By Pete McCall

Thanks to social media, the explosive popularity of studio-based group workout programs, and the fact that many top actors work with a personal trainer to develop the sculpted physiques you see in the movies, many people are running away from their traditional desk-bound office jobs to pursue a career in fitness.

Admit it, you’ve been at the gym and watched a trainer lead a client through a workout or done a group workout and thought you’d like to be the one making others sweat. It may look appealing to think about making a living while wearing your favorite workout clothes, but there is that all important question: is it possible to earn a decent salary while working as a personal trainer?

The short answer is yes. Here are a few, quick insights about how personal trainers are compensated when working in the fitness industry.

How Do Personal Trainers Get Paid?

It’s necessary to first acknowledge that there are two primary models for how fitness professionals are compensated: either through wages paid by a facility or directly by the client. Since it is beyond the scope of a quick blog post to discuss the options for how personal trainers set rates when working with clients directly, the focus of this post is how personal trainers are compensated by commercial fitness facilities.

In general, a personal trainer working as an independent contractor can set his or her own rates according to what the market will provide, which could be upwards of $100-150/session in a large city or as low as $40 per session in a less populated, rural area.

When a personal trainer is an employee of a facility, the client pays the facility and the facility pays the personal trainer. In general, there are three ways that personal trainers make money: a commission on the amount of sales, a training rate when the session is delivered, and a bonus for delivering a certain number of sessions in a pay period or quarter. A benefit of working as an employee for a large health club company is having numerous ways to increase earnings through these or other performance incentives.

How Health Clubs Sell Personal Training Sessions

Traditionally, health clubs have sold personal training in packages of sessions. The goal is to have a client make a long-term commitment to a trainer by providing a price incentive for buying a package of sessions where they will pay less per session. For example, a club might advertise training rates at $95 per hour, but offer 10 or 20 session package at $875 or $1600, respectively, to provide an incentive for clients to purchase sessions in bulk.

However, there is a serious flaw in this traditional model. A health club can not earn revenue from personal training until each individual training session is delivered to the customer. Using the example above, this means that if a client spends $1600 to buy 20 sessions with a trainer, the health club can not claim that money as earned revenue until the sessions are actually delivered. The result is that health clubs want to make sure that all sessions sold are delivered and used by clients so the clubs can earn the revenue, which explains why many health clubs offer incentives to personal trainers for delivering a certain number of sessions per pay period, month or quarter. The good news is that these incentives can add up to significantly increase a personal trainer’s earning potential.

In recent years a new model has emerged where personal training clients sign up for a monthly subscription for a specific number of training sessions. In this model, a client could choose from 4, 8, 12 or unlimited training sessions per month and pay a flat rate like a subscription. The benefit is a more consistent revenue stream for the facility, but the challenge is ensuring the client schedules all of the sessions so that he or she is receiving the greatest value.

When it comes to selling personal training to club members or studio clients, again there are different models for how that takes place. Traditionally, personal trainers have been responsible for marketing and selling their services to health club members. In this scenario, many health clubs provide incentives to personal trainers who achieve established sales targets which can be another way to increase earnings.

Again, a new model is evolving where the sales people or fitness managers will sell the personal training package and then assign the client to a personal trainer. This can relieve the sales pressure from the personal trainer, allowing him or her to focus specifically on delivering an excellent session experience to clients.

How Much Do Personal Trainers Earn?

Those are the general scenarios for how facilities collect the revenue to pay personal trainers. Now let’s do a quick review of how much a personal trainer can actually expect to earn. A personal trainer can expect to be paid an hourly rate for working a shift providing general service on the gym floor. The real reason for working the floor is to meet members and market services to clients. In most markets, personal trainers can expect to earn between $8.50 and $15.00 an hour with the difference again being based on location.

Once a personal trainer is working directly with a client, then he or she will be paid a ‘training rate’ for delivering the session. Previously, this training rate was a percentage of the amount of the value of the individual training session. Follow me here, because this actually can hurt a personal trainer:

If a health club pays a trainer 60% of the session value, then the trainer is losing money per session when a client buys larger session packages. Following the same example, if a client buys 1 session at $95, the trainer earns $57 (60% of $95) for that session. However, if the same client buys a package of 20 sessions where the value is $80 per session, the training rate DROPS to $48 (60% of $80).

This traditional model incentivizes the trainer to sell individual sessions instead of session packages in order to maximize earnings. As a result, many health clubs have moved away from this model to provide personal trainers with a flat rate when delivering the training session. If a personal trainer makes $12 an hour working the floor, he or she might make an additional $15-20 an hour when delivering a client session. The sales or performance incentives provide the other means for increasing total pay.

Finally, many health clubs establish personal trainer pay scales based on the amount of education a personal trainer has performed or certifications earned. For example, a health club may pay an additional $1 per session to a personal trainer with a college degree, a specific personal training certification, or an advanced credential. Health clubs have realized that the more education their fitness staff has, the more successful they are in working with members. Therefore, they design pay scales to recruit and retain personal trainers who take their careers and continuing education seriously.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for ‘fitness instructors’ (how the federal government classifies the job category) was $39,000 in 2018. Keep in mind that this is an average salary for the entire country, which includes both large for-profit health clubs as well as not-for-profit facilities like campus or community recreation centers, the individual amount a personal trainer could earn can change based on region and employment situation.

It is possible to make a six figure income as a personal trainer, however, that requires working in certain urban markets and a large investment in education to give you the ability to earn more. Whether you are a personal trainer in a health club or travel to client’s homes, you are responsible for building your own business. The harder (and smarter) you work, the more money you can earn. Like any other occupation, the most successful personal trainers have spent a lot of time and a tremendous amount of effort developing their business before earning the big dollars.

A health club has a vested interest in seeing you succeed because the more clients you train, the more lives you change and the more revenue you generate for the company (and the more money you receive in your paycheck, a nice win-win-win). Most large health club companies have the resources for initial staff training and ongoing skill development along with the marketing and management support to help you establish a successful business. Even if your goal is to one day open your own facility, it’s a good idea to start out in a health club. Consider it on-the-job training for what you will need to know when you finally invest your hard-earned money to start your own business.