Fitness Instructor vs Personal Trainer

fitness instructor vs personal trainer image

It can often be difficult to determine the differences between two similar terms in the fitness world, and the debate between fitness instructor vs personal trainer is no different.

While these two terms may often be used interchangeably, they have wildly different meanings, and it’s vital to be aware of, and understand, the differences and similarities between the two. 

Whether you’re just beginning your fitness journey and are curious how a fitness instructor is different to a personal trainer, or if you’re a seasoned gym veteran wondering whether to diversify as either a personal trainer or a group fitness instructor, we have you covered.

OriGym’s comprehensive guide aims to outline both roles, the difference between a fitness instructor and a personal trainer, and which one could be the right option for you and your exercise-related goals. 


But if you’re already confident in your knowledge of the difference between a fitness instructor and a PT, and are looking to take that confidence to the next level, a career in fitness could be your next step.

OriGym’s unparalleled personal training courses are not only the most affordable option on the market, but they also offer unmatched levels of support and advice, with guaranteed post course interviews and expert guidance throughout.

Interested? Check out our FREE prospectus to learn more about what we offer, and how it could be ideal for you.


Become a Personal Trainer with OriGym

Get started with your fitness career by making an enquiry today! 

What Is A Fitness Instructor?

A fitness instructor (also often referred to as a gym instructor) is predominantly responsible for ensuring the safety of all the people that are in the gym when they are on shift.

Their duties will typically include: 

  • Patrolling and monitoring the gym floor - The most basic duty of a gym instructor, as it not only maintains the gym’s overall safety, but ensures that every gym goer can access the equipment they came to use.
  • Enforcing the gym’s rules and etiquette - This goes hand-in-hand with the first duty on this list, in that it’s part of making sure that the gym is as welcoming and safe as it can be. 
  • Correcting any serious form or posture mistakes - An important part of gym instructor duties is to recognise and offer advice when it comes to serious or injury-threatening postural mistakes. For instance, if someone is twisted awkwardly when using heavy weights, or is placing too much pressure on a weaker area, such as the joints. 
  • General, overall duties - These include anything else that may need doing on the gym floor, ranging from welcoming gym goers as they enter, to ensuring people are aware of the nearest fire exit in the event of an emergency.

While these may seem like simplistic, basic jobs, they are an integral part of the gym-going experience, and without these, your local gym would simply not function as efficiently and effectively as it does normally. 

Want to learn more? Check out our guide, "What Can a Level 3 Gym Instructor Do?".

These duties are often in addition to teaching or leading classes as part of the gym’s timetable. Many of the instructors will specialise in one specific kind of exercise class (such as HIIT or Zumba), and will therefore be better suited to leading the class.

This is mutually beneficial for both the gym instructor (in that they get to lead a class in something they are passionate about) and the gym (they are guaranteed to have someone who’s familiar with the gym delivering their session).

One crucial thing to note, though, is that a gym instructor will have completed a Level 3 gym instructor course, which is the minimum qualification needed to become a gym instructor. 

But, while many consider them to mean the same thing, there is a gulf of difference between a fitness instructor and a PT. Let’s examine a personal trainer's duties in more depth, so you can decide between a fitness instructor or a personal trainer.

What Is A Personal Trainer?

In contrast to a gym instructor, a personal trainer (often abbreviated to PT) works predominantly on a 1-to-1 basis with paying clients, creating exercise programs that are specific to that individual’s needs and fitness capabilities.

As a general rule, a personal trainer will:

  • Tailor exercise plans - Taking into account their client’s fitness levels, their goals, and any preexisting conditions, a personal trainer will design and deliver bespoke exercise programs.
  • Correct individual form and posture - By working more closely with a singular client, a personal trainer can help to correct posture and ensure you’re getting the right results from an exercise
  • Establish goals and aspirations - Because of the more intimate nature of a personal trainer session, you can work together to create manageable, attainable goals to keep you motivated.
  • Dietary and nutritional advice - While this may not be true of all PTs, most personal trainers will be able to dispense some advice when it comes to what to eat to ensure you can continue to see results.

These often all form part of one or two sessions over the course of your first week under the tutelage of a personal trainer.

It’s also important to note that, unlike the Level 3 fitness instructing qualification required to become a gym instructor, personal trainers have to have completed a Level 4 qualification in personal training.

This bespoke service and tailored training and advice is arguably the most definitive difference when it comes to a fitness instructor vs a personal trainer, but it doesn’t represent the only dissimilarity.

In our next section, we’ll examine how to distinguish between a personal trainer or a fitness instructor, and which one could be the ideal option for you.

How Are These Roles Different?

When making the choice between a fitness instructor vs a personal trainer, it’s important to be aware of exactly how the roles differ. We’ve started to touch upon what’s involved in both of these roles, but it’s important to highlight their differences so you can make an informed decision.

Perhaps the most immediately obvious difference is that, as a fitness instructor, you wouldn’t have the same one-to-one interaction with people in the gym, as opposed to the interaction you can have as a personal trainer.

This can, for many, be a huge sticking point - without that bespoke attention and tailored plans, it can be difficult to achieve or even set goals, and therefore find the motivation to exercise.

A gym instructor is often responsible for many people, both on the gym floor and as part of any sessions they’re running. And while there are many great benefits of group exercise classes, there is very little interaction between the client and the tutor in this scenario.

This leads directly into the next discrepancy between a personal trainer and a fitness instructor - the minimal contact associated with fitness instruction can often mean that form suffers, and your clients may not see the results you want.

While there are general instructions when it comes to group classes, it does lack the individual support, simply due to the amount of people involved in the class, and the tight time constraints.

Exercise classes often also require self-motivation, which can be difficult to find, especially if you’re not seeing the results you’re aiming for, or if you’re finding it tough to understand or follow the exercises.

This isn’t an issue that occurs as part of personal training, as the motivation naturally comes from the next scheduled session, and especially as personal training is a paid service, there’s the added incentive of having paid for it in advance.

There’s also a significant difference between the qualifications needed to apply for each of these roles. Our next section will examine the difference in the necessary accreditations, whether that’s those needed to be a personal trainer or a group fitness instructor, and how you can achieve each one.

What Qualifications Does A Personal Trainer Have vs. A Fitness Instructor?

As we’ve previously mentioned, there is a definitive difference between the qualifications you need to become a fitness instructor vs a personal trainer’s qualifications.

Let’s break it down, examining exactly what you’ll need, and how this forms the main fitness instructor and personal trainer difference .

To become a gym instructor, you’ll need to have completed what’s referred to as a Level 3 gym instructor qualification. This gives you all the grounding and expertise you need to be able to work within a gym environment.

Many courses (such as OriGym’s industry leading gym instructor course) provide resources to give you grounding in a fitness environment, teaching you the fundamentals of the gym floor, and how you can provide a safe and secure environment for all gym goers.

OriGym’s gym instructor course also provides everything you need to fully prepare you for teaching group classes, too, providing information on “motivating groups and individuals” and the “principles of exercise and fitness”, ensuring you’ve got the correct grounding to be a superb instructor.

However, when we look closer at the difference between a fitness instructor and a personal trainer, there’s a big difference in the qualifications you need.

To become a personal trainer, you need to have completed a Level 4 personal training course in addition to your Level 3 gym instructor course. This is the minimum necessary qualification needed to be able to work on a 1-to-1 basis with clients, and deliver the bespoke training sessions associated with personal training. 

Some providers may offer a combination of the two, ensuring you can go from no qualifications to a qualified personal trainer in a much more streamlined manner. 

OriGym’s personal training diploma represents not only the most comprehensive support package, with guaranteed interviews after you complete the course and unlimited advice and support throughout, but also the most affordable price on the market. 

This course will have a formal accreditation from a governing body - this is usually REPs (the Register of Exercise Professionals) and CIMSPA (the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity), or, in rare cases, the course will also be recognised as a chartered education course with ISO-9001 certificate - OriGym’s PT diploma is one of very few worldwide to hold this recognition.

What Are The Benefits Of A Fitness Instructor vs A Personal Trainer?

Now that we’ve at how the qualifications differ when it comes to a personal trainer vs a group fitness instructor, it’s important to discuss the benefits of each, and determine what could be the right option for you. 

#1 - Costs Less To Become A Fitness Instructor

If you’re looking to become qualified in the fitness industry, but have a very limited budget, then it may be more feasible to qualify as a fitness instructor vs a personal trainer qualification.

As a general rule, gym instructor courses will always be cheaper than a personal trainer course (we’ll touch on some of the reasons why later), meaning it could be a better option for those who are working with a tight budget, or don’t have the money to outlay.

Take OriGym’s Level 3 fitness instructor course, for instance.

The flat rate for the course is €699.00, which includes all administration and processing fees (OriGym’s prices always account for any admin fees, meaning you always pay the rate you see). 

By comparison, the cheapest Level 4 personal training diploma (also available from OriGym) costs €1,399.00, but does include both the Level 3 and the Level 4 qualifications needed to become a personal trainer. 

Although this initial outlay may seem intimidating, it’s crucial to remember that OriGym also offer flexible payment plans that are designed to suit every budget. 

It’s also wise at this point to consider your future career progression - the only option for a gym instructor in terms of development is to become a personal trainer, and by buying these courses separately, you’ll have to outlay approximately €499 more than buying them as the bundled personal training diploma

So, by opting for OriGym’s personal training diploma, you’ll not only be investing in your present self, but in your future career, too.

And while this difference in price may still prove to be a deciding factor when choosing between becoming a personal trainer and a fitness instructor, it’s also important to consider salary and what you’ll be earning. 

#2 - More Likely To Have Fixed Hours

When it comes to hours, it can be dependent on how established as a personal trainer you are, and how well you can market yourself and your services to potential new clients.

This is generally not as prevalent an issue when you’re a fitness instructor vs when you’re a personal trainer.

Many gym instructors will work solely with one gym, and as such will usually be given a fixed number of hours to carry out their usual duties (such as the ones we outlined earlier in this article).

As with our previous point, this can be a deciding factor, especially when it comes to finances, as these guaranteed working hours will be paid, albeit at a lower than average wage.

However, this does not mean that you’re guaranteed to be picked up for a gym, and many instructors work as freelance or independent gym instructors, which aren’t necessarily guaranteed these same hours. 

We would always advise you to be aware of any hours you’re promised, and whether or not you’re able to supplement these with additional freelance work.


Become a Personal Trainer with OriGym

Get started with your fitness career by making an enquiry today! 

#3 - More Sociable Role

As you might have expected from the job title, a personal trainer is much more tailored to one specific client, and one PT can only have so many clients.

When compared to a personal trainer, a fitness instructor will interact with many more people on a day-to-day basis, even if that’s just a short greeting as they enter the gym, or on a more interactive basis during classes.

While this may not be ideal for some (especially as you won’t generally get to know people on a deeper level as you would as a personal trainer), it can be a perfect fit for others who may be more sociable, or that enjoy meeting new people on a regular basis.

A gym instructor role will also allow you to work with multiple different types of people, ranging from those who only attend the gym on a rare occasion, to those who are there every day.

This can not only help with helping you find your niche (especially important when it comes to exercise classes), but also deciding how you want to progress in your career in fitness.

What Are The Benefits Of A Personal Trainer vs A Fitness Instructor?

Let’s look at the other side of the debate between personal trainer vs group fitness instructor.

#1 - Much Greater Potential Earnings

With many of the decisions we make, money can be a deciding factor. Whether that’s deciding which gym membership is right for you, or choosing between becoming a fitness coach vs a personal trainer, finances always play a part.

But what we often forget to consider is the long term financial gain that these choices can bring. That’s one of the benefits of becoming a personal trainer vs a gym instructor.

In terms of earning potential, a personal trainer has a much greater scope for a multitude of reasons. 

Many personal trainers operate independently, meaning they’ll often use their own equipment, but they’ll also not need to pay any subsidiaries or costs to use a gym’s equipment or facilities.

Or, other PTs will opt to work under contract for a larger gym or chain of gyms, meaning they can utilise the full range of equipment for their sessions, but this does come with an associated cost.

However, for both of these options, you’re able to set your own price point, and charge clients what you see as a fair price for your services. 

This can be increased depending on any additional CPD courses you’ve completed, or other expert advice that you’re qualified to dispense, as well as your level of experience in the industry.

To provide you with a more concrete figure, we did some research and found that, on average, a gym instructor will earn around 18,579 per year, whereas a personal trainer’s earnings are often only capped by the amount of time they have free.

The average personal trainer salary we found stated on Indeed for those working in Ireland is 23,000-€28,000, but as mentioned above, there are various ways that PTs can increase this figure. 

#2 - More Career Opportunities

Put simply, by qualifying as a personal trainer vs as a gym instructor, you’ll be able to progress much further, and develop more quickly, effectively and widely.

Fitness is a broad field, incorporating many different aspects and areas that you can choose to specialise in, or simply explore and add to your repertoire of personal trainer skills.

These are often referred to as Level 5 personal training courses, or “master” qualifications that come at an additional cost, and can be completed once you’ve qualified as a personal trainer, or if you have a vested interest in the topic. 

Take nutrition, for instance - there are a number of development courses out that pertain to how to properly fuel your body, and how you can incorporate this newfound knowledge into your personal training sessions.

OriGym’s Level 5 sports nutrition course leads the way with regards to cost and unparalleled expert advice, and allows you to offer your clients bespoke advice on what to eat and why, as well as teaching you to “understand the relationship between nutrition and physical activity”.

Not only will you be able to impart that knowledge to your clients, but you can tailor your own diet to better fit what you want to achieve when it comes to your personal fitness goals.

#3 - More Tailored, Bespoke Service

This is arguably the most important point when it comes to the debate between a personal trainer or a group fitness instructor.

As a fitness instructor, you often don’t get the opportunity to correct form and posture in gym goers, especially as you’ve got a much larger group of people to deal with. Even in a smaller group exercise class, you’ll often be unable to correct individual errors.

As a personal trainer, though, you’ll have much more opportunity to help your clients when it comes to any postural mistakes or misconceptions.

This not only allows you to build up a rapport with your client, and instil them with confidence in your abilities, but it can also help to prevent any injuries or damage to weaker or more vulnerable areas of the body, such as the joints.

This benefit is two-fold, too - by correcting a client’s form, they’ll start to see results in the correct areas, and therefore be more motivated to continue exercising and continue progressing. 

You’ll also get to build closer relationships with your clients, understanding their goals and aspirations, and what can work best for them as an individual. This close relationship and emotional intelligence is part of what makes a good personal trainer, and ensures that you’ll not only gain new clients, but retain your old ones, too.

#4 - Be Your Own Boss

While this isn’t necessarily applicable to all PTs, it’s definitely an advantage when deciding between becoming a personal trainer and a fitness instructor.

The ability to decide what hours you feel comfortable working, and how you apportion your time, is hugely important in an industry like fitness, which can often be demanding, both physically and mentally.

Not only will you be able to market yourself, and truly outline what you offer and what makes you stand out from other available personal trainers, but you can ultimately determine a price that allows you to stay financially comfortable and still remain fair.

Being your own boss does have its downsides, of course - managing your own finances and taxes, sourcing the correct equipment and software, and trying to compete in such a highly contested market, but it’s incredibly valuable to do so.

We've got a full guide on how to become an online personal trainer here incase this is a route you've considered - it's an increasingly popular area of the market for self-employed fitness professionals! 

#5 - Greater Level of Education

Of course, as we’ve already outlined, the key difference between being a fitness instructor or a personal trainer is that you need to complete a Level 4 personal training diploma to qualify as a PT.

This not only means that you’re more qualified on a more concrete level (especially when it comes to employment, which we’ll look at in more detail shortly), but you’ll have also gained the expertise and experience of having completed these courses.

For instance, as part of the industry leading personal training course (offered by OriGym), you’ll not only learn how to deal with clients in a professional manner, but you’ll also learn the “application of nutrition”, meaning you’ll have a much deeper understanding of how nutrition can be applied to your sessions.

It’s also worth noting that, with OriGym’s personal training diploma, you’ll also received complimentary access to a range of CPDs which further augment your knowledge of personal training, and ensure you can deliver a quality, well-rounded service. 

#6 - More Control Over Your Clients

This one might seem a little confusing, especially as you’d want to appeal to as many clients as possible when you’re first beginning your personal training journey, but let us explain.

When it comes to the debate of fitness instructor vs personal trainer, one of the main differences we’ve already explored is the level of interaction you’ll have with a gym goer.

This plays to the strengths of personal training as it allows you to appeal to the clients that you want to tutor, and those that you know you can provide a bespoke, tailored service for.

Let’s explore an example.

Say, for instance, you want to specialise in those who are at the very peak of their physical fitness, and provide those people with the training that’s going to push their limits, and propel them to the next level, or towards training for a specific event or goal.

This is an option you have as a personal trainer vs not having as a gym instructor. 

You’re able to tailor and design your resources so they better cater for the clientele you’re trying to reach. Doing things like adjusting your website or changing how you market your services can make all the difference when trying to target a specific demographic in the fitness world.

#7 - More Desirable For Employment

Our final point in the debate between a career as a personal trainer and as a fitness instructor is how “employable” these qualifications make, and how appealing you seem to potential employers (such as gyms or fitness centres).

Even as a personal trainer, you’ll have completed the Level 3 fitness instructor course as part of your training, and so will be fully qualified to work in a gym environment, should you decide that working on a 1-to-1 basis with clients isn’t what you want to do.

One crucial thing to note, though, is that having this additional qualification as a personal trainer means you’re much appealing to a potential employer, and are therefore held in higher regard than those who haven’t qualified as a PT.

This is simply because an employer knows, and can see educational proof, that you understand the fundamentals of fitness, and can deploy these in a gym environment. 

Not to mention that it also gives the freedom to make the decision to progress to becoming a personal trainer, should you decide that you want to.

Before You Go!

Our aim with this guide was to provide you with all the information you needed to decide between becoming a fitness instructor vs a personal trainer. 

It can be a difficult choice to make, especially as it can shape your future in fitness, but whether you opt to be a personal trainer or a fitness instructor, we hope you make the decision that’s right for you.

With unparalleled support and unlimited career advice, as well as guaranteed post-course interviews, OriGym’s flagship personal training courses offer an unmatched package for the lowest cost amongst its competitors.

Download our FREE prospectus and learn more about what we offer, and how it could be ideal for you!


Become a Personal Trainer with OriGym

Get started with your fitness career by making an enquiry today! 

Written by Chris Allsobrook

Senior Content Editor

Chris is a former English teacher, turned content editor. He holds a first-class honours degree in English Language and Creative Writing from the University of Central Lancashire, before going on to complete his teacher training, and obtain a PGCE at Liverpool John Moore’s.

Chris is a keen runner and is currently undertaking both his fitness instructing and personal training qualifications here at OriGym. 

Outside of fitness, you’ll often find him gaming, watching the football, cooking, or spending time with his family.

Recommended Posts