Why and how I became a personal trainer

Hey everyone! Hope you’re having a great night. So I’ve received a crazy amount of emails lately regarding how I became a personal trainer and what someone looking to start a career in personal training would need to do to get started. If I haven’t answered your email (which is basically everyone), it’s not because I’m ignoring you, promise. I was trying to think of a way to get it all out there and figured a post would be best, especially since so many of you are thinking of becoming trainers 😀

So let’s start from the beginning…

Before the pilot and I moved to Valdosta, I had just graduated from the U of A (Wildcats represent! haha), we got married, moved to North Carolina and then had to go to Tucson for a month before moving to Valdosta. It was a whirlwind six months and during that time I secured a final interview for a job in Valdosta, which I was almost positive I was going to get. The position was as a department store area sales manager, which was fine with me because I had worked retail throughout college and high school (in addition to teaching dance and working as a men’s fragrance model) and the pay was ridiculously awesome, especially for such a small town. With our condo full of unpacked boxes, I already had a job offer and I happily accepted.

That’s when my life went on a downward spiral.

I started working at the department store, and even though I was in charge of my departments, I was forced to do all of the grunt work. Moving racks, folding shirts, scanning items, stuff I did not care to be doing. On top of that, I was working 70+ hours each week and would sometimes be at the store from before it opened until after close. Since the managers had to be there at 7am everyday, I got up at 4:30 every morning, went to the gym from 5-6:30 and then went straight to work. Needless to say I was not the happy Gina you know today… I was miserable.

I was exhausted beyond repair, grouchy like the dickens, and dreaded every single day. I started applying for jobs two months after I had started working at the department store because I knew it wasn’t for me.

I stayed at the job for six months before deciding that for my sanity’s sake, I needed to quit. I put in my two weeks notice and instantly felt like a black cloud had been lifted. I felt great because I didn’t have that job anymore…and then it hit: I didn’t have a job anymore. Immediately, I went into panic mode. It’s not like the pilot and I couldn’t have survived without me working, but the thing is I like to work and always feel like I should have a job to do. It’s been ingrained in me since I was young and in both college and high school, I worked two jobs (sometimes three) just because I love to be busy and it gives me a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

I continued to search for jobs and was horribly discouraged when no one would hire me. I had a finance degree and spanish (just wrote "spinach" haha) minor under my belt, graduated cum laude, and felt more than qualified for the occupations I was applying for. The obstacles were that I’m not from Valdosta (obviously) and had no one to recommend me, and the second they found out I was married to a military man (since we would certainly be moving within a couple of years) I was out.

On a whim, I called a personal training studio in the area to see if they were hiring. After talking to the owner over the phone about my fitness background -I had taught dance for 7 years and had a personal trainer of my own on and off for about 3- she invited me in for an interview and I was hired on the spot. I wasn’t certified and needed to obtain certification and personal liability insurance before I could start working.

Many of the "larger" gyms only take certain certifications. Think AFAA, ACE and NASM (there are others but those are the biggun’s). Since I had a pretty decent background in fitness by teaching, doing weights on my own, working with personal trainers (and had lost a lot of weight, which always makes for a good success story for potential clients) the owners said that I could get an online certification because I would be able to start working sooner.

Side note: ‘m going to go ahead and stress that I do NOT recommend online certifications (which is why I’m not going to post the name of the cert I have.. I’d just be bad-mouthing them and that’s not how I roll) -especially if you live in a larger town because most gyms probably won’t even accept them. And I hope you do not think I’m a joker because I got my certification online. 100% of everything I know about personal training is self-taught and I’m a firm believer that having one certification over another does not determine what kind of trainer you are. I know a lot of people who have widely-accepted certifications and don’t know that different between the gastrocnemius and soleus 😉 To be a good trainer, you have to surround yourself with information about fitness and health and dive in- it has nothing to do with the training text book they send you. It is, however, very important to BE certified to be educating others on fitness. I’ve seen too many people irresponsibly dish out incorrect information and really believe that some sort of certification or educational background is critical.

Back to the story….

I finished the online test (sitting in the office at the department store) within an hour, turned it in, got the flawless results back (whoo hoo!), and was a certified personal trainer. I started work at the training studio the week after I finished working at the department store and instantly fell in love.

I continued to train and a month later, got my AFAA group fitness certification to teach aerobics. Teaching aerobics was a natural step for me since I missed teaching and taking dance classes so much. It helped to fill the void and also helped get me through a 6-month deployment. I highly recommend AFAA for the group certification cert as well as the personal training cert. I have both text books and refer to them often– I love the fact that in order to remain a certified member, you have to take fairly frequent workshops and courses to continue education.

Some people have varying opinions of personal trainers and aerobics teachers in general. The stereotypes are well-known, and I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s no joke. Every time I train or teach someone, I’m responsible for keeping them safe during their workout and can have a dramatic positive or negative effect on the future of their fitness. I could scar someone from ever getting on a spin bike again or instill fear of the weight room forever. It’s not a responsibility that I take lightly and I have to be 100% focused every time I put my teaching or training shoes on. One distraction and someone could be injured.

I feel like a totally different person within the two years I dropped the high-paying low-sanity job and embarked on a totally different path. After I train someone or teach I class, I feel so satisfied and it can definitely be a picker-upper to know you’re helping someone to live longer and healthier life. If you are considering becoming a personal trainer, here are the steps I’d take:

  1. Get CPR certified (you’re going to need it no matter what, so might as well crank it out)
  2. Call potential gyms to see which certifications they accept and if you’ll need to obtain personal liability insurance
  3. Do some online research to see if the accepted certification organizations are having cert workshops in your area (just go to the website, type in your zip code, and it will tell you of upcoming certifications and workshops in your area– AFAA, ACE, NASM)
  4. If you need to obtain personal liability insurance (trainers have to do this, usually group fitness instructors do not) ask the gym which insurance company they recommend and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction
  5. Start practicing on yourself, or see if a friend wants to work out with you.


I really hope this helps and I’ll be back tomorrow morning with a giveaway, a recipe for raw peach cobbler and the usual shenanigan recap.

Have a wonderful night!

Much love,


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  1. kirsten on October 12, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    hi Gina, this is very helpful! I have wanted to be a trainer for a long time and got my certification in May. Unfortunately I have done nothing with it yet :/ my main problem is that I don’t feel comfortable enough teaching anyone yet. Do you have any tips on how to become more secure with that? Reading your blog definitely helps 🙂

    • gina (fitnessista) on October 12, 2009 at 8:16 pm

      it’s one of those things where the more you do it, the easier it gets. i felt a little weird at first, too, but i promise you’ll totally get used to it.

  2. BethT @ Pretty By The Bay on October 12, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Men’s fragrance model? What is that?? Sounds more interesting than personal trainer! haha

    • gina (fitnessista) on October 12, 2009 at 8:15 pm

      haha it’s really not. i just wore cute outfits and sprayed cologne on a card and gave it to the men who stopped by the fragrance counter. i promoted products and ran contests for the associates who worked at dillard’s. it was fun, but nothing too crazy 😉

  3. Jessica @ How Sweet It Is on October 12, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    I totally agree that the more people you see, the much easier it becomes! Can’t wait for the cobbler!!

  4. Paige @ Running Around Normal on October 12, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for this, Gina! I actually just signed up for personal training classes at a workshop near me for the ACE certification.

  5. Donna Porter on October 12, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Gina, yeah I’m one of those hundreds of people that emailed you. haha. Thank you for taking time to put the story together to share. I appreciate it 🙂 Take Care! Oh, and I can’t wait for the cobbler and giveaway (even though I never win!). My dad always made me peach cobbler when I came to visit…a healthy version would just make my YEAR!

  6. chocolate-covered Katie on October 12, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Hey Miss Gina!!
    I loved reading your story 🙂
    I’m also so so glad you left a comment on my blog because I haven’t talked to you in ages :(. How are you?
    Your blog is so inspirational! (And oh yeah, the food is good too hehe. Looking forward to that cobbler recipe!)


  7. Mara @ What's For Dinner? on October 12, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    I wish you lived closer so you could be MY personal trainer and whip my booty into shape… unless… can you do that virtually?? 🙂

  8. Ashley on October 12, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Great post Gina! I love reading about people pursuing their PASSIONS and not sticking with what they “think” they should be doing. Very inspiring!~

  9. kristi (sweet cheeks) on October 12, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Love this post! I have been thinking about getting into something nutritional/fitness based so this helps a lot. Thank you Gina!!

  10. Pam on October 12, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Can’t wait for the giveaway!

  11. Fallon on October 12, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    This was the perfect post. I’ve been wanting to become a personal trainer for a while now and I just didn’t know exactly how to start. Your advice will help me out in getting that job. When I started learning how to become healthy and lose weight with my own personal trainer she inspired me to do it one day. I love helping people out and letting them realize being healthy and working out is the best thing for them!

    For the certifications like AFAA, ACE and NASM how long did you have to study before taking the actual exam? Are their studying packets helpful when it comes time for the exam? I get testing anxiety and if their studying packets don’t help I’ll need to look for an alternative.

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information. I’m excited now 🙂

  12. Jenna on October 12, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    great story gina! i am glad you are doing what you love!
    can’t wait for the giveaway 🙂

  13. Nicci@NiftyEats on October 12, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    I’ve been looking around and checking out different places to get certified. Thank you for this extra info.

  14. Heather McD (Heather Eats Almond Butter) on October 12, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Thanks so much for posting this Gina. I’ve often thought about getting certified as I thought it would really compliment my job as a massage therapist. My clients are constantly asking me for strengthening exercises as well as stretches. Thanks for all the info. – very helpful and informative. 🙂

  15. Jacqueline on October 12, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    So glad your happy!
    You can’t put a price tag on that.
    Thank you for this post, it is very insightful.


  16. Katie on October 12, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Wonderful post, Gina! I’m so glad you’ve found your passion and are HAPPY doing it. You’ve inspired me on countless days when I’ve felt that I didn’t have the energy to lug myself to the gym. I still have your summer shape up emails saved on gMail!

  17. Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) on October 13, 2009 at 2:31 am

    Love the post, love the practical steps involved, as well as the backstory of how it all came about. Here-here on not going the online method to getting certified! There are yoga teachers I know (and thousands more that I dont know) that get online certified. The thing about yoga is that 1. you can hurt yourself/your student and not having real-live instruction from another teach is just a mistake. 2. It’s not just about the asanas (poses). There are many other layers which are best, IMO, conveyed in live classes, not online. Anyway great post Gina, thank you for putting it out there for everyone!

  18. simpledaisy on October 13, 2009 at 6:16 am

    Great post!! Thanks:)
    It’s definately a direction I would love to take someday! Currently I am a Special Education Teacher and don’t plan to leave that anytime soon…but do think about my future and think this would fit in really nicely!
    I have been axked to teach spinning at my gym but with my current workload it just won’t fit in..darn it!
    The other problem is….here in South Bend, Indiana people just aren’t that into getting fit and healthy….think more sports bars per acre than probably anywhere else. haha!!
    Well take care and thanks for the info!!

  19. Whitney @ Lettuce Love on October 13, 2009 at 9:19 am

    What an interesting story! Isn’t it funny how something bad has to end in order for something great to begin? Life just has a way of working itself out 🙂

  20. Kellie on October 13, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Thank you for this thorough post! I appreciate you sharing your journey for the benefit of all your readers!

  21. Certifiably Fit on October 13, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for sharing this information. I’m in the process of studying to get certified by ACE for personal training and hopefully I will be able to transition from my current job to one where I am a personal trainer. Glad to hear that your choice to change tracks worked out so well for you!

  22. Holly on October 13, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Thank you so much for this post! I just took my AFAA primary group fitness cert test this past wknd. Now I have to wait those 4-6 weeks to get my results so I can hit the pavement and start teaching!

  23. Sana on October 13, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing the info with us. I am glad everything worked out in the end you found a career where you are happy 🙂

  24. Caroline on October 14, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Jeez is it true about the affect a trainer can have on a person’s mentality. My husband and I joined a local gym about a week after a coworker of mine and his partner and we all had free personal training appointments the same week (get one free when you join). Among the four of us we had two different trainers and all of us could barely walk for the next week. Needless to say their sales pitch did NOT work.

  25. Sarah on October 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! It’s something I’ve been curious about but never asked 😉

    I’m hoping to get my ACSM PT certification in the new year and embark on a new career for myself. I can’t wait to be involved in helping people live healthier lives!

  26. Sarah on November 18, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    I just want to say thanks for your blog! I have been reading it since I had my son 8 months ago and have been working on losing the baby weight and have been inspired to help other moms who are in the same boat. I am currently studying for my NASM exam and hope to take it in Dec! I can’t wait to help others live healthier lives as well!

  27. Heather on November 23, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    I’m getting my AFAA cert in February. Glad to see you recommend it. Got my Body Pump certification in October and am going thru Turbo kick cert in December. It’s an obsession and a passion. I would still do it even if I didn’t get paid. LOVE IT!

  28. Nicole @ Getting Back to the Basics on July 28, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    I was just checking the AFAA website and they now offer and online certification course…would that still be frowned upon or since it is still AFAA you’d get the same stuff as the actual workshop? Thanks for the great info!!

    • Fitnessista on July 28, 2010 at 8:10 pm

      nope, i’m pretty sure no one will know the difference if you certed online. you’ll get the same card that everyone else gets 🙂

  29. Sarah Oliver on November 15, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    This is GREAT advice! I’m friends with Jeni Traynham and she referred me to your website. My hubby and I have a baby on the way, and I have big plans to make the career change over to personal training. I’m already a yoga teacher and triathlon/cycling coach, but I really want to pursue the personal training to round everything out nicely. Your advice about calling the local gyms was SO appreciated! Thank you!

  30. Amy on December 4, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you so much this is great advice! I’ve always wondered about online certifications and if they were as acceptable as others. I appreciate the advice. Oh and I’m a wildcat too woo hoo! 🙂

    • Fitnessista on December 4, 2010 at 4:23 pm

      go cats!

  31. kristina on January 23, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Do you have any books you would recommend? I really want to dive in this field but would like to have something to read and study while I work my current job. I’m very interested in becoming a spin instructor.

    • Fitnessista on January 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm

      hmmm.. i actually don’t :/ the best resource for me was reading women’s fitness magazines

  32. Andrea@Thin Thighs & Sweet Potato Fries on February 9, 2011 at 11:42 am

    I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your philosophies on clean eating and your approach to personal training. It is important to take it seriously and I love that you point that out. I am in that place right now where I am looking for a more satisfying position and have been giving personal training a lot of thought. Thanks so much for this helpful advice and for always sharing advice in such a candid and fun way! 🙂

  33. Kristen on April 25, 2011 at 2:40 pm


    Just found your blog, and am loving it! So proud to find a fellow Wildcat online!

    • Fitnessista on April 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm

      go cats! 🙂

  34. k8 on October 26, 2011 at 1:22 am

    You still teach Zumba and perhaps other things…are you in Tucson? If so where are your classes taught?


  35. Dorothy on August 2, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for this. I’m planning to attend a certification workshop in November. Wish me luck – my first client is me.

  36. Jule on June 17, 2014 at 1:13 am

    Hi Hina! Love your post! Very inspiring! I’m actually considering becoming a CPT, myself….. I have a bachelors I. Psychology and I think this fits right in with overall well being!
    I’m 32, do you think I will have any age issues? Thanks!

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