Update 9/9/20. Every so often I encounter people who call themselves a “master personal trainer” and I always wonder what it took for them to make this boastful claim? Did they go to college or have they been in business for many years? Sadly, calling oneself a master trainer is easier than most think. Does a Master Personal Trainer know everything? What does it take to use this title? If you've been wondering about what a master trainer is and what it takes to become one, I'm about to open your eyes.
Read These Reviews
- NASM Personal trainer review
- CSCS exam review
- ACE personal trainer review
- Rhabdomyolysis caused by personal trainers
What Is A Master Personal Trainer?
At gyms, they sometimes have personal trainers and “master personal trainers.” When I ask people what they did to deserve the master title, they usually reply that they passed a “Master Personal Trainer” certification test.
I have had several of these Master Trainers take the basic AAAI/ISMA personal training certification that I teach –and they often fail the test! How can this be…?
How Gyms Define Master Trainers?
At some gyms, a master personal trainer is just somebody who has lots of clients and generates a lot of revenue per pay period. That's it! So a master trainer is somebody who makes the most money. I'm sorry but that doesn't mean they know personal training. Rather, it could mean they are a good salesperson.
This is one of the big scams that go on in gyms.
The simple truth is the label master personal trainer is unregulated. There is no formal definition. That's why I often call it the fitness equivalent of a bag of magic beans!
To put things in perspective, I have a Masters's degree – in exercise science. I have never called myself a master personal trainer.
Passing any fitness certification (ACE, AFAA, NSCA, NASM, ISSA, etc.) only demonstrates you know the MINIMUM requirements. There may be some advanced topics covered in a master personal trainer certification exam but there is still SO MUCH MORE that is not covered.
Take This Master Personal Trainer Test
For the master trainers out there who are angry at how I'm belittling their title, I invite you to take this simple 4 question test:
1. Your client's legs cramp every time he/she walks for more than a few minutes.
What might you suspect?
2. Your client complains their muscles are extremely sore immediately after exercise.
What’s might you suspect?
3. Your female client, who runs marathons, confides that she’s missed 3 menstrual cycles in a row -and she’s not pregnant.
What might you suspect?
4. Your client tells you that their A1c level is 9.0.
What does that mean?
Granted, these are advanced questions, but they show up daily
How many master trainers knew these answers?
If you know all the answers, fantastic! There is an excellent chance that you did more than simply pass a certification test or make a lot of money for the gym, to earn that title. That’s what it’s really about –education.
What Your Clients Really Want
How many fitness trainers reading these words worked out this week? How many books about fitness did you read this week?
There lies the problem…
Biceps don't matter. Education matters.
As a fitness trainer, you prescribe a powerful drug called exercise. It takes ongoing education to know how to prescribe it in the right dosage. The dosage is based on the frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise someone does.
Titles like “master personal trainer” and others that this does not matter. All that matters is being educated as you can be. There are many fitness trainers who have college degrees –and they don’t know anything about personal training! Let me be clear: A college degree does not mean the person knows personal training. My college degree did not prepare me to be a personal trainer. It prepared me for medical school!
On the flip side, I have met trainers with no degree and no “certification” who are very smart. They are the passionate ones. They learn, study, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. That’s the person I want in my corner. The person who admits when they don’t know something and then goes out and finds the right answer.
Master Trainer Interviews
Here are a couple of video podcast interviews I did with two very educated and passionate fitness professionals:
Both of these men are true master personal trainers. I suggest you watch both videos. They don't hold back.
More Time In The Library
Part of being a master trainer is studying. Working out is not enough. We have to work on our craft. Most fitness trainers spend too much time in the gym and not enough time in the library. I just made a LOT of people mad. But, it's true. For those who call themselves master personal trainers, what have you read:
- This week?
- This month?
- This year?
If you can you regularly take online courses, listen to podcasts, attended conventions, read books /journals that
are relevant to your profession, then I'd have no problem with you.
If on the other hand, you have done nothing except may post your exercise videos on Instagram or YouTube, then I'm sorry but you are not a master personal trainer, no matter what the piece of paper says.
If you want to improve your education, here are some resources:
Also, take a look at my post What's the Best Personal Training Cert for more information.
Nobody Knows Everything
I never call myself a master personal trainer or an “expert” or anything. I have some college degrees and have written a few books but I don’t know everything– and I hope I never do! I try to learn something new every day. Given the excessive cost of some fitness certifications and titles, I felt these words needed to be said, especially for those making minimum wage working in a gym.
If you are a master fitness trainer, great. Just make sure you reinforce it with new ideas and knowledge on a regular basis. Failure to do so is like buying a new car – and never changing the oil.
Aniyah Berger says
Useful information! Thanks for your post
Is this article for real? There are Master Trainer titles earned by the same associations that prepare trainers for their third-party accredited CPT exam (i.e. NASM). The amount of work and level of effort that goes into this process is beyond most of the commenters’ comprehension apparently – notably the one who called the Master Trainer title a ‘gimmick.’
There are also Master Trainer titles given by health clubs and gyms. These titles likely indicate seniority to some degree (i.e. tenure, sales, experience, prospect close rate, client retention, etc.).
However, a gym can assign you whatever title the GM or Fitness Director deem appropriate and it doesn’t change the fact that it holds no water outside of that gym. The former description is highly learning-intensive. 90% of this forum (as well as the article’s author) should clearly do some more research.
2GUNS, I think you nailed it when you mentioned “sales and prospect close rate”. Gyms often give the title of Master Trainer to the best sales people. As you said gyms can give you whatever title they like. it doesn’t make it true. As for NASM, its expensive but I’m not convinced its better. We need to devote ourselves to being life-long learners and stop relying on over priced titles to demonstrate our knowledge to the public.
Chris F. says
Master personal trainer can be taken with a grain of salt just like certified personal trainer or personal trainer. If you have a master’s degree like you do then I have no problem putting you at a master level if you have clientele that has attained their weight training and fitness goals following your purpose, direction and motivation.
The questions you ask can be as random as the trainee asking! Sometimes you have to remind them that you are not a Dr. And you can have round about knowledge but you take it upon your self to find out to the best of your knowledge to better inform your trainee and yourself.
Personal and personable, if you don’t give a rat’s ass about the person you’re training you can have all the knowledge in the world but it’s worthless…* I say “you” as a hypothetical trainer. Not you Joe, I hope you didn’t read it in that context.
Joe Cannon says
Chris F. I agree 100% and I thank you for sharing 🙂
Hello Joe, I just came across your article and would like to you shed some light on my current situation.
I am a NASM CPT for almost 3 years now, had FMS lv 1 + 2 as well as vipr/trx certs, yet I dont see myself having my chance of widening my business. Hence I decided to see if it is worth spending the time and effort to become a master trainer (not related to master personal trainer) of any sort.
What are your thoughts on this and as your article mentioned, am I better off learning and touching on various subjects and fields on fitness to further deepen my knowledge?
Joe Cannon says
Hi Donald, I think the fact that you are thinking about this puts you ahead of many trainers who dont think about the future. I would not spend more money on a “master trainer” cert since you already have other certifications. In stead, get books on advanced training such as special populations. You can also attend local seminars on topics such as those from Cross Country Education. If you do this you’ll spend less money and have the knowledge.
You did not say if you were self employed or work at a gym. I think going self employed is another way to further how much you make as a trainer.
Thanks for the reply Joe! really appreciate it! Yes i am currently a freelance trainer after i had a few unhappy incidents with corporate gyms, however as business is going downhill and I am unable to keep my clients due to various cases such as house investments and family issues (honestly they were all happy with what I offered them).
So as a side option I plan on getting other certifications on various equipments and skills, but as you mentioned, is it actually better to have many certs, rather than a concentration on one? however if that is the case it only works on personal training but not able to actually conduct classes as I am “not” qualified.
Joe Cannon says
Donald, do you have a group that you like to specialze in training? do you enjoy working with some people more than others? if yes, find resources that will help you learn all you can about them and then direct your efforts to just working with them. Also take a look at advertising on craigslist. That can work. It did for me. here’s my cragislist marketing post for more info.
I’m curious as to the answers to the four questions. I believe I know the answers to a few of them. I am not a personal trainer but am planning to become one in a few years as a second career after I retire from my current job. I am 59.
In any event, I did learn something here, I had to look up A1c, to find out what it was.
I am researching what certs to look at, and this is a great site.
Joe Cannon says
Hi Charlie, thanks for the feedback and Im glad you are enjoying my website. Here are the answers to the questions
1. heart disease (peripheral artery disease)
2. rhabdomyolysis (here’s my review of rhabdo for more info)
3. Female Athletic Triad
4. They have metabolic syndrome or full fledged type II diabetes.
Take a look at the book I wrote – Personal Fitness Training Beyond The Basics. In that book I cover not only the science and real life issues trainers face but also the stuff nobody else talks about (how will you be paid etc). It’s no nonsense, just like this site is.
Also take a look at my review on how to be a personal trainer.
if you have any other questions, just ask.
I studied under you this past weekend and I have to say that I learned a lot. There is so much information surrounding fitness that a holistic approach is the most realistic and favorable. My intention is not to become a master fitness and strength coach. My intention is to continually learn about new information in the areas of fitness and strength, so that I can be abreast of truths and fallacies when a client presents them to me.
Also, I think that it’s more sincere when you are able to warn your clients about potential pitfalls in this industry. They will feel that you truly value their safety and you will gain credibility as a trainer and as a human-being. Thanks for the insightful information and a plethora of positivity. I plan to use both in my career.
Joe Cannon says
Darnell, thanks I appreciate that! Great meeting you last weekend 🙂
Hey Joe, I noticed AAAI offers the Master Personal Trainer- 1) how would you differentiate it from the phase 2 personal trainer –on AAAI 2) What are the study materials for both phase 2 and the Master Personal Trainer 3) Do you recommend getting the Master Cert.(to become more marketable) or is there not much difference- say one is aspiring toward a CSCS. 4) How difficult is it (the master) to pass, and what kind of studying should be done for it? Thanks Joe all the Best!- Igor.
Joe Cannon says
Igor, yes the big difference between them is that the master trainer course (also called phase 2) is all about different diseases and conditioning that trainers may run into, like diabetes, high blood pressure etc. we cover the condition, the exercise guidelines, what not to do and any “tricks” to help them. I think its a must since most people who hire trainer will have some health issue. A lot of trainers are not aware of the guidelines so this will help. AAAI has a master trainer book, which I wrote and so thats what Id recommend (if you already have my book -personal fitness training beyond the basics, just study that). the CSCS book has some good info in it but if I remember correct, its not just about special needs people. its more sports oriented.
Cristina Rus says
Thank you so much. I m looking forward to my career.
Joe Cannon says
Anytime Christina. Much success ! 🙂
Cristina Rus says
On 15/03/13 I became a master trainer. I just finished and as a result I went on to see what are people saying about master trainers. You article is good. I know we can probably answer phisicaly to the questions that you asked (4 quest). I am not sure the answers of each. Could you please answer them one by one? I have still more to learn. Thank you, Cristina
Joe Cannon says
Hi Cristina, congrats on getting certified. Sure thing Ill be glad to.
1. heart disease. leg cramps may be a sign of peripheral artery disease, PAD. this is fancy talk for “heart disease.”
2. Rhabdomyolysis. I have an entire review of rhabdo. here is the post. Also read all the comments from people who got it too!
3. Female Athletic Triad is the condition to suspect. its a syndrome of 3 distinct conditions – osteoporosis, eating disorders and loss/disruption of the menstrual cycle
4. A1c is a measurement of how bad diabetes is progressing. Normal A1c is 6 or less. As it goes higher, it means that diabetes is getting worse. People sometimes start to lose their vision when A1c reaches about 9. Another name is Hemoglobin A1c. Doctors measure it with a blood test
Thanks for writing Cristina and I hope that helps! 🙂
Rich jones says
Hello Joe! Just so u know I too thought like u and figured a Master just was a added bonus title but what it REALLY means is he has knowledge in many more areas than I do. Senior fitness, child fitness, pregnancy fitness etc! That’s all it is but don’t hate on him because I assure u he paid triple what u paid to get those tiles! I’m on my 3rd course of 5 to be a Master and yes I will consider myself above the rest!
Joe Cannon says
Hey Rich, thanks for sharing! I agree, someone who is doing what you are doing is great. It’s all about education and contained education. That’s a nice website you have too 🙂
OMG….does a Master Trainer or any type of trainer have to work out every week or read “books”? I am proud to be a MASTER TRAINER and no, it wasn’t from taking a test and saying I got the cert. I have been in the fitness world for over 30 years and teaching Martial Arts for well over 17 years. I trained people even before I got certified. Does a Master Trainer have to “know everything”? No they don’t!!!
I had to go through a years worth of education and getting 6 certifications to get the title. Do I have to work in a gym in order to be a Master Trainer? Nope!!! I can still be a fitness expert in the field and advise and consult in person or online. You sound like you have a little chip on your shoulder and never got the formal education in fitness and health in order to deserve the title of MASTER TRAINER.
Do I read books? Heck no, I do research on fitness and health topics weekly. AND just because you have ENCOUNTERS with a FEW master trainers, don’t put ALL master trainers in the same limelight as the bad ones you met. Like having a run in with a rotten cop, so now all cops are rotten.
Yes, even guys who are not certified trainers can provide a good service, but if they train somebody and they get hurt, well, can you say Lawsuit? Tell the judge what proper training and client documentation they have. Probably none execpt a notepad to write on. If you want to harp on this issue, then harp on the issue of those who never have gotten formal education and think they are trainers because they workout in the gym 6 days a week and read Muscle and Fitness as their guidebooks or just go to a workshop and test afterwards.
You state this, “Here’s a fact. Passing any fitness certification (ACE, AFAA, NSCA, NASM, ISSA, ect.) only demonstrates that the person knows the MINIMUM requirements. How is a “master” personal trainer certification any different?” The MINIMUM? What world do you live in? So Joe Smo in the gym who works out all the time and reads muscle mags is above this?
Let me ask you this and be honest about it. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CERTIFIED as a TRAINER? If so, why did you get your certification? If not, why have you not done so. You say education. What the heck…..so, ACE, AFAA, NSCA, NASM, ISS, NESTA, etc don’t give education? Really? You teach this AAAI/ISMA course? Really, My research shows me a person takes a 1 DAY class and then a test. WOW…..now that is impressive. This AAAI/ISMA doesn’t even make it as one of the TOP Fitness education courses in the USA or even internationally.
I see your credentials saying your a CSCS and got your cert with NASM……so you are certified. WOW……this thread cracks me up. I think I just wasted my time writing now knowing you are also a certified personal trainer…..your just got a chip on your shoulder since you have met a few bad trainers that don’t fit YOUR standards……….BTW—–if you don’t post this reply, then I know you are just on a rant.
Proud ISSA MASTER TRAINER!!!!!!
Joe Cannon says
Master-Your-Fitness, I think we are closer to each other in thinking than either of our writings show. When I wrote my master trainer post it was in response to seeing not a few – but MANY -personal trainers who called themselves “master trainers” without having any advanced certs or education and being in the field for a VERY short time. Ive seen this for MANY years. We both know that the world of fitness certs is like the wild wild west -especially in big box gyms, where they hire people with little experience and try little “tricks” to get people to sign up for personal training. Master trainer has been one of the tricks Ive seen in MANY places.
From what you said, it appears you have amassed a great amount of knowledge and professionalism and so what I wrote does not apply to you. I would not lump someone who has been in the business for 30 years in the same group as a “master trainer” who has only been around for 1 year. I wanted to call attention to how this term of master trainer is way over used. It really is like “all natural” on food labels. Its everywhere.
As for my background, I have a MS in exercise science and a BS in chemistry and biology. I have both the CSCS cert and the NSCA-CPT certifications (so yes I have been certified as a personal trainer). I am not NASM certified (you likely saw a post on NASM written by another). I’ve written 7 books, been on TV, radio and in print and yes I do teach certifications for AAAI/ISMA and have done so for over 10 years. But, I don’t think of myself as an expert or master because I know I do not know everything. The idea of “master” gives the idea to the public that I know something about everything. I do not. I focus on special areas that are of interest to me and learn all I can about those areas. When things fall outside my areas of knowledge, I refer them to others more qualified than I am.
I am opinionated when it comes to this industry because I have seen so much and we both know that “stuff” goes on behind the scenes that few others want to talk about.
I can tell that my words made you a little mad and while that was not my intention, I am glad that we can have a discussion about these things so that others can learn from it.
I am glad we got that out in the open. the way you explained it to me should be part of your article. that might clear things up better. thx for the reply. i do believe if your are going to instruct future trainers for AAAI, then you should also get the cert from them. it holds you to a higher standard i do believe. again….thx for the reply.
Joe Cannon says
Master your fitness, I think sometimes things get lost in translation in blog posts so I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to expand on things. Ill look at the post also to try to avoid future mix ups.
Before I began teaching for AAAI I had to pass their exam so I am also AAAI/ISMA certified as well.
I think this article is ridiculous. There should be way to denote someone who has just come out of classes to someone who has been in the field and has an understanding of what they are teaching. Just because one is called a master trainer does not mean that they stop learning. That notion is incredibly offensive.
What your article suggests is that all personal trainers are considered the same. You’ve taken the liberty to assume that because someone calls themselves, or is called by others, a master trainer that they would not be willing to say that they may not know an answer and actively seek that answer out.
My point is…Have some pride man! If you are accomplished, be proud of your accomplishment, but don’t hide behind it by trying to look humble. It isn’t a confident look or feel.
Joe Cannon says
Amy, you are entitled to your opinion but I have encountered “master” trainers who I didn’t feel knew much. I am not for one moment saying that all trainers are the same but giving yourself the title “master” is taking the easy way out. Its an arbitrary title that has no formal recognition.
The best way to show you are different than other trainers is not to give yourself a special name but rather to demonstrate your intelligence. Is it possible to call yourself a master trainer and really know a lot – absolutely! But, one thing I have noticed over the years is that many personal trainers are intellectual lazy – they work out but they don’t educate themselves regularly.
As a test, ask the personal trainers you know this question: how many times did you work out this week? Then ask them how many books they read about exercise science, nutrition etc? When I do this, I’m not feeling good with the answers I get.
I think most of the people blogging this web site are ass kissers, I take offense to what you say about master trainers. I am a master trainer and have been training people from all walks of life for over 25 years, I have owned several gyms and know my trade well.
The new trainer today is a booksmart skinny little dork who has very few actual hours in the gym and the colleges are grinding them out. The gyms today are only interested in the almighty buck so the only hope an individual has for good solid training is in a private studio with people like me who are after results. I also you like blowing your horn.
Joe Cannon says
Ecil, you are entitled to your opinion but I stand by what I say. I believe the title “master trainer” is an invented term used to sell personal training. I also believe that none of us are really masters. If I was “blowing my own horn” as you say, then why did I say that I was not a master trainer? I know I don’t know everything. I am very aware of the areas where need to brush up on.
It sounds like you have accomplished a lot in your career, which is great; but do you know everything? I’m sure you would agree that you don’t. Also, how did you earn the title “master trainer?” Was it a certification? Or did you just give you that title?
As for those skinny guys you mentioned, they don’t know everything either. Conversely, I can tell you that having seen personal trainer test scores from many thousands of people, that those who have the biggest muscles, usually score lowest on the tests I give them. So, you can know your way around a weight room but not know the book stuff – AND you can know your way around a class room and not be effective in the gym.
I would consider a master personal trainer to be a trainer that trains other trainers and provides in depth workshops on various training and fitness related topics.
Joe Cannon says
Johnny, you kind of just described me – but I still see myself as a student. nice website you have 🙂
this problem would all be eliminated if personal T’s were registered the state– do you here doctors saying — oh this certification is no good– I am a master– the field is a joke until this happens
Joe Cannon says
Good points Sandra! 🙂
Sandra Ferrerio says
Truth should never offend anyone! When people ask me,as I have been fortunate to pas your exam, what is the difference I explain. I have a more knowledge than the average Personal Trainer on certain Medical Conditions as was required by the exam. I ALWAYS do independent research for each and every client and get medical approval where necessary!
You taught me well…I feel privileged that I am certified with a company that does not do “on-line” certifications or compromise the integrity of their certifications for extra money! Thanks for this piece. ISMA/AAAI Level II Master Personal Trainer…If we do not do our homework and continuing education, the entire industry suffers. Our clients trust us! Thanks, Sandra Ferrerio.:)
Judy Leahy says
My personal philosophy is to never stop learning. However, I do believe there needs to be a balance between book smarts and practical knowledge. Having the opportunity to apply what one has learned in the practical world is important. In some industries, experienced seems to be valued more than education.
I love my title as a Master Personal Trainer. Not saying that I know everything, but I’ve been in this field for so long that I consider myself a Master Trainer. I received this certification from AAAI/ISMA and I will use it on all my resumes and flyers. If anyone is offended by the title, study hard and get your title.
Celeste Perez, CPT says
I’m glad you said it! New information is revealed on a constant basis, and without the desire to learn and improve, people could be passing on bad information without knowing it. In my experience over the years, there are very few who will admit to not having the answer to a question. Some will even go as far as to “talk around” the question to give the illusion of an answer, but if you listen closely, they’re not giving you the information requested. I have much more respect for someone’s honesty and willingness to find correct answers on my behalf (instead of making something up or “double talk”).
Mike Behnken says
Master Trainer is what’s on the shirt that is the prize for being the #1 selling trainer in the gym, I’d be willing to bet at least 75% of the time it is a sales related gimmick gyms use to get more sales from the best selling trainers.
Hmmm….please don’t hate. My question to you is, “are you good enough to deserve the MASTER Trainer title? I’m pretty sure those that gained that title must be good at what they do and pretty much deserve that title:-). You probably just need to be happy for them.
Exactly. Dude is bashing people who went through a 6 month program to become a Master Trainer to sell his book 😂😂😂😂
Ryker, you can believe what you like but that’s just baloney. If the only thing someone does to become a master personal trainer is take a certification exam, then they are not a master trainer. Gaining knowledge never ends. I’ve seen this over and over again. No certification can fully make anyone a master of something.
Ask yourself why you didn’t learn about rhabdomyolysis during your 6 month program? All personal trainers -esp master trainers -should be intimately aware about what that is.
Personal Trainer Canada says
I never call myself a master personal trainer. Everyday is an opportunity to learn more. I constantly seek knowledge to improve.
Cecil Jennings says
I agree with Denise, I have been a trainer for 30 years and have always updated and learned I also have my ASFA Master trainer verification and am proud to use it on all my head liners. Anyone who is against this needs to go to school and spend the time in the gym and pay their dues.