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Sport and Fitness

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Sport and Fitness

From boot camp leader to basketball coach, personal trainer to Pilates instructor, the sport and fitness sector could be the perfect fit for your future career … and there are plenty of online courses you can do to keep yourself ready for action.

What’s involved?

Together, sport and fitness make up one of the UK’s largest employment sectors, focusing on the leading and supervision of sport, exercise and physical activity. Across our nations, there are many thousands of sport and fitness clubs, leisure centres and gyms for public use, and while of course such venues are currently operating under restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a boom in the fitness industry is expected once we finally get back to normal. You only have to witness the popularity of Joe Wicks’ daily workouts to see how much energy has been pent up in living rooms across the UK, so get qualified now to make sure you’re part of the upcoming fitness revival!

Skill up while serving

Each Service has its PT instructors – you might be one? Military PTI class 1, 2 and 3, and the All Arms PTI certificates qualify holders to join the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS – see box), and there is growing formal recognition for military qualifications by civilian authorities (courses on coaching and officiating, for example, can lead to recognised civilian qualifications).

The sector will generally accept relevant Service training and experience, but you must be prepared to take additional courses or undergo assessment to reach official standards. Indeed, when many people think of ex-Services personnel going into the fitness business, military PT-based organisations (e.g. ‘boot camps’) are the first to spring to mind, with their outdoor fitness classes run by serving or former members of the Armed Forces. With this in mind, there are courses available that are specially tailored to Service leavers wishing to take up such roles.

The situation is similar in outdoor education and development. The various regulatory bodies accept only civilian qualifications, so if you’re an adventurous training instructor, you will have to ensure you meet civilian standards if you wish to continue in this area on leaving the Services.

Get qualified!

Many different qualifications help with a career in sport and fitness. Technical ability is critical, of course, but also important are personal aptitudes like effective communication, customer care, teamwork and people skills. And, considering what a ‘physical’ sector this is, a surprising amount of courses are available for virtual, online study.

Example courses: sport

There are all kinds of sport-related National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (N/SVQs) at levels 1–3. You can easily find these using an online search engine. During these courses, individuals are likely to be assessed in a number of competencies in the workplace, with most qualifications requiring a mix of mandatory and optional units. To pass them, individuals will need a portfolio of skills and responsibilities. Many people start by gaining a qualification like an NGB coaching or fitness instruction award, and then work to gain the necessary experience.

Many sport and recreation-related foundation, graduate and postgraduate degrees will allow you to teach PE in schools. Some of these are part-time or can be taken through distance learning, so are suitable for those already in employment. Taking a higher national diploma (HND) or certificate (HNC) will also prepare you for a management role, although expertise in a particular sport or area of fitness is also a requirement.

Other opportunities in this industry are massively wide ranging for those with a keen interest, so we’ll focus on just a tiny sample of the courses available here …

  • Becoming a sports masseur (particularly if you come from a background of competitive sport) is an attractive and flexible option for freelance working and/or developing into another side of the sport business. A sports massage qualification for someone with absolutely no experience can be achieved by taking a combined course in holistic and sports massage, which will incorporate the anatomy and physiology tuition you require. Such a course can be taken as a fast-track option over 14 weekends plus part-time study during a 12-month period, as well as achieving 220 hours of massage practice outside of the classroom. Prices can be in excess of £3,500, and will result in a BTEC Professional Diploma (level 5) in, for example, Sports Massage and Sports Treatments.
  • A course in sports nutrition could add a valuable practitioner string to your freelance bow, allowing you to combine it with, say, coaching and massage. There are plenty of self-paced home study courses in this field (typically you could complete one part-time in four to six months), costing from £350 upwards, and resulting in externally validated and recognised national awards.
  • At degree level, a BSc in Sport, Fitness and Coaching is a useful training avenue if you wish to take on leadership roles within the sector or eventually further your career towards management or sports development roles. Such a course can even be taken via e-learning or as flexible part-time study over a six-year period. It is likely to cost around £2,500.


Many sport and fitness-related qualifications are suitable to be studied online or via distance learning. Just a few examples of what’s out there are the level 3 Certificate in Personal Training, level 3 Diploma in Fitness Instructing and Personal Training, Sports Psychology level 3, Certificate of Higher Education in Sport, Fitness and Management, and BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching.

Online fitness courses offer a hugely convenient way equip yourself with the essential skills and knowledge needed to land your dream job or even set up your own fitness business and work for yourself. Just Google ‘sport & fitness courses online’ and you’ll find a wide range on offer, without even having to leave the sofa!

Example courses: fitness

The aforementioned REPs is a system of self-regulation for everyone involved with exercise and fitness (again, see box). And, as with sport, courses available within the fitness industry are incredibly diverse – and many can be studied via distance or e-learning. Again, we offer just a brief glimpse here.

  • For those looking for a relatively quick entry point into work in this sector, fitness instructor training (there are three accredited levels available) can be completed in a handful of days or two/three weekends, and costs approximately £650. This qualification will allow you to, for instance, work one-to-one with clients in a gym setting, including planning an appropriate programme of training and supervising client progress.
  • If you already have some teaching experience within the fitness sector, and are qualified as a level 2 Fitness Instructor or level 3 Yoga or Pilates Instructor, an exercise and disability qualification (e.g. level 3 Programming and Supervising Exercise with Disabled Clients) could widen your employability by helping you to understand different fitness markets and the different barriers that some people need help to overcome in order to maintain an appropriate level of fitness. Courses generally run over a three-day period, with extra theoretical work away from the classroom, and can cost about £450.
  • GP exercise referral schemes continue to grow in the UK. Training to work with medically referred clients can be undertaken in roughly five days, face to face, for those already holding a level 2 qualification and will cost around £600. As part of the qualification, you must also attain the level 3 Anatomy and Physiology theory paper, which can cost around £100 and can be studied as an e-learning option.

The popular choice: personal trainer

These days, one of the roles most synonymous with fitness is that of the personal trainer (PT). PTs need to be adaptable and fully equipped to deal with whatever comes their way. Each client will be different and their goals will vary – there really is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach in the fitness world. This is also reflected in the sheer variety of places where a PT can work. They are longer to confined to the gym, and there are now opportunities to train clients outdoors or at their own homes. Delivering online training is becoming an increasingly popular avenue to take, too, while ambitious trainers might also look at corporate training or even working on a cruise ship for something truly outside the box.

Take a look at our case study here for the inspirational story of one man’s successful pursuit of a career as a PT – against all odds.

Use your ELC

Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on this website.



If you are serious about finding work in the fitness industry, you should be affiliated to the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs). One of its key functions is to provide a system of regulation for instructors and trainers, to ensure they meet the health and fitness industry’s agreed national occupational standards (NOS). Members are acknowledged for their professionalism, adherence to the industry’s nationally recognised standards, and ongoing education. 

Membership is open to exercise and fitness professionals in a wide variety of roles. In order to remain on the Register, members must continue to meet the standards set for their profession through continuing professional development (CPD).

You can also search for training courses on its website. To find out more, click here

Finding employment

Fitness instructing

A common way to enter the health and fitness sector is as a fitness instructor. Although there are no formal academic requirements for this, a recognised fitness instructor qualification is usually required and the minimum age to practise unsupervised is 18 years. Applicants to instructing courses require no formal qualifications although it can be an advantage to hold a first aid certificate. If you think you might like to enter the industry in future, it is – as mentioned above – an advantage to register with the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs – see box). Fitness instructor work can cover a wide range of activities at a variety of levels, meaning there is also a range of opportunities available; in addition, entry to roles at an older age is not uncommon, which will be good news for some of our readers! A host of industry-endorsed courses, vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and training schemes are available.



UK Coaching is keen to highlight the importance of continuing your studies even during this time of necessarily restricted activity. It encourages prospective coaches to ‘be supported by the coaching community and continue their learning digitally’. ‘While the spread of COVID-19 is continuing to prove a major challenge for coaches,’ it says on its website, ‘it cannot stop you gathering knowledge and growing your skills. We can support you to continue online and help you use your downtime effectively to get ready for the future, so that when things return to normal you will be stronger for the experience.’

Visit its website for resources and inspiration.

Coaching, teaching and instructing

Coaching may form part of a full-time job role in the industry, like a sports development officer or outdoor instructor. Coaches need an appropriate qualification from a sport NGB, and many of the personal qualities of the coach are ‘people skills’. There is a growing trend within coaching towards part-time or freelance employment. Work is available as a voluntary coach within sports clubs or as a part-time session coach in leisure centres. Many coaches work freelance for a number of organisations, and most have other jobs as well.

The outdoors

There are many organisations providing all age groups with a range of sporting, physical and development activities, like walking, climbing, kayaking and caving, or just enjoying their surroundings. Instructors must hold a recognised award from the relevant NGB. Expedition companies usually have a small head office staff who organise and market the activities, and a number of freelance leaders and guides who manage things in the field. Service experience is relevant in this area, and it is common to start as a contracted expedition manager before joining a company in a regular capacity.

Sport, recreation and leisure centres

Sport, recreation and leisure centres catering for a wide range of indoor and outdoor sports exist throughout the UK. Employment varies from receptionists, lifeguards, coaches/instructors, supervisors, booking managers and plant technicians to centre managers. Most people start in this area by obtaining coaching or lifeguard awards, and gain experience before moving into management.

Sports development

Most local authorities and governing bodies have sports development teams that provide sport and recreation on an outreach basis, taking it into rural and urban communities. Experience in voluntary sports coaching and administration or strategic leisure management is relevant. Specific sports development qualifications and courses exist at certificate and diploma levels; however, coaching awards are usually sufficient.

To view our full list of Sport and Fitness training courses - Click here


Animal Courses Direct | Sport and Fitness
Animal Courses Direct is a ELCAS approved online and practical animal course provider that specialises in training for careers with animals.
International, Nationwide
Study Active | Sport and Fitness
Study Active is an ELCAS approved provider who pride themselves in empowering service leavers to transform their careers so they can take up an employed or self-employed position as a Personal Trainer.
East of England, Nationwide, South East
Learner Driving Centre (LDC) | Sport and Fitness
LDC operates one of the most successful national driving school networks in the UK.
Akona Ltd | Sport and Fitness
AKONA RAIL (NVQ Level 3 Diploma in Rail Engineering Technician Competence) / AKONA ELEARNING / AKONA EVENTS / AKONA SECURITY
North West
OriGym Centre of Excellence | Sport and Fitness
OriGym provides Personal Trainer & Fitness Specialist courses, and is accredited via REPs, CIMSPA and STA. OriGym is an approved ELCAS provider, and specialise in service leavers wanting to enter the fitness industry.
North West
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