Can I be a personal trainer with a criminal record?

Get the Basics…
  • There are no state or federal laws that prohibit a person from becoming a personal trainer just because they have a record.
  • However, each licensing agency sets their own standards and qualifications.
  • If you have a criminal history, there are things that you can do to make yourself a more attractive candidate.

It’s not uncommon to make a few mistakes when you’re young. Sometimes, these mistakes can end up on your criminal record. When you want to become a personal trainer, you might wonder if your criminal history is going to stand in your way. Fortunately, it’s possible to become a personal trainer, even if you have a few mistakes from your past. In fact, some people use a career as a personal trainer to rebuild their life.

The State Won’t Stand in Your Way

There are no state or federal rules for who can become a personal trainer. You don’t have to apply to a state licensing agency or take any other steps to get a state license like you have to when you’re a doctor or a lawyer. Instead, you can become a trainer as soon as someone’s willing to hire you to train them.

Different Organizations Have Different Standards

Because there are no government rules to say who can and who can’t become a personal trainer, it’s up to each licensing organization to set their own rules. The rules vary from organization to organization. For example, the National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF) has requirements to take their certifying exam.

Applicants should not have any irregularities with their certification test such as concerns with cheating. They should not have a mental problem that impairs their ability to exercise sound judgment.

In addition to these limitations, the NCSF prohibits applicants with a conviction, guilty plea, or no contest plea to any criminal offense if the offense might interfere with the applicant’s ability to work as a qualified personal trainer. They list sexual abuse, assault with a dangerous weapon, and distribution of a controlled substance as examples of disqualifying offenses.

They say that these convictions violate their code of ethics and make a person ineligible for initial certification or renewal of their personal training certification.

Other organizations don’t have any kind of prohibitions for applicants with a criminal history. For certification from the National Federation of Personal Trainers, anyone who’s 18 years of age and older with a high school diploma or its equivalent can take the certifying exam. They require certified trainers to report new felony convictions, but they handle discipline for felonies on a case-by-case basis.

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You Must Convince a Gym to Hire You

If you’re able to get a personal training certification, the next step is to convince a gym that you’re a good choice to hire. Unless you choose to start your own gym or training facility, you need a gym to work out of to conduct training sessions.

Just like each licensing organization chooses their own qualifications for who can test for certification, each gym sets their own policies for who to hire. That means you can research the hiring policy of each gym to see if it’s worth your while to put in an application.

Large companies with multiple locations may have the information posted online. For gyms that are small, there may not be an official policy. While some employers might look at a criminal conviction skeptically, others may be willing to overlook it if you have other qualities that make you an outstanding candidate.

Think About Why the Company Should Hire You

When you apply for a position, you may have the opportunity to explain your conviction. An opportunity to explain is your chance to tell the potential employer what you’ve learned from the experience. If you completed your probation without any violations, it may help to include this information.

If you’ve completed anger management or substance abuse counseling, it can show the prospective employer that you’ve put the event behind you. You may also do other things to help you stand out from the crowd and help an employer overlook a mistake in your past. An advanced certification or college coursework in anatomy and physiology may help.

Dressing well for your interview and having available references can help. Anything that you can do to put your best foot forward like you would at any job interview can help you get a job as a personal trainer despite a criminal record.

Consider Sealing Your Criminal History

Most states have procedures to allow some offenders to make their convictions nonpublic. They call this procedure expunging or sealing a criminal record. Every state has their own requirements and procedures for expunging a conviction. The first step to expunging a criminal record is to determine if you’re eligible. Some states might allow a person to expunge one or more misdemeanors.

A state might allow you to expunge a felony is you don’t expunge any misdemeanor offenses.

In most cases, there’s a waiting period of several years between your conviction and your application to expunge your record. Often, a judge’s decision to expunge or seal your record is discretionary. Just like evidence of training and rehabilitation can work to your favor when you apply for a job, these same things can help convince a judge that you’re worthy of an expungement.

In addition to an expungement, if you’re facing new criminal charges, there are often pre-prosecution or sentencing diversion programs that allow you to avoid a criminal record. If you take advantage of one of these programs, you can honestly answer “no” when someone asks you if you have a criminal conviction.