Five people on stationary bikes; personal training internship

Best Way To Become A Personal Trainer

When I started at my first fitness studio I had to shadow and assist over 500 hours of Pilates reformer work. It wasn’t all that fun. Mostly because I didn’t like Pilates. A Personal Training Internship was not something I was excited about.

During the process however, I learned about the personal training business, people, niches, and exercises. Most of that knowledge I still use today. I find myself using terminology learned in Pilates when teaching everything from Muay Thai to Golf Fitness.

It doesn’t matter where you start your journey. A Personal Training Internship and Shadowing is the best way to become a fitness professional of any sort.

All fitness/sports/health mediums have applications, theories, protocols, and constructs that expand generally over each fitness genre.

Take the position of a squat; from yoga to football, you will be in this position over and over. The techniques and teachings to get into one will vary based on the medium. Understanding the basics allows you to cross those disciplines without actually knowing the specifics on how that discipline teaches it. Chances are you have had some experiences in sports or fitness. This will give you crossover knowledge so remember to call on that. 

Shadowing and internships are done in every profession. More often than not it is a forced educational requirement rather than for purposeful learning. As a FIT (fitness industry teacher), you will most likely not have to shadow. There really is no standard fitness or personal training internship.

Choosing to not do so on your own however is a mistake. It is a MUST. I will break down the process and its importance into 3 categories:

Personal Training Guidance Through Internship

Other personal trainers will almost always take you under their wing and be happy to teach you what they have learned. It is in our DNA to help and teach as a fitness professional. Asking to learn alongside a professional in your area or even getting tips from someone from an online fitness business you admire is a must. but it gives all the same benefits.

The more bodies and equipment you can be around, the faster your confidence and skill set will take hold. You need to see different types of people and gym environments in order to hone your craft.

General Learning Through Shadowing

I made it a point to work with a trainer who had a clientele of an older population (65+) when I first started. Beginning to understand their issues medically and the challenges they faced day to day was important. It widens the mind and scope of your exercise skill set when you are forced to be creative. Watching others do so when faced with challenging scenarios helps you learn to be creative.

Inevitably, you are going to have clients who come into sessions or classes injured. Maybe they pulled their back in golf earlier that morning. They may have slipped down the steps and sprained an ankle the night before. How do you decide to adjust and choose what exercises to work on to avoid those issues? The answer is based on your experiences in having watched others.

It’s also important to force yourself to use equipment or styles you’re unaccustomed to. Don’t be afraid to say, “I am not well versed in that yet”. Keep your eyes open, and head on a swivel to take in what other professionals are doing. I always stole from the best trainers I knew, and would tweak those techniques, exercises, plans, and protocols to my liking.

You will be able to learn new exercises, techniques, verbal cuing, and more to develop into your best version of a FIT (fitness industry teacher). It also gives you time to practice what you preach. You can go over these things time and time again in your head. Imagining how you would train or set up things if you were in the shoes of the person you are shadowing is great practice.

Ultimately, your goal is to demonstrate techniques with authority as it becomes second nature.

How do you get there? By routinely mentally imagining and completing those tasks you will eventually give to your clients (health plan, exercise routine, etc).

Personal Training Internship Daily Business Tips

Regardless if you work for a gym, studio, club, or on your own, as a trainer you sell yourself. Therefore, you should act as if you’re running a business. What better way to learn than to find a personal training internship?

You are not just learning tricks and techniques of your specialty when you shadow. You are learning how to run a business.

  • Scheduling systems, marketing tactics, payments structures (i.e. per class, per week, avg price/hr, etc), peak and low hours (volume of people/time), retaining clients, assessments, filling systems, small and large group dynamics.

These are just a handful of the day to day issues a FIT has to deal with. It doesn’t matter the business model (outdoor bootcamp, Crossfit gym, Health Coach.) You can still learn things you want to steal and things you want to avoid by shadowing a similar business model.

There is no better creative fuel then to watch a business similar to one you have in mind work (and not work). It will empower you to imagine exactly how you would handle all situations. From equipment purchase to scheduling.

  • Is a 45 minute class is better suited for your teaching style, than a 60 min class? Better yet, which one is more profitable?
  • How do you find out how much people are willing to pay in your area?
  • Do you know the particular demographic is that best fits your business?

Investing your time into a facility and a personal training internship in order to ingest all of the information and you can answer those questions.

Job security/Networking

At 22 when I was hired to work in Public Relations I interned at the same business the summer before. I was the only male in the office, I had a knack for computers, IT, and everything else electronic. Nobody else cared, or had that particular skill set. The copy machine would break on a regular basis. The server would fail. I was the only person who could fix it. How was any of this helpful?

  • I was an outlier (male)
  • They already invested time in me (interning)
  • Held a skill set nobody else had (electronics)

I instantly gave myself Job security. So, I then used the same tools in the fitness industry to land top level jobs.

A personal training internship will allow you to get the upper hand in all the aforementioned ways. Which is the most important?

Having a particular entity invest time in you which fiscally handcuffs them.

It would be irresponsible to not hire you. Training someone else would take time, and potentially money. You’ve already learned their ways at no cost to them. Employee retention is key. Even as an intern you will be looked at in a similar light as an employee. Why? You were working alongside the team in that facility.

Personal Training Internship also came with psychological components that play in your favor.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds two thoughts that could potentially be contradictory. They in turn convince themselves that one is the proper thought to avoid the contradiction.

This comes into play when you want to be hired at the place you shadow. They once saw you as green. What is the contradictory thought? They invested time teaching you what they perceive are the ideal ways (their ways).

So, how could you be green if what you know and do is exactly what they taught you?

Strategy of Attrition

The strategy of attrition comes into play from the perspective of the clients, fitness facility members, and colleagues.

You begin to build a rapport with people after so many hours of being around the facility. Those people expect to see you and have now connected you with their routines. Humans are routine oriented (especially regular exercisers).

You gained leverage purely through being around a facility enough. You have worn them down so to speak. You’ve become interwoven into the day to day fabric of the business. 

Through your personal training internship hours you will also see what particular skill sets are missing. Maybe the facility doesn’t have any female TRX Suspension Trainer Instructors. You notice there are no male Yoga Instructors. There could be no CrossFit certified teachers.

Find something during your shadowing that sets you apart.

Personal Training Internships Lead To Networking

Lastly, you will begin to meet other people in your industry. People who are of the same make-up and have the similar interests as you.

You will have access to clients, and others in your industry who you will gel with. Often these interactions come full circle and can help you in the future find a job.

I eventually landed my ideal job due to my personal training internship.

A trainer was out sick, and I had to fill in to teach a TRX Suspension Training Class. I had experience using the TRX suspension trainer, but not in a class environment. However, I watched dozens of classes from other instructors, and took classes all over town.

This helped me mentally map out how I would structure my class. When put on the spot I delivered successfully. One of the class attendees enjoyed it so much she told me about an open TRX class instructor position in town. I applied, and landed the gig due to her recommendation.

If I had not actively sought out a personal training internship I would not have been ready for that opportunity. I would have missed that job which became my favorite and most lucrative place of employment.

(I also used some key personal training interview tactics you can find here)

Remember, a personal training internship is your best avenue to access and assess all the potential jobs in your area. It helps you select your niche as well. However obvious some of this may sound, other people are not doing this. They are fearful or impatient.

The advantage of getting your foot in the door? Priceless. Even through a few hours of weekly unpaid shadowing. Go shadow!