What It’s Really Like To Work As A Personal Trainer At A High-End Gym

pros and cons of being a personal trainer


Ever since I developed my passion for health and fitness, I wondered what it would be like to make a career out of that passion by working as a personal trainer at a health club. I thought that it’d be super glamorous to train clients at a high-end gym and live what I thought would be a health-centered lifestyle. So even though I majored in broadcast journalism during my four years in college, when I graduated, I decided to become a certified personal trainer and try my hand at landing a personal training gig at a fancy health club. Soon thereafter, I started a full-time training job at one of the elite gyms in New York City.

After roughly five months of working as a personal trainer and subsequently quitting to (once again) pursue a career in journalism, I can say that the experience was nothing like I imagined it would be. Here are seven surprising things I learned about the training industry from being in the middle of it.

1. You probably won’t sleep much — at least at the beginning.

pros and cons of being a personal trainer

Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao

I always figured that trainers embodied a healthy lifestyle. After all, they work at a gym and move around all day instead of sitting at a desk. But what I didn’t know is that many of these trainers, especially the ones working at popular commercial gyms, barely get any sleep at night. When you’re routinely training your first client at 5 a.m. and you don’t meet your last client of the day until 8 p.m., it’s almost impossible to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Unfortunately, when half of your clients want to work out before their 9-to-5 job and the other half want to sneak it in after hours, this 14- to 15-hour work schedule is pretty inevitable. And leaving the gym to take naps during the day isn’t really an option if you live far away, so many trainers resort to taking cat naps in the break rooms. The result of these long work days is often highly-caffeinated, borderline-exhausted trainers — not necessarily the epitome of good health.

2. Working on your feet all day is exhausting.

pros and cons of being a personal trainer

Unsplash/Victor Freitas

Nothing could have prepared me for the kind of exhaustion that I felt after having four to five personal training clients back to back for the first time. For each hour-long training session, personal trainers are expected to demonstrate multiple exercises for their clients and be energetic enough to motivate them — all on four to six hours of sleep.

In addition to training sessions with clients, trainers at many high-end commercial gyms also have to do what is known as “floor shifts.” These are three-hour shifts during which you walk the gym’s floors, picking up any stray equipment and handing out towels to exercisers who, for the most part, don’t want to talk to you. After a three-hour floor shift and multiple client training sessions, it’s safe to say that I slept like a baby most nights — even if it was just for a couple of hours.

3. Most personal trainers are highly educated.

pros and cons of being a personal trainer

Unsplash/ Green Chameleon

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was slightly surprised to find that many personal trainers I worked alongside had earned master’s degrees in physiology or exercise science. I figured that all you really needed to be a good trainer was a personal training certification and a slight interest in fitness, but these people were clearly experts in the field. The top-performing personal trainers at my gym knew about everything from advanced anatomy to sports nutrition, and they were always seeking out new courses to learn more about the space.

4. Personal trainers aren’t just trainers — they’re salespeople.

pros and cons of being a personal trainer

Pexels/Bruce Mars

Before I got my personal training job, I didn’t know that trainers at most commercial gyms have to get their own clients. I figured that it was someone else’s job to convince members to buy training sessions and that trainers only had to worry about the training part. But I soon learned that as personal trainers, we would also be responsible for finding our own clients. We did this in one of two ways: take potential clients through a complimentary personal training session and then try to convince them to purchase future sessions with us, or approach people while they were working out and somehow convince them that they’d improve their current fitness regimen if they trained with us.

Since good sales skills are a big part of what makes top trainers successful, if you pursue a career in personal training at a commercial gym, you should expect to go through mandatory weekly sales training sessions in addition to any other new employee training.

5. A personal trainer’s schedule is constantly changing.

pros and cons of being a personal trainer

Unsplash/ Estée Janssens

During a regular 9-to-5 job, you pretty much know what to expect when it comes to your daily work hours. You’ll probably work one or two hours more than usual once in a while, but your hours probably won’t change much more than that. When you’re working as a personal trainer at a commercial gym, though, your schedule can fluctuate constantly.

Be prepared to have to routinely shift around your work hours to accommodate the ever-changing schedules of your clients. It’s not abnormal for a client to text you a couple of minutes before a training session to say that he or she can’t make it and needs to reschedule. Sometimes your clients will forget about their training sessions altogether, and you’ll be stuck waiting around wondering if they’re going to show up. A constantly fluctuating schedule can be very hard for people who are natural planners (AKA me).

6. Having a job that revolves around helping people is extremely rewarding.

pros and cons of being a personal trainer

Unsplash/ David Calderón

Even though I was often sleep-deprived and stressed out about my schedule when I worked as a personal trainer, I always appreciated the fact that the job allowed me to actively make a difference in the lives of other people. I remember how rewarding it felt when one of my clients, who could barely do a single pushup initially, was finally able to crank out 10 at a time after a couple months of training. The ability to see that improvements that you’re helping make in the lives of others is arguably the best part of a career in personal training.

7. If you’re good, you can make a really good income. But you’ll have to work your butt off.

pros and cons of being a personal trainer

Pexels/Artem Bali

When I started working as a personal trainer, I was surprised to find out that top trainers at my gym were earning at least $100,000 per year. You can make a serious living as a personal trainer, but you have to be prepared to work long hours because you need to log a certain number of training sessions each day to make that kind of money. But if you’re passionate about the space and you have the patience that’s necessary for constantly working around other people’s schedules, it could very much be worth it.

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