What is a personal trainer?
A personal trainer (also simply referred to as a ‘PT’) is a fitness professional with expert knowledge of physical fitness and exercise. They work with individuals to help them achieve their health and fitness goals. Whether it's muscle building, improving sports performance, weight loss, or overall wellness, personal trainers create tailored exercise programmes, offer nutritional advice, and provide motivation and support. Beyond designing custom workouts for clients, they educate clients on proper workout techniques, monitor progress, and adjust programmes as and when needed.
What is personal training?
Personal training refers to the fitness services provided to individuals by personal trainers. Personal training may involve one-on-one sessions (between the personal trainer and their client) or group sessions (with one or multiple personal trainers and multiple clients), where clients are guided through exercise routines designed specifically for them.
What qualifications do personal trainers need?
Anyone who wants to work as a personal trainer in the UK must have certain qualifications. Qualifications are crucial as they demonstrate to potential clients that a trainer is knowledgeable in their area and has the capability to provide them with the right training.
As a minimum, to work as a personal trainer in the UK, you’ll need:
a Level 2 Diploma in Instructing Exercise and Fitness or a Level 2 Certificate in Fitness Instructing (Gym) (this allows you to work as a gym instructor), and
a Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) endorsed Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training
Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications may be combined into one course.
Once you have the relevant qualifications, you can work as a personal trainer, find a specific personal training niche, and/or undertake further training. For example, you may wish to:
gain further qualifications that are specific to the career of a personal trainer (eg a Level 4 Elite Personal Trainer Course to gain the highest industry status as an Advanced Personal Trainer)
take an accredited yoga course so you can teach yoga classes or offer one-on-one sessions
gain a qualification in nutrition or sports massages so you can offer additional services
gain an exercise referral qualification to work with clients with common medical conditions (eg if they’re referred to your gym by their GP under an exercise referral scheme)
If you are a self-employed personal trainer (ie you work for yourself rather than being employed by a gym), it is vital that you obtain a first-aid qualification in case a client sustains an injury while they are working with you.
For more information on how to qualify as a personal trainer, see the government’s guidance.
Do personal trainers need to be registered?
Personal trainers can choose to register with CIMSPA. While this is not legally required, and personal trainers don’t need a CIMSPA membership to work in the fitness sector, doing so can be beneficial. By being listed on the CIMSPA register, personal trainers enhance their career prospects and can achieve a higher professional status.
Setting up a personal training business
There are a number of options for the type of business you can set up when starting out as a personal trainer. In the UK, the 4 main business structures are:
sole trader - this is where you carry out business as an individual (with or without a trading name) and are personally responsible for your business’ finances (eg debts and losses)
partnership - this is where you and at least one other person carry out business together as partners. The partners are personally responsible for the partnership’s finances and share its profits
limited liability partnership (LLP) - this is a type of partnership where the partners’ liability for debts and losses is limited to the amount they initially invested in the business. Any profits are shared between the partners
private limited company - this is where you set up a separate legal entity that provides the services (eg you, as the personal trainer, would be an employee of the company). The company is responsible for its own finances
At first, it’s likely that setting up as a sole trader is the simplest and most attractive option. As a sole trader, you need to have somewhere clients can contact you (this will generally be the address that appears on business letters and contracts). You also have to register for self-assessment with HMRC and submit a tax return every year. You have to pay income tax (rates differ between England and Wales and Scotland) on any profit, National Insurance contributions and, if you make more than the threshold, VAT.
Consider making a Business plan for your personal training business. This can help you structure how you want to set up your business and obtain funding. For more information, read What is a business plan, Management team operations and logistics, Executive summary and business outline, Market analysis and strategy, Financial information and requirements, and SWOT analysis.
Which licences does a personal trainer need?
In the UK, personal trainers are not subject to any specific licensing requirements (although there is a requirement to hold the Level 2 and 3 qualifications and first-aid qualifications for self-employed personal trainers set out above).
However, depending on where you run your personal training business, you may require certain business licences. For example:
some local authorities may require fitness professionals who work in public parks and other open spaces to obtain a permit to do so
personal trainers who want to play music during their sessions must make sure that they are not using the music in public without having the necessary music licences in place (these are issued by PPL PRS Ltd)
What insurance does a personal trainer need?
Having the right insurance is essential for any business. As a personal trainer, you need insurance to train clients in most gyms and to protect yourself in case a client is injured while training with you. The right insurance can protect you against claims made by third parties (eg clients bringing claims because of injuries). It can also cover negligence (ie professional indemnity insurance may cover costs if someone makes an allegation of professional negligence), sports equipment, personal accidents, and loss of earnings.
For more information, read Business insurance.
What legal documents does a personal trainer need?
There are various legal documents a personal trainer should consider creating to manage the legal and financial risks involved in their business. These include:
Terms and conditions for the provision of services to consumers, which detail all the conditions of training. This includes how payments are to be made, a description of the services, and what happens if a client cancels
a disclaimer stating that you do not accept responsibility for private property your clients leave unsupervised while attending a training session with you
a liability waiver stating that your client agrees to participate in exercise testing and training, that they are over 18 (or you have to get the signature of parent/guardian), that they understand the risks associated with the training, and that their consent is given freely and voluntarily
a medical history checklist to check your client is fit and healthy
risk assessments of your training areas, which identify hazards and implement control measures to mitigate risks these hazards pose to your clients
Note that, if you hire staff, you need to comply with certain employment obligations (eg adopting a Health and safety policy, carrying out workplace risk assessments, and providing written statements of employment particulars). For more information, read Hire employees and Manage employees.
Finding a location
Once you've taken care of all necessary formalities, the next step is determining the location of your personal training business.
You have various options to consider. Are you inclined to be a mobile personal trainer, conducting sessions in clients' homes or local parks? Do you want to rent space from a gym and use their facilities and equipment for your sessions? You could also rent your own gym space (eg a small warehouse or commercial unit) where you can set up with your own equipment.
Starting out, it might be simpler to freelance by hiring space from a gym, despite the trade-offs. While immediate access to equipment and facilities is a perk, there may be limitations on earnings and the number of clients you can train. If you opt to establish your own gym or rent an independent space, you gain more flexibility to train clients on your terms. However, the initial investment in purchasing your equipment can be a significant expense.
Consider factors such as affordability (especially in the early stages) and location when deciding on your operational setup. Ensure that your chosen gym or mobile business location is easily accessible for your clients and, if you're planning a mobile business, define your operational area and the distance you're willing to travel for your clients.
Purchase any necessary equipment for training sessions
Depending on where you will be providing your personal training services, you may need to buy relevant equipment for clients to use. Exercise equipment can be expensive, so you should think carefully about what it is you need before making any purchases. For example, if you’re focussing on strength training, you may wish to invest in various weights and weight training benches, while treadmills and elliptical trainers are less important.
Generally speaking, it's advisable to start with a few basic items and assess their usage before making additional purchases. This approach allows you to gauge the specific needs of your clients and make informed decisions about expanding your equipment inventory.
Personal training, data protection, and digital products
Often building your personal training career involves using social media to promote and sell your fitness services and/or any products (eg training guides or fitness apps) that you offer. This is a great way to reach new audiences and grow your brand. Before doing this, you should familiarise yourself with your relevant legal obligations.
Data protection requirements
Anyone who processes (eg receives or stores) the personal data (eg names and addresses) of private individuals (eg clients) must familiarise themselves with the principles of the UK General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and with data protection law more broadly. You must take particular care if you handle any sensitive personal data (eg information about clients’ health conditions).
As a personal trainer, you will likely need to keep fairly detailed records of clients' progress, abilities, and training programmes, especially if you provide rehabilitation services through an exercise referral scheme. Alongside all other GDPR obligations, it’s essential that you comply with data retention periods and destruction requirements with respect to such records.
You may have to pay a data protection fee to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) unless you are exempt. You can use the ICO’s registration self-assessment tool to help work out whether you need to pay a fee.
For more information, read Data protection, our GDPR FAQs, and our GDPR compliance checklist. Use our GDPR compliance service if you want advice on how to comply with your data protection obligations.
Social media regulations
You should always obtain consent from someone before posting them on your social media pages. You can ask clients to sign Model release forms to get their consent to do so.
Be cautious with your language when giving any advice or instructions when this relates to medical matters (especially if you don’t have the proper qualifications to give medical advice).
If you need support creating a branding partnership through your social media channels (eg by collaborating with influencers), you may find an Influencer contract or Affiliate agreement helpful. As it is increasingly common to incorporate any brand deals into your page, be sure to include ‘AD’ in your post descriptions.
For more information about founding and running a business, read How to set up your business, How to choose a name for your business, Running a micro-business, and Running your business. Do not hesitate to Ask a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns about the process.