Calling all fitness freaks

Male and female fitness instructors at gym
© Mircea Bezergheanu |

Are you a fitness fanatic whose idea of a good time is a thigh-burning spin class followed by 200 ab crunches? Do you have energy and drive to spare? Are you a good motivator who enjoys working with people?

By turning your passion for fitness into a career, you could work in an industry that offers great flexibility and a fantastic lifestyle. As a fitness instructor, personal trainer or fitness club manager, you can help people to achieve their fitness goals while maintaining your own fitness and health. What could be better?

Australia’s expanding waistline

Alarming statistics show that Australia is a nation of fatties, with 67 per cent of adults overweight and almost a third obese, according to recent World Health Organization (WHO) data

With the obesity epidemic taking a heavy toll on both individuals and the country’s health system, combating Australia’s growing girth has become a government priority. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has suggested subsidies to the overweight for gym memberships and fitness equipment, as well as tax breaks to parents to help pay for their children’s sports club memberships. These initiatives bode well for the fitness industry and anyone wishing to enter it.

ABS data has shown growth in the fitness industry in recent years through an increase in health and fitness activities, and increased employment in this sector. In 2008, reports demonstrated growth in personal training, gym memberships, fitness club openings and sales of fitness programs, with increased demand leading to a shortage of health and fitness staff.

If you want to help fill that shortage and be part of the fitness movement that will transform the shape of Australia, here are some of the roles you could star-jump into.

Leading the team: fitness instructors

According to 2006 Census data, the majority of people employed in fitness centres are fitness instructors. Most gyms offer a variety of classes, the most popular of which are fitness classes (aerobics, callisthenics, cycle and circuit), weight training, Pilates and yoga – and instructors are needed to teach all of them. Other types of classes include  dance, tai chi, aqua-fitness and Boot Camp (military-inspired fitness programs), and classes tailored to children, the elderly and people with special needs.

Simone Martin is a die-hard fitness fanatic who loves her job as a fitness instructor. ‘I’m getting paid for something I enjoy and am able to keep myself fit and healthy at the same time. Choosing to be an instructor as a career has given me a lot of flexibility. I’m able to work the hours I want to work and instruct the class styles I like. I’m certainly not in a job which is the same old, same old every day.’

Despite the flexibility, fitness instructors need to be prepared to work at the crack of dawn, evenings and some weekends. ‘The hardest part is the early, early mornings, especially when it’s cold, dark and wet. I get up most mornings at 5.00 am, and my first class is at 5.45 or 6.00 am,’ says Martin.

There is plenty of work in the industry if you are prepared to work hard. In addition to teaching, instructors have to spend time on class preparation, learning choreography and music preparation – and that’s in addition to their own training. Martin believes that people in the industry need to act as role models, being fitter and working harder than participants in order to motivate and inspire them.

It takes a certain kind of person to be a fitness instructor. You will need a good level of physical fitness, good communication skills and formal qualifications to work as an instructor at most gyms. According to Martin, ‘You need to be highly motivated, energetic, have a bright bubbly personality, be able to take criticism, work hard and put in extra hours behind the scenes – and most importantly, never let participants see when you are having a bad day.’

Working one-on-one: personal trainers

A personal trainer (PT) is someone who works one-on-one with people to instruct them on the proper methods of exercising, helping them to attain their fitness goals as well as manage their weight. PTs develop tailored fitness programs for their clients, monitor their progress, change their activities to keep them challenged, and give them general lifestyle and dietary advice, as well as moral support.

Personal trainers can work in health clubs, train clients at their homes or conduct sessions outdoors. PT Nardia Norman loves the variety that comes with the job. She works as a contract PT at Fitness First, running her own business within their business, as well as running a mentorship program and coaching at the Australian Institute of Fitness.

Corporate fitness is a fast-growing area, with many large companies offering corporate wellness programs to help busy employees improve their health and fitness – proven to increase productivity, stamina and motivation, and lower absenteeism and stress. This presents opportunities for personal trainers to go into offices to do assessments, develop programs and conduct training and seminars.

A huge part of the job has nothing to do with the physical – it’s about motivating people to push beyond their comfort zone, and supporting them when their motivation flags. As personal trainer Rose Tofalakis says, ‘motivating people is the prime role of a personal trainer and, depending on the clients, this can be challenging at times. We all have bad days, but as a personal trainer my job is to know which buttons to push to keep people motivated.’

As a personal trainer, you will be your own boss so that means you will have to have some business nous and work hard to build up your clientele. You will need to be a good networker and be skilled at establishing rapport, in addition to being a skilled trainer.

‘A good personal trainer is professional, super-organised, knowledgeable (technically and holistically), motivated and business-savvy. I am constantly upskilling, and investing time and money into learning so I can provide the best service and knowledge to my clients and other trainers,’ says Norman.

She adds, ‘The market is definitely getting more competitive. With that in mind, PTs need to be smart with how they set up their business models and how they position themselves and their brand within the industry.’

Beyond the gym floor: fitness club managers

Fitness club managers oversee the day-to-day operations of a fitness centre, gym or athletic club. This includes managing staff, instructors and personal trainers, maintaining budgets, rosters, equipment and facilities, managing member and customer relations, designing programs and classes, sometimes acting as a trainer or advisor, and creating and managing advertising and marketing campaigns.

Like everyone who works at a health club, you will be expected to reflect the environment in which you work – that means you should be in good physical shape and be a good representative for your club. After all, it wouldn’t make sense for a health club manager to sit at their desk gorging on Krispy Kreme donuts. 

While some fitness club managers come from backgrounds in business or management, many come from other roles within the fitness industry and transition into management based on their experience, commitment and ability. Some managerial positions require training or fitness certifications from professional associations. All such positions require passion and initiative, as well as basic business skills and understanding of budgeting, finance and management principles.

Healthy, wealthy and wise

This may be obvious, but working in the fitness industry can be exhausting. You will have to take good care of your own health and keep up your energy with plenty of rest and constant re-fueling. Be prepared to spend money on your own physical maintenance – things like massages, good shoes and good food – but this is a necessary investment if you are to stay healthy in this physically demanding career.

A successful fitness worker will be a self-starter with lots of initiative, and a good networker. You may have to spend time and money on marketing yourself through things like setting up a website, business cards and brochures.

Nardia Norman says, ‘succeeding in this industry requires someone who is focused, determined, personable, has a good work ethic and is ego-free. You have to be patient, empathetic and well-rounded. I am also a firm believer that you have to look the part – you need to use your own product as you are the biggest marketing tool that you have. You must walk the walk and talk the talk to have credibility.’

Be prepared for fluctuations in demand for your services. There will be seasonal fluctuations, with spring and summer being the busiest times of year and quieter times during the winter.

‘January and February are definitely the busiest months for personal trainers as it is just after the festive season and people are looking to recover after eating so much at Christmas. Towards the end of winter we also have more clients as they realise that bikini season is just around the corner,’ says Rose Tofalakis.

Kick off your fitness career

As a fitness professional, you will obviously be expected to be fit. You will have to be able to teach, perform exercises with your clients, and look the part. Most people in the industry have a personal passion for fitness and do their own training in their free time.

While the industry is to some extent unregulated, to gain formal work at a fitness club or centre you will need formal qualifications, such as a Certificate III/ IV in Personal Training or Fitness, as well as a Senior First Aid Certificate (including resuscitation) and Personal Trainer or Fitness Trainer Liability Insurance.

In Australia, PTs need to be registered with a body such as Fitness Australia to gain insurance and work as a PT. Many people also have training in specialties such as strength training, weight loss, children’s fitness or nutrition – because, as Norman says, ‘in a competitive market, the more skills you have, the more you can offer to the client.’

You can receive training through fitness courses at university, TAFE and private training organisations. Many courses can be studied part time by distance, so you can study around work and other commitments.

When it comes to choosing courses, Norman’s advice is to do your research. ‘Take your time figuring out which education provider is going to suit you and your needs. Have a clear understanding of what you want to do and why, and ensure that this will fuel your motivation. And persist, persist, persist!’

Check out our range of sport and fitness courses here.

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