Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

This quote from French writer Muriel Barbery does not apply to personal training. Rather, it’s important that a fitness trainer can actually do what he teaches. You will need a personal trainer certification and practise at least one type of athletic discipline - whether it be kickboxing, tennis or weightlifting.

In-home personal training involves setting up a customized, individual fitness program designed to improve your clients’ performance. Personal trainers come to their clients' home or else have their own personal training studio (often shared with one to three colleagues). They are self-employed.

Unlike a gym instructor, a sports coach or a PE teacher, a home personal trainer is a versatile professional well-versed in several different areas so as to best help their clients tone up, stay motivated and keep on track toward their fitness goals.

Born in the US, personal fitness training crossed the Pond in the 1980s and is becoming more and more popular.

  • Are you stressed out in the face of an exam or lacking in self-confidence?
  • Are you having trouble with your weight loss goals and want to shed body fat?
  • You want to change your lifestyle, improve your health and fitness or get back in shape?
  • You have heard of the benefits of stretching or circuit training?
  • You want to know more about home personal training?

Superprof is here to help you out and explain what exactly a personal trainer is - and what he is not.

A Personal Trainer is Not a PE Teacher

Though personal trainers and PE teachers are both considered a fitness professional, they are radically different in the way they work.

A PE teachers’ function is to educate about sports

While a PE teacher is there to introduce children to the world of sports, a certified personal trainer will meet with you at home or in a fitness studio to help you get fit and achieve your goals, whether losing weight or winning prizes in bodybuilding competitions.

What does a personal fitness instructor have to offer that a PE teacher doesn’t?

One on one coaching tailored specifically to you, to help you:

  • Become more muscular
  • Get in shape
  • Lose weight
  • Stay motivated
  • Establish a fitness routine that works for you
  • Take care of your body by improving your nutrition habits

A PE teacher, on the other hand, is an educator working in a school.
He or she operates in an entirely different way.

Find information about online tutoring jobs for personal trainers.

A PE teacher teaches children.
A PE teacher's job is to introduce children to fitness and sports while a personal trainer focuses on the exercise needs of adult clients. Photo credit: USAG-Humphreys on Visual hunt

A PE teacher will need to create a curriculum of group training exercises to introduce students to sports theory (postures, rules of various sports disciplines such as rugby, football or boxing) as well as practice in each of the types of sports.

A good PE teacher develops their students’ motor skills as well as their sense of initiative, respect toward other players and instils in them respect for the rules, team spirit and fair play.

His or her role is that of instruction rather than the elaboration of individualized exercise programs.

What essential qualities must a personal trainer embody?

Certification and responsibilities of a PE teacher

Like any English or maths teacher, PE teacher must go through Initial Teacher Education or Training (ITET), either through a university degree or work-based training.

To become a personal trainer, you will need personal training certification. Ideally, this means a Level 3 Personal Training certificate. There are specialist schools with training programs for fitness instructors, or you can do on-the-job training at fitness clubs and gain your trainer certification through them.

It is also imperative that you get a first-aid certification in CPR and learn how to deal with injuries. You might also want to get AED certification (Automated External Defribillator), especially if you plan on working in senior fitness.

Other credentials you might consider adding to your portfolio are:

  • A Kinesiology certification program on exercise physiology
  • A diploma in rehab training techniques
  • Studies in anatomy
  • Dietitian or nutritional specialist certification programs
  • Sports medicine (at a college or through a continuing education program)

Additional skills will help you sell yourself as a personal trainer!

A personal fitness instructor is much more than just a trainer. He is a fitness expert and a wellness coach, helping people by establishing a fitness plan exactly suited to their needs.

Also check out this complete guide to personal trainer qualifications...

A Personal Trainer is Not a Sports Coach

Though certainly coaching is part of a personal trainer’s job, they do not prepare athletes for competitions or bring a sports team up to par.

Though the prerequisites and goals are similar - a sports coach needs a good knowledge of anatomy and exercise science and will have to motivate their athletes to give their best - sports coaches will have set up a training program to meet their own goals or that of the sports club (as opposed to the athletes’) and will generally train in group fitness sessions.

A sports coach will help the sports club and trainer find the right exercises to reach their goals and motivate the athletes, but will not offer tailor-made solutions to each individual athlete of a team.

Personal trainers don't prepare for comeptitions.
While personal trainers might train professional athletes, they do it on a more personal level than sports coaches. A personal trainer won't train a whole team. Photo credit: Chris Hunkeler on Visual Hunt

A personal fitness trainer or fitness instructor, on the other hand, can offer his services “à la carte”.

Indeed, after a first consultation with the client, he or she will find out what their fitness goals might be:

  • They are interested in cardio exercises
  • They want to learn Pilates
  • They want postnatal exercises to lose pregnancy weight
  • They want the burn of aerobic exercises without the pressure of group exercise classes at fitness clubs.
  • They are struggling against depression and want to take up climbing or weight lifting to boost their morale.

A sports coach might be working for a club or be self-employed, training a local children’s team or a national team, but either way, his functions and responsibilities differ from those of a personal trainer.

In terms of qualifications, a sports coach will need national governing body-approved certification specific to the sport he or she is coaching, either through a university program or directly through his sports’ NGB.

Some venues expect you to have a degree in sports medicine or in sports coaching and development.

Join the discussion: how should you train to become a personal trainer?

A Personal Trainer is Not a Gym Instructor

The role of a personal trainer is also different from that of a gym instructor, though both work in the fitness industry.

So what is the difference between a gym instructor and a personal trainer?

A gym instructor will work in gyms or other fitness centres as a group fitness instructor. He or she is charged with introducing people to various sports disciplines.

In a gymnasium, a sports instructor might give youth fitness lessons and try and encourage a love of sports through fun, physically energetic games.

For adolescents and adults, the goal is to improve muscular strength and flexibility. It favours more gentle, rhythmic exercises to keep people fit and healthy.

Here, the spotlight is not on achieving certain fitness goals but simply on having a healthy body and feeling more dynamic. It’s more recreational than competitive, and the workout is not as high intensity.

Learning sports with a personal trainer is more intensive.
You will notice a big difference between learning boxing in a gym class of twenty people and with a one-on-one personal trainer. Photo credit: steele_chas on Visual hunt

Some are geared toward a specific demographic: youth programs, handicapped, senior citizens etc.

A home personal trainer, though, will help people build core strength and gain muscle mass, with a personal training program geared toward their strengths and endurance all the while scheduling around the client’s busy life. They will craft challenging personal training sessions that will keep them motivated.

Note that some gyms offer personal trainer services who will work with clients much as a home trainer will - only at the gym itself. Some gyms even specialise in offering one on one training.

A Personal Trainer is Not a Sports Professor

A personal trainer won’t give a lecture on the benefits of Crossfit for scoliosis. He is not a teacher, but a coach.

A professor for sports medicine or exercise science will most likely be attached to a university or other institute of higher learning. He or she will likely have a diploma or PhD in a sports subject.

A sports professor’s role is to impart theoretical knowledge and recruit the next generation of fitness professionals. They will encourage and motivate the students, including on a physical level in group sports lessons, but not in the sense of setting up daily exercise routines and accompanying a weight loss or muscle-building journey.

A personal trainer is not an anatomy professor.
While a certain knowledge of anatomy is useful for a personal trainer, they won't be teaching it at Uni. Photo credit: Rob Swatski on

They will also be active in promoting sports and fitness - a more political than a physical role.

Basically, what separates personal trainers from other fitness and sports specialists is the emphasis on a personalized, 1 on 1 guidance throughout the workout, but also in other areas of the client’s life, such as giving nutritional advice.

The workout is also adapted to the client’s level and fitness goals. A constant fitness assessment will aid him in improving the client’s performance, general fitness and health.

Now discover how best to market your skills as a personal trainer...

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Sonia is an Egyptologist turned writer and translator. She speaks 3 and a half languages, can translate hieroglyphs and enjoys yoga, singing, embroidery and travelling through all of time and space.