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Sport and Fitness

Sport and Fitness


01 Mar, 2023

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

What’s the latest?

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 now that restrictions have been lifted once again post-Covid, the industry has well and truly bounced back. So get qualified now to make sure you stand the strongest possible chance of capitalising on the sector’s renewed popularity!

Transferable skills

In recognition of valuable fitness-related skills gained in the military, CIMSPA (the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity) has been working closely with the Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC) to enlist it as a CIMSPA Training Provider partner and now has the following courses endorsed with the RAPTC:

  • All Arms Physical Training Instructor (APPTI) – endorsed against the Gym Instructor and Core Group Exercise professional standards 
  • RAPTC Instructor (RAPTCI) – endorsed against the Personal Trainer professional standard. 

CIMSPA acknowledges that the RAPTC courses represent some of the highest standards in exercise and fitness qualifications, and it is of course great news that these courses are now aligned to the sector’s employer-led professional standards, which will mean a smoother transition from the Services to a civilian career in the sport and fitness sector, as well as being an excellent example of the career pathways the employer-led CIMSPA professional standards are implementing.

Holders of these qualifications can join the recently launched combined directory for all exercise and fitness professionals, created as the result of a merger between the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) and CIMSPA’s Exercise and Fitness Directory. Read the accompanying box (‘The new CIMSPA Exercise and Fitness Directory’) to find out more.

This development highlights the growing formal recognition for military qualifications by civilian authorities. Aside from this, although the sector in general will accept relevant Service training and experience, you should be prepared to take additional courses or undergo assessment to meet the requirements of 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 are, say, an adventurous training instructor, you will have to ensure you meet civilian standards if you wish to continue working in this area on leaving the Services.



The CIMSPA Exercise and Fitness Directory is the go-to directory for all exercise and fitness professionals. Hosted and managed by CIMSPA, it features comprehensive learning and development resources provided by UK Coaching.

In order to practise as a fitness professional it is very important to establish your professional status and recognition through membership of this industry directory. CIMSPA membership also gives access to a host of benefits, including your own verified online profile, which is shareable with both employers and customers. 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.

Visit the CIMSPA website to find out more and check its useful FAQs.

How do I qualify for a sport and fitness career?

Many different qualifications help with a career in this sector. 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 (see below).

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 for study 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 and Certificate of Higher Education in Sport, Fitness and Management. Google ‘sport & fitness courses online’ and you’ll find a wide range on offer.

Example courses: fitness

As with sport, courses available within the fitness industry are incredibly diverse – and many can be studied, wholly or partly, 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 no longer confined to the gym, and there are opportunities to train clients outdoors or in 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.

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 ELCAS 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 the Quest website.

Finding a job

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 new CIMSPA directory (see the information above).

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 is likely to be good news for some of our readers! A host of industry-endorsed courses, vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and training schemes are available.

Coaching, teaching and instructing

Coaching may form part of a full-time job role in the industry, such as 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

Many organisations exist to provide 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 can be very 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.

As you’d expect in an enormously wide-ranging sector like this, there’s a correspondingly wide range of apprenticeship opportunities out there! Perhaps start by clicking here to check out government-backed options like Personal Trainer (level 3), Sports Coach (level 4) and Outdoor Learning Specialist (level 5). Organisations like the YMCA offer their own apprenticeship training. Alternatively, use your favourite search engine to discover more options. Or browse the government’s apprenticeship website or Find Apprenticeships, both of which allow you to search for apprenticeship opportunities by area of interest and location.

Whether you’re still in uniform or have already started to prepare for life ‘outside’, QUEST – is your go-to guide to support you along your Forces journey. From your education options while serving, right up to resettlement and into civvy street, it’s the only guide you’ll need to find Funding Options, Training Courses, Enhanced Learning Credits Courses, University Courses, Careers and Transition Advice.

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