Train for a New Career
Train for a New Career: Personal Trainer
Leading others toward a positive lifestyle
If you’re like me, you’ve always envied the personal trainers in Southern California who not only have the best bodies in town, but also get paid to have fun on the job. It’s a win-win lifestyle for those who love working out and teaching others how to achieve their own fitness goals. And it’s definitely a career for an action-oriented people person.
On the Job
Linda Okwor had been an athlete in track and field since age 12, winning titles in international fitness competitions in the U.S. and New Zealand. She graduated from the personal training program at California State University, Dominguez Hills and is now the co-owner of her own training center, BWell Fit. “My most favorite thing [about being a fitness professional] is knowing that I helped save a life ... helped a bride look fabulous on her big day, improved the bond between a family or couple, or improved the quality of life of someone,” she said. “The most challenging part is getting people to stay motivated, dedicated and ‘work the program.’ We spend many hours with our clients assessing them, even looking at their medical history and blood tests; we customize a personalized program for them."
Brian Richardson trained with the National Academy of Sports Medicine after receiving a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from San Diego State University. "I take so much pride in sharing what I have learned through elite-level competition as well as academia. Whether inspiring an athlete’s self-worth, encouraging an individual to battle breast cancer, assisting an individual on their turbulent road to successful rehabilitation, or helping an Olympian achieve their dream of Olympic gold, there are many facets of this diamond.”
Janet Simpson, an instructor at CSUDH, said one option for personal trainers is to work in corporate environments that harbor a gym for their workers. "These gyms are generally staffed, the pay is good and the benefits are the same as working at the corporation,” she said. Simpson also cited cardiac rehab centers, physical therapy offices or even starting a new business as work options past graduates have found successful. “Some of our graduates start their own companies specializing in a specific market such as children, seniors or cancer survivors,” she said. “Many students just want to compliment an already lucrative career with their passion for exercise.”
In the Classroom
Simpson said there are two programs at CSUDH: a certificate program to become a personal fitness trainer, and an online program certifying students in sport and fitness psychology. Each one is taught over a six-week period consisting of 15 hours of hands-on practical training and 15 hours of lectures on topics that include anatomy, exercise physiology, nutrition, musculoskeletal injuries and health screening.
Bryan College offers a 15-month occupational associate degree program in advance health and fitness training, where students are prepared to take two national personal training certification tests. Mark Evans, vice president of marketing and admissions for Bryan College, confirmed the future stability of this profession.
Evans shared a survey released by Rodale, Inc., publisher of Men’s Health and Runner’s World magazines, where 84 percent of the people polled said, despite the recession, there is no better time to invest in maintaining health. It seems the unemployed are hitting the gym while searching for jobs in the tough economy.
He added that, “Employers like to see students with college education, such as an associate or bachelor’s degree. The college education is typically a good indicator that the graduate has computer skills, oral and written communication skills, and diet and nutrition education, among other foundational knowledge.”
According to Sheila King, program director at UCLA Extension, fitness instruction courses typically include:
• applied anatomy
• human nutrition
• exercise physiology
• resistance training fundamentals
• fitness testing and health risk appraisal
• exercise prescription/program design
• coaching techniques
• injury prevention
• sports nutrition
• lifestyle coaching
What It Takes
King said the qualities a person needs to be successful in the fitness field include, “… well-educated … certification from a nationally recognized organization, customer service-oriented, outgoing, mature, entrepreneurial and practice healthy living habits themselves. They need the ability to set boundaries and act in a professional manner [and] be able to refer clients to other allied health professionals, such as dieticians, physicians, physical therapists and psychologists.”
One of UCLA’s fitness grads, Deborah Robinson, said, “I was a professional dancer working at Chrysler in the afternoons and performing with a dance company in Detroit. I came to UCLA on full scholarship to work on my master's in dance … I needed to work and started teaching aerobics, and that’s how this 'fitness pro' was born. I have been in the field 25-plus years. I wanted to be a fitness pro because the joy I felt when I moved had to be shared with others. Movement is a way of life; without it we are stuck.”
A Stable Future
Mt. San Antonio College offers an associate degree in liberal arts and sciences with an emphasis in kinesiology and wellness. MTSAC also offers a fitness specialist/personal trainer certificate program. K.C. Lug, MS, HFI, CSCS and health/fitness supervisor there, said, “People are living longer, and the older adult population is growing. It has become well known that exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle that reduces the risk of disease and increases longevity. As long as people make the connection with exercise and a healthy lifestyle there will be a demand for exercise professionals in a variety of settings, including wellness centers, community centers and worksite health promotion.”
Classes included in MTSAC’s program are:
• sports officiating
• first aid and CPR
• psychology of sexuality
• physiology of exercise
• techniques of teaching
• cardiovascular exercise
• weight training
• fitness testing.
Along with strong job satisfaction comes a starting salary of $25,000-$35,000 with an undergraduate degree and no experience. The top trainers in large cities earning $61,000 or more, and it’s not unheard of for elite personal trainers to make $120,000 as private entrepreneurs who may supplement that with training videos, books and endorsement deals.
Many fitness professionals decide to open their own training facilities, like Okwor and her partner, Toneka Pires. “Every day when I wake up with the opportunity to own a successful business I love, I actually want to write a thank you to my old employer for laying me off,” Okwor said.
Love to exercise? Why not consider a career path in the health and fitness field. Financial aid and job placement varies depending on the school and course program. Good luck! ww