The Future of Personal Training: Where is the Industry Headed?

by Brandi Binkley, MS, NSCA-CPT
Career Series October 2015


In this article, renowned fitness expert Brandi Binkley provides an overview of the personal training industry; including where it was, where it is, and where it is going.

We must learn to create a complimentary mix of training possibilities in order to suit the needs of the market as well as create stability and longevity for our business.

Personal training is a growing industry. The United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs in personal training and fitness instruction will increase by 24% between 2010 and 2020, faster than the average 14% expansion for all occupations (1).

Personal training has seen many changes over the years, so we know it is growing. As trainers, we need to take a strong look at where our industry is heading, otherwise we will absolutely be left behind. A few items that I believe take precedence are education/certification, technology, variability in training formats, and career stability.

Education and Certification

To date, there are no federal or state regulations on the profession of personal training. Accreditation has largely been left to individual businesses and institutions to decide. However, a number of states are in the process of attempting to regulate who can call themselves a personal trainer, and charge for personal training services. Most of the states working on these regulations are leaning on higher education as a means of setting the bar for expectations. In the past 10 years, we have seen universities such as Cornell University, Ohio State University, Florida State University, and several others add programs like personal training and concentrations in health and human performance to their graduate and undergraduate programs.

Education seems to be a large player in what credentialing could look like in the next 10 years

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As we all know, major organizations like the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) are highly favored because they hold high standards for personal trainers. Although most of us in the strength and conditioning and personal training fields already rely heavily on certifications, they could become the gold standard for everyone in addition to higher education in the future. It is imperative that we stay abreast on these regulations as they can make or break our businesses.

In thinking education, something else we must consider is extending our scope of practice. Most of us have a niche, and if you do not, you need to get one. Simply being a personal trainer these days is not enough. We all need some sort of specialty, such as athletic training, injury prevention, or sports conditioning. While it is important to have a niche, be careful not to oversell yourself on the specializations. We do not want general populations avoiding our business because they do not think they fit a profile. Over the long haul, a diversified clientele will create balance and stability for your career.

We need to collaborate with others who do similar work. It is impossible to be all things to all of our clients. Our clients not only want us to be in the know, they need us to be in the know. Closely working with experts who are better than we are at specific things helps us maximize time with our clients, as we no longer have to spend training time on rehabilitation or stretching and nutrition.

Doing your research and talking to these professionals can create lasting relationships that fuel your business. Team up with local physical therapists, active release techniques (ART)/muscle activation technique (MAT) specialists, medical weight loss facilities, and others who promote health and wellness. It is not enough to know other professionals but we must be able to understand and communicate with these professionals. It is a two-way street: If the client respects your craft and you respect theirs, then the client is more likely to stay and be healthy, and thereby makes everyone happy. Do not be afraid to outsource.


Our society is bombarded with apps, ads, and gadgets constantly that they find intriguing. We see it every day, it takes up our session time as we are asked questions such as, "what is this Fitbit I keep hearing about and how does it work," "what kind of heart rate monitor do I need," or "does MyFitnessPal track everything?" While some of these things may be great resources for motivating and/or tracking progress, they are of no use if we do not know what they are and how to use them. We must stay up-to-date with technology. There are three basic tools that are not going anywhere anytime soon: heart rate monitors, pedometers, and apps of various types.

Not only are they a great way to motivate your clients but they are also a great form of accountability. There is no lying when it comes to the data on these gadgets. Case in point, there will always be some form of technology that they will be confronted with. It is your job to know the facts; you need to decide what you like, what you do not like, and what you think will or will not be good for your clients.

Something else we need to know and understand is online training. There are so many options for your clients concerning online training; you should be their go-to, otherwise they will not need you. Online training is a great way to retain your clients who travel often or move for the seasons. It is relatively simple to upload workouts or do an actual one-on-one session. This ability to be mobile can drastically increase your business. At what point do we skimp on our training prescriptions in order to reach the masses? It happens every day; trainers can work with clients online or sell programs through an app or online marketing source.

As a professional, you must value your service as well as your time. It is enticing to do online training programs without ever having seen the client move; there is little to no screening process and not a lot of accountability. However, there is good money to be made in this process as you have zero road time and little to no overhead. I would suggest that you plan out a format that works for you; one that you know is good for your clients and will get them the results they desire.

Creating Variability through a Hybrid Training Model

Personal is personal, group is not; there is a distinct difference between the two and we must remember that when we are marketing and selling ourselves. There is something to be said for the one-on-one or two-on-one ratio in a training setting. Remember, the more we add to the group the less we see, no matter how good we are. Hybrid training models probably suit most of us the best since they consist of a combination of one-on-one and group settings.

There is great value in cultivating relationships and this cannot be as effectively done in medium to large group settings. These personal relationships are imperative to client retention as a trainer. We must know our demographic, our socioeconomics, and our career goals before we entertain a training model.

We all know the need for our services. Because of this need, if we create a hybrid, it is likely to ensure stability in our business. It is obvious that there is more money to be made in small group or semi-private training, however, the retention rate for group training is lower than that of private training. Doing a little of both is a great way to keep your clients engaged. I like to do private sessions and get small groups together a couple times a week or month. They love the change and it usually encourages them to set new goals.

In preparing for this article, I conducted a poll with 140 of our personal training clients, all of whom have been with us for over four years. Not one of them would agree to do small groups consistently. I understand the need for trainers to do small groups due to its lucrative nature; however, in a society where we rarely have the undivided attention of another human being, a one-on-one session is invaluable.

The market for semi-private and small group training sessions is growing. Not only is it popular, it is affordable and creates a community environment that so many people enjoy. It is an option for those who like the accountability and want to maximize training time as well as cost. For those of us that are trainers, it creates more revenue since our services are so often priced based on time. The balance that I have tested and works for my business is the small group inclusive. We can schedule four small group times per week and have people sign up for them online. We make more money for our time and our clients get a social atmosphere during their workout.

With regard to programming, as our society has evolved so has the rate of deconditioned clients. The need for risk assessment and foundational programming has drastically increased. It is our ethical obligation to do what is right for the client and not simply to follow a program we have written out for them. Often it means putting the program aside and having a conversation with them. Programming is important, but not everyone fits into a macrocycle or microcycle. As a personal trainer, fitness is the name of the game—always err on the side of caution.

Career Stability

The days of the tank top wearing meathead trainer are on the way out. Personal training has seen many changes over the years. With the insurgence in corporate wellness, personal training studios, and various other positions created for full-time trainers, the business of personal training is becoming a much more educated and trusted profession. If you own a personal training business with trainers who work for you, you must create an environment for them to learn and prosper.

These environments need to be structured enough that the personal trainers feel like they matter and need to be flexible enough not to make them feel suffocated. Whether you are a solo operator or a facility owner, you need to engage all the technology and educational resources possible. It is helpful to have an actual office or to think of your gym/studio as your office. We must be present all the time; remember, out of sight out of mind.

In order to ensure success in our business, we must learn to cultivate ourselves as well as our personal trainers who desire to be full-time personal trainers. This process is one that starts with understanding our own limits and the limits of our trainers. Some questions that must be asked in order to know if personal training is a sustainable job for you include:

• Are you a morning person?
• What time of day are you at your best?
• What makes you love training? Atmosphere?

It is true that initially we must take clients when we can get them; however, burnout is likely soon to occur if you train 5:00 am to 9:00 pm every day. Once you are established, it is important to get your schedule to something that is sustainable for the long term. If we can find or create a relaxed environment that fosters creativity and growth, our good trainers can become great and the ones who are not good for our business will find a career elsewhere.

Find a mentor; regardless of where you are in your career or how big your business is, having someone as passionate as you are to bounce ideas off of will make all the difference in the world. However, make sure you pick someone who you know has been successful at whatever it is that you are not.

Be a mentor; just as it is important to have people who encourage our business and our growth, it is equally important that we give back. Some of the most important things I have learned have been through mentoring up-and-coming trainers. It is great for your business and it can be very rewarding to see the changes they are making in someone's life.

Diversification is crucial to a long successful career as a personal trainer. Like I stated before, creating a hybrid type of training, knowing your niche, and utilizing different markets in your area are tantamount to success in the personal training industry. Implementation of these will ensure a constant challenge for you as a personal trainer. It also offers variability for your clients—I have not kept the same clients for the past eight years by doing the same old workouts with them every week.

We must remember that great personal training is really a blend of assessing, connecting, understanding, cultivating, and implementing. Our clients may think we are great people, but if they do not love what we are doing, they will not stay. With all the competition and a trainer on every block, we must keep our game face on if we are to succeed. It takes more than a ripped half-ton programmer these days; it takes someone with an intense internal drive, compassion, intelligence, understanding, and a great personality.

About the author

Brandi Binkley, MS

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Brandi Binkley is an exercise physiologist for over 13 years whoserved five years of active duty in the United States Navy. Upon leaving the Navy in 2 ...

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