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College Courses Needed to Become a Fitness Instructor

student learning fitness course

When the time comes to leave secondary school, teenagers are faced with thousands of possible further education courses and careers to choose from. It’s no wonder less than half of these students know which path they want to take.

Students who enjoy physical education and sports will find exciting opportunities to work and progress in the booming health and fitness industry. Jobs range from being a personal trainer (fitness instructor), with the opportunity to one day progress to becoming a PE teacher or physiotherapist.

Fitness Instructor vs Personal Trainer

Gaining an official certification is a prerequisite to working as a personal trainer or fitness instructor – which are titles often used interchangeably. Although both jobs are closely related, there are some slight differences.

Personal trainers have extensive education and experience, working on “personal” one-on-one sessions with clients to help them reach their fitness and health objectives. A fitness instructor (also called gym instructor) will often “walk the gym floor”, assisting gym members with inductions and how to use exercise machines correctly, but are not qualified to offer personalised workout and nutrition plans.

Fitness Qualifications

When you complete your course and gain your qualification, you’ll be able to apply for jobs in leisure facilities with gyms, private and local authority gyms, or work with people one on one as a self-employed personal trainer depending on which courses you choose. 

You’ll want the following college qualifications to start working as a fitness trainer or gym instructor:

  • Certificate in Fitness Instructing – Level 2 
  • Diploma in Instructing Exercise and Fitness – Level 2 
  • Diploma in Fitness Instructing and Personal Training – Level 3 

And to become a personal trainer you’ll need:

  • Diploma in Instructing Exercise and Fitness – Level 2 
  • Certificate in Fitness Instructing – Level 2 
  • Certificate in Personal Training – Level 3 

Yes, they are pretty much the same three certifications, with the exception of the Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training which is specifically needed to give personal training where you provide tailored one-on-one training, fitness, and nutrition guidance. 

Fitness Inststructor Level 2

If you want to work as a fitness or gym instructor in the United Kingdom, you’ll need to pay for a CIMSPA-approved course. Students who are new to the fitness sector or who want to begin their journey towards a Personal Training certification should start with a Level 2 Gym Instructor course or Fitness Instruction.

Although there are no educational background conditions for taking this Level 2 certificate, the minimum age is 16, so this would be ideal for school leavers. 

It prepares you to design and lead exercise classes and fitness routines by teaching you about physiology and muscular anatomy. The Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) is the national regulating organisation that issues fitness sector licences, and you can apply for membership with them once you have completed and passed a Level 2 Fitness Instructor course.

Progressing in the Fitness Industry 

Completion of the Level 2 course is the stepping stone to a Level 3 Personal Trainer certification, and if you want to progress even further down the line, the next course would be in Sports Coaching and Development. 

The BTEC Extended Diploma is a two-year programme that covers the same material as an A-level. Earning this certification will improve your coaching and sports development abilities, setting you up for success in the sports and fitness business. The topics of this course include sports psychology, nutrition, and physiology, as well as the techniques necessary to achieve optimal performance.

It also covers how to start your own fitness business and how to become self-employed. The standard prerequisite for this programme is a grade 4 in five GCSE subjects, including English and mathematics. You may continue your education at a university or other institution of higher learning after receiving this diploma.

Are Fitness Courses Worth it?

Sure, there is an abundance of free fitness information online from websites like and Fitness Click, but there will always be a need for new Fitness Instructors just like there will always be Driving Instructors.

In fact, the fitness industry is worth a staggering £2bn just in the UK, and over £70bn globally. In 2022 the fitness market increased by just over 25% and is growing year on year, so you don’t have to worry about job saturation any time soon.

And there you have it, a clear path laid out from leaving school and advancing your way through a lucrative and rewarding career in the fitness industry.