Tiered Plan. Under this system, clients pay different rates depending on the experience level of their trainer. For example:

  • For a certified fitness trainer, the clients pays $38 per hour and the trainer gets $18 per hour
  • For an advanced fitness trainer, the clients pays $48 per hour and the trainer gets $24 per hour
  • For an elite fitness trainer, the clients pays $58 per hour and the trainer gets $29 per hour
  • For a master fitness trainer, the clients pays $68 per hour and the trainer gets $34 per hour


  • Within this system, you can afford to pay your veteran trainers more because the client is paying more. Therefore, experienced trainers are happy because they have a higher earning potential, and business owners are happy because they can pay the trainer more and it doesn’t cut into their profit margins.
  • It offers a wonderful stepping stone scale for trainers to aspire to and a plan for earning a higher income


  • It can be difficult to create the criteria for who qualifies for which stage. For example, establishing what is most important—degrees, experience, sales success, personality, years with the company.
  • It can be difficult to effectively explain the differences to clientele without downplaying the skills of the newer trainers.
  • It can create a negative hierarchy among the training staff similar to the medical community. This can sometimes interfere with the team atmosphere.
  • It can be difficult when trainers are away or sick for client coverage. For example, “I paid for an elite trainer and my sub trainer is only a certified trainer. I want a refund.”

People often ask us what we think is the best system. Of course, we believe our system is the best or we would be doing something differently. Here is how our system is set up:

  • Shifts. Within our system, trainers are scheduled for shifts, and we try to balance their shifts to avoid burnout. For example, we may only schedule them for a few opening shifts and a few evening shifts. That way, they only have to wake up really early a few days a week and they only have to stay late a few days a week. They also do not have to be in the facility 12 hours to actually earn an 8 hour day. This type of balance helps to promote longevity in the industry.
  • Guaranteed hours. We only hire full-time trainers who are willing to commit to a minimum of 30 hours per week (ideally 40 hours per week). This ensures a certain level of professionalism and makes it easier to manage your team. Would you rather have 20 trainers each only working 20 hours per week or 10 trainers each working 40 hours per week? Obviously it is a lot easier to manage 10 people than 20. At 20 trainers, you have doubled your work but the revenue is the same. Under our system, our trainers are guaranteed a certain level of income each week.
  • Two different wages. When our trainers are training a paid client, they may make $17-$25 per hour based on their experience, years with the company, credentials, etc. When they are not with a paid client, they are paid an administrative wage of about $9-$10 per hour.
  • Salaried vs. hourly. After a year of training with us, we can review trainers’ actual revenue generation and place them into a salaried or set hourly position, meaning they get paid the same regardless of what they do for us. So, if they were able to generate $100,000 in personal training revenues, we should be able to pay them between $40,000-$50,000 in salary. Many of our trainers appreciate the stability of a salaried position; it makes it feel like a real career and helps to eliminate the instabilities and ups and downs of many trainers’ pay checks.
  • Benefits. We offer paid time off benefits, health allowance, performance bonuses, educational allowances and other perks to add to their entire compensation package.

Even though we think this system works best for us, every system has its pros and cons. For our system, the pros are:

  • We have great employee retention because we offer stability and balance to a trainers’ career.
  • The business is in a position to make a greater percentage and profit by paying salaries. For example, offering a trainer $30,000 per year is a good starting salary, and many will accept this gladly. However, offering a trainer $15 per hour would be frowned upon by even a starting trainer even though $30,000 per year based on a 40 hour work week is $15 per hour. It’s the same thing, but $30,000 guaranteed per year sounds a lot better than $15 per hour.
  • Trainers appreciate the additional benefits and perks.

And the con is:

  • Structuring your business this way is a bigger risk for the business. For example, what if you have guaranteed certain shifts, wages and salary but can’t fill the trainer with paying clients? Then, the business is taking a loss. Fortunately, we have been doing this long enough to know that we can fill a trainer with clients really quickly so it is not a big risk for us anymore. We also have enough positive cash flow to allow the business to float the ups and downs of the personal training industry instead of the trainer having to weather these lower and higher income months.

Our system may not be the best system for a new personal training business that may not have a constant influx of new clients or enough positive cash flow to absorb the initial losses. Businesses in this position should start with what they can offer. For example, you may start a trainer at 20 hours per week with a paid training wage of $20 per hour and an administrative wage of $8 per hour. Once you can get them to 70 percent full capacity, you can increase them to 30 hours per week and ultimately to 40 hours per week. After a year, you can review how much revenue that has generated for your company and then decide whether a salary option might work.


Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for over 20 years and has received numerous industry awards including 2010 CanFitPro International Fitness Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, & 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year. As a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss", "Fit over Forty" & "The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing", featured presenter in various fitness DVDs, and international fitness presenter, she is a spokesperson for Nike, and PowerBar. She can be reached at www.nwFitnessEducation.com or www.BusinessofPT.com