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Should I Be an Employee or Personal Contractor?

One of the benefits of being a personal trainer is the flexibility you have in where and how you work. A big choice in this profession is whether you work as an independent contractor or as an employee at a gym. You can be hired as either one at a gym, so it’s important to know the differences and figure out which one best fits your goals and lifestyle.

The Legal Differences

The primary distinction between the two directions is taxes, but there are other implications pertaining to each one on how you work and earn money.

The Independent Contractor

First, let’s define what an independent contractor is. An independent contractor is a person that provides goods or services under a written contract or a verbal agreement, Unlike employees, independent contractors do not work regularly for an employer but work as required per their agreements that they set up. The big takeaway here is that, as an independent contractor, your agreement tells you what work needs to be done but not how it needs to be done.

As an independent contractor, you get to be your own boss and set your own hours—which means you can work whatever hours suit your schedule. You also get to decide how much you charge for your services, which is really important because it gives you the freedom to make money without having to rely on a third party (like a large gym) for paychecks.

But there are some downsides to being self-employed as well: You'll be responsible for all of your taxes, rather than having them deducted from each paycheck like you would if you worked for someone else; if you have no employees or partners, then there's no one else who can help out with things like answering phones or cleaning up around the office; and if there's an emergency at home (or anywhere else), then there's nobody around to help with that either!

And then there's what happens when something goes wrong at work—like if something breaks or gets stolen from an equipment room—and it ends up being your fault because YOU are in charge of keeping everything safe and secure! So think carefully about these factors when considering your path in personal trainer.

The Employee

The personal trainer role is fairly similar as an employee versus a contractor, but the gym that employs you has more say in how you do your job. Your gym can tell you the methods to use during sessions, when you need to work, how many clients you can have, etc. Remember that gyms can still potentially hire you as a contractor. Just because you do your sessions at a gym, does not necessarily mean you have to be an employee at the gym. You likely will have to pay for the use of their facilities, but you still keep your independence as a trainer and how you work.

Employees are typically paid on a W-2, which means that their income is reported to the IRS and they pay taxes on it as well. They also receive benefits like health insurance, paid vacations and sick days, 401(k) plans, etc., depending on the company they work for.

Taxes and Benefits

Employees receive benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off, while self-employed people do not. This can be especially important if you're a gym employee and need to take care of your family. Here is how the IRS views you differently based on how you work as a personal trainer:

If you have your own business, the IRS considers you to be an employee of that business and thus liable for income taxes. If this is the case, you will be taxed on all of your income—including any money made from your gym membership.

If you are a gym employee, however, the IRS considers you to be an independent contractor and therefore not liable for income taxes. This means that if you make more money through your gym membership than you would making it as a regular employee (and vice versa), then the IRS will not tax any of it.

Gym employees who do not have their own businesses can also choose to file as someone else's employee instead of filing as their own. This means that they won't pay as much in taxes but they will get benefits like health insurance coverage and paid time off work!

The Working Factors

There are tons of factors to consider about the differences in the work between contractors and employees, but here are some key factors to consider:

Control in Training Style

Contractors are likely to have more flexibility in how they train their clients. As an employee, you have a little less discretion usually and are subject to the influence and direction of the gym at which you work. If you prefer complete control in training styles and choices, being an independent contractor may be more your speed.


One of the most attractive aspects of working for yourself is that you have freedom to work when and how you want. This means, within limits, you can set your own hours and work as many or as few hours as you want or need to. Further, as a contractor, you have more freedom in where you train your clients – whether it be at multiple gyms or at a different chosen location. As an employee, you are confined to the hours of the gym and the gym’s desires on when they want you training.

Paycheck Certainty

As an employee, you are going to benefit from a regular paycheck that is less influenced by how hard you work. You may have some variation based on how many sessions you are giving, but in general you will have more certainty in your paycheck. As a contractor, how much you earn is in direct correlation with how many sessions you are giving, how many clients you have, and ultimately, how hard you are working.

Getting Fired

While you may think of being fired as more common between employers and employees, it’s actually (generally) much easier to be fired from a client than by your employer. This means that a quick change in income can happen quickly with the disappearance of one of your clients, whereas losing a client as an employee will likely have less effect on your income.

Liability Insurance

As an employee, you are likely covered by the gym’s liability insurance. This means a lot in the event of something happening with a client and them wanting to sue you. As a personal contractor, you will have to purchase and maintain liability insurance on your own – which is an expense to consider. What personal trainer insurance do you need?


Your employee benefits will vary based on the gym you work at, but as a contractor you will probably have no benefits (such as health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, medical leave, etc.) This means you will have to pay for your own insurance and other benefits you would like to have that are normally covered through benefits as an employee.

What’s right for you?

So how do you know which one is right for you? The answer depends on your situation: whether you want more freedom or more security; whether it's important for you to be able to set your own schedule; and whether tax savings matter as much as being able to afford health insurance.

In the end, there is no black and white answer for what’s the best. It comes down to deciding what fits best for you.

By the way, there are gyms that allow you to have your own clients (as a personal contract) outside of your employment structure at the gym. Who says you can’t do both?

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