In the past, the career path of a fitness professional was a lot more one dimensional than what it it today.
After obtaining a foundational qualification, such as a fitness instructor or Personal Fitness Trainer (PFT) certificate or diploma, those looking to build a career in the industry would generally find employment in a commercial gym to build a client base.
Beyond the basics
Growth opportunities existed as a group fitness instructor, or in administrative roles within the gym chain. However, as the industry has grown, so too has the various career paths that an aspiring fit pro can pursue.
“The misconception that you have work as either as a personal trainer or fitness instructor still pervades the job market, but the sector has evolved,” explains Paul Mills. Managing Director at the Health & Fitness Professionals Academy (HFPA).
Showcase your creativity
“It has become a creative industry where a professional’s boundaries are often only limited by their imagination. Today there are so many ways someone who is passionate about health and fitness can stake their claim in the industry and carve out a niche for themselves.”
Naturally, this ability is relative to the depth of their qualifications. “It is always advisable to build a foundation on a broad qualification such as a National Diploma in Fitness, which is a popular choice as it exposes learners to many facets of the industry and covers a broad curriculum,” adds Paul.
With this foundational qualification, fitness pros can gain experience in the industry, either through a commercial gym or health club chain, or more specialised facilities, such as strength & conditioning gyms, or outdoor bootcamps.
“However, this merely serves as a stepping stone, where newly-qualified professionals can gain experience and grow before moving. Those with an entrepreneurial mindset often decide to start their own practice and use the opportunity to express themselves in a broad array of offerings,” continues Paul.
This may include a boutique gym offering, bootcamp classes, at-home or at-work personal training sessions, or more a specialised offering once they’ve added other qualifications to their resume, such as rehabilitation of special populations, pre- and post-natal exercise, corrective exercise and sport-specific conditioning.
Corporate wellness booms
“The emergence of the corporate wellness sector has also created a number of opportunities for qualified and experienced trainers to carve out a niche for themselves in the industry,” adds Paul.
There are many different facets to this specialised field, which has become extremely important as more businesses look to improve worker health and boost workplace performance and productivity.
Corporate wellness is also a prolific lead generation platform for fit pros as there is a captive market of potential clients, many of whom may require ancillary or complimentary services, such as sport massage therapy, nutrition advice, life coaching or counselling.
“These qualification also create opportunities for fit pros to generate additional revenue throughout the day, when there may be a lull in personal training clients who normally have their sessions before or after work, or over lunch. This is an effective way to create additional income spinners, while also leveraging the established network a trainer creates,” suggests Paul.
Another popular option, particularly for younger fitness professionals, is working on cruise ships or holiday resorts around the world, says Paul. “Qualified fit pros get to travel the world to gain life experience and broaden their horizons, while earning dollars or other foreign currencies, with minimal living expenses as these are mostly covered by the cruise operators.”
In Paul’s experience, many fitness professionals use this opportunity to build a capital reserve to invest in a business venture when they return back to South Africa. “A number of our former students have leveraged the opportunity to open other doors and help fund something on home soil, be it a small gym, a group training offering, or a mobile EMS training system.
Additional career opportunities exist for those who obtain relevant higher education qualifications to go into the recreational activity or sporting environments, working at holiday or summer camps, or sporting events or activities.
“For those who are passionate about working with children and who boost their early development expertise, opportunities exist to partner with schools to provide extra curricular classes. Qualified sports conditioning coaches can also work with physical education teachers or school sport coaches to aid with fitness development and programming,” adds Paul.
With so many options available to qualified fit pros today, the world really is their oyster. “Once you have the foundational qualifications, it really comes down to your passion and drive to take your idea and run with it. There truly is so much potential in the industry,” he concludes.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.