As most personal trainers can attest, the work-life balance the career affords is one of the main reasons for choosing a job in physical fitness. However, trainers will also tell you that while being a personal trainer is a gratifying career; it can be challenging to get a decent salary when you first get certified.
For this reason, my team and I recently conducted some industry-first research to evaluate which gyms pay their trainers the most.
Below, we cover these metrics as well as detail how gyms typically set up a pay structure for their trainers, how understanding gym pay structures can help you find the best career fit and some recommendations for landing your first gym job.
First, it is essential to understand the typical gym pay structure.
How Do Gyms Pay Personal Trainers?
Gyms tend to have one of three salary structures with trainers:
- Employee-based salary
- Self-employed trainer
- Contractor model
1. Employee-based Gym Salary Structure
By far, this payment structure is the most common with gyms and especially commercial gyms, better known in the industry as “big box” gyms. This pay model stipulates the personal trainer is an employee of the gym, and the gym will develop leads for the trainers and have them train them.
In addition to getting leads from the gym as a result of being an employee, the trainers are encouraged to drum up their clients and build up their portfolio of ongoing clients. Gyms often provide incentives for meeting specific criteria and generating a certain amount of training sessions.
2. Self-employed Trainer Gym Salary Structure
The self-employed trainer is not on the payroll of any particular gym but does have a relationship with a gym (or gyms) that allows them to use their facilities to train their clients.
This is the most lucrative of the play structures, but the trainer does not benefit from the existing foot traffic of the gym, and they do not get any leads from the gym at which they train their clients. In this model, the trainer only gets paid when they are training clients.
3. Contractor Model Gym Salary Structure
Under the contractor model, the gym is generating the clients but has a contractor-type relationship with the trainer as opposed to having trainers as employees. The gym will contact trainers it has connections with when a client of the gym wants training. Typically, the gym and trainer will earn an equal split on the charge to the training client.
What Are Some of the Best Paying Gyms?
In the study we conducted we got an insight into which gyms pay the most and how they pay. For the most part, all these gyms adhere to the employee-based salary structure mentioned above.
By speaking to the gyms directly, talking to trainers who work at these gyms, and conducting industry surveys, we were able to obtain some great info on how these gyms pay their trainers.
By far, Equinox appears to be one of the best places for trainers to seek employment. Like most gyms we evaluated, they pay minimum wage when their employees are not training, but provide some of the highest hourly rates when they are.
Equinox trainers generally make between $26 and $64 per hour, depending on their level of training and experience within the gym. If they are booking a lot of sessions within a two-week cycle (in this case more than 42 sessions), they can make $31 to $74.50 while training, per hour.
The YMCA is also one of the better-paying gyms we evaluated and makes for strong career consideration. These trainers can make up to $28 per hour when training, but the base hourly for new trainers or those lower on the totem pole begins at $15/hour.
Like Equinox, YMCA trainers make minimum wage when they are not training. Other benefits of working at the YMCA are that they pay for continuing education as well as their trainer’s recertification fee.
3. Planet Fitness
Working for Planet Fitness has its pros and cons for trainers, but can potentially do a decent job of supporting those who are new to a career in personal training. Especially if they need, and want, experience. Planet Fitness provides full-time positions that are paid minimum wage.
From what we found, there are no commissions and no bonuses. On the plus side, the careers at Planet Fitness don’t require sales, so trainers benefit from being handed clients in which to enhance their skill sets.
4. 24-Hour Fitness
24-Hour Fitness pays its employees minimum wage for non-training hours but varies in that it pays commissions on training packages as well as has incentives for trainers who sell individual sessions.
On individual one-off sales, trainers can make an additional $7 to $17 per session depending on their qualifications. For group training, trainers can earn an additional $2.50 to $6.50 per participant. With package sales, trainers can earn 20% commission on individual personal training packages and 10% on group training packages, respectively.
5. Anytime Fitness
The training salary at Anytime Fitness varies more than most. These are franchised gyms, and each gym can have its pay structure.
We found that Anytime Fitness offers the following options for paying their trainers:
- 50/50 split between gym and trainer
- Incentive bonus structures for selling monthly training packages on top of minimum wage
- The opportunity for trainers to increase income by teaching group fitness
Recommendations for Landing Your First Gym Job
First and foremost, if you want to get a job at a gym, you’ll want to have some personal training certification before walking in the door. Some gyms, like Equinox, offer internal personal training programs so you may wish to inquire about these ahead of time.
Secondly, understand what stage in your career you are at and what that means for your employment opportunities. Every trainer wants to make as much as they can and would ideally try to get a job at a higher-paying gym, however, they may not be an ideal candidate at an early stage in their career.
Based on our evaluations, gyms do pay better-performing trainers more as they want to sell packages as much as possible. If you don’t have great sales experience, it may be helpful to team up with a gym that can help train you in this capacity or stick with a gym that does not ask you to sell.
Personal training can be a very rewarding job and offers a lot of flexibility regarding hours. This does mean that trainers have to be wise about how they spend their time and be reasonably aggressive salespeople as well as effective trainers to bring new business in and keep it. Understanding what gyms pay the most is an important step in aligning your career goals and how much income you can potentially make.