For many fitness professionals, their career choice is driven mainly by their passion for the industry, rather than the earning potential it offers.

But for those who excel at their job, it is possible to create a lucrative business, says Robert Walker, an HFPA graduate and founder of Walker Strength, an online and personal training business based in Sandton.

Hitting a ceiling

Robert explains that many trainers tend to hit a ceiling with regard to their earning potential at about R20,000-25,000 per month. “The average rate for a one-on-one personal training session varies between R350-500. This depends on various factors, such as the trainer’s experience and qualifications, where they’re based and the type of training they offer.”

According to Robert, most trainers hit this ceiling in earning potential based on how many active paying clients they can secure, rather than any limit in terms of billable hours each day.

“While you need to be good at what you do, in these instances it is often less about your abilities as a personal trainer and more about your business acumen,” he adds. “For those who understand how to market and sell their offering, and constantly deliver exceptional service and results, the potential is there to exceed R100,000+ a month in revenue.”

Consider overhead costs

Of course, there are various overheads associated with running a personal training business, the most significant of which is normally gym rental.
“Depending on where you’re based and the type of gym you work in, monthly rentals can vary from R6,000-R8000 a month, up to R17,000 or more at flagship locations within the big chains.”

If trainers hope to establish a sustainable career with consistent revenue streams to support their lifestyles and meet their monthly financial needs, they must first establish a solid client base. In terms of one-on-one
training, this requires a large pool of potential clients to market to. A small gym with many trainers will obviously make competition for business more intense.

“So select your location wisely. Trainers also need to have a clearly defined offering that clients can understand, and support this with suitable marketing initiatives that effectively sell you and your services. And don’t forget to make it easy for potential new clients to contact you, either via a phone number, email, on social media, instant messaging or via a website,” adds Robert

Deliver results

Once a trainer finds new business and attracts clients, it’s imperative that what they offer and how they offer it, works.

“Fitness professionals need to be good at what they do and understand human physiology and exercise science beyond the fundamentals taught during certification and diploma courses. You need to educate yourself however you can to make sure you can deliver. This is also vitally important because clients need to trust you if you want to build long-term relationships and retainer-based business.”

Robert adds that a trainer’s offering also extends beyond their ability to effectively programme exercise routines. “You also need to be personable and engaging during sessions. The time a client spends with you needs to be enjoyable, otherwise they’ll be less likely to come back, or even to recommend you to others.”

And with referrals a major source of new business for trainers, failing to meet these requirements will curtail your earning potential. Those that get the formula right can quickly build a core base of long-term clients who they see on a monthly basis, and supplement available hours with ad-hoc sessions.

Other opportunities

“Trainers that are taking 10 one-on-one sessions a day are doing good business. This type of client base also offers opportunities to leverage the network and up-sell clients to any other services a trainer may offer,” continues Robert, but he cautions fitness professionals against diversifying their offering too much.

While broadening your service offering with additional qualifications such as massage therapy, for example, can help to supplement income during periods when personal training clients aren’t as active, Robert believes too
many fit pros get carried away with these extra services.

“Too many side hustles can dilute your offering and many trainers soon become a jack of all trades but a master of none. While continued education is important, I believe the greatest success comes from the mastery of one or two core services. When you become an expert in a field, people will naturally prefer to hire you over someone who less experienced or capable.”

He adds that there is also the opportunity costs to consider. “How can you expect to grow your personal training business if your time is taken up providing other services? This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for ways to
diversify, though. But when you do it’s best to stick to your core offering.”

Looking online for growth

In this regard, online training has become a popular avenue for trainers to boost their earning power. It is also something that Robert has added to his offering. “Many trainers today take a blended approach, mixing online coaching with personal training. There are so many good white label app-based systems out there that trainers can rebrand, which offer opportunities to scale a business.”

Through online training a fit pro is not constrained by the number of hours in a day. “When you sell programmes online you’re no longer billing per hour, but rather selling your intellectual property. This can grow your earning potential by 10x rather than just 10%.”

Roberts adds that an end-to-end digital solution also aids online lead generation, expands your potential client base, and can assist with admin, which frees up more time for a trainer to work on income-generating activities. Trainers can also fill gaps between clients with online training work
to boost their daily earning potential.

“Ultimately, though, the same principles apply. The industry is already full of online trainers and coaches. You need to distinguish your offering, be it PT sessions or online consultations or programmes by delivering results and exceptional service. Be honest with your clients, be confident in the offering, set realistic goals, manage expectations and always overdeliver on what you promise. When you get these fundamentals right then your health and fitness-focused business will flourish,” he concludes.

The health and fitness sector is one of the most dynamic industries out there – it’s one of the many reasons why we’re so passionate about it!

New information is constantly coming to light regarding how the body works and how we can apply what we already know in new and innovative ways to improve fitness, boost performance, aid our health or reshape our physiques.

It’s therefore essential that as fitness professionals we stay up to date with the latest trends and industry best practices if we hope to deliver the best results for clients.

And one of best ways to do this, which is increasingly becoming a regulatory
requirement in countries around the world, is through the attainment of Continued Education Credits (CEC).

Regulated requirement

Certain health and fitness professionals who require a license to practice, such as physiotherapists and biokineticists are already required to attain a certain number of CECs each year to remain registered members of the relevant governing body or industry regulator.

Despite a number of plans to implement a similar system for personal fitness trainers (PFTs) in South Africa, there is currently no governing association or regulatory body that enforces CEC requirements within this sector of the industry.

Fitness professionals who want to adhere to industry best practices can register with the Register of Exercise Professionals South Africa (REPSSA), which is a non-profit public register for the local industry that seeks to maintain industry standards.

REPSSA is a member of the International Register of Exercise Professionals (ICREPS), which gives REPSSA members international portability for various fitness qualifications earned in SA.

Any fitness professional who is registered with REPSSA need to earn a minimum of 12 Continuous Professional Development, or CPD points each year to maintain their membership, which are a form of CECs. While CECs are not a regulated requirement, PFTs and other fit pros shouldn’t rely on foundational certificates, diplomas or degrees to sustain them throughout their careers, if they hope to stay relevant and effective that is.

First for foremost, CEC courses offer valuable opportunities for fit pros to stay up to date on various industry topics, from new developments in functional training and sports science and conditioning, to group exercise innovations, the latest research on diets and proactive health and preventative interventions.

Various options

CECs generally take the form of short courses, which can be completed over the weekends, after hours or via online learning platforms. Depending on the course content and duration, a certain number of credits will be allocated to following the successful completion of the course.

Fit pros can also attend health and fitness a variety of related conferences,
seminars or industry events, which often also count towards attaining credits when organised by a registered provider.

Business benefits

While there are generally costs associated with obtaining CECs, and the opportunity cost of time spent out of the gym or away from clients should also be factored in, continued education can benefit a your business and boost your earning potential. Additional certifications, even short courses, can help to broaden your service offering, which makes it possible to tap into your existing client base to generate new revenue streams, or fill gaps in your day between personal training sessions.

Popular options include group exercise trainer courses, sports massage courses or indoor cycling options. Continued education is also a practical means to specialise in a specific field, such as sports conditioningpre- and antenatal exercise, or training special populations. By accumulating qualifications in a specific field, you can become an expert and can crave out a niche in the industry, often with the ability to charge a premium for your services.

A more comprehensive CV filled with CECs can also boost your employability with the major gym chains, many of which have adopted a ‘best practice’ approach which mandates that their PFTs and fitness instructors attend CEC courses annually, often as part of their contractual obligations with the gym.

While a relevant certificate, diploma or degree is a mandatory requirement for a career in the fitness industry, a resume filled with qualifications is no guarantee of success.

There are a number of factors beyond a fitness professional’s acumen and understanding of exercise science that will determine their success in this services-based industry, with their so-called ‘soft’ or social skills playing a very important role.

A people’s person

While a personal trainer or fitness instructor doesn’t need to be the most outgoing individual, it is important to understand that fit pros work directly with people every day.

You therefore need to be comfortable engaging with people on a daily basis. Your ability to interact with clients and potential clients will ultimately determine your long-term success, often more so than the type of services you offer or your understanding of exercise and nutrition.

You also need to be agile in your approach. Not every client responds well to a drill Sergeant, while others thrive in that environment. If you’re able to switch between a softer approach and a more regimented style, you’ll have broader market appeal.

Even if your business is run exclusively online, there are still specific social skills that are needed to engage and interact with clients in a professional manner. That’s because online training is about more than just firing off a gym programme once every month. You still need to stay in contact with clients, be it via messaging apps, email or regular calls to assess their progress and make suitable recommendations.

Scheduling regular one-on-one sessions with online clients (where possible) is also a great way to boost their training and maintain a strong interpersonal relationship.

Be a motivator

Every successful fitness professional must have the ability to motivate and inspire their clients. This requires a true passion for their craft, a drive to constantly improve, learn and grow, and a deep-seated desire to help people transform their lives and achieve their goals.

This also entails dealing with clients who may be struggling, which often requires patience and perseverance. You’ll need to encourage clients on their bad days, with the EQ to know when to push and when to back off to get the most from their time with you.

Competent communicator

The ability to effectively communicate is another critical skill that fitness professionals need to master if they hope to build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with their clients. This not only requires the ability to effectively convey instructions and share your knowledge with clients, but also entails being a good listener.

Pay attention to how they describe their experience of your sessions with them and when they express their views on how they feel the programme is going. If you fail to listen to and understand your clients then you’ll fail to meet their expectations and deliver on their desired objectives.

And in a country that boasts such a diversity of cultures and personalities, it is also essential that fitness professionals are adaptable in their communication styles, tailoring their approach to the different individuals they work with.

The same principle applies to digital communication and social media engagement, which requires a multi-channel, often always-on (within reason) approach to client communication.

Polish your bench-side manner

No matter how many clients you see during the day, each one deserves your full attention and the same level of positive energy. This can be difficult in an industry where long hours are common, but it’s imperative that you’re mindful of your attitude and demeanour at every session.

Your undivided attention during every minute of a paid-for session is another non-negotiable in terms of your bench-side manner. Not only is playing on your phone or chatting to other gym-goers during a client session disrespectful, it also erodes the value the client is paying for. Make your client your priority for the entire session by giving them your full attention. And never, ever be late for a session.

Similar principles apply to online trainers. While it can be tempting to scale up and take on hundreds of clients to boost your earning potential, you must be mindful of keeping client numbers at manageable levels. Every client pays for and deserves the same level of service, which cannot be met when trainers are overburdened.

Offer individualised services

While a generic exercise program will work for most people, at least initially, to continue making progress a trainer will need to individualise their approach. Those fitness professionals who choose to follow a cookie-cutter approach, because it’s more convenient and saves time, are doing their clients a disservice.

The fitness industry has also become a creative industry – fit pros must be creative with their programming and activities to avoid boredom and keep it interesting, both for them and their clients. This is more easily achieved when the fitness professional has a broad base of expertise from which to draw.

It’s also important to put in the extra effort to delve into the unique needs, requirements and circumstances of every client to structure specific plans for them. In doing so their rate of success will skyrocket, as will your business!

With the amount of new information that scientists unearth on a daily basis, coupled with the ever changing techniques being used to build muscle, burn fat, improve fitness and shape physiques, it is essential for fitness professionals in the industry to stay up to date with the latest trends.

The best way to do this, which is being adopted around the world, is through Continued Education Credits (CEC). Professionals who require a license to operate are already required to attain a certain number of CECs each year to stay registered. In the health and fitness industry this applies to physiotherapists and biokineticists.

Despite a number of plans to implement a similar system for personal fitness trainers (PFTs), there is currently no governing association or legislative body that enforces CEC requirements for PFTs.

As such, many PFTs fail to follow up their initial qualifications with CECs, mainly because they are not mandatory.

There are also other factors at play, like the fact that the courses and seminars cost money to attend and require that trainers take precious time out from their working day, which costs them in lost revenue.

Many trainers also become complacent with their level of education as they are able to achieve results with their techniques, so often feel that further education is not required.

That doesn’t mean you should sit back thinking that your certification, diploma or degree will be enough to get them through your career.

An important reason to continue education is the fact that, over time, trainers can forget the basic principles of human anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and training that they initially learnt. This can subsequently make it difficult to understand why a new training modality could be effective for clients and may slow the adoption of new trends that are emerging internationally.

CEC courses, which cover various topics therefore help to broaden a fit pro’s frame of reference by exposing them to the latest developments in sports science, functional training, group fitness, diets, supplementation and healthy eating.

Attaining CECs can also benefit a trainer’s business, as it allows them to specialise in certain fields to offer unique services to clients. It also means that they can meet all the demands of an increasingly educated, informed and switched on public, as clients are now more likely than ever to ask their trainers questions about what they have read online or seen on TV.

The courses are often run over the weekends or take half a day to complete. Depending on the course, a certain number of credits will be assigned to the practitioner following the successful completion of the course, or they can also attend health and fitness related seminars, which also count towards attaining credits.

PFTs need to be able to provide a valid answer to these questions or they risk losing their client and worse, their reputation. Clients might also see other trainers doing new things and will want to know why they aren’t being exposed to these new techniques. Continued education also plays a key role in expanding view points amongst the local PFT and coaching community, which can only enhance the overall level and quality of service in this country.”

Archer also points out that the cost incurred by trainers when attending CEC courses and seminars can be deducted from tax, along with the other expenses incurred while trying to make their living. “You just need to make
sure that the institution you do the course through is a registered provider and that you have an accountant who is switched on to ensure you get the full benefit from this.”

Despite the lack of a regulatory body governing CECs, certain big name gym chains, like Virgin Active have adopted a ‘best practice’ approach and encourage their PFT and fitness instructors to attend CEC courses. Sometimes this will even be worked into a trainer’s contract with the gym.

“Virgin Active, for instance, will often host internal training sessions to make sure that their staff stay current with their qualifications, which is good for the industry, their staff and for the people who train at their gyms,” continues Archer.

According to Archer, the trainers who do stay current with their CECs often choose to do various courses offered by the Institute of Fitness Professionals and other education institutions, with the most popular being sports conditioning and functional training. “These courses are popular because more people are getting serious about the sports they do, even if it is on a social level,” he says. “By doing thes courses PFTs can offer training that was traditionally used only for athletes, which has a great appeal to a growing number of serious ‘weekend warrior’ athletes.”

Other popular CEC courses include group aerobics certifications for step classes, kickboxing, boxercise, exercise and pregnancy and indoor cycling. “There is also a growing focus on kids’ development courses, where trainers can learn to assist with the athletic development of children on a physical and mental level, as more parents look to give their children every chance of becoming a professional athlete,” explains Archer.

Thankfully, there are a few industry changes on the horizon that may change the PFT landscape as far as required CECs are concerned. For instance, the Register of Exercise Professionals South Africa (REPS SA) is a non-profit, independent public register that recognises the qualifications and expertise of fitness professionals in South Africa. Any PFTs or instructors who join REPS are bound by a code of ethical practice and must hold appropriate insurance and a valid CPR qualification. They are also required to meet the standards that are set for their profession through continual professional development through the attainment of CECs.

While the requirement to join an organisation like REPS SA is not legislated as yet and therefore not compulsory, it does add an extra element of security and legitimacy to the industry. The self imposed regulation trainers undertake when joining an organisation of this nature goes a long way to providing assurance and confidence to consumers and employers. It also means that their qualifications and CECs can also be viewed online by anyone, which means that you can check that you are getting what you paid for with your trainer.

CEC courses range from R800 to over R2000, depending on the type of course you choose and the training institution you choose to do it through, and can take from half a day, up to two days to complete. “As such there really is no reason why your PFT shouldn’t be attaining at least a few CECs each year,” continues Archer. “Don’t be afraid to ask them about the last course they did, or even to see their certifications before choosing to use their services. I can guarantee you that a trainer who takes an interest in their continued education will take the same interest in your physical development, health, fitness and well-being.”

Those of us who are young and unrestrained by the responsibilities of ‘adulting’ often experience a strong urge to travel and experience the world.

The only hurdle tends to be the financial means to realise your ambition and support you as you feed your wanderlust, be it for the summer, a few months or even a year.

Well, the right internationally-accredited fitness qualification, like a fitness instructor or Personal Fitness Trainer certificate or diploma from a reputable academy, can often be your ticket to travel the world!

Global gallivanter

Health and fitness is a booming industry globally. With the right credentials and some related industry experience, it’s possible to apply for jobs in other countries where a demand exists for fitness professionals.

The US market, for example, is booming. Figures released by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) show that over the last decade the US health and fitness industry has grown annually by 3-4%.

A simple Google search will reveal thousands of other available jobs in far-off lands like Qatar, Europe and Australia. Even high-end hotels require health and fitness professionals to staff their gyms and cater to the needs of their clientele.

This not only offers an opportunity to see other parts of the world and gain valuable life and work experience, but you’ll also earn US dollars or other foreign currencies. Your living expenses may also be minimal if the hotel provides board and lodging.

Registering with a recruitment agency that specialises in international placements for fitness professionals is a sensible first step for a qualified job seeker looking to expand their horizons. There are also numerous job sites, such as GlassdoorIndeed and LinkedIn where you can view available job listings and apply directly to employers that are hiring.

Ship shape

Another extremely popular option among qualified health and fitness professionals is to cruise the world on a ship. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has become an integral facet of luxury cruise ship holidays, so leading companies like MSC Cruises, which operates a number of the most modern cruise liners in the world, offer numerous work opportunities for specialist instructors.

Cruise ships have state-of-the-art gyms, massage rooms and other specialist
indoor and outdoor physical activity amenities that need to be managed by qualified fitness professionals. Duties can range from group exercise instruction for aerobics, yoga, stretching, Pilates and Latin American dancing classes to one-on-one personal training, supervision and facilities management.

The benefit of working on a cruise liner is that you get to travel to multiple countries, often visiting the world’s most scenic oceans and stopping over in memorable port cities where crew and staff can often disembark to explore the city of call, all while you earn an income! All of this makes for a highly sought after work and travel opportunity for those looking for some fun and adventure.

Applicants generally need to be between the ages of 21 and 35, and they must have a degree, diploma or equivalent qualification in gym-related fields or fitness instruction. A good knowledge of English and at least one other language is often also mandatory.

Working for a luxury cruise operator would provide opportunities to work year round in places like the Mediterranean or Indian Ocean, or seasonally in Northern Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, North America, Canada and South America.

Employment contracts are regulated by the FIT – CISL – ITF union for sailors. Required travel and other documents include a valid passport, an STCW 95/2010 certification, which is the minimum legal requirement for all crew working commercially at sea, and a medical certifications. You can contact cruise operators directly to explore available employment options.