How to choose a Level 2 Fitness Instructor course: my Experience with Lifetime Training

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Last year I qualified as a Level 2 Fitness Instructor with Lifetime Training. I did this as part of the FitEx Award, which also includes 2 Les Mills modules.

There seems to be a rise in people looking to take fitness qualifications, either to move into an active role within the fitness industry or to simply improve their own knowledge. (Are you the former or the latter? Let me know in the comments section!) With this, lots of people have questions about what the courses entail, how you can prepare for them and what they qualify you to do upon completion.

Especially since course providers aren’t generally very forthcoming with the intricate details of their courses, it makes it really hard to compare options. So, I’m sharing my experience with Lifetime Training in the hope it might give you a little insight...

Why did I take my Level 2 Fitness Instructor Qualification?

The main reason that I took my level 2 was to validate my existing knowledge. I have a lot of existing knowledge from training myself, as well as years of working with professionals from dieticians to strength and conditioning coaches, and always delving into the research myself to gain a thorough understanding.

I love being able to share what I learn, but I also want to feel that I am qualified to do so with a certification, as well a wealth of experience.

Of course, I also want to continue to learn about wellbeing in any way that I can, and so I thought that taking a formal course would help to broaden my knowledge.

Plus, I’d like to have the option to teach some classes again, if and when and opportunity arises.

What does Level 2 Fitness Instructing qualify you to do?

Another thing that course providers are not very good at doing, is providing a clear distinction between what you are qualified to do as a level 2 fitness instructor, and what would require more advanced qualifications.

Note: I’m referring to UK qualifications. Comparable qualifications internationally may differ in number or name.

So, here it is...

A level 2 fitness qualification qualifies you to:

  • Give gym inductions
  • Oversee the use of machines when supervising a gym
  • Write basic exercise programmes, at no extra charge, for gym members to carry out in their own time
  • Lead group fitness classes

If you were employed as a gym instructor, your role would also likely include things like cleaning and maintenance.

A level 2 qualification does not qualify you to:

  • Offer regular one-to-one sessions, likely at a charge to the client beyond their gym membership fee, during which you coach the client and tailor their programme
  • Offer some nutritional guidance

To do these things, you would need to be certified at level 3 or above.

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What does a Level 2 Fitness Instructor course involve? How to choose the right one for you.

The majority of level 2 qualifications look very similar at a glance, as they have to more-or-less cover the same content as part of the syllabus.

The content of the Lifetime Training level 2 course included:

Anatomy and Physiology Level 2

  • Anatomy and physiology for exercise, covering the systems of the body (circulatory, respiratory, skeletal, muscular, energy, nervous)

Core Units

  • Principles of exercise, fitness and health
  • Know how to support clients who take part in exercise and physical activity
  • Health, safety and welfare in a fitness environment

Planning and Instructing Gym Sessions

  • Planning gym-based exercise
  • Instructing gym-based exercise

My favourite modules are ‘Anatomy and Physiology for Exercise’ and ‘Principles of Exercise, Fitness and Health’, as these focus on the body itself, which I find fascinating, and so was motivated to do a lot of further research.

The other core unit modules are important and interesting, but a little more ‘dry’ and didn’t lend themselves much to further reading. A lot of the content seems like common sense.

Planning and Instructing Gym Sessions is a great module and was predominantly covered in classroom sessions with Lifetime Training, since it has very practical applications, which you will be practically assessed on.

Even though the latter module is covered somewhat in the classroom sessions, I’d recommend reading through these modules beforehand, at the very least to familiarise yourself with the structure of the workbooks as you’ll have to be able to navigate them well during the 4 practical days.

While course content is largely unvaried, there are lots of things that do vary between courses and can make a big difference to your overall experience.

Assessment structure

When I did my Level 2 with Lifetime Training, assessments for the theory parts of the course were question/answer papers completed in my own time and submitted via email for marking by my assigned tutor.

Other courses may be exam-based; either online exams or ones that you’ll be required to attend.

If you don’t perform well in certain assessment environments, it’s a good idea to investigate this and choose your course accordingly.

Learning resources

Lifetime Training provide the information for each of the modules in ‘workbooks’, which are all available through their online learning portal.

They provide printed workbooks for the Anatomy and Physiology modules as default, but if you want printed versions of the other module workbooks, they’ll involve an extra fee. The Anatomy and Physiology workbooks have a proper cover and are staple-bound, whereas the additional module workbooks arrive as bundles of printed papers, hole punched, and with cardboard separators between modules, so you’d need a ring binder for these.

Some courses offer online content only, and this may be in a variety of different formats, from pdf e-books, to slides, to video-based delivery.

I personally liked being able to have physical copies of the resources.

Learning environment

While the particular version of the course that I did was split between online and classroom learning, you might opt for a course that is all classroom-based. Expect to pay more for the additional contact time.

All courses will (should!) have a practical element that will require you to attend a gym-based assessment.

Time frame

If you are attending structured classroom sessions, some providers may offer the option for you to do this part time (usually weekends spread over a number of months) or full-time (weekdays over a shorter total time period).

Generally, you will have full access to the course content as soon as you enrol. You may have to commit to practical days when enrolling, or you may be able to book these dates at a later stage.

With Lifetime, I was able to choose my practical course dates any time after signing up. I could have given myself just a few days (availability permitting), weeks, or months, to work through the course content before diving into the practical.

Location

Depending on the course provider, the classroom sections of your course may be available in different areas of the country.

Because they’re such a large provider, I had a huge range of dates and locations to choose from when booking mine with Lifetime Training, which made the process a lot easier.

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The big question: does the course make you a good instructor?

Any training provider offering an assessment-based qualification ultimately wants their students to do one key thing. They want them to pass.

While there may be some exceptions (probably smaller companies), training providers teach you first-and-foremost to pass assessments. It was the case when you were at school, and it's the case now.

So, no. The course doesn’t make you a good instructor, it makes you a qualified instructor.

On my course, some people did not even know exercise basics. One person had never stepped foot in a gym, and another didn’t know what a resistance band was. These were people who weren’t there for personal learning, they were there with the intention of teaching others to get fitter.

Sure, you won’t know everything at first, but a basic awareness of a gym environment is important, and at least a hint of curiosity or passion would be nice too.

I applaud people considering a move into a more active job if they really are passionate about changing their own lifestyle or about helping others, but I also believe that the best instructors, coaches and trainers are those who are curious, keen to learn and keen to educate others - attributes that a shockingly high number of people on my course very evidently did not possess.

During practical assessments, they’d answer questions correctly, but the thought process behind their answer was completely incorrect. While they knew the answer (probably regurgitated from the workbook, or maybe just a lucky guess), they had zero sense of understanding.

And if that was glaringly obvious to me, it must have been clear to the tutor. But no effort to check or reinforce learning was offered.

It’s understandable that tutors don’t have time to offer one-on-one coaching to students in this position but standards have got to be higher. That’s the responsibility of the student, as well as the tutor.

If these people passed their assessments and taught a class the next day, they would not be a good instructor. They might not even be a particularly safe instructor. But they would be qualified.

This is where a lot of people would argue that we rely on a kind of ‘natural selection’: if an instructor is really, really bad, people won’t attend and their classes will not continue to run; and if they seem clueless in an interview, a gym won’t hire them. Of course, this relies on lots of other factors like people having some prior knowledge or experience to rate a class based on, but on the whole, this seems pretty reasonable.

Things to do before you take a fitness instructor course

If you’re thinking about stepping into the fitness industry, before you enrol on a course, please, for the sake of your future clients (and also to make the course as worthwhile to you as possible): Get used to what it feels like to train and to push your body. Go for a run, take a few classes, use the different machines at your local gym. Minimum. Be curious about how the body works and spend some time accessing resources online. Watch coaching videos on YouTube. Scroll through bodybuilding.com. Invest in a session with a highly-qualified, highly-experienced, highly-recommended insightful.

These things may not constitute formal qualification, but practical experience is crucial. If you’re looking at those three bullet points and don’t feel even remotely inclined to do any of those things, please don’t take a job in the fitness industry where you possess any type of responsibility for the wellbeing of others.

Is this level 2 course useful if you don’t want to be a fitness instructor, but want to learn more?

Yes and no.

There were a few things that I learned as a direct result of the course syllabus, but mainly I found it provided a really useful structure for further learning.

For example, the course material touched on type 2 diabetes in a couple of short paragraphs. It drew a link between physical activity and type 2 diabetes, stating simply, ‘Regular physical activity can, however, reduce this risk both directly at a cellular level and indirectly by preventing weight gain.’

However, it did nothing to describe what the mechanism at a cellular level is, or why there is a correlation with weight gain.

Of course, this isn’t a course about Type 2 diabetes, nor does it qualify you to work with special populations like diabetics, but this illustrates my point that the materials provided on this course will not give you a deep understanding of how the body works.

If you’re curious (and likely to be a good trainer), you’ll do what I did and use the course material as a starting point for further research (and end up with a booklet covered in diagrams, highlighter pen, and sticky notes).

It’s probably worth noting that the course contains a module on health and safety, which can seem a bit dull and uninteresting if the only reason that you are taking the course if to improve your knowledge of anatomy.

That said, it’s super important that your knowledge on this is certified if you’re working on a gym floor, and while this was a little dry, I found it was eye-opening and a useful reminder of hazards that you should ensure staff at your gym are aware of.

Summary

I took the course mainly to expand and validate my knowledge of training the body, but also to open myself up to future teaching opportunities that might arise.

The course covered a wide range of topics, but none of them in significant depth. That’s something that’s saved for levels 3 and above. So, if you’re looking to take this course because you’re curious about the body and simply want to become an expert, you’ll probably find it’s only useful in providing you with a structure to do a lot of self-directed learning.

Like all qualifications offered by mainstream providers, this will tick the boxes required to get you a job. What the course can’t teach is genuine passion, engaged interest, a desire to learn more, and the ability to drive yourself and your clients to improvement. That’s got to come from you.

The Lifetime Training FitEx™ Award +2 LES MILLS™ Modules costs £992 and can be completed in as little as 3 months.

Thank you to Lifetime Training and Les Mills for putting me through this training. An amazing experience.

I'm now taking my Level 3 personal training qualification with No1 Fitness Education. All the details to come in a future post. Stay tuned!