You have just decided you want to pursue a Personal Trainer certification — congratulations! This exciting and rewarding career path opens doors to guiding others to live their best possible lives by achieving their fitness and health goals! While this endeavor may seem straightforward (find a gym, get hired, acquire clients, etc.), the day-to-day realities may come as an often unwelcome surprise. Here we explore the potential pitfalls of pursuing a fitness career, enabling you to enter this vast arena with eyes wide open and prepared to succeed.

Sobering Statistics of Personal Training Careers

According to many industry sources, approximately 80% of new personal trainers do not survive in the business longer than 2 years. A variety of reasons contribute to the success or failure of any business endeavor, and personal training seems especially precarious. The frustrations have little to do with one’s expertise in the field; even the most knowledgeable and capable trainers face difficulties at some point. By understanding the ups and downs that make a personal training business so complex, one can begin to get a clear picture of what to strive for and what to avoid.

The Importance of Smart Personal Training Marketing

After securing a position in a gym or community center, your very next hurdle involves finding paying clients. Marketing yourself can feel daunting, and uncomfortable for many, especially if you lack a considerable amount of experience. You may (or should!) be asking yourself the following questions:

How do you make gym members aware of your services?

How can you set yourself apart from the other trainers?

Have you cultivated a unique niche/brand for yourself?

Developing and implementing a successful marketing strategy is perhaps the most crucial component of your business plan. What target audience do you hope to reach?

Identify your strengths and decide what specialty you wish to pursue with clients. Some ideas but certainly not an exhaustive list include: sports-specific training, competitive bodybuilding, youth fitness, senior fitness, corrective exercise, kettlebell training, bodyweight calisthenics, etc.  If your place of employment allows, you may choose to set up a website and link it to your current social media accounts, allowing you to draw from your established contacts. Enticements such as free trials work wonders in your exposure and allow you to showcase your skill; after that, word of mouth helps build your book of business.

Fitness Field Financials

Managing finances often creates difficulties for new personal trainers. When working for a fitness center, your rate of pay may have been established upon getting hired. However, for those trainers seeking to open their own gyms or work as independent contractors, financial considerations and planning must take a front-row seat. Clients sometimes cancel, or move, or choose to continue working out on their own, leaving you with schedule gaps and an unpredictable income stream.

After establishing a rate of pay, securing the services of a financial advisor may help with things such as budgets, insurance, taxes, rent, and keeping track of income versus expenses. Such an individual may also provide guidance as to whether or not your rate of pay is sufficient, too high, or for some reason out of line with current industry standards. Proper paperwork and excellent record-keeping, though tedious and time-consuming, can make the difference between a successful business endeavor and a career flop.

Keep the Clients Coming

Client retention, and the potential of commensurate lost wages, remain a constant worry. Even if your experience with a client has been positive and ongoing, circumstances happen that none of us can control. Job relocation, household expenses, and having met their individual goals can all contribute to clients breaking ties with trainers.

However, in some cases, clients terminate a relationship simply because they feel the trainer fell short of expectations. By listening and understanding when clients express their dissatisfaction, a new trainer can learn ways to improve his skills/communication efforts/demeanor to facilitate moving forward.

Holding Yourself Accountable with Proper Motivation

What motivates you to keep coming to the gym each and every day? All of us have faced motivation challenges at some point in our fitness journeys. While you may allow yourself a rest day from your own workouts, staying motivated for your clients takes this challenge to a higher level.

As a new fitness professional, you may tend to rely upon tried-and-true exercises and routines for many of your clients. This might feel “safe”; but over the course of a few weeks, boredom and monotony may set in, sapping your motivational energy. The possibility of clients not working up to their potential, or who simply lack conviction and therefore do not make progress, can feel frustrating and draining. At such a juncture, try researching new moves, new methods of training (the options abound!), or seeking out the advice of more seasoned co-workers. Online videos and YouTube workouts might just spark something that serves as a springboard for both you and your clients.

Continuing Education

In the dynamic and ever-evolving fitness industry, the importance of ongoing education cannot be overstated. As a personal trainer, your dedication to continuous learning is crucial for staying at the forefront of the field and providing the best possible service to your clients. Explore in-depth why ongoing education matters, the need to stay updated with the latest research and trends, and how you can access valuable educational resources.

Staying current, not only for your certification but also for general edification, requires a fair amount of time and expense. However, the importance of keeping up in this industry cannot be ignored. Staying up-to-date on the ongoing research in the fitness/health industry sets you apart from the average trainer. Our field evolves at a brisk pace, constantly catering to the public’s tastes and demands.

Make sure to allow sufficient time each week/month to learn about new equipment, research data, and even nutrition. Such an investment in time and money renews your commitment to the field and helps with motivation; by remaining informed, sharp, and competitive, you can certainly guide your clients in the best possible manner.

Self-Assurance versus Over-Confidence

Every employer embraces a client who arrives at work eager and ready to perform. However, in the case of a brand-new personal trainer, employers often witness the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. The Dunning-Kruger Effect refers to a cognitive bias in which individuals with low ability or knowledge in a particular domain tend to overestimate their competence. When it comes to personal training, failing to recognize the Dunning-Kruger Effect can hurt both clients and trainers, and ultimately affect the gym as a whole.

Consider what occurs when an individual without much experience erroneously purports that his skill set rates better than reality reveals. Do not jump to malicious intent; rather, one’s limited understanding of this newly chosen career may prevent him from fully comprehending all of the subtleties involved. Thus, we can understand how easy it becomes to overestimate one’s abilities without honest regard for his beginner status and base-level education.

The result of this scenario hits many panic buttons:

  • The trainer may provide incorrect form leading to injury, or training that does not foster positive growth for clients
  • Often new trainers fall prey to the “cookie-cutter” mentality, forgetting that each client comes to the gym with unique needs
  • The trainer may not realize his need for additional guidance from either his supervisor, continuing education seminars, or from observing other trainers.

For any individual new to a field, seeking out and establishing a reliable network of like-minded professionals can highlight areas that need attention, create an atmosphere of mutual support/feedback, and in general help strengthen one’s professionalism.

Do You Need a Mentor?

A wise new trainer acknowledges the fact that he has not yet learned everything about fitness and the personal training business. As mentioned above, the fitness industry is constantly in flux; as such, personal training, finding a mentor who can challenge and educate you in new areas of development can only bolster your career success.

Mentors bring with them a wealth of experience, gained from years on the job. They can help a new trainer dodge many of the traps so often stumbled into during the early years. Mentors can help expose your areas of weakness, and help you grow in many ways. By remaining open to constructive criticism, you may find new avenues of communication and healthier ways to interact with clients.

Many professional certification organizations can help direct you to a list of possible mentors and additional learning opportunities. Remember, if you succeed, it makes your certifying body look good, too!

Fatigue and Burnout

We like to think of ourselves in great shape, having worked out for many years before embarking upon a career in personal training. However, many new trainers fail to realize the toll that constantly walking around the gym floor, demonstrating exercises, spotting clients, and picking up stray equipment takes at the end of a busy and successful week of training. Many trainers find themselves experiencing extreme soreness and even overuse injuries simply from performing their jobs, not even taking into consideration their own personal workouts.

Taking a day off now and then helps trainers remain healthy, motivated, and ready to take on clients. Sometimes an hour of stretching at the end of each day suffices; yet there may come a time when the threat of burn-out looms large. If we fail to care for our own bodies, not only do we set a poor example to our clients, but we render ourselves incapable of optimally providing the service they deserve.

Clients Who Aren’t a Good Fit

Working with clients who have unrealistic expectations or who do not seem committed to their fitness goals can provide a significant and difficult challenge for new personal trainers, particularly if the clients come to the gym with a less-than-stellar attitude. While we may try our best to state expectations and establish working guidelines in the pre-training assessment, we need to remain open to the possibility that the trainer-client relationship simply does not mesh.

Often clients wish to exercise like their friends, when in fact that particular modality may lead to injury, due to some mechanical weakness they do not realize they possess. Thus, our job must balance clients’ expectations with what we deem realistic and safely achievable. This involves the delicate skill of active listening and delicate but meaningful communication.

Clear Communication for Effective Training

As we just mentioned, clients often arrive at the gym with certain exercises in mind. Sometimes they may fail to recognize that, while fun and easy, those exercises will not propel them towards their goals.

Personal trainers must draw upon their education and experience when working with a client who arrives at the gym and mentions that he tweaked his back raking leaves; this leaves you no choice but to alter/adapt your carefully prepared workout on the fly. While such situations cannot be avoided, assessing a potential new client in advance affords you the opportunity to explain why you might choose a different weight machine or particular exercise. Balancing his wishes with what you know will and will not work, you can communicate and collaborate to manage his expectations safely and effectively.

Bottom Line

Newly certified personal trainers will definitely make in difference in the lives of their clients. It just takes time, hard work, and the willingness to look “beyond the surface” when dealing with all kinds of people. Building trust /rapport with a client takes requires time and patience. Your clear communication skills will, over time, create a bond of confidence.

Partnered with joint goal-setting, progress evaluations, and reasonable flexibility on your part can help with client retention, which typically leads to word-of-mouth endorsements to the client’s friends. Before you know it, three more people wish to hire you…all because you were professional and took the time to listen and explain. My golden words of advice? “Clients do not care how much you know; they really want to know how much you care.” Get out there and show them!


Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at She welcomes your feedback and your comments!