Personal Trainers: 6 Things To Know Before Leaving Your 9-5

Personal Trainers: 6 Things To Know Before Leaving Your 9-5

September 12, 2019
Author: Stefanie Gordon

Ah, life as a fitness instructor. It may call to mind images of palm trees lightly bobbing together through the breeze like a conga line, as you sip on a green coconut while instructing your island fitness class.

The full-time fitness trainer image is probably tempting if you’re imprisoned in a cubicle and hate your job. I had a corporate job that I despised. With a strange mix of recklessness and unwarranted optimism that defined my early twenties, I quit to become a Pilates instructor. While I feel much happier and more fulfilled now, the journey hasn’t been smooth to say the least. Here are six things I wish I had known before I quit my corporate job to become a certified fitness trainer.

What You’ll Miss:

1. Personal Trainers Don’t Get That Sweet Comp Package: You’ll no longer receive a set salary every two weeks. Most fitness instructors are contract employees, meaning you get paid when you work, don’t get paid when you aren’t with a fitness client (or paid a minimal amount when prospecting), and, likely, your gym or fitness studio is under no obligation to give its personal trainers any benefits. Some fitness centers say they offer benefits once you hit a weekly or monthly minimum of clients (I’ve seen 25 hours a week bandied about at some studios) but this is actually a much more challenging goal than it sounds. Even if you’re able to get 25 hours of paying fitness clients a week, this is completely dependent on your clients’ reliability.

2. Personal Trainers Don’t Get the Same Upward Mobility: In many office jobs, there’s a clear ladder to climb. Stay in one job title with a certain salary for a defined amount of time, and you’ll be promoted to the next job title with a bigger salary and better benefits. Fitness training, for the most part, is completely absent of this. Sure, if you earn a couple different fitness certifications you might be bumped up to the equivalent of a senior fitness instructor, but the pay increase will be minimal and it really doesn’t mean all that much.

3. Personal Trainers Don’t Have a Reliable Routine: The lack of daily structure and routine can feel jarring at first. If you’re used to being in a structured school or work setting for most of your life, get ready for your routine and time blocks to poof! disappear. In the fitness industry, there most likely won’t be many AM breakfast meetings, emails that need to be sent out at the end of day or reports due by Friday.

What You’ll Put Up With:

1. Personal Trainers Work Erratic Hours: Get ready to teach early AMs, late PMs, and have a weird break in the middle of the day. You’ll need to teach group fitness classes or have personal training sessions when there’s demand, which in most cases will be at the crack of dawn and later at night. Fitness instructors work from 5am-10am and then 5pm-10pm, so your free time is typically at a really bizarre time of day. Sitting at a café with a latte in the middle of the day seems appealing, until it gets old and you realize you’re completely exhausted and only getting 5 hours of sleep a night.

2. Personal Training Session Sales: As an instructor, your gym or studio may require you to be present for certain hours without have any clients on your schedule. It’s called prospecting—being required to be at the gym or studio to speak to members working out to try and convince them to buy personal training sessions. Personal trainers can be expected to be paid a standard (read: low) hourly rate to do all this.

3. Self-Justification: If you spent a lot of money on a college degree, the career switch might be hard to self-justify. I may be especially status conscious and ego-driven but switching from the clearly defined journalism job I had, to teaching Pilates, was difficult for me to explain to my friends and family. It was obviously all in my head and the vast majority were excited for me to do something I found meaningful and interesting.

There you go. If this list hasn’t made you go screaming back to your cubicle, safely ensconced with free cold brew and health insurance, then you’re probably ready to make the jump to become a personal trainer. My road to fitness success can best be described as an exhilarating slog, but it’s a slog I am very happy to be making.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProSight Specialty Insurance Group, Inc. or any of its parents, subsidiaries or affiliates.

About Stefanie Gordon

Stefanie Gordon is a STOTT PILATES Level 2 certified instructor and PMA-CPT. She completed a mentorship in Pilates for Runners and Prenatal Pilates with the Kane School in NYC, and is a Pre/Postnatal Pilates Specialist and Diastasis Recti Recovery Specialist with The Center for Women's Fitness. Stefanie is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, and is additionally trained in CoreAlign levels 1, 2, & 3. When she isn't teaching fitness, she can be found writing or spending time with her husband, daughter, and husky. .