This guide is part of our detailed series: How to Become a Personal Trainer in the UK.

If you’ve talked to people at the gym or done a quick Google search for UK fitness qualifications, you can often end up with more questions than answers. Don’t worry though – at TRAINFITNESS, we’ve been delivering personal trainer courses and fitness qualifications for over 20 years, and we’ve supported over 20,000 people to break into the health and fitness industry. Whether you’re about to start your career in fitness or have already made a start on your journey, we’ve put together a detailed guide that will answer all your questions and give you the facts about fitness courses and a fitness career. From how you can advance beyond Level 3 – to making sure a course will be recognised by a future employer, here’s everything you need to know:

What is the difference between a ‘fitness instructor’ and a ‘personal trainer’?

Becoming a fitness instructor is the first stage of a career in fitness, and requires completing the Level 2 Gym Instructor Certificate. At Level 2, fitness instructor (also known as gym instructor) courses give you a foundation of knowledge about anatomy and physiology, fitness principles and health and safety. This means you can, for example, work on the gym floor and deliver inductions to new members. To be a personal trainer requires progressing to Level 3. As well as giving a deeper knowledge of anatomy and nutrition, Level 3 gives the training for those who qualify to be able to plan and deliver successful workouts to their clients. If you do not hold a Level 3 personal training certificate, you are not able to call yourself a personal trainer.

What fitness qualifications do I need to become a personal trainer in the UK?

As you can see, Level 3 personal training courses are a minimum requirement for people who want to become a personal trainer here in the UK – but we’re often asked what kind of previous qualifications you need to be accepted onto one of these Level 3 courses. Let’s take a more detailed look at some of the questions potential learners have:

What degree do you need to be a personal trainer?

No, don’t worry – you don’t need a degree to become a personal trainer. Each different training provider will have different entry requirements, but none of our personal training courses require a degree to join.

Can I become a personal trainer without going to college?

Although some people study to become a personal trainer after going to college, completing a college course is not essential for you to explore a new career in fitness. You will need a basic level of Maths and English to understand the course content – but you don’t need a college qualification.

What GCSEs do I need to be a personal trainer?

There’s no minimum number of GSCEs or similar qualifications needed to join our personal trainer courses. Again though, you will need a basic level of English and Maths to understand the content on the course.

Personal training courses don’t have to stop at Level 3

You can take your personal training career further with the Level 3 Diploma in Exercise Referral. This course is designed for fitness professionals and personal trainers who wish to join their local register and work with people who’ve been medically referred onto an exercise programme. With the Level 3 Diploma in Exercise Referral, you can then go on to Level 4, which looks at two key areas that affect a lot of people, opening up new client bases:

  • Diabetes and obesity – train to gain the skills and the insight to help clients better manage obesity or diabetes.
  • Lower back pain – learn how to prescribe, plan, conduct and review programmes to address the needs of clients with low back pain.

You can also become a Life Coach as well as a personal trainer with Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). This requires training your client’s mindset as well as their muscles. With modules on human psychology, counselling and stress management, you will be equipped to help clients across all areas of their lives, from quitting smoking to managing stress.

What are CPD courses in the fitness industry?

CPD stands for Continuing Professional Development. CPD is a way for exercise professionals to demonstrate that they continue to learn and develop throughout their careers, and keep their knowledge up to date. CPD can also set you apart from the pack. In a gym full of personal trainers, perhaps you will be the only one qualified in teaching kettlebells and Olympic weightlifting, making you the go-to for those training for muscle mass. Or perhaps you’re in an area full of expectant mothers that mean being trained in antenatal or postnatal fitness will give you the edge. You can read more about Continued Professional Development (CPD) here and about the CPD bundle package course here.

Related content: Thinking of becoming a personal trainer? View our study options

You can get creative with exercise to music

If you’re interested in teaching group fitness but don’t want to be restricted to a set programme, T3 high intensity interval training workouts are programmes that will deliver results for your clients, but also give you the freedom to have some flare. Being a T3 instructor, for example, gives you access to six different workouts, allowing you to keep your classes fresh and to cater to different audiences. Deliver a martial arts-inspired workout with a full body HIIT workout with T3 fight. Rather than being locked into pre-set choreography for weeks, T3 allows you to adapt as you see fit and mix up the tracks to keep your class on its toes. To teach group exercise, you will need to complete an exercise to music course and hold either the entry level Certificate in Fitness Instructing (Exercise to Music) or the Diploma in Exercise to Music.

Add other disciplines to your PT toolkit

Not all clients will want to lift weights or work in the gym. Some clients may prefer to train with yoga or pilates. Qualifying as a yoga instructor or pilates teacher is a simple add on to your personal trainer qualification. Once qualified, you are able to teach clients yoga and/or pilates either one-on-one or in small or large groups.

Make sure your fitness qualification is CIMSPA-accredited

CIMSPA maintains public register that recognises the qualifications of fitness professionals in the UK. Being CIMSPA-registered shows employers and clients that you meet a certain standard of competency. Level 2, Level 3 qualifications should all be CIMSPA-accredited. Avoid training providers that offer non-awarding body certificates and in-house certificates. All of TRAINFITNESS’ courses are CIMSPA-recognised. It is not compulsory to register with CIMSPA once qualified, but it is regarded as a badge of professionalism by the fitness industry. Some employers may expect it and it will give your clients peace of mind that they are in safe hands.

Being a personal trainer does not make you a nutritionist or dietician

As a personal trainer, you should certainly encourage your clients to make changes to their diet that encompass recognised healthy eating guidelines. However, personal trainers have a responsibility to not endorse celebrity or trend-based diets, or encourage restricted eating patterns. Personal trainers should also not write individual, bespoke nutrition programmes for their clients. An alternative to a four-year degree to become a nutritionist is to enroll in a programme such as body fix nutrition course. The body fx nutrition programme is a 16-week programme designed to give personal trainers the knowledge to help their clients achieve the body, health and happiness they desire. The programme can be delivered to small groups or with one-to-one clients, and provides them with a comprehensive journey featuring continuous guidance and support to achieve the body, health and happiness they desire.

Can you get a PT qualification online?

Yes, you can take part in a range of fitness qualifications online – in fact, we actually offer ‘distance learning‘ and ‘virtual’ online learning options. Some other fitness training course providers offer similar options. Let’s take a look at each in a little more detail:

Distance learning

Distance learning is the ultimate in flexibility – it’s the best way to learn if you can’t commit to attending a schedule of classes (often known as ‘clinics’). Instead, you’ll be able to film your practical assessment – then submit them electronically along with completed portfolios of work. Of course, if you’d prefer to mix this up with some in-person assessments days, you can pay an additional fee to perform these assessments at one of our venues around the UK.

Virtual study

Virtual learning (sometimes known as ‘e-learning’) is now one of the most popular ways to study for a gym instructor or personal training course – especially since the UK’s been impacted by COVID restrictions and lockdowns. Our virtual study courses are available full or part-time – and they’re a combination of home study plus tutor-led, real-time virtual clinics that you can participate in from your own home. Of course, it’s also an ideal way to learn first-hand how personal training services can be delivered using tools like Zoom – ideal if you’d like your future career to include online training sessions.

In-Person study

If you would rather learn face-to-face, then there are the In-Person Clinics which are also offered full or part-time. Once again, this involves home study before you attend the live, tutor led clinics at one of our locations around the UK. You can see a full list of locations here. The gym instructor clinic goes for 5 days, then the personal trainer clinic runs for 6 days. If you are enrolled on the Specialist Diploma, you will attend for a further 4 days. You can see a full list of start dates here.

Can you become a personal trainer without certification in the UK?

If you’re looking at the possibility of working in the fitness sector without the right qualifications, we need to warn you that you’re going into a very dangerous area – both for you and anyone you might offer your services to. There are two main hurdles that would prevent you from having a successful career if you didn’t have the right qualification – first, there’s finding a job, then, there’s personal trainer insurance. Let’s look at both:

Can you get a PT job without a qualification?

Here’s the short answer – no. Virtually every personal trainer job advertisement you see will ask for a minimum of a Level 3 Personal Training certificate. If the advert doesn’t say this, it’ll be because the employer would expect you to know or will train you as part of your employment. Part of any employer’s health and safety (and therefore their insurance cover) will require that every fitness professional they employ is qualified to the appropriate standard. The employer will need to see proof of this before you start. So, if you’re not going to get a job with health clubs or gyms – what about working for yourself? Then there’s your own insurance to think about…

Do you need a fitness qualification to get personal trainer insurance?

As a self-employed personal trainer or a personal trainer that works for a business you own, you’ll need to have insurance cover in place before you can start working with clients. Why? It’s perfectly reasonable to expect that clients could run into health problems or pick up injuries when they’re training with you. A recognised qualification will help you prevent this in the first place – but insurance is there to protect you if something unforeseen happens. Without this insurance, you could be liable for hundreds of thousands – if not millions of pounds worth of compensation if something goes wrong. Again, an insurance provider will want to see proof that you’ve successfully completed a fully qualified personal training course before they issue cover – so without it, you’re not only taking an enormous risk – but since it’s illegal to operate without insurance, you’d also be breaking the law.

Which personal training certification is best in the UK?

A lot of people find themselves on the TRAINFITNESS website after spending a while online researching the best personal training certifications available in the UK. It’s important not to get confused between ‘training providers’ and ‘training certifications’ at this point – there’s a big difference. A training provider is an institute you study with – but the training certification is the qualification you’ll achieve when you successfully graduate from your course. The two main certification bodies you’ll hear talked about in the UK are REPs (Register of Exercise Professionals) and CIMSPA (The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity). The two bodies are now combined – but a TRAINFITNESS personal training course exceeds the standards set by both. What’s more, all our courses meet the criteria for official American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Approved Provider status too – so when you train with us, your course will be recognised internationally too.

Related content: Learn more about Personal Trainer Salaries here.