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Your Step-by-Step Guide on How to Start a Career in Fitness

Health awareness is on the rise in England, and British residents enjoy more fitness choices than ever before. Fitness not only reduces risks of sickness and injury, it imparts a sense of wellbeing to our everyday lives and keeps us happy. Regular fitness activities also help alleviate depression and anxiety and it also aids healthy weight loss. Overall, a regular fitness regime helps us live a longer, stronger and healthier life.

With the impressive number of interesting career options available in the fitness industry, it’s time to decide on the one that best suits your abilities and talents. Compared to say, 20 years back, careers in fitness are well-defined and simpler to pursue than before. The good news is that the fitness industry in the UK offers an abundance of career opportunities for diverse personalities, skill sets and aspirations. What used to be regarded as a hobby or pastime is now considered as a full-fledged employment option. Nowadays, full-time and part-time jobs in the fitness industry are no longer scarce, you can avail of excellent opportunities at the local, regional or even national level. This is a promising time to enter fitness either as a trainer, instructor (for individuals or groups) or specialise in the business side of fitness.

This leads to an interesting line of thought: have you considered the idea of starting a career in fitness?

As a mum returning to work, a career in fitness may be just the right choice for you. A career in the field of fitness is not only an exciting option, it comes with a range of impressive benefits. However, with the myriad choices available in the field, it can be daunting to know how to begin or how to navigate the overwhelming options that exist today. Should you consider narrowing down the possibilities or keep your mind open to diverse options? This article will describe how to kick-start a career in the field of fitness.

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Let’s begin with a brief overview of why you should consider a career in fitness. Each person pursues a career in fitness for different reasons. Some are driven by their wish to help others, others decide to start a career in fitness because a motivating life experience may have instilled an appreciation of fitness (perhaps a personal experience of sickness or injury). In addition, fitness careers are slated to demonstrate dramatic growth and expansion over the next twenty years. Besides, this is one market that will not lose jobs to overseas markets; no customer will be willing to fly overseas just to see a personal trainer.

What are the benefits of a fulfilling career in fitness?

Firstly, you are making a crucial difference to the lives of people by helping them become fitter, healthier and stronger. Many of us look forward to the time that we attend a Pilates or aerobics class before or after a hard day. Fitness makes everyone feel better about themselves so you can look forward to an exciting new day every day. A career in fitness necessarily involves face-to-face contact with people and this way, you get to meet new people all the time.

You are also likely to enjoy more time to yourself during the day as most of your fitness sessions will be before and after work. You can look forward to completing other chores, looking after young children, etc. One of the best perks of becoming a fitness instructor is that you get to be in great physical shape too. This is especially true when you train groups. In addition, many well-reputed gyms and clubs offer exclusive deals and discounts to their staff on merchandise and services, etc.; you’ll get to enjoy the perks.

If you read through the following checklist and most of the answers are ‘yes’, you are probably a good fit for the fitness industry:

  • You have a strong desire to help others (social orientation)
  • You love planning workout routines and schedules
  • You read articles, blog posts and magazines on fitness
  • Your family members and friends often ask you for advice regarding fitness
  • Routine 9 to 5 jobs do not motivate or interest you
  • You enjoy making new friends and possess excellent communication skills (communication skills can always be polished up)
  • You love spending all your free time exercising or at the gym

What does a Career in Fitness Involve?

Once you have identified your interest in the field of fitness, it’s time to understand what the job entails. According to popular belief, a fitness instructor or trainer is often synonymous with a drill sergeant who comes across as intimidating. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Successful fitness instructors are pleasant, communicative people with a friendly disposition. You also need a good working knowledge of anatomy, physiology and psychology combined with the basics of business (if you intend to freelance or open your own business). In fact, you should devote the same time and attention in planning your career in fitness as you would to any conventional occupation like banking or IT.

You may have to design exercise programmes that will potentially help your clients achieve their goals. Fitness trainers also help them adhere to healthy lifestyles and incorporate mindful eating techniques. Starting a career in the intensely competitive fitness industry may seem challenging at first, but once you collect a regular set of clientele, you will find it financially and personally rewarding. Collecting a set of regulars (whether in a club, gym or visiting clients in their homes) takes a little time as you need to establish your credentials and credibility. However, remember that in the field of fitness, word-of-mouth recommendations play a crucial role. Once people begin to see that your clients are starting to looked more toned, stronger and fitter, you are likely to enjoy larger clientele.

For example, you may wish to ask yourself if you want to work for a large or small club or gym or work on a freelance basis. The answer to this question may be related to your own goals and vision. Working for a large or reputed company will provide long-term security, opportunities for promotion and growth. On the other hand, smaller companies will offer improved opportunities to learn the ropes and open your own business someday. Some may enjoy the peace of mind and security that comes with a regular fitness job while others may prefer taking a more entrepreneurial approach.

You not only need to ponder over what you want from your career in fitness, but also how you plan to reach there. As you start, the jobs that you accept along the way may act as stepping stones to the job that you ultimately want. It’s important to have a clear picture of how you want your career to shape up; keep in mind that it will not all happen in a day. But enjoy the journey to your ultimate destination, invest energy and enthusiasm and cherish your job – people will always recognise that. If you pursue your ambitions with passion and keep a close watch your career trajectory, your dreams will certainly transform into reality.

Consider the pluses and minuses of the following options before you actually go to work:

Going back to college

The obvious positive is that you will learn about biology, anatomy and physiology from reputed sources and you will earn a qualification which lends authenticity to your credentials. The negatives include the fact that this takes quite some time (perhaps a minimum of two years) and you may have to spend hundreds of pounds towards the certification. Lastly, formal and classroom education does not always prepare you for real-life training of people physically.

Obtaining certification

Certification again will help you gain knowledge and credibility and, in addition, it will cost less than a qualification from a college. Negatives would include the facts that it is often challenging to decide on reliability and authenticity. Also, being faster to obtain than a college qualification, it does not impart as much knowledge.

A good way is to start working in fitness and perhaps study a little at the same time at your own pace so that you are able to relate the knowledge to your ongoing experience. The earlier you can gain some experience and put it down on your CV, the better it is for future job prospects.

However, although many of us may secretly yearn to start a career in fitness, we may have no idea how to go about it. There is not just one single path to starting a career in fitness, so let’s explore the different career options. Once you understand what each one entails, you can decide to go with the one that resonates with your personal objectives. Further details about different types of fitness career option help make the selection process a more informed one.

Gym Assistant

If you are returning to work after a gap and want to get a foot in the door, try starting out as a gym assistant. Most gyms are extremely busy and need extra help. Although it’s basically a customer service oriented role, you can still get the benefit of gaining fitness training experience. In fact, you can look forward to learning several things while performing your duties.

  • You will learn about the best and safe gym practices
  • Help patrons use gym equipment and encourage fitness practices; specific knowledge of muscle groups targeted by each machine
  • Ensure that gym rules and regulations are maintained
  • Adjust each machine to the requirements of individual patrons
  • Act as first point of contact for prospective patrons; explaining fitness packages, timings and rates, etc.
  • Provide basic assistance to patrons with regard to shoulder and chest presses, squats and lifts (incorrect techniques can result in injury)
  • Oversee maintenance of gym equipment and ensure that they are all in good working order (this helps you learn a lot about the way gym equipment works)
  • Maintenance of cleanliness and hygiene standards
  • Supervising stock control and storage; ordering stocks

The following skill sets are useful in order to become a gym assistant:

  • Good communication and interpersonal skills
  • Ability to work under minimal supervision
  • Organisational and planning skills

You may be required to work weekends or evening hours when the gym is busy. You may also be required to obtain CPR/first aid certification. This may not be the job that you ultimately want to be doing, but it will help to immediately put you on the fitness scene and get updated with exercises, programmes and so on. It will also help you become familiar with gym equipment, fitness machines and so on.

Personal Training

Personal training is one of the most sought after jobs because of the benefits and flexibility associated with it. Moreover, you can work as a personal fitness trainer in a club, gym or through a reputed fitness company. In addition, you can consider freelancing as a fitness trainer and establish your own hours and pay. Being a full time trainer is not only a viable option, it is also one of the most competitive fields to break into. However, regardless of whether you are employed or independent, you may eventually want to consider specialising in training a specific group of clients or developing your own fitness programme. For example, you may wish to focus on beginners, older adults or women.

If you’ve obtained personal trainer certification, then you may wish to first gain experience, contacts and skills as an employee at a gym or club before branching off on your own. Working as a personal trainer with a company will also provide job security and a predictable (but reliable) salary. As you learn the ropes, you can focus on being a personal trainer instead of having to worry about other aspects of the business such as administration, advertising and public relations, etc. Challenges of working as a personal trainer with a company include being obliged to cater to a diverse set of clientele (as opposed to working with specific groups) and also working at fixed hours or timings. If you become popular and well-known, you are likely to earn much more as an independent trainer but this takes time.

Aspiring to work as an independent trainer comes with its own set of benefits and challenges. Benefits include the potential to earn a higher income (you can enjoy your profit margins instead of giving over a sizeable percentage to your employer) and being your own boss. You are likely to enjoy increased flexibility with regard to hours and days, etc. You also have the professional freedom to develop your own fitness routines and programmes geared towards the requirements of your clients. Challenges include added responsibility of handling other aspects of the business such as billing, accounts, marketing, administration, buying equipment and so on. You may also have to rent space at a gym or club to conduct training sessions. You may be a very good fitness trainer but it also pays to develop business development and marketing skills.

30 minutes

In addition, working as a personal trainer involves one-to-one interaction and this means understanding your client’s fitness goals and physical limits. The only factor to bear in mind is that it takes a lot of job experience (with a company or gym) and credibility to be able to gain a foothold as a personal trainer. Once you’ve gained the experience and reputation, you can earn thousands of pounds training clients personally.

Group Trainer

If you plan to return to work as a fitness trainer, becoming a group trainer is a good way to do it. The field of group fitness training is less competitive compared to personal training and it’s an excellent way to learn the ropes. In fact, you can expect to be hired as group instructor if you are capable and tuned in to the fitness demands in your local area. You also have the option of striking out on your own and training different groups in the outdoors (in parks, for example), church halls or even in your home. You can work part-time in a company and freelance at the same time (say, in the evenings). This is an excellent way of gaining ongoing experience as well as becoming entrepreneurial at the same time. At one time, choreographed aerobics classes, for instance, were the rage, and fitness instructors had to spend time planning workouts. Nowadays, there are diverse choices available: you can either specialise in choreographed aerobic workouts (if you are inclined towards rhythm and dance movements, go for it by all means), or athletic non-choreographed workouts where you lead the class. This is usually conducted without music.

Every time you teach a class, you are promoting your fitness training skills to a group of enthusiastic and receptive customers. As a matter of fact, many famous personal trainers and directors first made their name by training groups. By keeping your ultimate aspiration in mind, you can strive to build career momentum by working as a group fitness trainer and working on other fitness endeavours at the same time. This will help you gain comprehensive experience while enhancing your skill set at the same time. The main benefit is becoming a group trainer puts you directly in front of prospective clients. Moreover, group training is fun and collaborative.

Challenges include the fact that it is difficult to develop specialised training programmes for a diverse group of clients unless you are training special groups. Also, this can be physically exhausting and it may not be possible to train groups day-in and day-out; you may end up over-straining yourself. Hence, group training may not be the right choice for a long-term career but it can serve as an excellent stepping stone to a full-fledged career as a fitness trainer or as a part-time vocation.

Fitness Management

With gyms and clubs mushrooming virtually everywhere, along with training, there is a real, active need for efficient management of the business. Some of us may be more interested in working behind the scenes ensuring smooth operation of fitness businesses rather than training patrons throughout the week. At the same time, you will enjoy a ringside view of the fitness business as you will be actively involved in organising, planning and coordinating schedules. Your job will be ‘on the field’ as you manage administrative and business aspects of the business. In fact, fitness programming and management can be a regular, meaningful and lucrative employment for those who are passionate about the behind-the-scenes action in the fitness industry. You can expect regular pay cheques, perks and benefits (bigger companies will offer medical and dental benefits).

While there a few professionals who work as independent management consultants, this profile is usually associated with being an employee. With the rising number of gyms, franchises, equipment companies and clubs, managerial positions in fitness companies are becoming increasingly popular as a career option. Over time and after gaining the requisite experience, you can expect significant growth in your career and aspire to more senior posts with greater responsibilities and attractive remuneration. Some challenges of becoming a fitness management professional include the ability to multi-task under pressure and juggle multiple responsibilities with efficiency and tact. You may feel overwhelmed at times until you are familiar with the duties and parameters of the job. The duties of a fitness manager can be summarised as below:

  • Meeting target revenues by promotional activities and marketing
  • Recruitment and training of staff for group trainer and personal trainer roles
  • Ensuring that high standards of hygiene and cleanliness are maintained
  • Interaction with individuals as well as corporate clients and ensuring satisfactory client experience
  • Managing supplies, stocks and equipment and coordinating with equipment suppliers and manufacturers for maintenance
  • Preparation and maintenance of daily records, finance management and report generation
  • Coordinating schedules and ensuring maximum utilisation of resources
  • Conflict resolution and staff management

In the early stages of your career, you can hope to earn anywhere between £17,000 and £28,000. As you gain experience and upgrade your skills, you can expect to earn anywhere between £35,000 and £60,000 (or even more for large companies). The job usually involves very little travel (so you need not be nervous about disrupting your family life) and you can also enjoy the prospect of bonuses, perks and pensions. While many companies will provide on-the-job experience and structured training, many times, your ability to learn will depend on initiative.

Many British organisations offer certifications and diplomas for fitness manager training including CIMSPA (Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity) and BASES (British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences).

Health and Wellness Coach

A health and wellness coach helps clients achieve health goals which may or may not have an athletic aspect associated with it. However, health and wellness coaches also fit into gym or club work settings easily and are often sought-after professionals. A health and wellness coach provides information to clients on ways to achieve health (including weight loss) and wellness through diet as well as exercise. The duties and responsibilities of a health and wellness coach will involve:

  • Encourage habits that are conducive to a healthier life and higher fitness levels
  • Develop and implement seminars and talks on health and wellness onsite at gyms, clubs, offices, etc.
  • You will work with clients to explore their lifestyles, habits and environments in order to promote positive choices
  • Communicate and motivate clients to make changes to their lives

As a health and wellness coach, you may work fulltime for a company, part-time or as an independent contractor.

Jobs increasingly involve working on the computer and sitting down in one place. Household chores can be conveniently completed with the help of equipment like washing machines, dishwashers and mixers. As a result, physical activity has reduced since earlier days where we walked long distances to get somewhere or washed clothes or did other physical work that kept us automatically fit and strong. However, the good thing is that there is increasing awareness regarding the importance of fitness. People of all ages and income groups are now beginning to realise that they have to invest special effort into toning and strengthening their body. Moreover, different people prefer different forms of exercise according to their inclination and interests. Some may prefer brisk walking or jogging in the open air while others may prefer an intense gym workout, aerobics, Pilates or yoga.

The important thing to keep in mind is that fitness is not about body aesthetics or weight loss; these are additional advantages. It’s more about toning and strengthening your body for a better quality of life. Fitness awareness is here to stay and the number of people actively pursuing different modes of fitness is increasing every day. Hence, fitness trainers and instructors are in demand.

If fitness is your passion, then pursuing a career in fitness can help add value, meaning and purpose to your life as well as to other people’s lives. Whether it’s personal training or group fitness training or any other career in fitness, you can enjoy a long and successful innings if you’re willing to invest the effort and dedication. The fitness industry in the UK is booming and the sector is generating revenues in millions of pounds. This can promise to be a flourishing career if you adopt the right mindset and attitude.

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