Personal training can be a healthy, rewarding and flexible career, but like any other job, it has its downsides. Before you go through the time and effort of obtaining a personal trainer certification, make sure the balances of pros and cons work out in your favor.
Personal trainers need to be available when their clients want to train. Some gyms hire personal trainers as employees, in which case you might be required to be available in the gym during certain hours—anywhere between 5 a.m. and late into the evening.
More typically, though, personal trainers work as independent contractors, either in gyms or visiting clients at home. This allows you to negotiate your appointment times with each client, but since you need to work when your clients are available, you often end up working a split shift, with appointments before and after the 8-5 workday and perhaps the occasional lunch-break appointment, but not much in between.
Legalities and Lack of Backup
One of the downsides of working as an independent contractor is that you have to pay your own taxes because you're self-employed. You might also need to carry your own liability insurance, depending on where you work and the exact contract terms.
In addition, as a non-employee, you usually don’t have any backup if you get sick, want a vacation or have to tend to a family emergency. One possible solution for this lack of support is to network with other trainers so they can help your clients during your absence.
Not all clients are in need of a major life change — some just want a session or two to make sure they’re lifting weights correctly or getting the most benefit possible out of their workouts. Other clients’ lives will change as a result of your training. Setting and meeting a long-term weight loss or fitness goal can provide them with a never-before-experienced rush of self-confidence and accomplishment. You don’t get to take credit for their accomplishment, but you do get the fulfillment of guiding them on the way to success.
Unsteady Income and Benefits
As a contractor, you're not on salary for any particular company. Because of that, income can be unsteady. To make money, you're relying on the clients to pay their bills, which isn't always a guarantee. You'll also likely experience high season — such as in January, when people resolve to lose weight — and low season, perhaps in the summer when everyone is on vacation.
You also don't have any employer-sponsored benefits, such as vacation or sick time — therefore, if you don't work, you don't get paid — health insurance or a retirement plan. However, you can obtain the latter two on your own to ensure that you're smartly planning for your future.
Gym Access Perks
Whether you contract with a gym or work as an employee, training in a gym usually means a free membership. You might be surprised to find that after a full day of training others at the gym, the last thing you want to do is stay in the “office” for your own workout. But if you don’t mind extra gym time, are waiting on clients or just need to work up a quick sweat, you have ready, easy access to the fitness facilities.
As an extra bonus, sometimes being an off-duty presence on the gym floor or being willing to hang around and answer questions — first check with gym staff about whether this is allowed — can help you drum up new clients.