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The UK fitness industry is currently worth over £4.7 billion, with in excess of 6,700 sites and 97 million members, so now is certainly a good time to be looking to start a career as a Gym Instructor or Personal Trainer.
This guide aims to explore your options when choosing a Gym Instructor and/or Personal Trainer course provider. It will provide an overview of key considerations to look out for and give an overview so you can compare different personal trainer course options to help you select the best personal training course in the UK for you.
Please read on to find out more and If you ever have any questions, please contact us and we’ll be happy to help.
COVID-19 UPDATE: Whilst some providers have chosen to close, other are very much open as usual. A boom in the fitness industry is expected once gyms re open so with that in mind many aspiring PT's are looking to use the current time to qualify now so they are ready to go when gyms re open. Some providers are using lots of innovation to allow you to study at home during the outbreak. An example of a reputable provider doing this is Study Active. Please check with any provider first as to what their plans are. You may also wish to read our blog on Studying for a PT Qualification during the COVID-19 Outbreak. Please read on for general guidance on becoming a Personal Trainer.
IMPORTANT UPDATE ON GYM & PT PRACTICAL ASSESSMENTS DURING COVID-19: - The main regulatory body for fitness, CIMSPA, have been very clear about final practical assessments for Gym & PT qualifications - the guidance is that practical exams must be deferred until gyms re open and practical exams must not be done at home. This applies to all UK providers offering a CIMSPA regulated Gym & PT qualification. (This should not be a problem for most people as there are numerous theory units to study ahead of the practical assessments, by which time one would hope gyms may be open again). Any provider saying anything different to the above is in breach of a CIMSPA directive which could see your qualification revoked. Choose carefully! You can read the CIMSPA guidance here (select the document CIMSPA guidance for AO and EPA Covid-19 - April 2020)
Please read on for general advice on choosing the best Personal Trainer course for you.
There are many considerations when choosing a Personal Training course. The confusing thing is many providers have very glamorous website along with big google budgets, trendy advertising campaigns and very skilled sales teams, which for some people is enough to persuade them to sign up on the spot. Or maybe there is a “too good to be true” price being offered or a “easy route to success”, again marketing ploys like this may persuade someone to part with their hard earned cash then and there. However more savvy enquirers will no doubt want to do their homework on the sector and consider several pertinent points before deciding on which PT course is best for them. If this is you then please read on.
THE MOST IMPORTANT thing to check is how recognised will your training be. The two most important quality bodies here are CIMSPA and REPs Before we look at anything else let's explore these first and look at what to look out for.
When choosing a Personal Training qualification the first thing that one needs to do is check that both the qualification and also the actual provider delivering the qualification are CIMSPA recognised. CIMSPA are the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport & Physical Activity and represent the “gold standard” for quality in the health and fitness industry. A significant amount of Gyms and Leisure Facilities in the UK are abiding by a policy where they will only procure CIMSPA approved qualifications from CIMSPA approved providers so it is very important to safe guard you future credibility as a PT by choosing wisely now.
This can be a little confusing as there are providers out there who may illegitimately claim to be CIMSPA approved and may even display the CIMSPA logo on their website - despite not being a CIMSPA approved provider – so it is wise not to rely solely on a provider claims or if the CIMSPA logo is on their website, this needs double checking. Fortunately there is an extremely easy way to check if a provider is CIMSPA approved. Simply click here and you can access the CIMSPA directory of providers. Simply type the name of the provider on here and if they are listed then they are approved or if they are not listed they are simply not a CIMSPA approved provider. (There is no need to filter anything here please just type the full name of the company you are looking for - just be very careful you look for the exact name and logo of the company as many have similar names)
CIMSPA have recently started to inspect course providers to ensure quality standards are met. They also regularly publish “post-inspection” articles on its providers to showcase positive inspection experiences. An example of such of such an article can be found here.
Once you know that both your course and provider are CIMSPA approved you may then want to consider where REPs come into play. REPs is “The Register of Exercise Professional” and essentially are a commercially facing professional register where employers and clients can check credibility of Instructors. REPs has recently been combined with CIMSPA's Exercise and Fitness Directory to create a “one stop shop” for exercise professionals, so it is certainly important to be a member of this.
REPs will accept any CIMSPA recognised PT qualification from any CIMSPA approved provider hence why it is important to check this at the start.
So now that we have done these initial checks, lets move on and pick the best personal trainer course for you! Please read on..
TIP: Check the provider is CIMSPA and REPs recognised
It is a popular option to combine level 2 and level 3 together into one big course – this can be better value and much more time efficient than doing them separately.
Whilst contents of Personal Trainer qualifications are largely universal across different providers, there are differences in how these courses are offered, what’s included as “extras” in the package and of course how much it costs. Please see the grid below for a comparison of some of the UK’s leading REPs & CIMSPA recognised Personal Trainer course providers. All of the below are based on a L2 Gym and L3 PT combined package.
The first part of this guide was the all important checks regarding CIMSPA and REPs compliance. Now that you have done this, its time to look at some finer details about choosing the best Personal Trainer course for you.
Perhaps one of the most important things to do is to check is what other students and graduates have thought of a provider. A popular way to do this is by looking at TrustPilot. It’s always a good idea to look at these reviews, including reading the bad ones and looking for any themes. A decent Training Provider should be confident about being on TrustPilot, in fact many openly invite their students to leave reviews and some even have a live feed on their website. In contrast it may be that a provider who isn’t confident in what their customers may say, may not be so proactive in engaging with a review site, so checking out Trustpilot is well worth doing. Please click here to view Trustpilot (once here just search for the provider you are checking out). Tip: Do not just look at the providers Trustpilot score or recent reviews, drill down by filtering to look at the bad reviews too, is their a pattern or something you should be aware of?
Once you have established that you are choosing a CIMSPA approved qualification that will enable you to join REPs, you will probably notice there are different awarding bodies. Awarding bodies will essentially work with the training provider to award the qualification, so they are in some ways like an exam board. Perhaps the two most recognised awarding bodies for the Fitness sector are Active IQ and YMCA Awards. There are several other awarding bodies who essentially offer a similar service however Active IQ and YMCA Awards are widely seen as the two most reputable. Remember you will have the awarding body logo on your certificate so a reputable one is certainly wise to opt for. There are instances when providers choose to display the awarding body logo of Active IQ or YMCA on their site despite using a less renowned awarding body, so do double check what the awarding body will be.
Format of the course: There are lots of types of courses, some offer lots of attendance days so most of the studying is done on site (generally these courses are more expensive).
Others offer a blended approach where some learning is done online and some learning is in the classroom/gym. The percentage of online study vs attendance varies for different blended learning providers. This percentage of learning methods does not mean there is any difference in quality, its more about what suits you as an individual. If you are new to fitness it may be that you look for more attendance. If you are already quite gym savvy you may look at less attendance days, especially if you are fitting your study around other commitments. Typically course costs are higher for courses with higher numbers of attendance days.
Content of Course: It is worth noting that all official CIMSPA recognised PT providers (see how to check this at ten top of the page), who offer a properly accredited course, are all delivering a set syllabus, so the content on which the course is based are going the be pretty much the same across the board. Currently all L3 PT courses will include units in, for example A&P, Nutrition, Programme Design, Delivering PT sessions etc, it is not going to be a case of different providers having totally different content. What is different however is how the course is delivered and what resources are used, especially for a blended learning course. To access a demo of some reputable and up to date learning resources please click here
Location of the course: In light of modern day technologies such as online learning and Skype, many operators operate nationwide but you will still need to factor in travel to their centres for workshops and assessments. It may not always be best to base your decision purely on location, its more important finding the course that suits you. An extra couple of hours traveling could pay dividends if the course is the one that you feel suits you the best! Also its worth noting how many times you will be required to come in as if its just a few times then distance may be less of an issue.
Contact time: Remember you are going to need support! No matter how the course is delivered there needs to be sufficient contact time built in. This should include lots of support via telephone, skype or in person. Whilst email support is useful, in addition to this there needs to be actual interaction with a tutor throughout, whether this is face to face or via telephone / skype. Always check this with a provider and look at reviews to see what support a provider gives.
Course price: There is obviously a huge variation in prices. You can usually expect to pay around £1-3k, depending on the provider you choose. Just because a course is more expensive doesn’t mean its better and likewise if a course is more cost effective it does not mean that its inferior. Its about getting the best value for money from the course you want. There is little point choosing a course purely on price, its about getting the right course at the right price. Look at the best deals and offers for the type of course that is right for you - just make sure the provider is on the CIMSPA approved list as discussed above. Typically courses with more attendance have higher price tags, whilst blended learner providers are usually more cost effective.
It is important that you make sure that the price you pay is all inclusive and includes workshops, assessments, etc. For example you could find a course at a low price, only to find that you need to pay extra to attend workshops. It is therefore always important to check and double check that the price you pay is all inclusive. For transparency, all courses that we have listed on the comparison table include workshops and assessments in the price.
Are you looking to self fund or are you looking at a Government loan? Check with your CIMSPA approved provider as to what they offer and what may suit you the best. If you are looking for the best price then self funding deals are a good option, especially if you can pay in interest free installments. (There is a list of provider prices in our comparison chart below). If you are looking at a Government loan (19+ loan, Advanced learner loan etc) then you may not get the discounts associated with self funding deals however you will pay NOTHING to start and only pay back once earning over £26.5k (but obviously this is a loan not a grant!). To find out more or to see if you are eligible for a 19+ loan with a reputable provider please complete an eligibility calculator here
Course bundles: Some providers may give you a CPD (continued professional development) courses in addition to the Gym & PT qualification. For example, to become a gym instructor you need a level 2 Certificate in Fitness Instructing, whereas additional areas, not traditionally included within the qualification, such as Kettlebells and Suspension Training may be learned via CPD units. CPD is not the same as qualifications, they don’t usually have exams and can be completed quite quickly, however they are still really useful additions if these are included in your PT course package, so its worth checking out what CPD is on offer as part of any package.
Nutrition: It is worthy of noting that all current REPs and CIMSPA recognised Level 3 PT courses automatically include a Level 3 module in Nutrition, which once completed enables the dissemination of nutrition advice based on established government guidelines. This Level 3 Nutrition unit can be taken separately as a stand alone qualification so it is like a "course within a course". Therefore to provide clients with established nutritional advice there is no need for a separate Level 3 Nutrition course to be studied, as the PT qualification itself should cover this.
It is worth noting that with any Level 3 (or indeed Level 4) Nutrition course, you will only be able to give advice based established Government guidelines. To go any further and be able to offer bespoke prescriptive advice you would need to do a four-year University Degree in Dietetics (please note that a Level 4 in Nutrition is no alternative to this).
Tutors: Research who will be teaching you and whether they are worth your investment to learn. Always look at the staff profile page of the provider to see who will be teaching you and what experience and qualifications they have. Its also good if you actually get to speak with a tutor on the phone before enrolling rather than a sales person or administrator who would not be involved in teaching the course.
Level 4: There is certainly no need to have a Level 4 qualification to start work as a Gym Instructor or Personal Trainer. Level 4 qualifications are specialist qualifications that often specialise in medical areas such as Low Back Pain or Obesity & Diabetes.
There is certainly no rush to achieve a level 4 qualification when starting out, as once you have this you will be expected to practice at an advanced level (which may be difficult to do with little or no experience!). So if you are just starting out in the sector as a newly qualified PT, this could be a difficult standard to maintain and may even be counterproductive. For this reason Exercise professionals will often get some experience in the industry first before choosing to specialise in a Level 4 area later down the line. As this guide is all about getting started as a PT we have chosen not to expand on Level 4 qualifications on this site but if you would like to find out more please contact us.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when choosing a Personal Trainer course. Hopefully this has helped you consider a few things before making a decision. To help you further with your decision we have put together a table of some of the UK's leading Personal Training course providers - you can view this table below. You can also take a closer look at some of the leading providers. We hope this helps you choose the best Personal Trainer course for you.
Can I finance a Personal Training Course?
Some providers will offer you the chance to spread the cost of your course into repayments.
Some may use credit agreements which may well attract significant interest whilst others may offer interest free options with no credit checks.
It is worth researching this to make sure you choose an affordable option, that is going to work for you.
For eligible MoD Personnel, some providers offer an ELCAS Funding Scheme.
This chart acts as a useful tool to making the best Personal Trainer course decision for you. With a quick comparison of the features and qualities, each PT course can be compared alongside similar other courses.
Please note all providers listed are reputable providers and we have not published any 100% online course due to these not being accepted by REPs.
If you do have any questions, please contact us.