My Advice to an Aspiring Fitness Professional

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So, just the other day I woke up to an email from an old friend of mine from London – we met back in 2007 when I had just started in the Fitness Industry (working for Virgin Active [Barbican, London] at the time), and he was a trailblazing, high-flying Investment Banker working for one of the biggest Investment Banks in the world.

We reconnected via LinkedIn over a year ago, and it was great to be in touch again! He’s been in Hong Kong and Singapore since our days back in “The City”, and meanwhile, I’d been in Korea, Spain and ultimately wound up here in the Pacific Northwest Region of the States.

Anyhow, so he was reaching out on behalf of his partner – he wanted to see if I’d be happy to give her some advice/guidance in relation to starting a new career in the Fitness Industry; my natural response was, ‘Of course!! Ping her my details, and I’ll answer any questions she fires my way!’.

The next morning, I was delighted to wake up to her email:

Hi Chris,

How are you? Hope you don’t mind Rhys passed me your email. 
We are planning to moved back to UK on the end of the summer and I am kind of thinking to do a PT course there. 
Fitness was always a big part of my life and I would love to do something that I genuinely love and feel strong about.
Hope you don’t mind me asking, but could you recommend me the “way to go”, course, or perhaps the gym facility that I could start from please?
It seems that UK it’s quite flooded with courses and fitness qualifications, but quantity does not mean quality, so if you could give me a recommendation I would be very grateful please.

Thank you for a good read and a great podcast to listen to, very kind of you.

Hope you are having a great weekend and looking forward to your response.


I love when people actually take action and reach out! It’s great to be the first person that comes to mind, and especially in the context of what I love doing for a living. So, I already knew I was going to give Klaudia the most thorough reply possible. When I reached the end and sent it, I knew this was something I wanted to share with my CXP Fitness Community also. I’ve added a few notes [marked in blue] to make it relevant to my U.S. readers/listeners also (as my advice was applicable to the UK Fitness Industry). Anyhow, here’s my reply:

Hi Klaudia,

I’m very well thanks – enjoying a nice, relaxing weekend to myself while my other half is out of State on a course (she’s a Physical Therapist, trying to now do her specialism in Orthopaedics).

And oh gosh, of course – it would be my pleasure to help!

So, let’s start with who to do your qualifications with, then go from there…

I whole heartedly recommend: Premier Global (who are now partnered with NASM*). Ever since I started in the Industry – doing Sales at Virgin Active, which is how I actually met Rhys! – I knew that Premier was the best of the best! The most veteran / highly regarded Trainer I worked with was the only one on the Fitness Team (of my first Club – Barbican) who was Premier-certified.

*If you’re a U.S. reader/listener, then NASM is the way to go!

I knew even years before that too – as a Member of my first gym (back in my late teens), I would always pick the brains of the Trainers, and asked the same kind of questions you’re asking me. Everyone agreed that Premier was/is #1.

So, that’s where you should start. Note: they’re more expensive than most others (like YMCA, FutureFit, etc)… but you pay for what you get. In this case, they’re the gold standard!

As for the “way to go”…

This might be the most important part to consider!

You can simply get your [Basic] Level 2 Gym Instructor Certification, then add some other Level 2 / “Group X” certifications like: Kettlebell Instructor / Suspension Training Instructor (think: TRX) / Circuit Instructor / Zumba / Spin Instructor / Metafit Instructor (this is my *favourite*!!)… And the list goes on.

Group X (“Group Exercise”) is a lot of fun! I have always integrated it into my weekly schedule. It livens things up, keeps it interesting, and for the most part… it’s “Done for you” (i.e. you deliver pre-made workouts, which don’t require too much effort or thought – you just rock up and roll!). Occasionally you may find yourself with the freedom to “create” a Group X Class – some kind of Circuit Class for example, which will require thought/pre-planning; but if you’re creative and passionate like I am, this will actually be a good thing!

Group X is motivational, it’s ‘in-out-done’, it’s low accountability (in terms of you having to *encourage* people to show up – if they enjoy it, they’ll come every week!).

Then we have Personal Training…

This is a different beast altogether! This is a “Do Not Enter [if you’re not prepared]” kind of deal. Because trust me, I have seen plenty of people fork out the cash to get certified up to Level 3 (Personal Trainer), only to walk right back out the door a few months later…

This is 1-on-1 Training (mostly – though you can certainly find yourself offering 2-on-1 for Couples/Friends or even Small Groups). The dynamic, however, is very different! You’re not blaring music and “vibing” off one another. It doesn’t have the same level of fun as Group X (most of the time).

You have to individualize everything! You have to make programs for your Clients that are appropriate for their needs, their level [of fitness], and their goals. You have to keep track of their progress every single session. You have to constantly “evolve” their programming – as they grow fitter and stronger, they’ll need to be challenged at every turn in order to “make gains” (whether we’re talking about losing bodyfat, gaining muscle, or improving performance).

You also need to consider demographic – we all wanna train inspiring, self-motivated individuals; we’d love to train athletes – people who we can reallyyyy push! But the reality is – and read this again if needed: If you work for a big chain (Virgin Active / Bannatyne / Fitness First / etc*)… You will have to work with whoever you’re presented with, and for the most part, this might mean: stressed, de-conditioned people with very little motivation (outside of realizing that they need to get fit & healthy [again]).

*For U.S. gyms, think: LA Fitness / Anytime Fitness / Planet Fitness

In fact, you’ll find that you’re having to give tons of *free* “Fitness Orientations/Consultations” where people just expect a free program and to be on their merry way! While these are great opportunities to meet prospective Clients, you do NOT want to simply dish out free programs – it will quickly devalue your services as a Trainer! It’s more an opportunity to showcase your expertise, and highlight what gaps they might have in their knowledge, and how you’ll be able to help.

Personal Training is a LOT of hard work! But it is also the most rewarding! You get to genuinely change lives (if you’re good at what you do and can actually help people achieve results!).

Group X Instructors are fun, and they bring people to the gym a few times per week… but I have watched Members attend the same Group X Classes for *years*, and not see the results they’d hoped for; they’re a hell of a lot *fitter* than they were a year or two prior, but generally, they’ve not seen much in the way of ‘cosmetic results’ (i.e. losing the bodyfat that they’re wanting to get rid of). The “secret” here is: lifting weights (effortfully!!)… Fact is, all they’ve achieved is improved muscular endurance. But they haven’t gained much muscle, thus not really increasing their metabolism, and therefore, not losing as much fat as they could have.

Also, in Group X, they receive ZERO advice regarding Nutrition / Supplements / Rest & Recovery… Whereas with Personal Training, all of that would (should) be addressed.

As you can see – there is a lot more that goes into being a Personal Trainer. I don’t want to scare you off though, just mentally prep you for what to expect!

If you decide to become a full-fledged Personal Trainer, then Level 3 is as far as most need to go. There are more advanced qualifications – Level 3 (+) and Level 4, for example – but unless you wish to learn about / work with people who have health conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis / Diabetes / Osteoporosis / etc. then this isn’t necessary.

I did go “the whole hog”, so to speak. And so, I fall under the <10% of Trainers in the Industry who have done these advanced courses, but only because I knew I wanted to have the knowledge to help as many people as possible! And so far – in my career – I’m glad I did, because I have met a buck-load of people who have had complex conditions that I wouldn’t have known how to help had I not done the advanced courses!

My recommendation might be this: start off with Level 2 – see how you enjoy teaching Group X first. If you find that you truly want to make “a bigger difference” to people on an individual level, then maybe go ahead and attain Level 3.

As for who to work for…

I worked at Virgin Active, and they’re great! In fact, I recommended them to a young guy I met when I did my courses, and he’s been with them ever since! The company has seriously great perks/benefits, and the pay is reasonable.

*Here in the U.S. the first place I “gravitated towards” was OrangeTheory Fitness – they’re a solid choice, pay pretty damn well, and you can seriously create your own “following” (of sorts) – i.e. Members who rave about YOUR Classes (if you’re truly great at what you do!).

However, if you’re more into “Traditional Lifting”, then you’d rule them out because they don’t have those facilities. In this case, I would recommend a smaller, locally owned gym [over a big chain]. They’ll have more flexibility [regarding your hours, etc], and pay better than the “big chains”!

Although I walked through OTF’s doors first, I ultimately wound up at a local gym here in Wilsonville, and they check all the right boxes, plus they have all the equipment I could want – Rowers, Olympic Racks, BoxMasters, TRXs, Kettlebells, Pull Up Bars, and tons more!

The one “big chain” that I might have considered (if one were local to me) is: UFC Gyms… given my love of Martial Arts I could see myself wanting to do something a little more MMA-based with them though, so…

I have also worked at Bannatyne… I don’t recommend working there… Also, the following places aren’t exactly “great”: David Lloyd / Fitness First / LA Fitness – they all pay pretty damn poorly, and their employees get milked for everything they’re worth!

*American context: we’re pretty much looking at the same ones mentioned earlier – Planet Fitness / Anytime Fitness / etc. When I moved here to Oregon, I ruled them out straight away because I’ve been in the Industry since 2007, and I know that things at these big chains haven’t changed one iota…

I was head-hunted by GymBox (which is solely London-based); they are the BEST!! You’ll earn the most there. But… the setup is different! Unlike all the others I have mentioned, you get no hourly-wage or salary. And in fact, you have to pay them “rent” every month. However, you keep 100% of what you make! (All the other Clubs/Gyms will take a BIG percentage of what you charge [as a Personal Trainer]!!). The earning potential is massive though – every GymBox has several Trainers training Clients at any given moment. A lot of other places, you’re lucky to see more than TWO Trainers on the gym floor actively delivering sessions!

GymBox is also very difficult to get an offer from though… most of their Personal Trainers are former Elite Athletes! I think the reason I was offered work there was because during my [3-4hr] interview I demonstrated an extremely high “Fitness IQ” (ranging from technical training-related topics to current trends in the Industry and even an in-depth knowledge of how and where those trends evolved from); added to a level of self-started hustle that they simple require. (Being a black belt in two Martial Arts, trained by a Royal Marine Commando – in Metafit – as well as a 6x World Champion Rower – for Shockwave – probably helped too!).

*My recommendation for an equivalent to GymBox would be somewhere like Equinox! If they were close to where I live, I’d seriously have gone to them first. Check ‘em out (Google them) and you’ll see why!

Another option you might consider is setting up your own business… if you have the means/resources… you can do things “your way”. For most people in the Fitness Industry, this is ‘the dream’. But it is also the hardest to achieve – the startup capital, business acumen, ability to put systems in place to run your business efficiently, assembling a Team of like-minded individuals (if/when you decide to grow/expand), understanding cashflow & taxes… It’s messy / complicated / risky / but with the greatest possible ROI (Return On Investment).


Those are your options.

Get qualified through Premier Global – they are the best!

(NASM if you’re in America)

Do Level 2 – usually, you will find that they bundle courses to include stuff like Kettlebell certifications as well as Circuits (for example), which is a nice bonus!

Contemplate Level 3 very carefully! But don’t worry about more advanced courses than that unless you plan to actively pursue Clients that warrant such expertise.

Virgin Active is a safe place to start. GymBox is ideal if you can get a foot in the door!

(OrangeTheory Fitness or UFC Gym are solid choices. Equinox is incredible if you’re near one)

And if you have the network / potential “ready-to-roll” Client base / resources (financial and otherwise) to “go it alone” you could try that.

I hope this helps! Sorry – really, REALLY long email here!

Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with, and I promise I’ll only write an email half as long next time! (Kidding – I’ll be far more concise/to the point than that!).

Hoping that you and Rhys are having an awesome weekend!



So, that’s my advice to an aspiring Fitness Professional!

I’ve gone ahead and sprinkled in a ton of extra advice / references for my American compadres; for my readers/listeners in other countries – my blog & podcast stats show that you guys are tuning in from well over *20* countries around the world!! So, I’m sorry that I don’t have examples for you all, but my advice maintains the same flow of:

Beware of the big [corporate] gyms – do your research (thoroughly), and if you can, try to talk to someone who already works there (maybe you know someone already? If not, go find someone!).

Consider going local (but be conscious of how “cliquey” they might be!).

Explore your options – do your homework on these places!! (Last thing you wanna do is rock up not knowing crap about them! And I mean this as much for big companies as well as small ones).

And to circle back to qualifications/certifications – again, you’d do well to talk to a few different people who are already in the industry (in your country), and get their honest feedback/opinions!

Anyhow, that’s all for this one!

Phew! (And breathe!!)

I hope you’ve found this super useful, and better yet, I hope it helps propel you into a mega-successful career in this wonderful, crazy, frustrating, inspiring, exhausting, ever-evolving, positive-change-inducing Industry!

I’ll catch you in the next one, but until then, remember: Train Hard, and Train Smart!

Yours in Training,

Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO


UPDATE: Since writing this article and publishing the podcast, Klaudia has since already sent in her application to Premier Global back in London! (Gotta love the pro-active go-getters!!)

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