Fitness Trainer Career: All Your Options Covered

So you’ve been a fitness trainer for a while, but do you have any career development plans? Where can you go from here?

In this article, I will be outlining all your options for your fitness trainer career progression so you’ll be in no danger of getting stuck in a fitness rut. By the end of reading it, you will have a complete idea of all your options for your fitness trainer career.

Sound good?

Let’s go…

I really hope you’ve enjoyed being a fitness instructor, I bet you’ve made some great friends and met some really nice members.

But…..I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking “The pay isn’t enough and I’m fed up of tidying up after lazy members and PTs“.

I know this is probably what you are thinking because it’s exactly what I thought, which is why I moved on.

So let’s get you out there and climbing up the fitness industry career ladder!

Development Plans For A Fitness Instructor
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Run your own business by becoming a personal trainer

Become a personal trainer

The logical step for most people to take after working as a fitness instructor is personal training.

As I have said in previous articles, working as a fitness instructor gives you plenty of opportunities to practice your program design, communication, and motivational skills, as well as giving you plenty of time to brush up on your exercise and anatomical knowledge whilst working in the field.

Becoming a personal trainer is really very similar to the 1-2-1 program designs you will have been prescribing as part of your gym inductions, it’s just now you get to sit with your client through the whole workout.

It’s much better paid than fitness instructor roles, but you will now be working for yourself, (even if you are working on a zero-hours contract). You will need to find your own clients, sell the sessions and take the payments from your clients.

How we’re going to get you there

First things first, you are going to need your level 3 PT qualification to be allowed to offer personal training. No gym will hire you or let you use their property if you don’t so you should make sure you have it.

Most personal training companies offer level 2 and 3 qualifications in their courses, so if you already have your level 3 but wanted to get some experience first by working as an instructor, you can skip this step out.

Getting your level 3 isn’t too tough and won’t cost you the earth if you are buying it on its own instead of as part of a full course. If you have been working for a seriously nice company that’s looking to hire personal trainers, you might even be able to get them to pay for the course or at least some of it.

When you have your qualification, (or if you already had it), the next step would be to start getting to know a lot of people’s names around the gym if you haven’t already done this. This will make the transition to personal training much easier, as you will be able to approach several members to suggest working with you as their PT right off the bat.

From this point, it’s really up to you, when you feel you have built up your confidence to move into the role of personal training instead of fitness instruction, you will need to let your manager know so you can apply for the role.

It’s going to be much easier to get a job as a PT in a gym you have already worked in, as the staff know you, the members know you and you will find it much easier to pick up clients if you have already got a following for being a great fitness instructor (which of course you will have).

You can of course move on to another gym if you think there are better opportunities, but don’t forget that members already knowing your name and face gives you a huge advantage over other newer PTs that the members haven’t grown to trust yet.

I wouldn’t waste that myself!

Show off your people skills by working in the gym sales team

gym sales team

The sales team are the guys that sell memberships and generally sell the benefits of the gym to the public.

As you can tell, it is an entirely sales-based role, so you will need to be confident, approachable, and ok working to deadlines and targets, as anything sales-based is usually all about hitting targets.

From the salespeople I have spoken to and been friends with, it doesn’t seem to be the hardest job to do and none of them ever came across as particularly stressed, but this of course could differ from person to person.

The usual tasks you will be doing will be:

  • Taking prospective members on gym tours
  • Going to local businesses to promote the gym and brand
  • Prospecting for referrals
  • Making follow-up calls to improve member retention
  • Ensuring gym sales targets are being hit monthly

How we are going to get you there

You won’t require any specific qualifications to work in the sales team of a gym, although some sales experience would certainly help if you have it.

One of the great things about moving from working as an instructor to a salesperson for the same gym is that you will know the gym better than anyone else. You will have full knowledge of all the equipment, the class timetables, and the busy and quiet periods of the day.

If anything, a fitness instructor makes the perfect salesperson as long as they have the confidence to close the sales.

The best way for you to start your journey into sales would be to shadow the salespeople on their tours or even offer to take them yourself. This will give you some experience of this very important part of the role.

I would also ask the salespeople if they have any advice on closing techniques (ways to make the sale) that will help you reach your sales target each month. There may be certain things they say or promote that increase the likelihood of someone joining your gym in particular that works very well.

Once you feel you have the confidence to start making sales, I would ask a salesperson if you can take a prospective member through a tour, and then go through the membership options with them. Once you have this down and you have some experience, it’s time to ask your gym manager if you can join your gym’s sales team, or find out if any other local clubs that require a salesperson.

Selling personal training on the gym floor is a tough thing to get good at, so any advantage you can give yourself will make your transition into personal training much smoother.

Become the King or Queen of motivation by becoming a group exercise instructor

spin bikes

If you love teaching your morning, lunchtime, and evening classes and really get a buzz from seeing people working to their maximum, working as a group exercise instructor could be a great path for you.

You will usually need to be fairly creative in order to make fun classes for the members that attend, I say “usually”, because some companies have their own workouts and programs that you will be taught how to instruct in their way.

This can be a tiring role, as in most cases you will be teaching several classes a day and may also involve quite a bit of traveling around from gym to gym if you are planning on teaching in multiple clubs, which is the more common way of making an income from this role.

How we are going to get you there

For most gyms to allow you to use their studios, you will need to have some sort of qualification, an exercise to music qualification is usually all it takes, which is no more difficult than what you would have already learned in your level 2 instructor course. The subject matter will obviously differ, and there will be some practical courses to take, but they aren’t too difficult from what I have heard from group ex-teachers I’ve spoken to.

Once you have your qualification you will likely need to take quite a leap of faith, as many gyms already have an established group of teachers that take their spinning or barbell-based classes. This means you will need to leave your current role as an instructor when you have been offered a gym to work in.

Alternatively, if you’d like an extra bit of security and have an excellent manager that you get on well with, you could ask them to move your shifts around so that you could continue to work as an instructor in your gym, then teach evening sessions as a freelance group-ex teacher. This is something I am also aware of happening in the city quite a lot.

Be the first friendly face people see by working on reception

gym reception staff

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed the fitness aspect of being an instructor, but it’s not for everybody. So, if you want to leave the more physical side of fitness, but want to stay in a high-energy environment, why not consider working at the reception desk instead?

You’ll get to talk to lots of great members and help them with their inquiries, and from my own experiences of working at the reception desk at peak time can be pretty exciting!

As part of the reception team, you will be more focused on giving great customer service, resolving member issues, and answering questions. You will also be responsible for answering the phones, booking people into classes or tours, and possibly selling food and drink if your gym provides them.

There will be admin duties to cover like making sure the till is correctly counted up and logged at the end of the day and storing the cash in the safe.

You may be asked to help promote any deals the gym is offering or ask people to sign up for gym challenges that can help with member retention.

How we are going to get you there

You won’t need any specific qualifications to work on the reception at most gyms, but if you have experience from previous roles it’s certainly helpful to let the hiring managers know about it.

You will need to be a people person, so you’ll need to be highly approachable and you need to be able to deal with high-pressure situations pretty well because once the lunchtime rush hits, things get pretty hectic pretty quickly, so you will need to be able to remain calm. Multi-tasking skills will also be a huge advantage.

The transition from the fitness team to the reception team should be one of the easiest on this list, as you can again shadow people working on the gym during your shift (if your manager agrees), so you can learn how things work before you begin the role.

If there are no roles in your current gym, you can start to look around your company’s job boards to see if you can be moved to another branch requiring front-of-house staff. Coming from a background where you have already worked within the industry will give you a huge advantage over other applicants.

Upgrade to fitness manager

fitness manager

This is probably the easiest path to take. There will be a lot of shadowing, but if you get on well with your fitness manager, this should be pretty good fun.

Being a fitness manager means you will be in charge of organizing the fitness team. You’ll be in charge of making sure that all the tasks are completed at the right times, classes are covered and the fitness team is doing their jobs properly.

You will also be in charge of some more of the administrative tasks of running the gym, such as managing the monthly budget, approving staff holiday requests, and covering staff sickness absences. It’ll also be down to you to make sure that the gym is complying with all health and safety standards. You will, however, unfortunately, have the unenviable task of dealing with member complaints!

You do get paid quite a bit more than a fitness instructor, but this is because the role comes with a lot more responsibility.

How we are going to get you there

As soon as you decide this is a path that you’d like to take, or even if it’s just something that you are curious about, talk to your manager to see if they will let you shadow them and take on some of their roles.

This is exactly what I did, and I learned a lot in a very short period of time.

My manager would let me sit with him to see how certain tasks were completed, I would take notes, and the next week, I would complete the task. This is a great way of learning how to do with the role without the worry of getting things wrong.

It gave me the confidence to know that I would have my manager help me out if I had forgotten a procedure.

Moving into the role doesn’t require any additional qualifications, and your experience as a fitness instructor will certainly help you land a role, as you will already understand what is required of the fitness teams you will be in charge of.

Unless your current manager is looking to stand down, you will need to work together to find a club that is looking for a new manager. This may take some time as any managerial role is highly sought after and would have lots of applicants. However, if your current manager can put in a good word for you with the local gym managers you will probably stand a much better chance than an outsider to the brand.

Be in charge of your own gym by becoming a gym manager

gym manager

Now we are getting into the big leagues!

Ok, so you won’t be able to move from a fitness instructor to a manager straight away you will need to gain experience as a fitness manager first, but this is the next step after that.

As a gym manager, you are in charge of the entire gym and all the staff in it. You will report to the area and regional managers and will be in charge of the gym’s monthly budgets, building and presenting financial reports, hiring staff and ensuring appropriate training is given where needed, and a whole lot of other administration tasks.

This is one of the least physical jobs you can get in the gym, as you will be more office-based and at a desk for most of your day, rather than teaching classes or helping members. This is not always the case, but the vast majority of gym managers would agree.

How we are going to get you there

This one’s a little trickier than the others because the job is now getting seriously competitive. Working as a gym manager nets you quite a decent paycheque, so there will be a lot of people going for the role as soon as it becomes available (which is not often at all).

It’s important to say that a degree is not required for you to land this role if you can show great managerial skills and have made a big impact on your company in your previous roles. However, people that have a sports science, health, or business management degree are obviously going to have the upper hand.

To give yourself the best chance possible of landing this role, my advice would be to follow the same path as getting into fitness management i.e. shadowing and completing tasks to build confidence. Whilst you are working as a fitness manager, if you have the time for it, I would heavily recommend taking an online course or even an online degree in business management, etc to give yourself the advantage.

You will not have an easy time working as a manager and studying at the same time, but if you want to be a gym manager, this may have to be something you consider. I would say in the long run, the paycheque and other benefits probably outweigh the cons of the role by a considerable amount.


As you can see, you are in no way stuck in a rut whilst working as a fitness trainer. In fact, there are a ton of opportunities pretty much everywhere you look.

I would consider working as a fitness instructor your first step in the door of the fitness industry, from there, you can branch out in many different directions to wherever feels the most comfortable to you.

The biggest piece of advice I can give when talking about career progression from a fitness instructor is “Try before you buy“. You are in a great place to try loads of different roles whilst you are being paid to work on the fitness team.

Give something a go, if you don’t like it, cross it off the list and keep trying different things until you find something that you like.

Whichever route you decide to take, I wish you the best of luck.

Go get ’em!

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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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