How to Quit Your Boring Desk Job and Get Paid to Work Out

become a personal trainer
Oren Aks/Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Oren Aks/Cole Saladino/Thrillist

If you tend to while away your time sitting at a desk, lamenting your ass-crack-of-dawn workouts and your lame cube mates, it might be time to consider a career change. You see, there are these mystical creatures (they're called personal trainers and fitness instructors) who actually get paid to wear yoga pants and work out all day.

Sound like a slice of sweaty heaven? Here's your blueprint for joining their ranks.

Learn the difference between a legit certification and a BS one

You can't just waltz into your local gym and ask to lead a spin class (and if you can, that's a gym you probably don't want to work at). While some gyms will "certify" their own trainers to work only at that location, most high-quality facilities require their instructors to hold National Commission of Certifying Agencies-accredited certifications through organizations like NASM, ACSM, ACE, or NSCA. If those acronyms mean nothing to you, you haven't done enough research.

Start by talking to gym and studio managers in your area to see which certifications they look for in their trainers and instructors. If you were to ask me (and you should, I used to manage gyms), I'd start with an NASM certification for personal training or an AFAA certification for group fitness classes.

As the starting point.

Then I'd start looking into specialty certifications, because there's not a well-known trainer out there who doesn't have about 30 acronyms following his or her name.

And while you're at it, start saving. That NASM certification? It's gonna set you back about $800 for the self-study program, while the "All Inclusive" option (which, granted, does include an exam pass guarantee and job guarantee) costs a whopping $2,000.

Personally, I spent about $300 on my ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist exam (which requires an undergraduate degree at minimum to sit for the test), but that doesn't count the good $60,000 I spent on my undergrad and master's degree programs in exercise and sports science, so... potato, po-tah-toe?

The point is, it's a new career, so don't be surprised when there's an investment to get started.

Don't give in to the fantasy that you'll "set your own hours"

Personal training and fitness instructing aren't desk jobs. Duh. And as such, they don't offer the typical attributes of a standard job, including steady pay or "normal" hours. Trainers lead workouts when "normal people" aren't at work. In other words, you may still be working out at the ass crack of dawn or into the late hours of the evening. You may also find yourself working on 100% commission in an industry that ebbs and flows with the seasons. January resolution time? Great for business. Lazy August vacation days? Not so much. So yeah, it's not exactly the most stable career path.

And yet, it also means you get to set your own hours and have the flexibility to start your own business slowly, on the side. Who knows, you might even become one of the big name trainers who can command more than $300 an hour for a session with a high-end client. Some people do it, so why not you?

Just keep in mind that most trainers bring in a median hourly rate of just $18 an hour. So while it doesn't hurt to swing for the fences, don't be surprised if you end up with a salary bunt.

Get CPR and first-aid certified, because bad stuff happens

Almost all gyms and training certifications require personal trainers to also hold certifications in CPR, AED, and sometimes first aid... because, yeah, people do occasionally have heart attacks while working out. If you're not already certified, get your training before putting in an application, which you can do through a local Red Cross.

Speaking of bad stuff: pick up liability insurance

So if a client actually has a heart attack on your watch? Having liability insurance to protect yourself is probably a good idea.

Don't scoff and say, "That could never happen." It could. It does. Just cough up the $15 to $30 a month it costs to be covered and protect yourself. You know, just in case you drop a dumbbell on a client's foot or you push a client a bit too far (a lot too far) and they end up in the hospital with rhabdomyolysis.

P.S.: Don't do that.  

Don't actually quit your desk job... yet

Once you've picked a quality training certification, keep your desk job while you study for your exam. Give yourself time to go through the study materials (it shouldn't take more than a few months). If you don't have a formal background in anatomy, physiology, or exercise science, you might be surprised how much actual science is involved. Believe it or not, training requires more than bellowing, "Stop whining!" and, "Five more reps!"  

If you're convinced you can't stick to paper-pushing while studying for your exam, look into getting a position at a gym or studio in a support capacity. It'll give you an "in" when you're ready to start training, and you'll learn more about working in a gym environment. Of course, that would mean working for what usually amounts to part-time minimum wage, so you might want to wait until you're actually certified to make the switch.

It takes time to build a clientele and reputation as a trainer or instructor, and many trainers start the journey part-time. Try picking up a class or two at a local studio or begin working evenings at a gym. You can start saving your extra cash to support your career change when you decide it’s time to pull up your stretchy pants to help other people get in shape.

Like pretty much every other modern job, use the internet to your advantage

These days, trainers are also entertainers. While you shouldn’t adopt an over-the-top personality just for the sake of your training career, it’s important to think about how you develop your brand as a trainer. What do you stand for? What types of clients do you hope to train? How do you plan to help people meet their goals?

For instance, if you want to appeal to a rich clientele (lookin’ for the money, honey!) you need to market yourself as a luxe commodity available whenever your client needs you, however they need you. Do they need someone to rip food from their shelves and show up for 4:30am in-home sweat sessions? Boom, you’re there, always looking every bit as hot and rich as they are.

On the other hand, if you want to work with stay-at-home moms (who doesn’t want to train clients only between 9am and 11am Monday through Friday, amiright?), you may want to focus more on fast workouts, getting body back after baby, and realistic health-focused workout plans.

And if all else fails, you can always cross your fingers, post shirtless pictures to social media overlaid with motivational quotes, and hope you become Instagram famous. I and all other legitimate trainers will hate you from the depths of our souls, but who cares? If you look hot, it’s worth a shot.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who gets paid to write about working out. That's almost as good, right? Follow her on Twitter @girlsgonesporty.