Authors: Melinda B. Abbott1, Kathleen A. O’Connell2

1Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
2Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

Corresponding Author:
Melinda B. Abbott, Ed.D
4 Bogardus Place, 4D
New York, NY 10040

Melinda Abbott, EdD, works in Ambulatory Operations at NYU Langone Health. She is an Adjunct faculty member in the Health Sciences Department at Mercy College. Additionally, she works as a Health Educator, yoga instructor and personal trainer via her website, where she consults private clients about health education and nutrition counseling.

Kathleen A. O’Connell, PhD, RN, FAAN, Professor and Director of the Nursing Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University, is a nurse-psychologist who studies health behavior.  

Emotional Intelligence as a predictor of success in personal training


Purpose: Little is known about the characteristics that contribute to success in personal training. It was hypothesized that emotional intelligence is a predictor of success. Because no instruments were available to address this hypothesis, instruments to measure emotional intelligence in personal trainers and success in personal trainers were developed for this study. Methods: A survey that included 95 items was completed by 225 certified personal trainers. Correlation and regression analyses were performed to determine which variables exhibited the most influence on success. Results: Emotional intelligence levels increased the variance accounted for by 48 percentage points over and above variables of weekly productivity, the type of facility the trainer is affiliated with, and years of employment, which accounted for less than 20% of total success (adjusted R squared = 0.665). Conclusions: Emotional intelligence levels appear to be an important contribution towards success as a personal trainer. Further research is recommended to inform the profession of personal training regarding what skills may contribute towards trainer success. Applications in Sport: As obesity levels remain a health concern, personal trainers will continue to be an asset towards assisting their clients in their pursuit of health and fitness goals.

Key Words: Personal trainers, interpersonal skills, communication, fitness, productivity


Personal trainers are fitness professionals paid to design and facilitate customized exercise programs (18). Personal trainers are part of the fitness industry that connects health promotion, disease prevention, and consumer culture (18). However, little is known about the qualities that contribute to being successful as a personal trainer (23). Scholarly research regarding occupations connected to personal training does not reflect the growing numbers of professionals in the field (18, 23).

Physical activity is described in literature as an opportunity for individuals to extend their natural lifespan while reducing limitations in functionality (4, 19). As of 2019, the United States was leading all global markets in health club memberships with 64.2 million, a 26% increase from 2011 (11). Most gym/health club members list overall health and wellness along with progression towards individual goals as reasons for membership (33). Despite the increase in active gym memberships and the vast benefits derived from physical activity and exercise, data reveal that almost 40% of adults do not engage in any activity during their leisure time; rather they are sedentary (23). This trend is said to result in over $23 billion dollars in annual health expenditures (e.g., prescription drugs, treatment plans, lost productivity, therapeutic procedures, healthcare visits, etc.) (23). Of those who do adopt an exercise program, an estimated 50% will discontinue activity after 6 months (23).

Personal trainers are educated to be experts in design and execution of fitness and conditioning programs that help their clients achieve their fitness and wellness goals. Adherence to exercise has been argued to be a result of the influence of the exercise leader (23). Adherence is related to self-efficacy, specifically mastery experiences, social modelling, social persuasion and states of psychological or mental readiness (23). McClaran (19) found that incorporating one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer was an effective way to impact exercise frequency and behavior change. Limitations to McClaran’s study, however, included the absence of a control group as a means of testing whether those persons without trainers would experience similar results. There is evidence demonstrating that having a trainer can assist clients achieve goals that otherwise may elude them if they choose to exercise unsupervised. Both Storer et al.,(33) and McClaran (19) demonstrated that personal trainers’ involvement with a client’s exercise program was an effective way to enact change, as shown via physical fitness assessments or by way of measuring attitudes towards increasing physical activity.

In a qualitative study about personal trainers using small focus groups with fewer than 15 subjects, Melton et al. found there are nearly 20 different certifications for personal training available to the general public (21, 23). These programs ranged in rigor and candidate qualifications. Some certifications such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) require a four-year degree to be authorized to complete the examination process. Other certification programs such as “Future Fit” are open to the general public, require no specific scholarly background, and can be completed in the span of a weekend (21, 23). Trainers are typically hired without regard to the origin of their certification, but they tend to charge clients according to their certifications. Specifically, lower-cost trainers typically are those holding less rigorous certifications while higher-cost trainers generally possess an advanced degree and a certification that requires a rigorous written exam (23).

Competencies required by working personal trainers were generally agreed to be knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, exercise physiology, lifestyle and health, chronic disease, exercise program design, and diet modification (23). As this list is limited to subject area knowledge, what remains to be known are skill sets and attributes that make an effective trainer (23). Personal training requires not only content knowledge and perhaps entrepreneurial skills, but also the types of relationship skills that are exemplified in the constructs of emotional intelligence.

Theoretical Framework

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a multidimensional concept that traces its roots to several different theoretical traditions (27, 29, 30, 36). EI has been described as adaptive emotional functioning involving inter-related competencies connected to the extent of perception and understanding, and the utilization and managing emotions in self and others (30). Van Rooy conceptualized EI as “set of abilities both verbal and nonverbal that enable a person to generate, recognize, express, understand, and evaluate their own and others’ emotions in order to guide thinking and actions that result in successful coping with environmental demands and pressures” (26). EI is often referred to as “individual responses to intrapersonal or interpersonal emotional information” (17). In athletic pursuits, higher EI is “linked to higher performance in team sports” (16). The role of EI in sports is thought to reflect the complexity of athletic success: “an athlete must recognize one’s emotions” in addition to the emotions of their teammates and opposing team members as a means of enhancing their performance (16). However, EI in sports is different from EI as a personal trainer in that personal trainers typically work with an amateur population, often engaging in exercise to impact their health status, rather than to enhance their career as an athlete. EI acumen may contribute to success in personal training because such training involves person-to-person contact as well as a great deal of emphasis on the strength of the client-trainer relationship.

Goleman described EI as a cluster of skills and capabilities related to self-awareness, emotional regulation, motivation, empathy, and handling relationships (7). The domains measured in traditional and validated EI scales are classified in five general categories: (1) self-awareness and appraisal, (2) regulation of emotion, (3) utilization of emotion in service of goals, known as motivation, (4) recognizing emotions in others, known also as empathy, and (5) managing emotions in relationship to others, also known as interpersonal intelligence or handling relationships (7, 26-29, 34). Regulating one’s own emotion and recognizing emotions in others seems key to encouraging clients to achieve higher levels of fitness and engage in ever more difficult exercise achievements.

Success in personal training

There are over 320,000 employed personal trainers and fitness instructors in the United States (2). The reported 2019 median annual earnings for a personal trainer or fitness instructor was just over $45,000, with the lowest 10% earning approximately $21,000 and the highest 10% of earnings reported to be over $75,000 (2). Projected growth for fitness professionals is approximately 7% over the years 2019-2029 (3).

Personal trainers are part of the labor force known in sociology as an “expert service worker” (5, 18). Expert service workers are a hybrid between a traditional employee working at a salaried position and an entrepreneur, in that they perform knowledge-based, skilled work as independent contractors earning hourly wages (6).

Success in one’s career has been defined as the real or perceived profession-related accomplishments accrued by an individual during his or her work experiences (15). In seeking to analyze the nature of career success, scholars have differentiated between objective and subjective measures of success (9, 25, 31, 32). Objective career success refers to that which is “directly observable, measurable and verifiable by a third party” (9). Subjective career success is defined by an individual’s response to their own unfolding career experiences (9). Career success, both objective and subjective, is distinct from job performance (31). Job performance measures describe the outcomes tied directly to one’s performance of a specific task or duty at hand (31). Career success has been defined as the positive psychological and work-related outcomes that one associates with his/her professional life (25, 31, 32).

EI represents a set of interpersonal skills that may enable personal trainers to attract and retain clients, lead current clients to refer others, and enable current clients to achieve their own personal fitness and health goals. Such skills are based on a sound knowledge base about the healthy functioning body, but also include capacities such as empathy, self-knowledge, and emotion regulation. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship of EI to career success in personal training. In order to accomplish this purpose, it was necessary to develop instruments to assess both EI and career success in personal trainers. The newly developed instruments were used to test two hypotheses: (1): EI is a predictor of success in personal training. (2): EI is a predictor of success over and above other variables like number of clients during a busy week, years of employment and whether the trainer is affiliated with a fitness facility.


Because personal training is understudied and encompasses specific skills and indicators of success, testing the hypotheses necessitated instrument design for both an EI and a success instrument. The instrument design process involved deciding upon a theoretical framework, interviewing experts, initially developing an instrument, and pilot testing. Pilot testing was followed by a more robust study protocol of assessing the construct validity and item reliability which occurred as part of the present study. Factor analyses were performed to refine the instruments and to show evidence of construct validity.

Emotional Intelligence Instrument

There are a multitude of tests used to measure EI (20). EI has been measured in sports teams using the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), a 141-item test yielding a total EI score (Crombie, Lombard & Noakes, 2009). There is scholarly material available about EI as it relates to coaching and sport outcomes (16). EI is positively associated with coaching efficacy, specifically for “motivation efficacy and character building” (16). Trait EI has also been measured using the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue), a 153-item measure using scale responses of 1-7 (16). However, personal trainers differ from coaches, and their clients differ from athletes and/or sports teams. Personal training clientele is mostly composed of members of the general population rather than the professional athletes. Coaches invest in the success of the team; that success being the product of individual athletes working together as a cohesive whole. Personal trainers, however, invest energy into the skill acquisition, physical performance, and motivational strategies of multiple individuals, none of whom are connected to a larger whole unit. A personal trainer may have clients who have never exercised before, as opposed to coaches who are helping to refine highly specialized sports skills of their athletes. The personal trainer, therefore, is expected to shift and manipulate his or her strategy according to the needs of individual clientele. This motivation is true in regards to both the accuracy and progression of the workout program as well as the tailored nuances contained in the verbal and non-verbal communication exchanged between trainer and trainee during the hour-long session. Clients will often share stories of stressors from their personal and professional life; these stressors being perceived as impactful on their current fitness level and motivation to sustain their fitness program. Personal trainers are expected to navigate these admissions and use shared information to further individualize the clients training program. There is an expectation that when trainers understand their clients as a whole person, that knowledge is leveraged towards developing the clients’ full fitness potential.

Personal trainers have not been studied in the literature in any depth, not least in relation to EI. An initial interview with an expert in personal training helped to determine whether the concept seemed viable. This expert agreed that there was no industry-specific tool for measuring EI in trainers, but such a tool would contribute towards improvement in the field. Thus, the researcher determined an EI instrument designed specifically with the profession of personal training in mind was necessary.

To construct an emotional intelligence questionnaire with sound psychometric properties, a group of experts were interviewed to evaluate their response to the question “What qualities are shared by successful personal trainers?” The expert responses were grouped into themes, which, when analyzed, led to the choice of EI as a theoretical framework.

Data for instrument development was gathered using a semi-structured interview process whereby four Personal Training Experts (PTE) were consulted. Experts were colleagues of the principal investigator at a local branch of an international fitness center who had been employed in fitness for at least ten years. Interviews lasted from 30 to 60 minutes. The PTE’s were asked a series of questions, but also encouraged to add personal reflection, tangential thoughts, and associated insights. Participants were asked to specifically identify what attributes are shared by the most successful trainers.

The responses to the directive seeking identification of the qualities possessed by successful personal trainers can be summarized as follows: technical expertise, customer service, sales skills, business analytics, punctuality, listening skills, emotional regulation, providing positive feedback, modeling a healthy lifestyle, and dealing with multiple personalities for hours at a time all day, referred broadly as a manner of handling relationships. The skill of handling relationships was mentioned in terms of creating trust, ensuring confidentiality, and negotiating behavior and outcome expectations for optimal results. Only those concepts with recurrent themes between all four experts are discussed below.

The information from the body of consulted experts is what provided additional supporting material to create the Observable Indicators [OI] and items for each sub domain of the scale. The characteristics and practices detailed in the interviews were triangulated with the published material on EI and Personal Training. A draft of the initial instrument was created with five domains of EI represented as Self-Awareness [SA], Emotional Regulation [ER], Motivation [MO], Empathy [EM] and Handling Relationships [HR]. Affective items contained a five-point Likert style scale of 1-5 as follows Strongly disagree (1) to Strongly agree (5). Behavioral items contained a 5-point frequency rating of Never/almost never (1) to Always/almost always (5). There were 50 items in total.

Pilot test of instrument

The pilot EI instrument was administered via Survey Monkey to 21 respondents. Subjects were recruited from two local fitness centers, via management email and social media announcement. The pilot test of this instrument was approved as an exempt study by the Teachers College Institutional Review Board (IRB). Internal consistency was analyzed using SPSS software. Items were eliminated from all domains to raise Cronbach’s alpha to at least .7 or higher (1).

Success Instrument

Success has been traditionally measured in terms of objective and subjective success. A review of the literature revealed no measures of career success in personal training. For the Objective Success subdomain, objective measures for trainers were found through inquiring at a local branch of an international fitness company. A personal training manager was asked about the pay-scale and expected timeline of advancement for trainers at a large-scale international fitness company. The response noted that newly hired personal trainers were expected to advance in productivity, pay, and rank at a minimum of two intervals during a period of 18 months from their date of hire. An objectively successful trainer at this company would have been promoted at least twice within 18 months. According to the personal training manager, this progression must be accompanied by maintenance of a full client roster allowing for a minimum of 44 performed sessions per two weeks. Additionally, trainers can also average a minimum of 264 performed sessions per quarter.

Further insight was gained regarding how to measure success in personal training specifically by interviewing three PTE’s. Subjects were asked specifically “How do you define success in your career as a personal trainer? Responses to this question led to domain specification and item generation.

Pilot test of instrument and content validity

The pilot version the Success as a Personal Trainer (SAAPT) was tested for content validity. Twelve subjects (n=12) who were working personal trainers or personal training managers were sent an initial draft of the items of the SAAPT for review and feedback. This version contained 18 items measuring Objective Success (OS) and Subjective Success (SS). Upon review, this initial sample agreed that the items adequately measured the construct of success in personal training.

Participants in Main Study

For the full study, a survey was designed and administered online to a sample of 225 personal trainers. Sample size was determined based on the need for factor analysis as a means of generating sound instruments. A minimum sample size of at least 200 subjects is suggested when conducting exploratory factor analysis (1).

Subjects completed the survey on one of two different platforms. Recruitment was handled in several ways. Initially, the survey was posted on Survey Monkey. Subjects were also recruited using Qualtrics. Subjects who completed the survey online at Survey Monkey were recruited either via a social media announcement by the researcher, an in-person invitation, or an email invitation. Subjects who completed the survey online through Qualtrics were part of a pool of qualified subjects maintained by Qualtrics. All subjects were informed of their rights as participants. Consent was required to access the survey questions.

Inclusion criteria were that subjects had to be nationally certified, working personal trainers, above the age of 18, and able to understand English at a 10th grade reading level. Subjects were excluded if they indicated that they were not currently certified, not currently working with clients, or not of age to participate.


The survey contained a total of 95 questions. Subjects were asked demographic and work-related questions about their personal training background, the source of their clientele, the location of their sessions, their average weekly productivity measured in number of sessions and their financial earnings. When asked about the number of sessions they perform per week, subjects were given four representations of a work week, ranging from slow, average, busy, and their last seven days. Subjects were then asked to choose a range of client sessions performed, ranging from zero to over 35, with a total of six options. The location of the personal trainer’s sessions may be an indication of how well established the trainer is in their profession. When asked about the location of training sessions, subjects were provided six possible options: commercial gym, rented space, virtual session, home, client’s office, or outside space. Subjects were then asked to indicate a percentage for each type of location, making sure to total 100%.

EI and success items followed. These items were presented with response items ranging from either “Strongly Disagree/ Disagree/Not sure/Agree/Strongly Agree” or “Never/Almost never, Seldom, Not sure, Often and Always/Almost always.” Alongside the labels of the response alternatives of the Likert style scales, responses were presented as numerical equivalents of 1-5. Each item required a response to continue.

An additional measure of career satisfaction, the Career Satisfaction Survey [CSS] (8) was also included. The CSS is reported be the best measure of career satisfaction (10). Internal consistency for items on the CSS are reported to be 0.88 (10) whilst being used by Greenhaus et al. (8). Hoffmans (10) reported internal consistency to be 0.74.


Of 500 invitations sent via Survey Monkey, responses were returned from 22% of subjects (111). Approximately 51% of those 111 subjects from Survey Monkey did not complete the survey, resulting in a total of 54 completed surveys from eligible subjects. Recruitment continued using Qualtrics, an analytics service with access to a large data base of qualified personal trainers. Of the 1008 qualified subjects recruited by Qualtrics, 16.8%, or 171 subjects, returned complete surveys. Clean data from each platform were merged into one comprehensive data set, resulting in a total of 225 unique cases.

Revised Emotional Intelligence Instrument

The EIPT was revised to contain 56 items representing five domains. Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity was then performed. The Kaiser-Meyer Olkin (KMO) Statistic was calculated to assess whether there was enough correlation among items to justify a factor analysis. The Barlett’s test showed significance (p<.0001), while the KMO statistic value was 0.94 (p<.0001). These indications justify using an exploratory factor analysis.

Analysis of the scree plot shows a clear break after the second factor; however, there is a more gradual break between components three and four. Initial EFA with a Varimax rotation of 56 items extracted five factors with eigenvalues greater than one accounting for 51.89% of the variance. This EFA also showed that reverse coded items, which were designed to represent several different domains loaded negatively and together on their own factor and as such were removed from further iterative analysis. Additional EFA’s were performed, extracting four, three and two factors. Items that did not load above the .5 level were removed from the analysis. Another round of EFA was performed with the remaining 38 items. After removing items that did not load above .5, along with items that cross loaded at the .5 level, an extraction of three factors revealed interpretable factors that accounted for 54.7% of the variance.

Factor one was identified as “General EI for Personal Trainers.” Factor two was labeled “Self-Awareness of Personal Trainers.” Factor 3 was labeled “Reading Non-Verbal Cues and Conveying Emotions to Clients.” Within the instrument, there was representation of the original five sub domains: self-awareness, emotional regulation, motivation, empathy and handling relationships. The EIPT is similar to an instrument created by Schutte et al. (29) with 33 items. In both instruments, items that loaded on the first factor represent the conceptual model of EI defined by Salovey and Mayer (28).

Scale and subscale scores were generated by summing the scores for items loading above .40. Internal consistency reliability analysis was conducted on all 32 items and sub-scales using the Cronbach’s alpha statistic. The alpha (α) for the total score based on 32 items was α=.957. For the 17 items on factor one, α=.944. For the nine items on Factor two, α=.891 and for the six items on Factor three α=.776. The mean score for EI across all subjects was 132.23 out of a possible 160.

Scale scores were computed using the raw scores of response items that loaded above .5 for each factor and can be found in Table 1.

Table 1: Descriptive Statistics of Scale Scores: Total EI, Total Success and Sub Scales for Each

  Min Max Mean SD Cronbach’s Alpha
Total EI Score 72.00 160.00 132.23 19.03 0.95
General EI for PT 35.00 85.00 72.11 11.27 0.94
Self-Awareness for PT 12.00 45.00 36.56 5.87 0.89
Reading Non-Verbal Cues 11.00 30.00 23.56 3.77 0.77
Total Success Score 33.00 80.00 64.32 9.48 0.86
Professional development 18.00 45.00 37.72 5.72 0.88
Financial Stability 4.00 20.00 14.97 3.43 0.81
Professional Progression 3.00 15.00 11.62 3.24 0.73
Valid N (listwise) 225          

Revised Success Instrument

The Success as a Personal Trainer (SAAPT) Instrument was subjected to factor analysis. The Barlett’s test of sphericity showed significance (p < .0001), while the KMO statistic value was 0.877 (p < .0001). These indications justified using an exploratory factor analysis. Initial EFA with a Varimax rotation of 22 items extracted five factors with eigenvalues greater than one, explaining 59.60% of the variance. Additional EFA’s were performed, extracting four, three and two factors. Items that did not load above the .5 level were removed from the analysis. Another round of EFA was performed with the remaining items. An iteration revealing two factors was initially chosen, except that there were no items measuring financial stability, understood to be an important measure of success. Financial stability items were added back to subsequent EFA’s. After removing items that did not load above .5, along with items that cross loaded at the .5 level, an extraction of three factors revealed interpretable factors. Analysis of the scree plot demonstrated a clear break after the second factor; however, there was a more gradual break between components two to three. It was decided that the three-factor solution contained the most interpretable factors, explaining 54.59% of the variance. Factor one was labeled “Professional development”. Factor two was labeled “Financial Stability”. Factor three was labeled “Professional Progression.” The final iteration of the SAAPT contained 16 items across three domains.

Internal consistency reliability estimates were measured utilizing the Cronbach’s alpha statistic. The results were:  α = 0.866 for the total score encompassing 16 items on the instrument. Factor one had nine items with α = 0.886, Factor two had four items with α = 0.812 and Factor three had three items with α = 0.736. The mean score for success across all groups was 64.32 out of a possible 80.

Concurrent validity

The SAAPT is an original instrument with good levels of internal consistency. Concurrent validity was measured using a correlational analysis of Factor one of the SAAPT with an already validated instrument, the CSS. There was a positive correlation between the scores, r = 0.540, p < 0.01, n = 225. This finding indicated strong support for concurrent validity.

Demographic and Work-Related Description of the Sample

Sex, education, and experience

The sample was composed of 103 males (45.8%) and 122 females (54.2%). Most respondents (105, 46.7%) had completed a four-year college degree but no graduate work while those with a doctoral degree represented 4.9% of the sample. Most subjects indicated they had between one and three years of experience working as a personal trainer (32.9%). Seventy-two percent (n = 161) of subjects possessed exercise science degrees, while 28% (n = 64) had various other degrees.

Productivity in client sessions per week

During an average week, 39.1% of subjects performed 6-15 sessions, while 32% performed between 16-25 sessions. A small percent (7.1%) performed 26-35 sessions with only 4% performing over 35 sessions. During a busy week, the majority (34.2%) of subjects performed between 16-25 sessions.

Scale Scores of Instruments

Measures of validity of SAAPT

As expected, the variables of weekly productivity, education, years of employment and income were significantly correlated with the total score on the SAAPT. Measures of weekly productivity for an average week, busy week, and the last seven days were modestly but significantly correlated with total success: During an average week, r = .275, busy week, = .340, last seven days, r = .323, all significant at p < .001. Years of employment was also significantly correlated to total success, r = .235, p < .001. Income was correlated with total success at r = .192, p < .001. Level of education was not significantly correlated with total success.

The Relationship of EIPT to Other Variables


A correlation matrix was generated to identify the strength of any relationships among independent variables and with the dependent variable, total success. The correlation matrix revealed which work-related and EI variables were significantly related to the outcome variable success. This information was used to determine which variables would be entered into a regression analysis. Table 2 shows the correlation matrix of the variables that were entered into the analysis.

Table 2: Correlations Among Major Predictors and SAPPT

  Total Score on SAAPT                
Total Score on SAAPT 1                
Weekly Productivity (During a busy week…) 0.340** 1              
Location (Outside recreation space) -0.195** -.058 1            
Fitness Agency -0.175** -.015 0.140* 1          
Commercial gym setting 0.136* .078 -0.405** -0.323** 1        
Years of employment? 0.235** 0.225** -.010 -.065 -.044 1      
EI Factor I: General EI for PT 0.738** 0.225** -0.278** -0.339** 0.278** 0.177** 1    
EI Factor II: Self-Awareness for PT 0.725** 0.179** -0.235** -0.273** 0.264** 0.142* 0.802** 1  
EI Factor III: Reading non-verbal cues 0.664** 0.206** -0.173** -.085 0.104 .062 0.610** 0.636** 1

**. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
*. Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

Regression analyses

A hierarchical stepwise regression analysis was performed using the total score of success on the SAAPT as the outcome variable with the significant correlates and EI subscale scores as predictors. The regression was performed in two steps to evaluate the contribution from work-related variables first, followed by EI sub-scales. In Step 1 of the analyses, the predictors entered were: measures of weekly productivity during a busy week, years of employment, training clients in a commercial gym setting, in a fitness agency, and in outside recreation space. These variables accounted for 19% of the variance in total success scores. In this step, weekly productivity was the strongest predictor of success, beta value of .292, p < .0001.

In Step 2 of the analyses, all three EI scales were entered as additional predictors. The model with the addition of the three EI scales accounted for 68% of the variance in total success scores, increasing the variance accounted for by 48% over the work-related variables. The EI scales show beta coefficients of .336 (General EI for personal trainers, Factor I), .275 (Self Awareness of Personal trainers, Factor II) and .255 (Reading non-verbal cues, Factor III), all significant at the p < .0001 level. Productivity during a busy week was also a significant predictor, beta value of .148, p <.0001. Years of employment has a beta value of .086 and was significant at the p < .05 level. Training clients in a commercial gym setting was not a significant predictor, nor was outside recreation space or fitness agency (p > .05). The beta values for all entered coefficients can be found in Table 3. The model summary for Step I and II regression can be found in Table 4. The R squared increased from 0.192 to 0.677, p < .001. The Variance Inflation Factor (VIF) indicated a moderate amount of multi-collinearity in the first two factors of EI. This result supports the hypothesis that EI is a significant predictor of success as a personal trainer above and beyond factors like how many sessions are performed and years of employment.

Table 3: Coefficients of Success Predicted by Employment, Productivity and EI Scales I-III

Model Unstandardized Coefficients Standardized Coefficients t Sig.
B Std. Error Beta
(Constant) 6.888 2.749   2.506 0.013
Years of employment as a personal trainer 0.520 0.225 .086 2.310 0.022
Weekly Productivity (During a busy week…) 1.198 0.333 0.292 3.595 0.001
Commercial Gym setting -.016 .011 -.062 -1.365 0.174
Location (Outside recreation space) -.007 .025 -.012 -0.285 0.776
Fitness Agency .006 .044 .006 0.133 0.895
EI Factor I: General EI for PT 0.264 0.056 0.336 4.684 0.001
EI Factor II: Self-Awareness for PT 0.423 0.110 0.275 3.843 0.001
EI Factor III: Reading non-verbal cues 0.680 0.130 0.255 5.231 0.001

* Dependent Variable: Total score, SAAPT

Table 4: Hierarchical Regression: Step-wise Regression Predicting Success Using Fitness Agency, Outside Recreation Space Years of Employment, Location of Training and Weekly Productivity Along with EI Scales I-III.

Model R R Square Adjusted R Square Std. Error of the Estimate Change Statistics
R Square Change F Change df1 df2 Sig. F Change
1 .396* 0.157 0.174 8.76 0.157 13.687 3 221 0.001
2 .822** 0.676 0.665 5.46 0.520 116.731 3 218 0.001

* Predictors: (Constant), Fitness Agency, Outside recreation space, Commercial gym setting, years of employment as a personal trainer, Weekly productivity…
** Predictors: (Constant), Fitness Agency, outside recreation space, Commercial gym setting, years of employment as a personal trainer, Weekly productivity…, Reading non-verbal Cues, General EI for PT, Self-Awareness for PT


This study relied upon two original instruments to measure EI and success. It is challenging to make comparisons to previous research to judge whether this work builds upon past investigations. The sample size was adequate for the purposes of this research, but captured less than 1% of the estimated 300,000 working personal trainers in the United States. This sample may not be sufficient to generalize to the workforce at large. Trainers themselves are not often able to respond to surveys, as their work requires hour-by-hour engagement, rather than desk work or idle time at a computer. Response rates from the two pools of qualified subjects, Survey Monkey and Qualtrics, were relatively low, with only 15% of all potential subjects responding. Only 10.8% of the Survey Monkey invitations resulted in a complete response. Only 17% of the Qualtrics invitations resulted in a complete response.

This survey relied on self-report. Self-report has been known to be influenced by socially desirable responding, potentially obscuring relationships between variables, leading to less robust predictive power (16, 35). A more accurate estimate for weekly productivity and earned income might have come from a managerial report, or IRS documents. Trainers may have over- or under- estimated their earnings and weekly productivity.

The strength of the relationship between EI and success may be a result of method variance. The items about EI and success had similar formats, using a five-point Likert-type scale or five-point frequency measure. Subjects may have responded similarly to the EI items and the success items, resulting in a stronger relationship.

Recommendations for future research include collecting data from the clients themselves. Melton (22) held focus groups with women to ascertain their perspective on personal trainers, however her n = 5 sample size was small and generalizations should not be made from such a small group. There are often proprietary restrictions on membership data bases at large scale fitness centers and gyms; acquiring subjects for focus groups continues to be a challenge. If exercise were a prescribed health care regimen, like a protocol of medication, perhaps clients, health care providers, and trainers would be invested in developing methods of evaluating trainers for their effectiveness and success.


This work provides insights about predicting success in personal trainers, who bridge the gap between the fields of exercise, health, and wellness. Literature and qualitative research suggested that levels of emotional intelligence would be predictors of success in the field of personal training, as measured by professional development, financial stability and professional progression. Analyses revealed this to be the case with the sample used in this study. Correlations and regression analysis highlighted specific measures of EI and work-related variables that contribute most towards success, namely scores from the sub-scales of EI, education level and productivity during a busy week.

There are numerous established measures of EI. Among the most widely used measures, there is disagreement in the literature about the suitability of each measure for particular fields (24). Effective utilization of an EI scale necessitates an in-depth review of the scales psychometric properties (20). Additionally, a scale is most effective when it is an appropriate fit for a particular group under study (20). To date, there has been no validated instrument measuring either emotional intelligence or success in the personal trainer field. The MSCEIT has been suggested as a measure suitable for the realm of sports, (24), however personal trainers are distinct from coaches – furthermore, their clients are not typically athletes. Personal trainers are exposed to clients of all fitness levels, with varying impetuses for starting and/or sustaining an exercise program. Personal trainers are meant to keep an ongoing record of their clients’ progress and adjust the intensity of the exercise program based not only on physical capability, but also on factors related to emotional readiness to accept physically strenuous and demanding workout sequences. A personal trainer adept in the core principles of EI will have the breadth of skills necessary to advance the client at the appropriate intervals, using cues that will resonate with individual clients. Although the EIPT has not been validated previously, the results of this study demonstrate construct validity, seen in how three dimensions of EI demonstrate strong relationships to total success. EI was shown to be a statistically significant predictor of success, more so than other expected predictors like location of training, years of employment, education level and weekly productivity. The R-squared when EI sub-scales were added along with these work-related variables was substantial, accounting for nearly 70% of the variance in level of total success, as opposed to the 19% attributed to work-related variables.

In previous studies about predictors of job performance or career success, EI has been shown to be a significant predictor above and beyond other predictors such as personality characteristics. In the current study, EI predicted career success above and beyond the variables of years of employment, weekly productivity and location of training session. The findings about the EIPT and the SAAPT add useful data to the already published findings related to EI predicting job performance in other professions (12-14, 26). This finding supports the hypothesis that EI is a major characteristic influencing the success level of personal trainers.


The data concerning obesity and sedentary lifestyles suggests that fitness professionals will continue to be in high demand. Preliminary results of using the EIPT demonstrates that EI does predict success of personal trainers. Gym owners and entrepreneurial personal trainers can use this information to guide their career trajectory, business practices, training, and hiring practices. Certification bodies may consider a module on emotional intelligence in addition to the current offerings of anatomy, kinesiology, functional mobility and program design. Research on training in EI has shown that EI interventions have been effective in pre-post studies where groups have been introduced to EI training materials and EI seminars (30). Results indicate higher levels of performance on EI tests after training as compared to control groups, as well as higher levels of work morale and a decrease in work-related distress (30). Thus, EI training may improve the trajectory of personal trainers and their industry.

Declaration of interest statement

Neither author reports a conflict of interest. No funds or incentives were offered, received or collected in the preparation of this manuscript.


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