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 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 type of criminal background 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.
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 are a dime a dozen. Health clubs today are really looking for “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 gyms #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. That's because managers /owners think a trainer with sales experience can make more money for them than a trainer who does not have sales experience. In the fitness world, there is this saying:
“It's its easier to make a salesman into a personal trainer, than a personal trainer into a salesman.”
So, if you have the gift of gab, this might help you. One book I like on this topic is The Personal Trainers Sales Education Handbook which is all about getting clients while working in a gym.
While I like this book, I prefer the book I wrote even more – 101 Personal Trainer Marketing Secrets. In my book, I didn't focus so much on selling as I did the tips and strategies to help you get clients and keep them. You don't need to be a salesperson to get personal training clients. I'm proof of this.
OK, sales aside, let me now 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
3. Getting personal trainer insurance, especially if you are self employed.
Those who only go into the fitness business 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. That's because those type of workouts are likely too difficult for the average person and have an increased risk of injury. If you injure your clients, you wont be making much money from them.
Becoming as educated as possible about the world of exercise and personal training will not only give you 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, you can save time.
If the manager doesn't have a list to give you, ask the manager to write down a list of organizations they accept. Then you 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. Some can cost thousands of dollars. Fortunately, many can be obtained for less than $1000 and some are only $100 or so. If you have limited funds, I suggest you contact your parole officer or local 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. Regardless, some online certs are well respected, such as the ISSA certification.
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 most of 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 travel to a location to take a proctored exam.
Here is my review of online personal trainer certs if you are interested.
Most personal trainer certifications have an expiration date. Most expire every 1-2 years. In other words, you have to get re-certified before the expiration date. If you are taking a personal trainer certification while you are in prison, I feel its important that the certification date begin when you are released from prison. You don't want to pass a certification exam, only to have it expire while you are still incarcerated. I believe most fitness organizations will work with you on this.
If you are in prison now, seek out whoever is in charge at the prison to reach out to the fitness organization you are interested in to ask about this before paying for the cert. Another option is to have a family member contact the organization on your behalf. If you can, I feel having a representative at the prison do this as it will be more official.
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 do this.
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, 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 to learn more)
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 you get the CPR/AED cert before you attempt to get a fitness certification. 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.
Many places offer CPR/AED certifications such as hospitals, YMCAs and community colleges. You can find a list of those in your area by going to AmericanHeart.org. Or just do a Google search for “CPR /AED + your zip code”
For those in prison now, ask if the CPR/AED certification is offered where you are incarcerated.
I do not feel you should take an online CPR/AED cert if this is the first time you are getting this certification. CPR and AED are best learned hands-on. See my review of online AED /CPR certification for why I believe this.
How to Dress For The Interview
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.
The Personal Trainer Interview
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 and wellness is my passion and where I know I can do the most good in this world. I understand my previous mistakes may 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 in you.
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, it's 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 them to employ you.
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, consider what what would happen if the gym did random drug tests? Some do. 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.
You should not be a slave to a mistake you made years ago.
For those who want to change their life and move on, I can imagine how easy it might 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, you 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 fitness centers, who may pass clients on to trainers, those who are self-employed, need to get them for themselves.
I feel making the best use of your 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.
Like all personal trainers, remember it's likely your clients will google your name. They do this because they want to learn more about who they are hiring. This can be especially challenging for those convicted of crimes. As such, I recommend people google their name now to see what shows up. Don't just use “Google” either. Use other search engines also such as Bing, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and Duck Duck Go for example. One search engine might contain information that others dont.
See if anything about your previous incarceration shows up on the first 1 or 2 pages of the search engine. If it does, think ahead of time at how you will overcome this. For example, one possible way is to advertise yourself as an expert in “convict workouts” or something like that.
I know, I said previously convict-type workouts might not be the right way to go. Mostly it isn't. But, I bring this up as a way to turn a negative into a positive.
If the people you are trying to market to are interested in hard-core body weight workouts, then some might prefer to learn these workouts from someone who has been in prison -and lived it – as opposed to someone who didn't.
That's just a suggestion and if you do this, remember to read my review of rhabdo (read the comments too!) to learn more about how to recognize it and avoid causing this serious medical condition in your clients.
So Can You Be A Trainer If You Were in Jail?
I know to some, this is a controversial topic and there may be those who 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 with our lives― because of those mistakes―define who we are.