How to Start a Personal Training Business

Go pro as a personal trainer and make some serious gains in your career.

Business at a glance

Income potential

$40-70 per hour is the national average

High-end and/or niche personal trainers charge up to $120 (or more).

Personal trainers report margins of about 60%.

Startup costs

If you plan on training clients online or outside, startup costs can be close to $0.

If you plan on training clients at a gym, costs can range from $500-1500 per month.

Note that equipment costs vary widely.

Training

None required at the federal level; check with state and local authorities. Gyms or shared studios may require that you’re certified by one of the following:


Personal training on a shoestring

The biggest potential expense for any new personal trainer is space and equipment rental. You need to pay fees to a gym if you plan to train clients there. Otherwise, you may be able to rent time in a private fitness studio. 

In both cases, on top of rental fees, you’ll likely need some form of certification. Getting certified costs extra, and if you’re trying to start your personal training business ASAP, it can slow you down.

Get creative, though, and you don’t need to shell out tons of cash for overhead. In fact, the bare minimum you need to work in person as a personal trainer is:

  • Flexible tape measure for body measurements
  • A scale
  • A stopwatch (or your phone)

If you plan to offer online lessons, you’ll also need a computer and an internet connection. (Training-specific software—like a scheduling app—is helpful, but not 100% necessary.)

When you’ve got those, you have everything you need to start training clients—as long as you’re willing to be flexible.

Figure out what you can offer

With a minimal startup investment of tape measure, scale, and stopwatch, what can you offer clients?

You may be surprised at the kinds of in-person services you can offer on a shoestring, provided you have access to a local park. Some ideas:

  • Bodyweight workout circuits
  • Callisthenics group classes (weather permitting)
  • Outdoor aerobics and cardio HIIT
  • One-on-one yoga and stretching
  • Mobility training for seniors
  • Running groups

Outdoor fitness sessions are a great way to advertise your new business. As long as you’re training your clients outside, you’re a walking—or running, or kettlebell-swinging—advertisement for your own services. Always keep a few business cards tucked in your sweatband. (Or just your pocket. Your pocket works, too.)

If you’re offering online training sessions, the types of lessons you provide are limited only by your clients’ needs, and the equipment and space they have available. 

For minimal startup costs, online training is hard to beat.


What will it cost, and how much should you charge?

If the shoestring approach doesn’t appeal to you—or, you’ve tried it for a while, and you’re ready to take your personal training business to the next level—you should be prepared to spend some money.

So long as you’re offering in-person sessions, your biggest expense is likely to be a gym. You’ve got four options:

  1. Pay a gym so you can train clients there. This is the most popular option for trainers just starting out on their own.
  1. Rent time in a shared fitness studio. A shared studio offers you and your clients more privacy and control over your environment, but you may be limited to particular hours or days of the week. 
  1. Visit clients who have their own gyms/equipment. This approach limits you to wealthier clients who have already invested in their personal fitness. It may be a struggle to find enough of these clients to work with when you’re launching your business.
  1. Host clients at your home. Working from home is only viable if you have your own home gym. Otherwise, the cost of setting it up could prove a major barrier.

For personal trainers just starting out, option #1 (paying a gym) is the most common approach.

Essential details

Potential Services
  • Bodyweight workout circuits
  • Callisthenics group classes (weather permitting)
  • Outdoor aerobics and cardio HIIT
  • One-on-one yoga and stretching
  • Mobility training for seniors
  • Running groups
  • Cycling groups
What to charge

Hourly
$40 – 70

Again, this ranges wildly, and can reach well over $100 if your skillset is niche enough.

Session length
Personal trainer sessions typically range from 30 minutes to one hour long. Frequency ranges from weekly to three sessions per week.

For one-off services that take less than an hour, consider charging your hourly rate as a minimum. Conversely, you can incentivize clients to buy multiple sessions by offering package discounts.

Example package and group deals (at normal rate of $50/hr)

  • Form analysis and correction (30 mins): $50
  • 5x one hour session package: $225
  • 2-on-1 session, one hour (per client): $45
  • Lunch hour bootcamp (per client, max. 8 clients): $30
  • Intro powerlifting class (per client. 3x sessions, max. 4 clients): $125

Skills required
  • Communication
  • Customer service
  • Physical fitness
  • Listening
  • Problem solving
  • Research


When you set your rates, take three factors into account:

  1. How much you need to earn annually. What do you need just to survive? What were you earning before you went into business for yourself? (Alternatively, what are you earning per hour at your full-time job, while running your personal training business as a side gig?)
  1. How much other trainers in your area are charging. What do you need to charge to be competitive, while managing to hit your goals for annual income? 
  1. Your overhead. The cost of using someone else’s gym cuts into your bottom line. Make sure you have a clear picture of what your overhead will be before you set a fee.

There’s some wiggle room here. For instance, you may be willing to take a pay cut your first year or two as a personal trainer in order you get your business off the ground. Alternatively, running your own business could be your strategy for boosting annual income—in which case, making sure you earn more than you did at your previous gig may be priority number one.

The hourly rate other trainers in your area charge will depend on your location, too. That number is tied to demand. Hourly rates for personal trainers in rural Wyoming are lower than they are in Manhattan. But then again, so is rent.

What does it cost to train clients in a gym?

Paying for gym space comes with major benefits. You’ll have access to many different types of equipment—from treadmills for warmups, squat racks for the truly muscle-motivated, and stretching areas for cooldown. 

Finding a gym that fits your vibe as a trainer can also create networking opportunities, allow you to learn by observing experienced trainers, and generate leads. 

For first time personal trainers, working from a larger gym comes with important perks.


That being said, paying to train clients in a gym will cost you.

Typical gym fees for personal trainers

Percentage-based: Varies widely, from 30% to 80%

Per session flat rate: $15–30

Monthly flat rate: $500–1500

Besides giving the gym their cut of your earnings, you’ll also need to cover the cost of certification. Gyms that establish working relationships with personal trainers and allow them to train clients there also, in almost all cases, require them to be certified.

You may be able to find a gym with rusty barbells, stretching mats that are 90% duct tape, a weirder-than-normal smell in the change rooms, and no certification requirements for their personal trainers. But, at that point, you may want to think about what kind of impression you’ll make on clients.

Certification is the way to go, and there are many different companies that certify personal trainers. Some of them are well established institutions that have earned the respect of the community. Others are pure snake oil. 

There’s no central authority that sets standards for personal trainer certifications. So, any TikTok influencer with ab implants is free to set up shop, charge thousands for a personal trainer certification program, and give you their stamp of approval.

With that in mind, the four most widely recognized, respected, non-scam certification bodies are:

The certification process typically consists of studying for and then taking an aptitude test, but may include other forms of education and training depending on which certification level you purchase.

If you’re unsure where to get certified, first choose which gym or gyms you’d like to work in, then ask them which certifications they recognize or prefer. 

Be prepared to spend $400 – $600 or more on certification. That may seem like a lot to pay upfront, but it’s the cost of becoming a certified personal trainer (CPT), and getting access to the equipment that will help your clients meet their goals.

The Cost of Personal Trainer Certification

  • American College of Sports Medicine (“Certified Personal Trainer”): $399 for members, $599 for non-members
  • American Council on Exercise (“Personal Trainer”): $599
  • Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (“Primary Fitness Certification”): $399
  • National Strength and Conditioning Council (“NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer”): $435

Build a website for your personal training business

Your professional website will be the first stop for potential clients interested in what you have to offer as a personal trainer. Besides providing information about your experience, training, and services, your website lends an air of legitimacy to the enterprise. Prospective clients are more likely to see you as the real deal if you’ve invested the time and effort to create a website.

Luckily, that investment of time and effort doesn’t need to be a big one. Use Durable’s AI website builder to create your personal training website in 30 seconds. 

If you’re not happy with how it looks, you can change just about every aspect of its appearance, from fonts and colors to overall layout. Or hit reset, and have artificial intelligence create you a new one from scratch.

Feel like checking out a few sample sites? Take a tour of our personal trainer website template.

Start promoting your personal training business

You don’t need a Don Draper ad campaign in order to start promoting yourself as a personal trainer. Here some quick, inexpensive steps you can take to start attracting clients now:

  • Share your website with everyone in your network—from great aunts on Facebook to old colleagues on LinkedIn
  • Add your business to an online directory like iPersonalTrainer
  • Take a crash course in targeted digital ads, and start investing modest amounts on Facebook and Google Ads
  • Local classifieds sites like Craigslist and Nextdoor get plenty of traffic
  • Setting up business pages on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn gives you a chance to share fitness advice and news about your business with potential clients
  • Consider putting together how-to videos for TikTok and participating in fitness memes
  • Take the old-fashioned route, and put up posters at the gym, community center, health food store, and anywhere else with a bulletin board
  • Ask your clients to leave you positive reviews

Make sure you can get paid

Particularly if any of your clients are taking advantage of health spending accounts offered by their work, it’s important you can present them with invoices and receipts. Invoicing clients also helps you keep track of payments and calculate your income at tax time. 

When you use Durable’s invoice tool, it’s easy for clients to pay you by credit card, ACH, or Apple Pay.

Besides making sure you can get paid, it’s key to separate your personal and business finances. If you don’t, tax time becomes a serious headache. Durable Money gives you an online business bank account that links up with your invoicing and personal website, keeping your business finances organized and up to date.

Cover your butt

If you’re training clients in a gym, talk to the owners and make sure you’re clear on what their insurance covers. Most gyms have insurance that covers personal trainers, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you are working with clients outside of a gym, you’ll need general liability insurance. Check with your certifying body—many of them have deals with insurance companies, and you may be able to save on the cost.

For a deeper dive, check out our guide to business insurance.

Once your personal training business starts to grow

So, your client list is steadily growing, clients are hitting your fitness goals and leaving you positive reviews, and you’ve got enough cash coming in to start reinvesting in your business. Here are a few simple upgrades you can make.

Brand your personal training business

Operating under your own name is great—after all, it’s your personal experience, skills, and je ne sais quoi clients pay for. 

But creating a brand name can make you more memorable to potential clients, and it gives you an identity to operate under in case you ever decide to sub-contract other trainers. Plus, you can use it to brand t-shirts, water bottles, and other tax-deductible promotional goodies.

Need inspiration? Take Durable’s AI business name generator for a spin.

Boost your marketing strategy

Social media, bulletin board posters, and digital ads are just the start. As you begin building a long term strategy for your personal training business, it’s time to go all-in with promotion.

  • Analyze the competition: Make an audit of the other personal trainers working in your area (if you do in-person training) or niche (if you train online.) What do they charge? What perks do they offer? Are their clients happy? You can use this info to adjust your own business strategy.
  • Learn more about your customers: Start compiling data on your customers. What is their income level, roughly? Where do they live and work? What are their fitness goals? Outside of training with you, do they participate in any other physical activities or sports? You’re looking for ways to either continue targeting the same demographic, or find similar demographics that overlap and begin targeting them.
  • Send email: If you’ve collected the email addresses of your customers, you have the beginnings of an email marketing plan. Start thinking about what kind of information would be most useful to customers, both current and former. Exclusive offers? Training tips? Long articles debunking fad diets? You can grow your list of recipients by offering a newsletter signup on your website and promoting it on social media.
  • Set up a CRM: Client relationship management keeps your clients’ info organized, so you can track how much they’ve paid you, the services you’ve provided, how long they’ve been a client, and other important info. It can give you big-picture insight into what type of clients are right for your business, and which ones are the most profitable

Invest in in your own training space

If you’ve been training clients in a gym for a while, and you’re successfully getting new clients through referrals, it may be time to consider your own space.

Either renting time in a shared fitness studio or building a home gym where you can meet clients gives you a chance to offer more personalized, one-on-one training sessions. Plus, you and your clients will spend less time waiting for an elliptical to free up, or listening to the local strongman scream-grunt his way through a set of front squats.

Even if you continue offering some in-gym training, a rented space with minimal equipment or a simple home setup may be a more appropriate space to work with clients who are elderly or recovering from injuries, or who have physical disabilities.

Simple gym setup for one-on-one clients

  • Adjustable weightlifting bench
  • Dumbbell set
  • Assorted kettlebells
  • Yoga/stretching mats
  • TRX
  • Jump rope
  • Ergometer 
  • Stationary bike
  • Step blocks
  • Resistance bands
  • Punching bag
  • Foam rollers

Some studio spaces may be able to provide all of these items; others are more barebones. Whether you’re adding to the equipment in a rental studio, or setting up a gym in your home, only invest in equipment you know you’ll use. If your niche is mobility exercises for senior citizens, hold off on that Olympic barbell set.

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Set goals for your personal training business

When your new career as a personal trainer is not so new any more, and you’ve settled into a steady rhythm, it’s time to start thinking about the future. Whether you’re planning to become an internationally recognized fitness maven, or just pay yourself well and keep new clients coming in the door, here are three steps you can take to plan ahead.

Write a business plan

Your business plan spells out your business’s master strategy, so you know what to prioritize when it’s time to reinvest in the company or make major business decisions. the U.S. Small Business Administration provides a straightforward template.

Register your business entity

By default, when you go into your business for yourself, you’re a sole proprietor. For tax purposes, you and your business are one and the same. That means you’re personally on the line for any debts you incur, or any legal proceedings brought against your business.

Registering a formal business structure can reduce your liability, and may come with other perks—such as reducing your tax bill or allowing you to bring on investors. Be sure to work with a local accountant or business attorney when planning a new business structure; they can help you choose the right one for your business.

Scale your business

Look for ways you can increase your income without substantially adding to your work hours every week. Even small forms of passive income can make a major difference over time, giving you more cash flow and helping to build savings you can reinvest in your business.

Some ideas to get started:

  • Subcontract to other personal trainers. When your client load is too high, a contractor could help pick up the slack. 
  • Create an online course. A successful online course can create a steady trickle of extra income while demanding a minimum amount of time each month to run.
  • Sell equipment. If your clients are brand new to personal fitness, they may not have their own resistance bands, foam rollers, protein shakers, or other gear. You may be able to buy these items wholesale, and sell them to new clients for a modest markup. Bonus points if you can slap your business logo on them.

Remember to invest your time and money wisely. It may be a good idea to test the waters by talking to your current, long-term clients. Would they ever be interested in purchasing an online course, or recommending it to a friend? Would they be comfortable working with another (sub-contracted) trainer part of the time? Your clients may be your best resource as you research ways to scale.

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