Fitness Instructor vs Personal Trainer – What is the difference?

If you are thinking of entering the fitness industry, or if you have recently started working in the sector and are looking to expand your career, you may be curious about the differences between working as a fitness instructor and a personal trainer. At first glance, the two roles may seem to be almost identical, and it is possible for both a fitness instructor and personal trainer to work at the same gym, at the same time, sometimes with the same clients.

However, when you dig a little deeper into the benefits, responsibilities, and requirements of each role, it becomes clear that the two are, in fact, very different kinds of jobs. Below are some of the most important differentiating factors between the two career paths.

Roles and responsibilities of Fitness Instructor vs Personal Trainer

Fitness instructors are typically either self-employed or employed by a gym or fitness center to run classes, answer questions, and monitor the gym-goers’ use of the equipment. Fitness instructors will also have responsibilities around the gym facilities such as giving tours to prospective members, signing up new clients, and organizing equipment.

Fitness instructors can answer questions gym-goers have, and if someone is using the equipment improperly or in a potentially dangerous way, the instructor can quickly step in. That being said, they are there to help everyone in the gym and do not typically focus their attention on a single person.

On the other hand, personal trainers tend to focus their attention solely on one client or a small group of clients in the gym during a session. The sessions will typically take place in the gym, and the trainer will assist the client with their exercise routine.

In addition to the exercise in the gym, personal trainers will help their clients to improve their health in other ways. They will develop bespoke diet plans for their clients and targeted exercise routines that they can complete on their solo days in the gym.

Every client is different and has their own fitness goals, dietary restrictions, and preferences, so it is the personal trainer’s job to develop an effective plan for each client.

Fitness instructor Stability and benefits

Becoming a gym instructor or a fitness instructor is usually the first step someone will take when considering moving on to work as a personal trainer. The role allows you to learn about the industry, learn more about exercise, and build up a base of contacts in the industry you can connect with. The fitness instructor role also provides an added element of security as you are an employee, rather than being self-employed, and can rely on the stability it affords.

Personal trainers, on the other hand, are typically self-employed and work on a freelance basis. It affords trainers a great degree of freedom to develop their schedules and to take time off when they wish. However, if you are struggling to find clients, or you have so many clients that you are struggling to fit them into your schedule, it can become challenging to manage your work.

Insurance requirements

Every gym is likely to have insurance coverage for its employees. As a result, fitness instructors employed by the gym will most likely be covered by that insurance policy.

Personal trainers, however, will need to take out their own insurance. While insurance is not necessarily the first thing you might think about as a personal trainer, it is extremely important. If an accident happens and your client is badly injured, you could be held liable for the injury and sued.

Next Insurance has a range of comprehensive insurance policies which are made specifically for personal trainers. Their insurance platform is easy to understand and use, and you can register for personal training insurance in a few simple steps, making the process as painless and efficient as possible.

It is important to check your state’s legal requirements concerning insurance as they vary from state to state. Most gyms will also require personal trainers who work on their facilities to have their own insurance policies.


A certification is not required for most gym instructor roles. Depending on the role, personal trainers may not need to be certified. However, accredited certification courses are definitely worth the investment and the additional work.

Once you have completed an accredited certification course, you will be able to advertise your accreditation to potential clients and even take additional courses in the future to specialize in areas in which you are most interested.

These are just some of the differences between the fitness instructor and personal trainer roles. Depending on the state where you live, and the gym or fitness center you work out of, there could be other differences or nuances. Whichever path you choose, if you do your research ahead of time and consider your options, you are sure to choose the role that is right for you.