These days, when it comes to choosing a health and fitness or personal training (PT) course, there’s so much out there in the way of choice, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know what course is best, or worse for that matter.
“How much should I pay?”
“What does a good course look like?”
“What’s the difference between all the different courses?”
Are you’re asking yourself one of the questions above, or one similar? Do you feel stuck when it comes choosing a personal training course that’s right for you? Are you going from pillar to post with course features being shoved down your throat at every given opportunity by ‘career advisors’? Then read on; this guide will help you make an informed decision when you’re selecting your course.
What is a Personal Training course?
Just like passing your driving test allows you to drive legally on the road, a personal training course allows you to practice legally as a personal trainer; be that on an employed basis at a gym, self-employed basis working for yourself in a freelance capacity, or a mixture of the two. It also allows you to coach people remotely in an online capacity, which is becoming increasingly popular with both trainers and clients.
PT courses are vocational which means it’s a training programme which focuses more on practical work, rather than traditional academic courses like at University. The ‘vocational’ part of the name refers to the fact that this course prepares you for a vocation – a particular skillset required for a specific job role, which in this case is a PT.
What do I need to start on a Personal Training course?
I guess it kind of goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. You’ll need to have a genuine interest in health, fitness and training to even think about completing a PT course. In addition, you’ll need a Level 2 Certificate in gym-based Exercise or equivalent; this is a pre-requisite (entry requirement) for the Level 3 PT course.
You might choose to complete both your Level 2 and Level 3 together, as this saves time and often money. Naturally, as this is essentially two courses pushed closely together, there will be more work needing to be completed in a short time frame. Around 85% of learners opt for this method and it often makes sense to complete the two together. Ask the learning provider you’re enquiring with about this option.
What’s included in a Personal Training Course?
Most PT courses follow a similar model of education. You’ll learn about the body (anatomy and physiology), as well as planning and instructing / coaching skills. You’ll learn about health and safety in the fitness environment, nutrition, professionalism, continued personal development and fitness programming. Usually, you’ll have to complete assignments and a portfolio of evidence. Due to its nature, there is a practical element to the course too, where you’ll be assessed training a client.
Courses are delivered in a range of ways. Traditionally courses have been delivered face-to-face in a classroom environment. But recently, everything (not just fitness) has transitioned to online / remote operations with courses being delivered using webinars, using online learning platforms or a mixture of both. The online world seems to be taking over, but just because a course is delivered online doesn’t mean it’s not as good as being delivered in person.
What’s the difference between courses?
Most learning providers will assign a tutor to you for the duration of your course. Some larger providers can assign many learners to one tutor, which can sometimes limit the amount of support for you personally, as the tutor is responsible for so many people. Conversely, smaller providers usually have less learners assigned per tutor, which can increase the likelihood of a holistic and thorough learning experience for the learner.
When choosing a course, you need to also look at the amount and quality of student support. The amount of support will vary from learning providers, such as time you’re ‘allowed’ with your tutor or only being able to contact them during certain time periods or days of the week, for example. Many learning providers have excellent support for their learners, which makes for a pleasant experience, so it’s worth reading reviews to make sure your questions will get answered.
Some larger more corporate providers of fitness qualifications don’t include mentorship as part of the course. If you’re already experienced in fitness and think you’ll sail into industry success, then hats off to you and good luck, you won’t need this. However, if you’re a young person with little-to-no experience in the industry, it’s very much worth considering a course which has a mentorship element. You’ll be given to opportunity to have business consultancy with someone who’s already ran a successful PT business. Getting guidance from them saves you making their mistakes; it saves you time, energy and ultimately money. The courses which do provide PT mentorship will often include it on their course as standard, or you might pay a bit extra for the privilege.
A word of caution: many courses portray their ‘learner support’ as PT mentorship, so be sure to get clarity on what the difference is before you commit to a course.
The price of PT qualifications varies from one provider to the next. Some can be as much as £3,000 while some can be as cheap as £700. The difference is usually in the time spent learning about the various topics, degree of support, mentorship inclusion, additional qualifications or if it’s part of a larger bundle. The standard price for Level 2 is around £6-700 with the Level 3 being around £1200, and by completing them together you might save yourself a few quid. Often, the cheapest option isn’t the best option as many have found out in the past; the ‘buy cheap buy twice’ saying is no different for PT courses.
Because the industry is competitive, you’ll see many learning providers give out reduced price or even free CPD (continued professional development) courses to try and entice learners into purchasing a PT course from them. Some CPD qualification can be really helpful in progressing your knowledge and adding to your skillset. Though, many qualifications don’t give you much additional information to what you would learn on a PT course or by doing some simple background research on the given topic in question. Before you get lured in by the inclusion of additional qualifications, ask yourself:
- Do I need this qualification to be successful in the fitness industry?
- Is this something I can learn about as I go on?
- Will it be worth my while?
- Will I further my career by completing it?
A bit of background knowledge to start with here; in February 2021, REPs (The Register of Exercise Professionals) which was previously the exercise directory for fitness professionals was combined with (taken over by) CIMSPA (The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity) and UK Coaching.
Ofqual are the governing body who regulate all qualifications in the UK and set the standard for the individual qualifications being awarded by awarding organisations, such as Focus Awards, Active IQ and YMCA. With up-to-date qualifications, you might see the letters “RQF” at the end of the qualification title. This means that that particular qualification sits on the ‘registered quality framework’, so you can be assured you’re undertaking a quality course.
Learning providers will usually deliver their courses in line with awarding organisations requirements to make sure the learning is up to a good standard.
Your course should be overseen by a recognised awarding organisation, ideally endorsed by CIMSPA and regulated by Ofqual. Your learning provider should be able to give you specific background details on the qualification they’re delivering. If they can’t, that’s the time to be suspicious and question whether or not it is a recognised and valid qualification. If you complete a course which isn’t regulated by Ofqual, you’re unlikely to get public liability insurance after you’ve qualified, and can’t legally practice as a PT.
What’s the problem with PT courses?
Most learners do their PT course with the desire and expectation to practice as a PT and run their own business afterwards. With this in mind, many PT courses completely fail when it gets to the point where the learner is qualified, received their certificate and is ready to work in the industry. Many providers think their job is done once you’ve qualified, when in fact, you’ll need the most amount of support at this crucial time, which will ultimately help you to succeed quicker in the industry. While learning providers don’t have an obligation to provide post-course support, I personally feel that they should.
Moreover, it’s very difficult for CIMSPA to uphold a certain standard of trainer out in the real world. For example, if you drive a car without a licence, you’ll get sent to prison. If you deliver a PT session without a recognised certificate and insurance, you won’t get sent to prison, basically. So, the standard of PT varies significantly from one trainer to the next, because the practice of personal training is essentially unregulated after course completion.
This is why it’s really important for trainers to get testimonials and endorsements from clients to give credibility to their work, because the qualification / regulation system isn’t great at doing that for them at present.
- PT courses can provide a hugely beneficial and holistic learning experience, and help you create your successful fitness business.
- Having direct access to a tutor who you can talk to, have a normal conversation with and you can actually learn from, in terms of course content and business development is tremendously important.
- You should consider PT mentorship as part of your course as it can be worth its weight in dumbbells (fitness pun there, hope you enjoyed it).
- You have to select a course which facilitates your preferred learning style (be that online or in person) with the right amount of support. If you’re young and confident with using a computer, the online method can be a fantastic solution for you. If you’re more old school and prefer being taught in a classroom, that’s fine too, but you might have to travel to get there.
Write down your top 3 things you want to get out of your qualification. Shop around, get 4-5 quotes and make your own brief notes. Compare the pros and cons for each course and learning provider and make that informed decision.
If you just want some friendly fitness industry advice from someone who’s experienced in running their own PT business, you should drop me a message, because I love helping people, which is why I write this blog.
At Summit, we deliver a truly holistic and learner-centred experience. We believe you should have the support to go into the fitness industry with confidence, which is why we have PT mentorship as standard for learners on our Level 3 PT course.
If you’re interested in taking the first or next step in your fitness career, get in touch, visit our website for some free PT resources or take a look at our free course taster to get a feel for us and our courses.
Tom Williams (Lead Tutor / Assessor / Fitness Educator)