Why I Lasted One Week as a Personal Trainer

June 17th, 2014 | Posted by Erica House in Life

Many moons ago (or about two years ago) I started this blog with the primary goal of using it to get clients. I wasn’t certain what my ‘dream job’ entailed but I knew my main goal: I wanted to help make people happy & healthy.


With my background in psychology I started to add additional education in that I figured would help me reach my goal. I became a certified intuitive eating counselor and a certified personal trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM.) I went with ACSM after doing a lot of online research and asking friends who were personal trainers which certificate to go with. ACSM and NASM seemed to be the two most recommended and I went with the cheaper of the two.

In my mind I envisioned taking a multidimensional approach in working with clients. I wanted to help women repair their negative relationships with food, learn how to exercise, and act as an overall cheerleader for health. When I was approached about a year ago by a gym opening up in town to come on as a personal trainer I was thrilled! The owners and I got along great and I was excited to get some experience in the field.

I lasted all of one week. Here’s why.


The Pay Sucks.

At the gym I started on at the pay was 50% of whatever the client paid to workout with you for 30 or 60 minutes. So, if the client bought a one hour session for $30 you got $15. Not bad! Once you brought in a certain amount of income monthly you started getting more of a cut. For example; after you bring in $1,000 a month you’ll get 60% of the cut instead of 50%.

While the hourly money seems decent for a job that only require no college education and a certificate that can be earned in a few weeks you typically don’t start out with any clients. So, you  have to ‘work the floor’ walking around, selling yourself, and trying to build up a client base. If you are not very extroverted this can be difficult. I have no problem talking to people but I do have a problem wasting time. When I first signed on to work with the gym they were going to have me do the free equipment/gym orientations & mini personal training sessions. Since they were scheduled based on the clients needs that meant I could have one at 5 a.m.and one at 3 p.m. We talked about having me stay on the clock in between sessions helping out in the office, assisting with marketing, etc. Once the gym actually opened they told me after my first day they hired someone fulltime to do all that type of work so I wouldn’t be needed. That was the main reason why I quit. I just couldn’t afford driving an hour round trip for working one hour at a time!


Most People Want Miracles.

The other main reason why I quit was that I quickly realized people wanted their personal trainer to be a miracle worker. At least half of the people I interacted with had the most unrealistic expectations in terms of weight loss. One woman told me her husband was coming back from deployment in one month and she had to lose 40 pounds by then.

Lady – do you think if I had any idea how to make that happen I’d be working here? Hell no. I’d be selling my book/miracle pills on the Dr. Oz show.

I get that part of my job as a trainer would be to educate people on how to realistically, and safely, lose weight and get in shape. It just seemed like almost every conversation I had revolved around losing weight as quickly as possible, or discussing the best supplements to get results sooner. I don’t use performance supplements and I don’t believe in losing weight quickly, so I just felt like my approach wouldn’t be most people were looking for.

Unilateral Approach to Health.

I feel very strongly that the best way to making lasting positive changes is through overhauling multiple parts of your life, not just one. I didn’t feel like I would be able to do what I wanted to with clients to help them reach their goals if all I had the time to do was assist them working out. I really wanted to get to know the clients. I wanted to educate them more on nutrition (I really think that 80% of weight loss/maintenance is in proper diet!) I know some gym’s have ‘health coaches’ that do spend more time covering things aside from just fitness and if I ever return to the gym world I hope it would be in that capacity.Workout7

So, those are the three main reasons why I didn’t feel like working as a personal trainer was right for me at that time. Clearly I have virtually no real knowledge of the field since I spent a whole week in it, so if you’ve worked as a trainer for a while I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Have you ever wanted to work as a personal trainer?
For those who are, what are your favorite/least favorite parts of the job? 


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52 Responses

  • Coco says:

    I’m sure it would take time to find the right kind of clients. It sounds like the gym wasn’t a good fit from the start!

    • Erica House says:

      Yes, if I had the time/financial situation that allowed me to spend time in a gym building up clients then I’m sure I would have found many that I really clicked with!

  • I’ve been thinking about getting my personal trainer’s license…I know it would be good for me even if I never used it in a job. At least I would learn and I think it could be helpful for my blog. I do want to actually use it though….working at a gym doesn’t sound so great. I keep thinking I’d love to work in fitness but the pay is such a big deal….are you using it in any way now? Do you regret getting the license? Just curious.

    • Erica House says:

      I’m not actively using it but I feel like it does lend credibility to a lot of the freelance writing I do. I don’t regret it one bit! I really feel like people/brands take me more seriously when I can put those fancy CPT letters behind my name.

  • Jes says:

    I enjoyed reading your perspective and experience. I can see why that would be frustrating! I agree that in order to become healthier and sustain a more active lifestyle, nutrition and other areas of one’s life are also important. Your whole person approach and psych background (I’m a psych grad too) make you an excellent advocate for women’ health, so thank you for encouraging people through your blog so we can all benefit.

  • Alicia says:

    I signed up to get my my personal trainer license but I have not taken the test. I thought it was a great idea until I started working with a personal trainer. Like you said the pay and hours suck. I like working with my trainer but don’t think it is a job for me!!

    • Erica House says:

      I think all the PT’s I know who love their jobs do it because they are seriously obsessed with health/fitness and would do it even if they weren’t getting paid!

  • Thanks for sharing! I consider pursuing personal training all the time but haven’t taken any steps toward certification. I think my background coaching teenage girls would help me manage clients unrealistic goals. Ha ha!

    • Erica House says:

      Lol – yes, you have extensive experience working with a population who’s cognitive skills aren’t fully developed!

  • We’ve just opened a new athletic training facility and I’m getting sort of antsy to be on the staff as a trainer and not just as the marketing muscle. I got my ISSA certification in 1999. Then I became really ill and never actually worked as a trainer. Since I’ve gotten healthy and my love for heavy weight have returned, I’ve fallen in love with my Russian Kettlebells and am working towards my HKC which should happen this year. I’ve also see that Dragon Door has a Certified Kettlebell Functional Movement Specialist (CK-FMS) which dovetails nicely into what we’re doing at the Center. I know I probably won’t make much money but we’ve dumped all of our money into the Center to get it going so I guess that part doesn’t really matter as much as helping my son see his dream come true. :-)

    • Erica House says:

      That would be an incredible experience! It sounds like you should be able to at least take on a few clients. I think it would help your marketing work with the gym if you also worked as a trainer and were able to see it from different perspectives.

  • Tamara says:

    As an actively practicing personal trainer (actually, I prefer to refer to myself as a fitness professional), I agree with all of your observations about the trade.
    I found that it took a couple of years to end up with my preferred clientele; not only did my first clients have unrealistic expectations, I had unrealistic expectations about how I could help them. Over time, I’ve managed to attract exactly the clients I love to work with. And I’m now the perfect trainer for them!

    • Erica House says:

      I’m glad to hear from an actively practicing PT that my experiences are somewhat universal. Well, it’s unfortunate that they are but I was hoping I didn’t just jump into a totally atypical PT situation. I think my expectations were as unreasonable as the clients were. I’m sure it would take years to come to a happy medium and thank goodness there are people like you in the industry!

  • I do now remember you mentioning that gym. I can totally understand why it wasn’t working! I got my NASM license last summer and haven’t “used” it yet, except to give more clout to my blog and things like that. Also with being pregnant at the moment, it’s not the greatest time to start a training business. However, I do hope to do some small group training at work during lunch break and at church to get started. I always meant for it to help with some side income, but not main income.

    • Erica House says:

      Do you feel like the certificate was worth it just for the blog clout it helped with? I had someone else ask me that today (since that’s the only real benefit I have to my cert right now) and I definitely think it was worth it just for that.

      • I do! But then again I’m a lifelong learner, so just the education alone would’ve been enough for me:) I am planning on publishing more workouts (maybe video someday) on the ol’ bloggie, so I definitely think the credentials make it more credible. I think that’s what it’s doing for you too. Your sponsors are probably going to take a certified trainer more seriously for fitness-related work than someone who isn’t certified. Plus, any advice you give is going to be seen as more educated, with both your teaching and CPT background.

  • Jenny says:

    I’ve toyed on and off with the personal trainer thing. Mainly because I’ve had so many friends ask for help and come to workout with me at the gym. I’ve often thought, “why not get paid to do what I enjoy?!”

    But i have noticed that most are once and done. Or sporadic. Maybe that would change if they were paying customers, maybe not.

    With that being said the first step would be for me to be certified. However with me being the type who constantly fights the current, certifications annoy me. Being a good test taker does not make a personal more knowledgeable with regards to body mechanics versus someone like me who has been lifting for 20 years.

    But alas, at some point I will need to play along to get along. :-) Plus i know it will make my blog appear more “credible”.

    I’d love to train peeps out of my house once we have the gym in our basement completed!

    • Erica House says:

      I think you would make a GREAT personal trainer. You’ve already got more years of experience in the gym then most practicing trainers! I also think I’d love to use my certificate outside of a gym. You should definitely look into training clients at home!

  • Stephanie says:

    Have you thought about doing online health coaching? You already have a large following and that way you could work with each client regarding food issues, diet, workouts, etc. It might give you the clientele you want (most people who read fitness blogs are looking for a more well-rounded approach) without wasting hours selling yourself at a gym. Just a thought!

    • Erica House says:

      Yes, I have thought about that a lot actually! I’ve looked into a few programs and they are all pretty pricey so I wasn’t sure if I could just go in it without having a formal certificate. I definitely need to spend some more time thinking about a way to make that work as I know I would love doing it!

  • I have always, secretly, wanted to be a trainer. But I don’t think I could work the weird hours. I have friends who are trainers and they work from 5am-9am, then 4pm-9pm. Having a huge chuck of downtime in the middle of the day seems hard!

    • Erica House says:

      It seems very difficult! I’m not cut out for the traditional 9 to 5 but I don’t think I could be *that* flexible with my schedule either.

  • I’m struggling with this too right now … but I’ve got some ideas up my sleeve that are more far reaching than just traditional training single clients at the gym. We’re so lucky that there’s so many options about how to find work where we can help people

    • Erica House says:

      Yes, I’ve seen a lot of bloggers have great success in training clients in non-traditional ways (i.e. online) and I think I need to spend some time exploring that option myself!

  • Matt says:

    Hi Erica,

    I completely agree with this blog. As a college student, I have been working as a personal trainer for the past two years and agree on all the points you touched on.

    It has been a frustrating job not only in the sense that most clients have completely unreal expectations, but also in that the job hours aren’t set. Sometimes it feels like being a doctor who’s on call, only I get paid about a million dollars less in a fiscal year.

    Keep doing you.


    • Erica House says:

      Matt – I have the utmost sympathy for you! It’s frustrating to want to pursue a job in a field you love, but also have to learn how to deal with so many negatives. Best of luck finding a way to make it work for you!

  • When I first started working as a trainer I stayed away from bigger gyms bc of that whole “walking the floor” thing. I’m not extroverted at all and knew this would be so awkward for me. So I started working at a personal training studio, where all they did was take on personal training clients (as opposed to being an open gym) and I loved it!

    • Erica House says:

      I wish there were more of a variety of gym’s in my area! All we have are the big box types. About two years ago I emailed a few of the local gyms asking if I could come on as a hybrid personal trainer/health coach and no one liked the idea lol.

  • What an interesting perspective and I totally see that I’d feel the same way about all of the above! I briefly toyed with the idea as well but never went through with anything so it’s interesting to hear from someone who has. I also always wondered if I’d enjoy training others or if I just prefer to train myself?!

    • Erica House says:

      I think if I had the right type of clients (with appropriate expectations & willingness to put in the work) that I’d love it. I just don’t know how often that would be the case!

  • I can see why you quit. I often wonder about people who are personal trainers and have their own private business instead of working through a gym. Obviously I follow a few said folks online and I find it fascinating how they work. Seems they have a bit more freedom to incorporate more holistic methods of weight loss and life improvement. Do you keep your cert current?

    • Erica House says:

      ACSM cert is good for 3 years so it’s coming up on the renewal date soon. I’m not sure if I will renew it yet. I’d like to, and the only reason I wouldn’t is if I couldn’t afford to.

  • What a great post, I never thought of how difficult it can be to not only find clients, but to try to get some to understand that there’s no quick fix to weight loss.

  • In many ways building a personal training clientele is like starting your own business. It is in fact starting your own business. Therefore it takes a lot of time, and hard work before most trainers see a return on their investment. I hope at some point you’ll take another try at it, as you said as a health coach. With your background and passion you would make a great personal trainer.

    • Erica House says:

      There is definitely the possibility for building a long-term career that I am extremely passionate about if I have the opportunity to try training again. Thank you for your encouragement!

  • Part of me thinks that being a personal trainer would be my dream job, however, I know that there would definitely be struggles along the way. For one, I am SO bad at “selling” stuff so I know I would do awful at that part and, also, I am afraid to not make any money because I won’t have clients (refer to my first problem!). It’s great to see your perspective on the whole thing! :)

    • Erica House says:

      The other trainers that were there were MUCH better at ‘selling’ themselves then I was. You really have to hype yourself up as being the sh!t and convince people to buy services from you.

  • Kayla says:

    My first job out of college was as a personal trainer at a “big box gym” in Manhattan and I had a really similar experience. The most off-putting part to me was “prospecting” where I had to forth and find my own clients. Unless I made a sale and was training someone I made a sale with I only got minimum wage… so I was getting minimum wage to do a lot of free sessions to people to try and convince them to buy.

    I found prospecting to be so uncomfortable, I always hated being on the other end and having a personal trainer go up to me to try and to give me some pointers. All I kept thinking is these people are already at the gym, working out, and working on making themselves better, why do I have to harass them while they are in the middle of it.

    I obviously did not last very long, but I’m still happy for the experience and that it forced me to get my certification

    • Erica House says:

      What’s sad is that I would have been happy with minimum wage on floor time but they took that away from me! I would have had to spend countless hours walking around the gym for free to get clients. HA. But who can seriously survive on minimum wage? The only PT’s I know who are happy typically have significant others bringing in a good amount of $$.

  • Andree says:

    This is a really interesting post. You touch on points that I`ve heard mentioned from other PTs.
    I have a few friends who are Zumba instructors. A few have tried working for a company and found that for the hour of work here and there (and all over town) it was not worth it. Now they volunteer as instructors at the Y. In exchange for a one hour class/week they get their gym memberships for free.
    Clearly the knowledge you gained from certification is not lost, it simply a matter of finding a creative use for it.

    • Erica House says:

      I am very happy I got certified as it ended up lending some credibility to my health/fitness writing. I have some friends that work at the Y and it’s usually mostly for the free memberships! Definitely not enough to make a living off of but a fun part-time job if one could afford to do so.

  • Great post! As much as I love health and fitness and always dreamed of a career involving helping others in that spectrum— I totally agree with the fact that I would be a little turned off by people expecting drastic results from one day to the next and not understanding that “Slow and stead beats the race”. Anyways, glad you didn’t stick around just for the heck of it and moved on as soon as you realized it wasn’t for you.

    • Erica House says:

      I felt SO bad backing out after a few days but the owners were understanding. I’d still love to find a way to help people in the health/fitness realm.

  • Danielle says:

    I think you’d be a great holistic health coach! I’m sure you’ve heard of The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I recently graduated and loved the program and the theory behind it all. It’s the perfect blend of psychology and health, to me, because it looks at all aspects of life, positive psychology, perception, etc.. I would have hated walking around trying to sell myself. Blogging alone has gotten me health coaching clients and I always make sure they understand my beliefs and background before starting. No miracles or extreme, quick weight loss for me! This was very interesting to read, so thank you for sharing!

  • I’m transitioning out of being a PT right now. Been doing it 5 years. I decided I’d actually like to make money and am attempting to find some sort of adult job.

  • Unfortunately i think that’s half your problem Erica, your too idolized on making money and not the actual passion for the job, i think maybe you’d be better off buying a hair salon or something?, have you ever asked why you didnt succeed, your attitude towards it maybe?, you have to start at the bottom.

  • i mean a tradesman does a 4 year apprenticeship on a pittance of a wage to work up to something good, they start at the bottom to, you cant have it all on a platter you know….Well i dunno if you do realize but if you don’t you should.