The various personal training levels can sometimes be confusing. What’s the difference between a level 3 personal trainer and a level 2 gym instructor? Does it really matter what qualification or certification you have? And what about those mysterious levels 4 and 5?
In this article – we explain what each of the personal training levels means, what they allow fitness pros to do, and how you can reach them.
What Are the Levels of Personal Trainers?
The official levels of personal trainers are…
- Level 1 Fitness and Physical Activity (award)
- Level 2 Gym Instructor (certificate)
- Level 3 Personal Trainer (diploma)
- Level 4 Advanced/Specialist Personal Trainer (certificate)
They are qualifications that enable you to work as a gym instructor, personal trainer, or similar fitness professional.
Level 1 Personal Trainer
The level 1 personal trainer award is very basic and actually doesn’t qualify you to be a PT. It introduces the principles of exercise and fitness, healthy eating, and the gym industry. This level is the equivalent of Key Stage 4, GCSE grades D-G, or NVQ level 1.
This level isn’t sufficient to qualify you for a gym job so we wouldn’t recommend it for professional development. However, if you just want to do a taster course or find out if a fitness career is right for you, this might be a good option.
You might also like… our guide to free fitness and PT courses if you’re just looking to dip your toe.
Level 2 Gym Instructor or Personal Trainer
A level 2 gym instructor certificate is where most fitness professionals begin their careers. It’s the basic requirement for working in UK health clubs and fitness facilities.
The level 2 gym instructor course teaches you the foundations of fitness, both the scientific theory and practical skills. This includes anatomy, physiology, principles of fitness, planning training sessions, and safety considerations. This level is the equivalent of GCSE grades A-C or NVQ level 2.
This is sometimes referred to as a level 2 personal trainer certification but it’s actually a fitness instructor qualification. To work as a qualified personal trainer in the UK, you need a level 3 diploma. However, you’ll usually need to have completed the level 2 before progressing on to level 3.
What Can a Level 2 Gym Instructor Do?
Fitness professionals with a level 2 qualification can work on the gym floor and prepare inductions for new members. There are different level 2 qualifications required if you want to teach group classes (level 2 exercise to music and water-based exercise). But level 2 doesn’t qualify you to deliver personal training, regardless of which option you take.
How to Qualify as a Level 2 Gym Instructor
You can qualify in just a few weeks by completing a recognised level 2 certification in gym instructing. This usually involves either face-to-face workshops or online learning, along with practical assessments, exams, and coursework.
Level 3 Personal Trainer
A level 3 personal training diploma is the minimum requirement to be a personal trainer. This qualification meets UK government guidelines and those set out by the industry body, the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS).
The level 3 personal trainer course covers programming, nutrition, assessment techniques, and business skills. It builds on the foundational knowledge from level 2 so a certain amount of anatomy, physiology, and fitness knowledge is a prerequisite. This level is the equivalent of A-levels or NVQ level 3.
Although level 2 is the minimum entry requirement, most gyms prefer their staff to hold a level 3 personal training qualification. So, getting certified at this level is advisable for most fitness professionals.
What Can a Level 3 Personal Trainer Do?
Fitness professionals with a level 3 qualification can train clients on a one-to-one basis. They can also work on the gym floor and prepare inductions for new members.
Some gyms may also ask you to lead small group personal training sessions or group exercise classes. However, it’s advisable to also have some training in the class you’ll deliver such as indoor cycle, Boxercise, or Les Mills sessions.
Level 3 doesn’t automatically qualify you to train clients with medical requirements, such as those referred by doctors. You need to do an add-on ‘exercise referral’ diploma to be suitably qualified for this. It also doesn’t enable you to call yourself a nutritionist or dietician.
How to Qualify as a Level 3 Personal Trainer
You can qualify in just a few months by completing a recognised level 3 diploma in personal training. This usually involves either face-to-face workshops or online learning, along with practical assessments, exams, and coursework.
You might also like… our guide to government-funded PT courses if you’re keen to get certified.
Level 4 Personal Trainer
A level 4 personal trainer qualification allows you to specialise in various areas. There are several courses at this level which can broaden your knowledge, make you more employable, and boost your earning potential. Level 4 PT qualifications include…
- Obesity and Diabetes Control Course
- Strength and Conditioning
- Lower Back Pain Management
- Physical Activity for Individuals with Mental Health Conditions
- Cardiac rehabilitation
This level is the equivalent of Certificates of Higher Education (CertHE) or Higher National Certificates (HNC).
What Can a Level 4 Personal Trainer Do?
Fitness professionals with a level 4 qualification . They can also do every a level 3 is allowed to do such as training clients one-to-one, working on the gym floor, and inducting new members.
As with level 3, completing a level 4 specialisation doesn’t automatically qualify you to train clients referred by doctors. You need to do an add-on ‘exercise referral’ diploma to be suitably qualified for this. It also doesn’t enable you to call yourself a nutritionist or dietician (even if it includes a nutrition course or module).
How to Qualify as a Level 4 Personal Trainer
If you hold a level 3 diploma, then you can qualify in just a few weeks by completing a level 4 certificate in your chosen specialisation. This usually involves a face-to-face workshop or online learning, plus a practical assessment, exam, coursework, or a combination of these. If you don’t hold a level 3 qualification, then you’ll need to do that first.
Level 5 Personal Trainer
Despite the myths and rumours, level 5 personal trainer courses don’t appear to exist. According to official REPs guidance, level 4 is the highest category of personal training qualification. So, if you see a training provider that’s offering a level 5 or level 6 personal trainer course, it’s probably not legit.
Personal Training Levels – FAQs
Here are some of the most common questions we see about personal trainer certification levels. If you have a query that isn’t answered here then feel free to get in touch and ask us directly.
What is the highest level of personal trainer?
Level 4 is the highest of the personal training levels.
Can a level 2 gym instructor be a personal trainer?
No, you need a level 3 diploma to be a personal trainer. A level 2 gym instructor certificate allows you to work on the gym floor and induct new members, but not train them one-to-one.
Why do personal training levels matter?
Personal training levels are recognised by employers and industry bodies. They ensure that professionals have sufficient knowledge and expertise to safely train clients and gym members. The levels act as a badge of quality so you know that courses meeting these criteria will be good.