Can you make it in the fitness industry?

Looking to forge a career as a personal trainer?  It’s harder than you think.Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The ads on radio say we should ditch the schoolbooks and become personal trainers, and start enjoying the benefits of staying fit and being your own boss.

The reality suggests it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Nick Hall has been working in the fitness industry for the past four years. He believes the market has become saturated with personal trainers.

“At my first club, there was a situation with 20 trainers on at any one time and you’d often have two or three that were busy and the rest were all struggling for work,” he says.

And the number of people employed in the fitness industry continues to rise. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal there were 13,800 fitness instructors working in Australia in 2006, compared to 21,514 in 2011.

Yet demand for trainers remains high, with business website IBISWorld highlighting that over the next five years, the industry is expected to grow at  5.1 per cent a year.

It’s no shock that personal trainers are on the increase – recent reports indicate Australian obesity rates are climbing faster than anywhere in the world. A global study indicates 63 per cent of the Australian adult population is overweight.

So what’s wrong with the fitness industry? Nigel Champion, the executive director of the Australian Fitness Network, says the industry’s main issue is a high turnover rate.

“There’s a big burnout of personal trainers,” he says.

“Personal trainers could last three or four years in the industry, maybe a bit longer.”

To become a personal trainer, a student needs to complete a Certificate III and IV in Fitness. A Certificate III in Fitness allows a graduate to work in a gym and conduct basic fitness assessments, design training programs and critique a person’s technique.

The Certificate IV allows a graduate to become a personal trainer, evaluate long term fitness plans, provide advice on a range of areas in health and fitness and supervise and train other fitness staff.

According to Mr Hall, the root of the problem lies in the simplicity of the fitness courses.

“I had no real experience in learning muscle groups. My knowledge was basic – passing the course was fairly easy,” he says.

“I think it’s become very affordable to get a PT qualification … all of the knowledge I have now about being a PT I learned after I did my certificate three and four,” he says.

Some courses advertise completion in just a matter of weeks. One fitness club offers the dual package for just under $4000.

In spite of this, experienced fitness educator Nadia Norman warns that maintaining a career as a personal trainer is harder than it looks.

“I train Certificate III and IV … so obviously I’ve had access to thousands of students coming through. I think people think the industry looks glamorous and from the outside it does … but once people actually get into what our product really is they realise it is a lot more in-depth and a lot trickier from what they probably thought from the outset,” she says.

And while the idea of being self-employed may seem appealing, the earnings for a personal trainer depend on a range of factors.

A 2013 survey by the Sportspeople Career Centre indicates the average salary of a personal trainer in Australia is $45,729. But depending on the fitness centre, a personal trainer can earn anywhere between $12,000 and $98,000.

Some trainers also incur rental costs, particularly when working in some of the larger fitness centres. Commercial gym Fitness First charges sign up fees of $2000-$2500, depending on the club. Rental costs are about $350 a week.

It’s no wonder personal training services are so expensive, with some recent PT graduates charging up to $100 a session.

Mr Hall says it’s often a case of “buyer beware”.

“I’ve seen PTs charging up to $90 a session and I’ve had clients come up to me telling me they’ve been getting negative results,” he says.

But experience is crucial in the eyes of Ms Norman, who argues that Certificate III and IV on their own are not enough to create a knowledgeable trainer.

“The industry needs to take responsibility and create some greater development programs for those new trainers that are coming out.”


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