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Personal Trainer College and School Program Options

Learn about personal training education programs at the undergraduate certificate and degree levels. Find out about courses, prerequisites and continuing education options, and take a look at employment prospects and salary potential in the field.

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Essential Information

Certificate, associate and bachelor's degree programs in personal training or exercise science prepare students to work as personal trainers at gyms or fitness centers. Through lecture-based coursework, hands-on labs and internships, students learn how to help individuals meet their fitness goals through exercise and proper nutrition. Admission requirements for both associate and bachelor's programs may include prerequisite courses in the sciences.


Personal Training Certificate

A personal training certificate program can take anywhere from five weeks to two semesters to complete and introduces students to the basics of exercise science. Through courses in anatomy and physiology students examine the exercises appropriate for engaging specific muscle groups. Students also learn how to assess a client's fitness needs by measuring body fat percentage or performing a stress test. With this information, students can create a fitness plan according to a client's goals, which may be to lose weight or to increase strength and conditioning. Many programs also certify students in CPR and first aid.

Educational Prerequisites

Certificate programs offered by a college or university's continuing education department have minimal admissions requirements. However, programs offered as part of a community or technical college's curriculum often require students to have a high school diploma or GED.

Program Coursework

In addition to the following courses, many programs include clinical instruction at a gym, where students gain hands-on experience evaluating clients' fitness needs and seeing them through an exercise regimen.

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • CPR
  • First aid
  • Exercise techniques
  • Program planning

Associate Degree in Exercise Science

Many students interested in personal training often pursue a degree in exercise science. Coursework for an associate degree provides students with a more in-depth discussion of the topics touched upon in a certificate program. For example, during the assessment phase, students consider the risk factors involved for groups with heart problems or chronic injuries. Students also explore specific techniques for developing strength or cardiovascular fitness. Many programs include nutrition courses as well.

Educational Prerequisites

Applicants need a high school diploma or GED for admission. Often, applicants must also demonstrate good math skills by achieving certain scores on the math sections of the ACT or SAT or by passing a math placement test. Some programs also require students to complete prerequisite courses in biology before enrolling in exercise science coursework.

Program Coursework

Many associate degree programs allow students to gain experience through internships or by providing training services to their peers at campus fitness centers or gymnasiums. Electives in Pilates, yoga or the martial arts may be offered in addition to the following core coursework.

  • Psychology
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Kinesiology
  • Strength training techniques
  • Cardiovascular training techniques
  • Nutrition
  • CPR

Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science

The coursework required for a bachelor's degree covers topics such as sports psychology, ethics, injury prevention and sports law. Students learn how to motivate athletes trying to regain their form after an injury, vary their clients' workouts to prevent boredom or help clients maintain a health body image. Elective courses are also varied, and students can learn martial arts, yoga, Pilates or kettlebell training techniques.

Many programs include courses in management that prepare students to recruit and maintain a client base or successfully market their services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor's degree is becoming preferred by gyms and fitness facilities who employ personal trainers (www.bls.gov).

Educational Prerequisites

Admission requirements for a 4-year college or university include a high school diploma or GED with the recommended number of courses in math, science and English. Students also need to submit ACT or SAT test scores. Some programs require exercise science majors to take prerequisite courses in chemistry, physiology, anatomy before beginning core coursework.

Program Coursework

In addition to exercise science coursework, a bachelor's degree program requires students to complete general education courses such as English and political science. Many programs also require students to complete internships after taking the following:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Injury prevention
  • Women's health
  • Nutrition
  • Program assessment
  • CPR

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary of fitness workers, such as personal trainers, in May of 2012 was $31,720 (www.bls.gov). Job growth in this field is expected to rise by 24% during the 2010-2020 period due to the increasing interest in physical fitness among the baby boomer generation and parents whose children don't receive physical education at school, according to the BLS.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates with a personal trainer certificate or degree in exercise science are qualified to sit for written certification examinations administered by professional organizations such as the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). While certification is not required to practice as a personal trainer, many gyms or fitness organizations only consider certified trainers for employment. Personal trainers who are self-employed can also use certification credentials to demonstrate their professionalism and training to clients.

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