Shape up for a career in fitness

Shape up for a career in fitness

By J&C Team

An estimated 5.2 million people in the UK are members of a private gym. That means thousands of employees (51,500 across the UK, to be exact) are needed to be on hand to sign up clients for membership, teach fitness classes and carry out personal training sessions.

Gyms and fitness centres form a key part of the health and fitness industry, focussing on the supervision of exercise and physical activity. As getting fit and losing weight are currently very high on the UK population’s agenda (especially after the 2012 Olympics), the industry is a thriving prospect for growing a career.

While the majority of employment in the fitness industry lies in private gyms and fitness centres, there are also opportunities for working in public health and fitness facilities, so don’t rule those out when searching for vacancies. There are also possibilities for self-employed work for qualified, experienced professionals with a self-motivated approach.

The workforce tends to be young – as is the case for much of the leisure sector as a whole. Nearly a third of workers are aged between 16- and 24-years-old, compared to the 14% average across all industries in the UK. The balance between full-time and part-time workers is reasonably equal, with 38% of employees working full-time, 42% employed part-time, and 20% self-employed. So there’s bound to be a position that suits your requirements and commitments.

Fitness Instructor

There’s no one set way to enter the health and fitness industry, but working as a fitness instructor is a common route of entry. A recognised fitness instructor qualification is typically expected from candidates for this type of role. One of the most recognised qualifications is the Level 2 Certificate in Fitness Instructing, which you can study for through a private training provider or college (try, which offers the course). This Certificate has four optional pathways, so you can focus on your interests or desired specialisms, covering gym-based exercise, water-based exercise, exercise to music, and physical activity for children.

Alternatively, you may start out as an assistant instructor at a gym or fitness centre, and compete work-based training to qualify on the job. This will typically be the Level 2 QCF Diploma in Instructing Exercise and Fitness. Before applying for a college course, contact local gyms and fitness centres to find out what they require in terms of entry qualifications for fitness instructor roles. Remember that first aid, health and safety, and coaching awards will also be valued by employers – as will GCSEs (A*-C) in maths and English, and a PE qualification, whether that be at GCSE or A-level.

Personal Trainer

If you’re someone who loves keeping fit, and you’re interested in helping others reach their fitness goals, then working as a personal trainer could satisfy all your career needs. To become a personal trainer, your first port of call should be getting qualified. Always make sure your qualification is accredited by the Register of Exercise Professionals – otherwise it may not be taken seriously by potential employers.

First, you’ll need to complete a Level 2 Gym Instructor qualification (or Fitness Instructing qualification) as a basis for your personal training course. With that under your belt, you can then go on to take your Level 3 Personal Trainer Course.

This focusses on increasing your knowledge and ability to assess the needs of your clients, and recommend a training and diet programme to achieve the results they’re looking for. The course also covers business-related knowledge – for instance, how to run your own personal training business, as many personal trainers work on a self-employed basis. Deciding whether you want to work on a freelance, self-employed or employed basis is vital when you’re planning a career as a personal trainer. According to, 76% of personal trainers are now freelance, while only 16% are employed on a full-time basis.

Once you’ve achieved both Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications, you can then be awarded the Level 3 Diploma in Fitness Instructing and Personal Training. To learn more about what a personal trainer does on a day-to-day basis, visit the National Careers website at

Training to train

Looking to learn the tricks of the gym trade while gaining a qualification? Why not consider completing a gym instructor apprenticeship? Through a combination of work-based learning with your mentor, and home study through e-learning, you’ll achieve a Central YMCA Qualifications (CYQ) Level 2 Certificate in Fitness Instructing (Gym) – the qualification that is typically required to work as a fitness instructor. Depending on your apprenticeship, you may also accrue additional accreditations, such as a QCF Diploma in Instructing Exercise and Fitness.

You can choose to follow the apprenticeship route if you’re already working in a gym environment. Alternatively, you can apply for an apprenticeship with a particular company. Either way, you will need to be working for a minimum of 30 hours a week in a fitness environment.

Bear in mind that each apprenticeship can be very different, so seek out one that covers your interests. For instance, some focus on personal training or teaching classes, while others cover sales training. For more about fitness apprenticeships, visit

Words: Jessie Bland

Image: Shutterstock

[This article was originally printed in Jobs & Careers with Hilary Devey magazine in May 2013]