It is a tough job keeping up with the “Joneses” — especially when the Joneses are bigger fitness facility companies, which virtually all are when you're a one-shop operator.

But the recent Fitness Business Pro Annual Salary Survey shows that many small mom-and-pop operators are holding their own when it comes to pay and benefits for the frontline fitness staff — personal trainers and group exercise instructors, who are probably the most recognizable “face” of a fitness facility other than the front desk staff.

Personal Training

Personal training is one of the leading profit centers and sources of non-dues revenue for clubs of all sizes. According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), more than 50 percent of clubs report that personal training is among the top five most profitable programs. To offer perspective, the program that came in second was massage with only 28 percent of clubs ranking it among the top five.

Well, to make money you have to spend money, or so the saying goes. And fitness facilities will spend money for personal trainers, especially as they demand more education and certification from the fitness staff.

According to the recently conducted IDEA 2004 Compensation Survey, which will appear in the July/August issue of IDEA Health & Fitness Journal, the median hourly wage for personal trainers is $26. The sample comes from a fairly even split between independent contractors and those on staff.

“We are seeing trainers being more educated and getting rewarded for it,” says Kathie Davis, co-founder and executive director of IDEA The Health and Fitness Source. “We are seeing in the club setting that 60 percent of personal training fees are going to the trainers.”

The Fitness Business Pro Annual Salary Survey shows that this median is split among a wide range of rates at single location fitness facilities. More than 22 percent of single shops pay trainers more than $25 an hour. Conversely, 12 percent pay personal trainers $12 an hour or less.

“We pay $15 an hour for personal trainers for the three free sessions we give all new members,” says Joey Young, president of Young's Health Club in Auburn, AL, which has been offering personal training services for less than a year. “We then bump that up to $20 an hour if they can convince that person to buy a package of training sessions.”

The IDEA Compensation Survey shows only a $1 rise in the hourly rate of pay for trainers since the previous survey, which was done in 2002, says Davis.

A look at the Fitness Business Pro Annual Salary Survey shows that 16 percent of single-location fitness facility operators offered no raises to personal trainers year over year. Of those that did offer salary increases, 16 percent offered raises of less than 3 percent. Overall, the Fitness Business Pro Annual Salary Survey shows that almost 42 percent of the one-club respondents offered raises to less than half of the staff regardless of position (compared to a still low, 38 percent of multiple location companies). This trend, especially for personal trainers, is not expected to see much improvement this year for trainers in any size company.

“We are not expecting to see huge pay raises for personal trainers in 2005, according to our study,” Davis says. “The findings show that 28 percent of respondents say they are somewhat likely and 18 percent are very likely to give raises to personal trainers. At the same time 18 percent say they are somewhat unlikely to give raises.”

Group Mentality

Recent findings from the Fitness Business Pro Annual Salary Survey show that 20.3 percent of single-location facilities pay group exercise instructors between $15.01 and $20 per hour. Meanwhile, another 14.9 percent of respondents pay more than $25 an hour for group exercise instructors. This compares favorably with multi-location facilities, according to the findings. In fact, the survey shows that while the largest group of respondents, 26.3 percent offer between $20.01 and $25 an hour, only 5.3 percent of multi-club owners offered their group exercise instructors more than $25 an hour.

These findings are all in line with the results from the 2004 IDEA Compensation Survey — although that survey found a further difference in pay scales for instructors of different class types. According to the IDEA survey, group fitness instructors — defined as those that teach classes such as step and mixed impact classes — earn a median of $20 per hour. Those classified as fitness instructors — primarily employed at wellness, recreation and university centers — come in slightly below the commercial average, earning about $18 an hour. Meanwhile, specialty instructors — defined as those teaching classes such as indoor cycling and martial arts — earned $1 more an hour at traditional centers with a median hourly rate of $21. Topping the list are yoga and Pilates instructors with a median hourly rate of $28.50.

“The difference in pay rates can be attributable to a number of things,” says IDEA's Davis. “It can be based on size of facility, whether clubs are charging extra, and the amount of training and education needed. Anecdotally, this is probably most evident in the yoga and Pilates classes — especially those utilizing Reformers and other props.”

Group exercise instructors of all types were given modest raises from last year, according to the Fitness Business Pro Salary Survey. Unfortunately for those at single-facility operations, odds were that they didn't get any raise. According to the survey, 18.9 percent of instructors were given no raise compared to last year (conversely, only 5.3 percent of multi-facility companies gave no raises). Another 10.8 percent were given a raise between 2.1 percent and 3.0 percent; another 10.8 percent of single-location operators gave raises of between 3.1 percent and 5.0 percent (multi-location facilities gave the same rate at a 21.1 percent clip).

Beyond Pay

We know that it may take more than a paycheck and the slim chance of a raise to hire and keep qualified staffers regardless of the size of a facility. This is where bonuses, commissions and benefits come into play — even for part-timers.

According to the Fitness Business Pro Annual Salary Survey, beyond facility membership, some of the leading benefits given to part-time employees (regardless of position held) include flexible work schedules, holidays and continuing education reimbursement.

Leading the way — and rather obvious considering the nature of part-time work — is a flexible schedule with close to 45 percent of single-location respondents offering this benefit. Continuing education benefits come in at a distant second with 28 percent of single-location shops offering this; another 24 percent offer certification reimbursement to employees.

Although a small percentage, some clubs are thinking outside the box and offering their part-time employees some of the benefits long associated with full-time positions.

In fact, the Fitness Business Pro Annual Salary Survey shows that various insurances, vacation and even 401(k) plans are being offered.

One-location companies are offering medical insurance to their part-time employees at a 10.5 percent rate. But they aren't stopping there. Seven and a half percent are offering dental insurance, another 4.5 percent offer life insurance and 3.0 percent offer long-term disability insurance. Unfortunately for part-timers, these rates fall below those offered by larger chains — sometimes by half.

Other benefits being offered by single-site companies are vacation time (12.8 percent), holidays (21.8 percent), 401(k) plans (6.8 percent) and family leave (13.5 percent). On average, one-club operators spend 10 percent of salary on employee benefits.

But, that doesn't mean that the fitness staff is actually getting these benefits, according to IDEA's Davis.

“It is more likely in most cases that trainers especially are more eligible for cash bonuses than they are for benefits,” she says.

The Fitness Business Pro Annual Salary Survey shows that, in fact, 13.5 percent of single location facilities offer bonuses to the personal training staff. Meanwhile, 6 percent of group exercise instructors receive bonuses. Those numbers may rise when data showing that 18.8 percent of respondents say that they give all staff a bonus of some kind, a strategy that has worked well for Young's Health Club.

“We set goals for the company as a whole, and if we hit them, everyone gets a bonus,” says Young. “We can't be successful unless everyone cares about the business and the members, and this is a way to have everyone feel part of it and work toward our overall success.”

While it is never easy for the little guy to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to size, flash and finances, it seems many smaller operators are trying their best to keep their fitness staffs compensated and rewarded for jobs well done.

Personal Trainer Hourly Pay Rate*
Hourly Rate Percent of Clubs
$12 or less 12.0
$12.01- $15 5.3
$15.01 - $20 6.7
$20.01-$25 14.7
More than $25 22.7
Personal Trainer Salary Increase From One Year Ago*
Increase Percent of Clubs
None 16.0
2% or less 4.0
2.1% to 3% 12.0
3.1% to 5% 4.0
5.1% to 10% 2.7
10.1% or more 4.0
Group Exercise Instructor Hourly Pay Rate*
Hourly Rate Percent of Clubs
$12 or less 9.5
$12.01- $15 9.5
$15.01 - $20 20.3
$20.01-$25 12.2
More than $25 14.9
Group Exercise Instructor Pay Increase From One Year Ago*
Increase Percent of Clubs
None 18.9
2% or less 5.4
2.1% to 3% 10.8
3.1% to 5% 10.8
5.1% to 10% 2.7
10.1% or more 1.4
Benefits to Part-Time Employees* (All Positions)
Benefit % of facilities offering
Flexible Schedule 44.4
Cont. Ed. Reimbursement 27.8
Association Membership 24.8
Cert. Reimbursement 21.1
Medical Insurance 10.5
Dental Insurance 7.5
401(k) 6.8
Life Insurance 4.5

* Salary and benefit information apply to one-club operators only