exercising with a trainer that has lost a lot of weight themselves but is still slightly out of shape.

This would give the client the confidence to discuss their own personal issues and they would know that the trainer would fully understand and appreciate their situation. Probably far better than someone that has been in great shape for years.

You will probably get in shape just by working in a gym

If you do land yourself a job as a personal trainer and you are concerned that you are slightly out of shape or not quite as healthy as the rest of the trainers in your gym, don’t worry, it probably won’t stay that way for long.

When you are waking up at 5 am each day, walking around a gym floor for hours, demonstrating exercises, teaching classes, and constantly putting back the weights your clients have used, along with completing your own workouts, you will find you will almost certainly find yourself getting in pretty good shape pretty much just by doing the job itself.

This of course does not mean that if you are a trainer you will never need to do your own workouts, but it goes a pretty long way to getting you a little healthier each day.

If you have a pedometer I suggest making sure you wear it for a few days when you start working in a gym. You will be completely amazed by just how many steps you get in per day. It was very rare that I took less than 25K steps per day when I working as a trainer.

To get a good idea of what a typical day in the life of a personal trainer or fitness instructor looks like, read my article “What Do Personal Trainers Do Each Day?” to see just how busy you will be each day.

Trust me, with this lifestyle, if you are carrying a few extra pounds, they will drop off very quickly.

Don’t worry about how you look as a trainer

Your appearance is not what defines you as a fitness coach or personal trainer!

Your knowledge and understanding of exercise technique, prescription, and application can be ten times that of a trainer with washboard abs.

It’s perfectly understandable to compare yourself to others when starting a career like fitness, but you really don’t need to.

Everyone has something different they can bring to the table and they will each attract a different kind of client.

I have seen plenty of out-of-shape trainers that could not have cared less about their physical appearance. They mostly concentrated on training their clients for strength or power where physical aesthetics really aren’t that important at all.

Can you be a personal trainer if you’re fat?

Ok, so what if you aren’t just a little overweight and you consider yourself to be “fat”?

Have I seen “fat” personal trainers?
Yes, yes I have, in most gyms, I have worked!

Are they successful?
Yes, a lot of the trainers that I have seen that don’t have the physical appearance you would associate with being a trainer have been super successful.

You see, not every client in a gym is looking to get ripped up and shredded, in fact, most people aren’t.

A lot of the trainers that are “fat” tend to train in specific disciplines that don’t center around physical appearance at all. Strength training and powerlifting are great examples of these.

In the city-based gyms I’ve worked in, there was a very healthy desire from a lot of clients that wanted to increase their strength. These trainers absolutely cleaned up by taking in these clients and were seriously busy.

Think of it this way, if you were looking to increase your strength significantly, what would you look for in a trainer, the person with a great physique but was lifting weights you can already easily lift, or the person that is deadlifting, squatting, and bench-pressing twice or three times what you can lift?

It’s a pretty obvious choice!

The real question here is, “who are you looking to train?“.

If you’re looking to train the average person that just wants to get in shape and feel better, then being “fat” may make it difficult to pick up clients. But, if you are a strength athlete that’s looking to help people double or triple their personal bests in the “big lifts”, then you certainly don’t have to worry about being fat.

Do you have to be ripped to be a personal trainer?

This one’s really easy to answer…


Not only do you not need to be “ripped” to be a personal trainer, but hardly any personal trainers are.

The absolute majority of coaches and trainers have bodies that are slightly more in shape than average. I’d go as far as saying that one on every 20 trainers was what I would consider being “ripped” from what I have seen in just under ten years in the industry.

The really crazy truth is, being “ripped” as a trainer can actually put you at a disadvantage.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you will have seen that people that want and need trainers are generally quite intimidated by gyms. Not all of course, but a lot of them.

If you were intimidated by going to a gym and feeling like people were looking at you and judging you, who would you feel more comfortable working with, a person who has a slightly above average body shape that looks like they know how to help you get in shape or a completely ripped up trainer who looks like they are going into a competition in the next week?

The intimidation factor from these trainers can be huge, and a lot of people would be far too self-conscious to even consider training with them. So, no, you absolutely do not need to be shredded to be a personal trainer, in fact, it could hurt your business potential!


The conclusion to this article is that you can absolutely still become a personal trainer if you are out of shape or even what some may consider “fat”, but that’s a little unkind.

It’s totally down to the types of clients you plan to train and the way that you plan to train them.

I think it would make your life a lot easier as a Personal Trainer to be in shape to perform this role, but it is by no means impossible to do if you are out of shape.

So that should have cleared up any worries you may have had.

Go get ’em!

If you enjoyed this article and feel it might help others, please feel free to share it or link back to it.

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Chris Walker

Chris Walker worked in the City of London as a fully qualified REP's level three personal trainer for just under ten years. He built and maintained a client base of 40 individuals and worked with several high profile clients, including actors, actresses, comedians and politicians.

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