Personal training might seem like a somewhat glamorous profession. Personal trainers are usually fit and healthy, and dress smartly on the gym floor. But personal training isn't only about lifting weights. It has a clear business side, too, and how much money your trainer makes can vary widely. In some cases, what your trainer earns may not even have much to do with what you're actually paying her.
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According to the Salary.com Salary Wizard, as of 2010 the median U.S. salary for a personal trainer is $52,864. As with many professions, experienced personal trainers with advanced training or certification who work with athletes or special needs populations stand to make more than a novice just starting out.
Employee vs. Contractor
Some gyms staff personal trainers as employees, charging set rates -- sometimes tiered according to credentials and experience -- and paying the personal trainers a percentage of those rates. If a trainer is an employee, the gym can also control which types of workouts he offers. Some gyms allow personal trainers to work as independent contractors, giving them more flexibility in how they handle client bookings and fees.
Place of Work
Public gyms aren't the only places a personal trainer can find work. Personal trainers also work with clients in their homes, at recreational centers and high school pools, at private gyms, in a clinical/rehab setting or at sports facilities. Generally speaking, working directly with a client in her home provides the greatest profit for the trainer.
Personal trainers can charge the most for one-on-one training. However, small group training can be more profitable for a trainer -- and economical for the trainees. In a small group training session, each trainee pays slightly less than the fee for individual training, and receives a portion of the trainer's time during a typical one-hour session. The trainer, in turn, receives fees from three or four trainees that add up to more than one individual would have paid for a session. Trainers sometimes offer session "bundles," charging a reduced rate in exchange for a lump purchase of sessions that will be used over time.
Personal trainers typically carry liability insurance, current CPR and first-aid certification, and may have to invest significant amounts of money in continuing education or renewing their personal trainer certifications periodically. If a trainer works as an employee, the employer may cover some or all of these costs. If the trainer works as a contractor, she is usually responsible for these costs, which can drastically reduce her take-home salary.