Fitness Instructor: Job Outlook and Educational Requirements

Sep 13, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a fitness instructor. Get a quick view of the requirements, as well as details about training, specializations and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

Fitness trainers and instructors lead and train individuals or groups in activities and exercises for the body. They also give motivation for people to have a better physical life. Often with just a high school diploma and some on-the-job training with professional instructors, individuals can get started as fitness instructors. The nation's growing obsession with healthy lifestyles contributes to this careers' fast as average employment projection of 13% through 2028.

Essential Information

Fitness instructors design programs that help clients meet their health and fitness goals. Instructors who work one-on-one with clients are called personal trainers. Instructors usually teach classes focusing on one particular type of exercise, such as Pilates, aerobics or weight training. Required education and training for these professionals is generally determined by their employers.

Required Education High school diploma; some employers may require an undergraduate degree
Additional Requirements Many employers prefer training or certification in fitness or a related area
Projected Job Growth* (2018-2028) 13% for all fitness trainers and instructors
Median Salary* (2018) $39,820 for all fitness trainers and instructors

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Degree Programs

While a bachelor's degree is not a standard educational requirement, the BLS noted that employers generally preferred applicants who hold bachelor's degrees in fields such as physical fitness, physical education and exercise science. Coursework related to these programs include sports safety and first aid, anatomy and physiology, human nutrition, exercise physiology and kinesiology. Many degree programs allow students to choose career-based concentrations, such as public health, physical education and recreation leadership. Some managerial positions may require a master's degree.

Training Programs

Fitness instructors may gain training by participating in group exercise programs. For example, an individual may enroll in an aerobics class and take similar aerobics classes until that individual feels confident enough to instruct others. Some professional instructors may also help advanced students learn to become instructors by having students act as co-instructors during exercise sessions. Instructor training programs are available in several fitness specialties, including aerobics, dance, weight training and cycling.

According to the BLS, some fitness activities, such as yoga and Pilates, have developed highly specialized instructor training programs in response to people getting injured after following untrained instructors. National organizations, such as the Pilates Method Alliance and the Yoga Alliance, have created training standards for instructors in these specialties. Most instructor or teacher training programs are certificate programs that cover topics such as yoga meditation, yoga positions, Pilates mat training, modified Pilates, tips for instructing students and exercise guidelines.

Job Growth Rate

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs for fitness trainers and aerobics instructors was expected to increase due to a longer-living population that has become more health-conscious. Fitness instructors who specialize in training young people, families and retirees are expected to experience growth, since these age groups use personal trainers and gym memberships more frequently than other groups. From 2018-2028, the BLS predicted that job growth for fitness trainers and aerobics instructors would grow 13%.

Salary Statistics

According to the BLS in 2018, the median annual salary of fitness trainers and aerobics instructors was $39,820. During that same year, individuals in this career field who earned the highest annual median salary worked in New York ($59,520), Massachusetts ($59,350), District of Columbia ($56,670), Washington ($54,220) and New Jersey ($54,200).

Though a high school diploma or its equivalent, together with some experience, may qualify you for an entry-level fitness instructor position, you may stand a better chance of getting hired if you have a bachelor's degree in an area such as physical education. Professional certification is often preferred by prospective employers, but not required. While professional training programs offer specialized certification, academic degree programs allow you to select career-based concentrations.

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