Fancy a little side-hustle to compliment the day job and join the UK’s rapidly growing £5bn fitness industry? Our editor enrolled for a Personal Training Diploma at Premier Global NASM to find out how to become a personal trainer…
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Becoming a personal trainer
When I took a tumble from a mountain bike in Austria, little did I know how well acquainted I would become with my rotator cuff. The supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis to be exact. I know this now, for I am a Personal Trainer. Someone who couldn’t tell their tibia from their fibular six months ago. Biology was never my strong point. Latin on the other hand… My translations of Caecilus and the gang scored me a whopping 92% in my GCSE exam, though that was partly due to memorising my sister’s past paper the night before…
After an ambitious attempt at taking a one-handed hyper-lapse in Innsbruck, I find myself standing in a Physio’s office, after having my arm wrenched over my head by a nurse in A&E to prove that it wasn’t dislocated and summoned back and forth by radiologists, who were eventually able to confirm that the bone was indeed fractured. All for bloody Instagram. Could I be any more of a Millennial?
Just as I make a remark about how the ‘greater tuberosity’ is a rather silly-sounding name, my Physio looks at me earnestly. “It’s very simple… it’s just Latin”. What use are phrases like “Caecilius est in horto” when you can’t tell your arse from your elbow? Or shoulder in my case. Thus began my education on anatomy and physiology. A Personal Training course seemed like a good place to start, a little “side-hustle” to compliment the day job. And it seems like a lucrative option too, given that the UK fitness industry is now worth a whopping £5 billion. But how on earth does one become a personal trainer?
Becoming a Personal Trainer at Premier UK
I enrol at Premier’s facility in London to get the personal training certification. I am told by many, including my husband, is the best. He’s now a top trainer at Bodyism so I figured this made sense. Oh, and Joe Wicks, “The Body Coach” trained here. I’m sure a few of you have heard of him.
It feels like being back at school where I’m met with the old familiar anxieties such as “have I packed the right stationery?”, “am I wearing the right clothes?”, “will I make any friends?”.
I take a seat next to a laid-back Aussie, who is training for her Level 3 Personal Training Diploma alongside her day job as an accountant. A balancing act that seems to be a recurring pattern in our group of 30+ students – ranging from bankers to PR execs, all looking for similar respite from their sedentary desk jobs.
When asked what we intend to do with the qualification, some see it more as an opportunity to educate themselves, others, to simply to see where it takes them.
Level 2 Gym Instructor course
I have to cram the Level 2 Gym Instructor course that precedes the Level 3 Personal Training Diploma into 6 weeks with 2 theory papers, a practical, tutorials and home study in-between Christmas and the mildly stressful process of moving house – cancelling dates with friends who seem bemused by my extra-curricular activities.
I get a lot of patronising: “Who needs to study for a Personal Training exam?”. “You have to be a real idiot to fail surely?”, as I stay home to revise the muscles in the spine, while hunched over my laptop in hyper-kyphosis – staring at diagrams of arterial plaque, while wading through a pot of Ben & Jerry’s…
Yes, the exam papers are multiple choice (for dummies, right?) but several questions quite honestly leave me flummoxed and is a shocking reminder of how much I rely on doctor Google. Luckily, I pass thanks to my interest in the nervous system. I battle to find an optimum balance between my sympathetic and parasympathetic systems daily in my quest for homeostasis. One line particularly resonates: “due to the distinct roles of these systems their actions are sometimes referred to as ‘war’ and ‘peace’. At least an English Literature degree proves useful somewhere.
Level 3 Personal Training Diploma
In the transition from Level 2 to 3 you have to be prepared to make some new friends. I wave goodbye to my Aussie who now sits a few desks down, and attempt to forge a friendship with a new partner who doesn’t seem to share my fondness of grilled Halloumi wraps in quite the same way.
It doesn’t get off to a roaring start and she seems rather preoccupied with her previous partner, which leaves us in an uncomfortable ménage a trois for a few weeks. It turns out this girl’s partner has dropped out mid-course – we’ve had a few of those, along with many a melt down on WhatsApp about the way content is structured. But given the bursting coursework folders and online tutorials it’s not like they don’t equip you with the right tools. It’s pretty self-explanatory so long as you make the time to actually study.
My new partner and I eventually start bonding and she helps me to score a pass in my practical, which I’m forever grateful for, now that I am a fully-fledged PT.
The next bit is all rather anti-climactic
Now what? Wait until my certificate arrives in the post (it takes 6-8 weeks) to make it feel slightly more official? Sign up for some insurance, get registered with CIMSPA and get this show on the road? Does this sort of achievement warrant champagne? I fear there’s still a long way to go…
As my husband remarks rather smugly, “getting a PT qualification doesn’t make you a good trainer overnight”. After a few years at The Gym group and later earning his stripes with Bodyism, he’s now a shining example, with a jam packed schedule of clients Monday to Wednesday. Thursday to Saturday he surfs between leading hikes and training sessions at an award-winning health retreat in Devon. But it took a lot of hours to get him there, coupled with oodles of positive energy that this sort of profession requires. You are, after all, in the business of making people happy. A bit like therapy.
Make sure you know what you are doing it for
It’s a considerable investment for a skill that you’re not sure you’re ever going to use. The Insta fame will be short-lived and be prepared to face some stiff competition with every influencer under the sun now getting qualified. Better to make it a lifestyle choice and form real client connections through your existing network, starting with your friends, and friends’ friends.
Do an online course
The course I did is now going to be delivered through a combination of 19 lectures via live webinars and digital content, which makes it accessible even if you don’t live in London. You’ll still get lots of face-time with the tutors, albeit virtually. This aims to allow for greater flexibility so it can fit around your life, enabling you to decide where and when you want to learn. I only wish I’d known this before surrendering my weekends to a gloomy facility in Finsbury Park!
For me, it has been an opportunity to see what the PT qualification process is really like. As for doing any actual training… I am contemplating applying for an NASM specialisation course in pre/post-natal, and hope to someday run retreats. Though I can see myself slipping more comfortably into the business role with that one – and there would definitely need to be some wine involved.
I might be testament to the fact that anyone can become a Personal Trainer, but I’ll need a hell of a LOT more practice to make a good one. And trust me, it takes commitment.
The Premier Global NASM covers two parts, the Level 2 Certificate in Fitness Instructing and the Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training for Optimum Performance qualification. This article was originally written in 2017.