How to become a great trainer; a step by step guide.

I’ve been in the fitness industry as a trainer, a manager, and a business owner for over 15 years now.

I’ve chatted with and interviewed and occasionally hired hundreds of aspiring personal trainers.

I’ve taken time to talk with college seniors in the exercise physiology department at local colleges, and have provided internships at my company, Emerge Fitness Training.

I’m often asked for “one piece of advice” for the aspiring personal trainer, and am asked to share some of my experiences (both bad and good).

It’s tough to give just one piece of advice.

So instead, I’m going to provide a step by step guide to personal training success for the potential personal trainer.

This information is a reflection of my own experience in the industry. Unquestionably, another successful trainer will have a different list.

But this is mine.

Here goes:

  1. Love fitness. If you don’t, don’t even start. The trainers that do will be obvious and it will be obvious that you don’t.

2. Look at personal training as a potential CAREER. You’ll hear ex personal trainers tell you that there is no money in training and it’s too hard to make a career. They probably sucked and couldn’t make it. It’s harsh but true. Like any other profession, if you’re good, it will reward you financially and otherwise.

3. Get a job at a big box gym. You’ll be fed clients, and you’ll get to see if you even like training. Contrary to the beliefs of many, personal training can be an exhausting, very competitive business. Build some experience and learn from your mistakes there.

4. Find a niche. After a couple of years dabbling in all aspects of fitness and reading everything you can get your hands on, start to specialize your fitness offering. Make sure your specialization is relevant to your customer and begin educating yourself with a narrower focus.

5. Find a mentor that can help you. When I first started training, the training industry was relatively young and trainers, especially great ones, were few and far between. Now, its much easier to find a local mentor who has had success in training. Ask them for advice and study what they do. There is no harm in emulating someone else who has figured it out. In fact, it’s a great way to get better, quickly.

6. Find a place to work with colleagues that have a similar mindset as you. At large gyms, you’ll likely be part of a training staff that has more than a couple of trainers who are bad. Trainers that are just putting in their time until an insurance job presents itself. Trainers that clearly don’t love what they do. You will only go so far in this environment.

Find a place to work that makes you better just by being there.

7. Educate yourself in fitness AND business. No offense to the training community, but in my fifteen years as a trainer, I never cease to marvel at the sheer bone-headedness of many in the profession. Know your customer. Offer them a relevant product. Understand pricing and seasonality and alternative ways to market yourself. Shirtless selfies in the gym are shit. Business classes should be a mandatory part of an exercise physiology program.

8. Learn that, at the end of the day, if you can listen and empathize with your clientele and really make their EXPERIENCE with you valuable through exceptional service, you will eventually be successful.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start. I love talking business and about the training industry as a whole, so if you have any questions, email me at

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS