Can you be a personal trainer with a criminal record? This is a question I’ve seen asked quite a bit online but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it discussed in any fitness publications. While I’m sure some might think the answer is obvious, I don’t think it necessarily is. I think for some people, yes, it’s possible. I want to discuss this not only because nobody else seems to want to, but also because I want to speak directly those in prison now – as well as paroled individuals – to give them insights into how to do this if they feel fitness is their calling. If you want to add anything or think I missed something, leave a comment below. I’ll be interested in reading what you think. Also see my post on personal trainers who smoke for more information.
Personal Trainer With a Criminal Record?
I’m sure a lot of people, after reading the title of this post, probably thought “No you can’t,” but after thinking about this question for a bit, I came to the conclusion that yes, it’s possible to be a personal trainer, even if you have a criminal record. I say this because fitness organizations dont ask people if they’ve ever been in prison (nor should they) prior to taking their fitness certification test. But more than that, I say yes, because I believe in redemption for everyone. Who among us has not made a mistake in his or her life? I know I have.
Having said that, the I think the nature of the some crimes, might make a career in personal training more difficult than others. For example, I’d think that crimes involving:
- Sexual harassment
- Child pornography
would make working in a gym as a trainer, almost impossible. While there are always exceptions to everything, I just don’t think the managers of most gyms would take the chance on allowing someone with this criminal background to interact with their members.
On the other hand, crimes such as:
- Car theft
- Not paying alimony
as bad as they are, might pose less of an problem ―especially if they occurred many years ago – and the person has since kept out of the legal system and made a conscious effort to better themselves.
All that said, there really is no way to predict how a gym owner or general manager might react to someone with a criminal record applying for a fitness job. I think it really depends on the nature of the crime and the person doing the hiring.
So, what might a person do to increase the odds of getting a personal trainer job if they were previously convicted of a crime? In my opinion, it’s all about making yourself look as good as possible in the eyes of the gym management ―and I don’t mean looking good physically.
Simply looking good on the outside will not cut it with savvy gym managers and owners. Good looking personal trainers really are a dime a dozen. Health clubs today want “ambassadors” of their organization more than anything else. This is especially true for the more elite health clubs.
When I say ambassador, I mean someone who represents the core values of the gym. Some of the core values gym managers look for include:
- Customer service
Personal trainers who have these virtues will make more money than those who don’t. Since personal training is likely the gym’s #1 source of monthly income, these are the people that managers like to employ.
Another attribute gym managers value a LOT is the ability to sell. This is one of the reasons I recommend reading The Personal Trainers Sales Education Handbook which is all about getting clients while working in a gym.
Its sometimes said its easier to make a salesman into a personal trainer, than a personal trainer into a salesman. The ability to speak to people in a way that gets them to do something – like buy personal training – can often make or break a trainer.
So, to achieve that goal of getting employed, let me outline some steps and things to think about, before walking into a gym to apply for a job.
Anyone who is serious about becoming a personal trainer has to educate themselves to learning. There is no getting around this crucial fact. That means:
2. Learning as much as possible about exercise, after getting certified
People who only go into fitness because they learned “convict workouts” while in prison, won’t stand a chance of getting hired as a personal trainer in most health clubs today.
Becoming as educated as possible about the world of exercise and personal training will not only give people a leg up on getting a job in a gym ―but it will also help that person to be a successful personal trainer, especially if they one day decide to make the leap to becoming self-employed.
Tip. For those who don’t know about the different types of personal trainer certifications, it’s a good idea to go to local gyms and ask the manager for a list of the certification organizations they do accept. Not all gyms accept all certifications so by asking for the list, people can save time. If they don’t have a list to give you, ask the manager to write down a list of organizations that they do accept. Then people can go on the internet and do some research about those organizations themselves.
See my how to be a personal trainer review for more info on this.
Some personal trainer certifications can be very expensive. For those who have limited funds, I suggest people contact their parole officer or local department of department of corrections to ask if they offer any assistance in helping parolees obtain job skills.
You may have heard of online certs that you can take at home. These are not cheaper than traditional fitness certifications and because its easy to cheat on most online certs, I dont know how many gyms accept them.
Yes, some gyms do accept online certifications, but because you may be at a disadvantage when you apply for a job, I think its best to avoid them for now and get a more traditional cert (ACE, IFTA, AAAI/ISMA, NSCA ). It sends a subtle message to employers that you took the time to study and that you traveled l to a location to take a proctored exam.
Here is my review of online personal trainer certs if you are interested.
Before applying for a personal training job, you need to have a resume that you can bring with you to the interview. Again, parole officers etc. may be able to help with learning how to do this.
Here is my review on how to make a resume for more info on how to make one.
Doing an internet search for “resume tips” should also bring up additional ideas on how to write a resume to make it sound good. If you are able to, do include references or letters of recommendation from people of good standing (ministers, etc.) as this can improve the odds of getting hired.
CPR and AED Certification
In addition to a fitness certification, you also have a CPR/AED certification too. I say for 3 reasons:
1. Medical emergencies in the gym happen all the time (click the link)
2. It can make you look better than other trainers who dont have it
3. All trainers really need to have a CPR/AED certification.
I recommend that you get the CPR/AED cert before you attempt to get a fitness cert. This is because many fitness organizations will require you be CPR/AED certified before they let you take their certification exams.
Be sure to add the CPR/AED cert to your resume because it will help you stand out during the interview.
How to Dress
Whether people are just walking into the gym to ask for the list of accepted personal trainer certs―or meeting the owner for a job interview―it’s important to dress appropriately.
Because personal training and fitness is a pretty casual business, I usually tell people that Dockers and a Polo or button-down shirt with some comfortable shoes is enough to put you over the top with most managers.
But, for those who have a criminal record (especially if it’s been fairly recent since getting out of prison), I’d say go above this and wear a suit and tie if possible. Again, the idea here is to try, as much as possible, to overshadow previous transgressions.
Usually the manger or owner of the gym will want to interview people before they are hired. I believe getting the conviction out of the way immediately is the best way to get past it and move on. So, this is what I’d suggest you do.
Sit down with the gym manager or owner and let him/her look over the resume. As they begin to ask questions, look them in the eye and politely say that you feel you be up front with them and let them know that you had previously spent time in prison. For example, say something like this:
“Mr. Smith, before we proceed, I really want to be honest and let you know that 2 years ago I was in prison for car theft. I’ve been paroled and have turned my life around. Fitness is my passion and where I know I can do the most good in this world. I understand that this might hurt my chances of working with your organization but I believe in starting off with no secrets, so I wanted you to know.”
I think it’s important to get the crime stuff out of the way quickly, because:
1. It saves you time to move onto other opportunities (jobs) if they are not interested.
2. Being up front also saves the manager time― and money ―because if they are interested, they may do a criminal background check. If that happens, it’s going to come up. Again, its best to get out in front of this as soon as possible.
It’s at the interview where all of your prior preparations―getting certified/ being educated, dressing well, speaking well, being honest ―will all come together to present the best case for employing you as possible.
See my Fitness Job Interview review post for more insights on what to expect and how to do well in the interview.
Criminal Background Checks
Some gyms do perform background checks on new employees. This is especially true for employees who come in contact with children. This often includes personal trainers. At high-end fitness clubs, I’d think a background check would be mandatory on ALL new potential employees. While, smaller, local gyms might not do this, I think its best to assume there will be one until you know otherwise.
Also, health clubs associated with hospitals or businesses may also require a drug test for personal trainers as well.
Personal trainers should not use illegal drugs. There is no gray area here. You need to get clean for life – not just for the drug test – if you plan on being a personal trainer. Just to get you thinking, what if the gym did random drug tests? You can’t prepare for random drug tests…
But, what if the gym doesn’t do a background check? I still think honesty is the best policy because it’s a secret that will always be hanging over you.
Personal trainers are highly visible in the gym. What if your past mistakes were brought up by a member? Then you’d have to explain why you didn’t tell the manager during the interview.
For those who want to change their life and move on, I can imagine how easy it would be to “forget” to bring up spending time in prison during a job interview. I really think in the long run, being honest will be in the best interest of everybody.
You’re Hired. Now What?
I think it’s important to remember that after being hired, that every day, people need to be as professional as possible when working in the gym. Basically, you need to make a statement to management that you are ―and continue to be― the right person for the job. When I say professional, I mean things like:
- Wearing the uniform when working
- Not wearing the uniform when working out
- Being polite to members
- Not using the cell phones or texting when training clients
- Arriving early for appointments
- Not dating members of the gym
- Accommodating members when possible
Let me be clear. I say these things ―not because they are obvious ―but because I want you to succeed. Sometimes, after getting out of prison, it may seem like the deck is stacked against you in terms of getting an opportunity to better yourself. So, when an opportunity does occur, it’s time to take the bull by the horns and use it to create another, bigger opportunity.
Becoming Self Employed
Eventually, people may decide that they enjoy helping people so much that they decide to go in business for themselves. When this happens, getting a job isn’t the hard part ―it’s getting clients! Unlike gyms, who may pass clients on to trainers, those who are self-employed, need to get them for themselves.
I feel that making the best use of one’s time in the gym, is an excellent way to get a reputation as a good personal trainer. Then, if the decision to be self employed is made, some of those gym members may decide to hire you outside of the gym.
Before becoming self employed, learn everything possible about personal training, home-training and health and wellness, because training in a gym is much different ―and often easier ―than training people in their home.
Why I Wrote This
I know to some, this is a controversial topic and there may be those might feel uncomfortable working with a personal trainer who has a criminal record. That’s a question each of us will have to answer for ourselves. That said, I’ve always felt that fitness is a big tent with room for a wide range of people. And, If you think about it, health clubs are all about redemption – full of people who join in the hopes of bettering themselves.
At the end of the day, we all make mistakes in life. Granted, some mistakes are harder to overcome than others, but with patience, and occasional help, I think we can overcome a lot. For those who feel otherwise, I’ll respect your opinion but I’ll leave you with these words: If it’s true, what they say – that our mistakes define who we were – then it’s also true that what we do― because of those mistakes―define who we are.
What do you think?