photo: Christopher Campbell, Unsplash

If you've ever set foot in a gym, you've probably chatted with a personal trainer at some point or another. But be honest — you probably knew you weren't going to hire one unless they were rocking a fit physique. Truth is, there's a lot more to being a trainer than having six-pack abs.

After making a career shift to personal training, I witnessed this firsthand — and it's been an eye-opener. I quickly learned that being a trainer and fitness instructor is far less #glam and more like #thestruggle. But it has its upsides, too! If you've considered this career as a possible profession, check out some of the things they don’t tell you about becoming a personal trainer. 

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1. We don't have any days off

If we don't work, we don't get paid. While most people with nine-to-five jobs have their weekends, health benefits, a 401k, and personal and sick days, we don't have that luxury. Our schedules are usually dependent on clients or fitness class schedules, which means our chances of working a weekend are pretty good. Our days may be short, long, or have big gaps in between clients — there really isn't much regularity. And summers are our "dead" months due to vacationing clients. This can mean less income until the fall, when people start getting back into their workouts.

2. We deal with gross bodily functions

Doctors and nurses aren’t the only professionals who have to deal with body fluids. Trainers work so closely with clients that we end up touching their sweat, getting a whiff or two of their BO, and end up dealing with some flatulence. Not so glam, huh?

3. Caffeine is our BFF

Long hours mean your energy is bound to crash. You want to remain alert for your clients and classes, but you can’t do that without some assistance. Coffee (or your choice of energy drink) will be a lifesaver on days when you feel too tired to function.

4. You live out of your gym bag

I quickly learned that having a spacious gym bag is key while getting around. You’re going to need enough space to keep a change of clothes, shoes, toiletries, containers filled with your meals and snacks, and a water bottle.

5. Trainers are not one-size-fits-all

Much like any other service, clients should find a trainer they're comfortable with. And as a trainer, you have to learn to not take it personally when a client's vibe doesn't match your own. The same applies to their results. Remember that you can only do so much to help them with their fitness goals — you can’t control how they eat or if they’re active outside of your sessions. Another thing to keep in mind is that a trainer's physique isn't always an indication of how "fit" they really are. Some people are naturally blessed with excellent genetics, while others have to work harder to remain at a healthy weight.

6. You're subject to lots of fitness perks

One of the good things about being a trainer is that you get to dress comfortably all day long. Luckily, many activewear stores such as Lululemon and Athleta will offer trainers a discount at their shops. Some fitness studios also provide discounts or free sessions if you wish to try classes. At networking events, you’ll get free fitness-related swag and meet others in the industry. The connections you make at these events may even lead to other interesting opportunities, such as becoming a brand ambassador or your dream job.

7. You’ll sit in your sweat . . . a lot

As gross as it may sound, there are going to be times where you won’t have time to shower after a workout or between client sessions. So you end up sitting in your sweat longer than you'd want. That’s why it’s a good idea to invest in some sweat-wicking clothing — it'll help avoid that icky, damp feeling when the body cools down.

8.  You have to buy your education

Getting a certification isn’t all it takes to be a personal trainer. You need to renew it about every two years along with making sure that you're continuing your education. This usually means paying for extra certifications. Whether you’re looking to specialize in kettlebells, weight training, or yoga, you need to be willing to invest in the cost to benefit your "brand." After all, that's what you are — and you want to be as reputable as possible. Focusing on a specialization boosts your credentials and positions you as more of an expert.

9. Success comes to those who work hard

Initially, being a trainer is tough because you aren’t being paid much and your hours are kind of crazy. Even if you are independent in the field, you have to worry about paying for your own insurance as well as maintaining any equipment needed to train clients. It can be easy to get discouraged when you're struggling to make ends meet, but that’s when you have to remind yourself why you chose to pursue it in the first place. Some of the most successful trainers I've met put a lot of work, sweat, and tears to get to where they are today.

10. You’ll network with interesting people

You will find your clientele online, through friends, or at a gym that’s employed you. As a result, you will meet people from all walks of life and with varying fitness levels. If you use these resources well, it may help you down the line. This profession also requires a certain level of patience, because even though you'll meet great people, you will also have a few who can be a challenge to work with.

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