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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.
There are many things to consider and many myths to see past, including:
* What is the difference between CIMSPA and REPs?
* How can I check who is a legit provider?
* What is an awarding body?
* Do I need Level 3 or Level 4?
* What about Exercise Referral?
* Do I need an extra nutrition course?
* Is a more expensive course better or just dearer?
* Are all the "deals" that I see online all for real?
Please read on to explore these and more.
What is the difference between CIMSPA and REPS?
CIMSPA are the main professional regulatory body for the fitness sector. CIMSPA have taken over REPs (REPs are no longer active).CIMSPA is the most important thing to consider.
The most important Initial check is - that you need to make sure that the actual provider you choose is a CIMSPA Training Provider Partner. A significant amount of Gyms and Leisure Facilities in the UK will only procure from CIMSPA approved training providers so it is very important to choose wisely. Warning: There are providers out there who may illegitimately claim to be CIMSPA approved training providers and may even illegitimately display the CIMSPA logo on their website - despite not being a CIMSPA approved training provider – so any provider needs double checking.
How can I check who is a legit provider?
There is a very easy way to check if a provider is a genuine CIMSPA approved training provider. 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 then they are simply not a CIMSPA approved provider!
TIP: Make sure that the provider is definitely a CIMSPA Training Provider Partner - if they are just a CIMSPA Employer Partner this is not the same thing. Also if a provider says "applied" this only means they have applied so this means very little!
CIMSPA have recently started to publish inspection reports on approved course providers to ensure quality standards are met. An example of such of such an article can be found here.
In addition to CIMSPA the other main national professional body for fitness is UK Active.
Whilst the CIMSPA check above should always be the first (and most important) thing to check, it is definitely also worth checking if the provider that you are looking at is on the UK Active Training Provider list - you can check this here (again watch out for providers who illegitimately display the UK Active logo but are not on the list!)
TIP: If you find a provider who is on both the CIMSPA and UK Active lists then that shows a consistency in quality assurance. However the CIMSPA check should always be the most important check to make.
We suggest that you thoroughly read this guide first then please check out our comparison grid where you can compare some of the UK's leading Personal Trainer course providers. All providers listed are all established CIMSPA approved providers.
The first part of this guide was the all important checks regarding CIMSPA compliance (scroll back up if you missed this!) Now that you have done this, its time to look at some finer details about choosing the best Personal Trainer course for you.
What is an Awarding Body?
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 and reptuable awarding bodies for the Fitness sector are Active IQ and YMCA Awards. (Please note that the following are not UK Awarding Bodies ACSM, NASM, ACE). Remember you will have the awarding body logo on your certificate so a reputable one is certainly wise to opt for. NOTE: There are instances when a minority of providers may choose to display the logo of Active IQ or YMCA on their site despite using a less renowned awarding body, so always double check what the awarding body will be.
Do I need Level 3 or level 4?
In a nutshell you need a Level 3 Personal Training Diploma - there is no need at all to have a Level 4 - unless you want to. If you want to be a generic L4 PT you will need to do a course called Level 4 Advanced Personal Training - please always double check this as many providers will only offer qualifications such as Level 4 Diabetes or Level 4 Low Back Pain - which are only for those wishing to specialise in such areas - TIP: Be mindful of terms such as "Level 4 Master Diploma" or "Level 4 Elite Diploma" these are not official qualification titles in the PT sector - they are just the names that some providers have given certain packages. The headline message is that to start out as a PT you need a Level 3 Personal Training Diploma
What about Exercise Referral?
It is important to note that a Level 3 or Level 4 Exercise Referral related qualification does not mean that GPs will refer Personal Trainers clients - this simply does not ever happen (despite sales agents from some training providers saying otherwise). GPs will only refer patients to large gyms who hold contracts with them. More so an Exercise Referral qualification allows you to work with clients with common medical conditions that you may come across through employment of self employment. It is not essential to have this to become a Personal Trainer. Please note Level 3 Exercise Referral has recently been updated by Active IQ and is now called " Level 3 Supporting Clients with Long-Term Conditions" - this is the latest version of the qualification.
Do I need an extra nutrition course?
All CIMSPA L3 PT qualifications have L3 Nutrition automatically embedded, which enables the PT to give nutrition advice based on established government guidelines - this represents the scope of practice limitation of a PT - so in a nutshell everything a PT needs for nutrition is included and no extra nutrition course is necessary. Interestingly, according to the Association for Nutrition (AfN) having a L4 nutrition qualification does not change what advice you can give (e.g. a PT should never write meal plans, never give non-generic advice and never give elite-sports performance nutrition advice - regardless of whether they have L3 or L4 nutrition). If you are told otherwise then you may wish to reflect on this interview with the Deputy Chief Executive of the AfN. The bottom line is - you do not need any extra nutrition course (e.g. L4) to operate within a PT's nutritional scope of practice
Is a more expensive course better or just dearer?
Do not read massively into price as some providers charge to factor in sales commission or to balance out expensive advertising campaigns - paying more does not necessarily mean better. Instead look for value. Some provider simply offer more genuine and sensible prices than others. So instead of price look at things like CIMSPA status which is your quality kitemark and also drill down as to what is actually included and are there "hidden extras". NOTE: Attendance courses will usually be dearer than online/blended courses.
Are all the "deals" that I see online all for real?
Be careful as some providers may have a "limited time" 50% sale when all they may have really done is double their price and then put a 50% discount on this! Further, such "deals" may actually be on every day of the year, so never feel rushed! That being said there are deals to be had but try to see through "clever marketing" approach of some providers and you should never feel rushed into signing up. A good suggestion is to never feel pressured to sign up for a course over the phone - do your research first.
Content of Course: It is worth noting that all official CIMSPA recognised PT providers, 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 the same across the board (they are all based o the CIMSPA Professional Standards), so it is not going to be a case of different providers having totally different content. TIP: If a provider is following the latest CIMSPA standards then there will be an mandatory Level 3 module in Business Skills included - asking if this is included is a good way to check that the provider is delivering the latest standards and not outdated standards (which will not be CIMSPA endorsed).
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 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.
CPD: Some providers may give you CPD (continued professional development) courses in addition to the Gym & PT qualification. For example, areas such as Kettlebells and Suspension Training may be learned via CPD . CPD is not a qualification, 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 - but do not base your decision on this alone as the main item of value is your actual PT course - not CPD!
Location of the course: In light of modern day technologies such as online learning, Zoom and Skype, many operators operate nationwide but you will still need to factor in travel to their centres for any 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 small number of 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. NOTE: Do not allow a provider to ask you to find your own mentor or to find someone qualified to shadow - teaching is the responsibility of the provider - providing professionals for you to learn from is the providers responsibility.
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.
If you are looking for the best price then self funding deals are a good option, especially if you can pay in interest free instalments. (There is a list of provider prices in our comparison chart below). Another option is funding your course via a 19+ Advanced Learner Loan where you pay NOTHING to get started and only pay back once earning £26.5K+. A provider offering this and a free eligibility check can be found here
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when choosing a Personal Trainer course. You may still be thinking "who is the leading provider?". There is no answer to this nor are there any official statistics relating to this. The truth is there are lots of "leading providers" out there in the UK, you just need to choose carefully to find the best PT course for you. Its obviously very important to see through what a provider may claim on their website and do your own research, hopefully using the guidance on this site.
Hopefully this guide 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. We hope this helps you choose 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. This can be done on the review site TrustPilot. 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 TrustPlot score or good reviews, instead drill down by filtering to look at the bad reviews. Look for any pattern of negative feedback. Also check that any positive reviews are shown on TrustPilot as "verified" - this means they are verified by TrustPilot as being from genuine customer experiences - so for obvious reasons a modest number of positive "verified" reviews is always more useful than a higher number of reviews that are not showing as "verified".
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. (Chart last updated 7/4/21)
Please note all providers listed are all reputable providers who are all CIMSPA approved.
If you do have any questions, please contact us.