Fighting Fit

Do you enjoy and feel proud of being in the excellent physical shape you’re in? Maybe it’s time to convert your passion for exercise into a civilian career. Rising awareness of the impact of diet, work and lifestyle on health is driving rapid growth in the physical training market.

By Julie Gray, from Civvy Street #49 (July 2014)

“Fitness has become hugely popular and new exercise trends are always emerging,” says Head of Training, Lucy Birch, at The Training Room. “For example, Parkour coaching is huge at the moment. It focuses on developing the fundamental attributes required for movement, including balance, strength and endurance, so it’s refreshing for those used to more structured Military drills.”

Potential clients aren’t just those already attending a gym, they include antenatal and postnatal women, the over 50s, GP referrals (those prescribed exercise as part of medical treatment) and disabled people.

What’s Involved?

“You don’t need to be an experienced Military fitness trainer to consider a career in personal training,” adds Birch. “Whilst the fitness levels you possess when you leave the Military lend themselves to a career in the industry, these are not essential. Veterans who have experienced serious life inhibiting injuries and amputations have still been able to complete the course successfully.”

A Level 2 instructor is typically employed by a gym to deliver exercise classes and demonstrate safe equipment use. As a Level 3 personal trainer you give tailored advice to help clients achieve fitness and weight loss goals through exercise and nutrition, and can get insured to work on a self-employed basis.

“Many of our courses are taken by those with a Services background in physical training, but we also see lots of career-changers in their 30s, 40s and 50s. There are no prerequisites for joining our Level 2 Gym Instructor course,” explains, Business Development Adviser, Sarah Ferrier at YMCA Fit. “After passing, most people continue to the Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification as they can earn more.”

Do you have to be registered? 

Once qualified, it may be worthwhile joining the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs): to remain on this list, qualified UK fitness professionals have to stay current through continued professional development. Potential clients and employers will often check REPs before hiring.

Ferrier recommends contacting REPs direct if you come from a Military PT background: “Some Military qualifications are recognised by REPs, so it’s worth checking before committing to further training.”

British Military Fitness, which delivers year-round fitness classes outdoors, doesn’t insist on REPs registration. “Our instructors come from all branches of the Armed Forces,” explains Head of Operations and Training, Garry Kerr. “They all complete a Level 2 qualification and our in-house training programme before being graded as an instructor and allowed to teach classes.”

Fast-track training courses from scratch, like those offered by The Training Room and YMCA Fit, can make you a qualified Level 3 personal trainer within six to seven weeks full time study. The same course done part-time (often including some e-learning) can typically take six to eight months.

Lucy Birch recommends: “Before you enrol on a course, always do your research and ensure that you are going to a recognised training provider that can equip you with valid qualifications.” Leading industry-recognised qualifications include Active IQ and CYQ. For more information, visit the Skills Active website.

Money Matters

While ELCs can be used for Level 3 courses, Level 2 qualifications are normally self-funded, so shop around as costs vary widely. Some providers give Military discounts or offer payment plans, while others have links with national employers and may guarantee an interview upon graduation.

You could earn £13-16k per year as a Gym Instructor (Level 2), or around £40k as a Personal Trainer (Level 3) – depending on location and demand. With gyms all over the country, your chances of finding work in your desired area are good. Working abroad, or on cruise ships, is also an option.

“CYQ qualifications are recognised in the UK and internationally,” says Sarah Ferrier of YMCA Fit. “The USA is the most recent addition to our list. However, always check with prospective employers whether your UK qualifications are accepted by their organisation and their region.”

Qualities vs Qualifications

You don’t necessarily have to spend cash or credits before looking for work, suggests Garry Kerr. “Most instructors pay for their own Level 2, but we’re less worried about fitness qualifications than finding the right people. We want professional and motivated individuals who are passionate about what they do and genuinely want to change people’s lives. We know that with the right instructor, our business will fly.”

Already REPs accredited for Master level training, British Military Fitness is currently becoming an approved training provider for the CYQ Level 2 qualification. “This means the right people will soon be able to gain their qualifications through us, and at extremely competitive prices,” says Kerr. “We are doing this to grow our business rather than just make a profit from training.”

If your physical health isn’t 100% that doesn’t preclude you, points out Lucy Birch: “We have a partnership with Help for Heroes through which we offer free personal training courses to injured Servicemen and women following medical discharge. We’ve helped prepare 50 ex-Servicemen and women for entry into a career in personal training.”

Fit for the future

Long-term career prospects are good, whether you opt for Master level qualifications or want to progress into management roles. Gary Kerr started as a BMF instructor six years ago, before progressing to Park Manager, Regional Manager then National Training Manager, before being promoted to his current role. “If you want to take a career in fitness further and apply your leadership and management skills, I’m proof the opportunities are out there.

Three Ps sum up what it takes to succeed in this industry: Professionalism, Passion and People skills. Really engaging with clients is what helps them have a great experience” and according to Kerr, the feeling should be mutual: “It’s a fantastic experience spending an hour training 20 motivated people – you all feel great afterwards.”

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