When you go to a doctor, read an article about health, search the web using the term, “sustainable health”, you’ll hear and read about the importance of exercise and physical activity.
Responding to the growing research that shows that 50-to 90-year-olds benefit from regular physical activity, people are turning to personal trainers and fitness clubs. While many are encouraged by studies that show out-of-shape 50-year-olds can restore their aerobic capacity to what it was in their 20s, others turn to fitness training to help fight specific conditions or diseases.
As a result, the field of personal training is expected to have grown by 27 percent by 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This translates into opportunities for a sustainable livelihood. So if you’re one of those people who say, “Exercise will always be a part of who I am,” and you obtain the needed training to teach others and have good people skills, fitness is a business you can consider. A nursing or social work background helps in that you understand the difficulties of getting people to think about their selves in a healthy way. Similarly, teaching can be a helpful background, since training and coaching require the ability to explain things to people.
You can join the field of fitness in any of several ways.
- You might become a personal trainer, teacher, coach, motivational speaker, or all of these rolled into one. You can work with clients of all sizes and shapes or you can focus on the huge over fifty population, or some other market like people in rehabilitation, people with diseases (such as arthritis, cardiac or musculo-skeletal problems, and diabetic conditions), people with disabilities, overweight people, executives and professionals with limited time, beginners, children, teens, or pregnant women.
- If you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in athletic training, you can work as an athletic trainer. Athletic trainers work in sports medicine, for corporations, the government, and the performing arts. They require a license in 47 states.
- Creating an app for a specialized market that will supplement your coaching and be a marketing tool. Hundreds of iPhone and Android apps are available, some producing income.
You can practice as either a generalist or a specialist in any of several areas: aerobics, aquatic exercise, group fitness instruction, indoor cycling, diet and nutrition, Pilates technique, yoga, sports training, strength conditioning, or weight training.
In general, personal fitness trainers design workout routines for individuals or small groups and meet with their clients to guide them through workouts one to three times a week. Some trainers rent space in a gym, or they meet clients at a commercial gym, in which case they usually need approval or certification to teach at that gym. Some trainers have clients come to their own homes where they have the necessary equipment. Others go to their clients’ homes because some people don’t want to go to a public gym or don’t have time in their day to go somewhere else. And finally, some trainers meet clients in a natural venue, such as at the beach, in a park, or up in the mountains.
Personal trainers usually love their work. Most will tell you that they are proud to have a positive effect on their clients’ health and well-being. For example, Patricia Myers-Marano, had long been interested in helping people. After a career in personal coaching, she began a fitness training business at age 51. Patricia specializes in weight training. She has clients come to her home where she works with them either one-on-one or occasionally in twosomes when a pair of friends wants to motivate each other by taking a class together.
Patricia recently went back to school to get a Master’s degree in nutrition, which will allow her to discuss nutrition in depth with her clients. Patricia comments that her clients are often women in their 60s who see men looking good at that age and feel that they too want to remain active and vibrant in their middle age
To break into the field, you need to be physically fit, since your own health and appearance are your best advertising for potential clients to literally see the results of your experience and knowledge. Being fit is also required because you need to demonstrate how to do an activity or often must work out alongside your clients. Assuming you look healthy, being over age 50 can be an advantage in your marketing too, as younger potential clients may think, “Gee, I’d like to look that good when I’m at that age.”
Though the fitness profession is not regulated by state or federal laws, many trainers get certified in their field through a professional organization that provides education, testing, and credentials. If you want to teach or rent space at a commercial gym, you usually need to show a certification, which we discuss in the Where Next section. You need expertise in the type of training you do as well as safety and health issues. You can’t afford to cause a client to get hurt, or to have a lawsuit on your hands due to injury.
Fitness training can be provided by phone or Internet, driven by the irony that people seem to have less and less time to see a trainer in person. To solve this dilemma, they sign up with a coach, who meets them once in person for a background interview, medical history, lifestyle evaluation, and goal-setting. The coach then prepares a plan for the client and they stay in touch via weekly phone calls or e-mails to track progress and get ongoing motivation to overcome obstacles. Some coaches use heart-rate monitors, pedometers or software to track the client’s exercise and diet progress. It is predicted that the next development in long distance coaching will tap into Webcam technology so that coaches can demonstrate their techniques, check that their clients are moving correctly, and even verify if the clients really look like they shed those extra fifteen pounds they claim they lost.
Happy clients who tell and importantly show friends their progress and provide referrals are the key to building a busy practice, so encourage referrals.
In markets that are glutted with trainers, like Los Angeles, seek a specialization that allows you to market to a specific group like seniors to lower their risk of everyday injuries and maintain their independence, or specific conditions, like people with (AIDS), alcoholism/substance abuse, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, diabetes, eating disorders, emphysema, fibromyalgia, hemophilia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, organ transplant, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease traumatic brain injury. If you work with special populations, you’ll need additional training and experience to recognize contraindications. Secondary certification with a recognized credentialing organization may be needed to get referrals from professionals.
In addition to choosing a training specialization for your work, consider adding other aspects of health care that enable you to present a holistic approach to wellness, such as nutrition counseling and stress reduction.
Associations and Certification
With over 300 certifications for personal trainers available from many organizations, certification is relatively easy to get in this field. Are some certifications more recognized than others? Credentialing organizations that have been accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the certifying arm of the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) are more apt to recognized by clubs, should you want to work with one, and if you’re a veteran, you can use your GI benefits to pay for professional certification tests. At this writing only, a few organizations even among these leading organizations, are accredited:
Aerobic and Fitness Association of America
American Fitness Professionals and Associates
American Fitness Training of Athletics
American Fitness Professionals & Associates
Fitness by Phone Coaches
International Dance and Exercise Association
International Fitness Professionals Association
National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Aerobics & Fitness Trainers Association,
National Federation of Professional Trainers
National Strength and Conditioning Association