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Recreation and Fitness Worker

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Unemployment Rate

7.4 percent

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It seems like an oxymoron – working hard to help people who are at play – but recreation and fitness workers do just that. The scope of professionals who fall under this umbrella term include aerobics instructors, camp counselors and directors, recreation leaders and recreation and park directors. Their tasks are varied and include enforcing and ensuring safety in public places, overseeing physical activities such as hiking, horseback riding and kayaking, serving as a yoga instructor in a local studio or even overseeing the running and care of public recreation and park facilities. The settings they work in are equally varied – from outside at a summer camp, to inside in an office cubicle, to sailing the seas on a cruise ship. Still, there are some commonalities among this group of professionals. They’re usually social people who like interacting with a kaleidoscope of personalities. These workers are also great communicators and problem-solvers, whether they’re helping a student master a tough Pilates pose or instructing a child who is learning to swim.

Companies are increasingly emphasizing the benefits of exercise for their employees, and trainers will likely be called on to lead health and fitness programs for more businesses in the next decade. Meanwhile, the rise in childhood obesity has spurred numerous state and federal campaigns to motivate children to become physically active, and recreation workers will play an important role at camps and fitness centers to get kids moving. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of recreation and fitness workers should grow 13.5 percent by the year 2022, adding about 82,500 new positions. Specifically, there should be about 33,500 new fitness trainers and aerobics instructors and 49,000 new recreation workers.


Pay is just as varied as the different types of professions within this group. Lifeguards and ski patrolmen and women earned between $16,900 and $38,750 in 2012, according to the BLS. Fitness trainers and aerobics instructors earned between $17,630 and $65,530. The best-paying cities for recreational workers include nature hot spots such as Anchorage, Alaska, and Ithaca, N.Y., while fitness trainers are paid well in big cities such as New York and San Francisco.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $47,250
Median $31,720
25th Percentile $20,310


“A common misconception about [fitness instructors] is that you need experience to get certified,” says Charles Krautblatt, CEO of the International Fitness Association. “It’s the other way around. You get certified, and then you train for practical experience.” Training varies by the type of fitness in which you specialize. A Pilates instructor might need to complete 200 hours of method training workshops. A personal trainer will most likely shadow a seasoned trainer until he or she is qualified to work with clients one-on-one. Contact your prospective profession’s association for the specifics on what is required for certification.

On-the-job training is also part of the process to become a camp counselor, but it’s rarely as formal as what’s required of fitness instructors. Those in managerial or administrative positions often have at least an associate’s degree, and sometimes even a bachelor’s or master’s in business administration, public administration or parks and recreation. They might also need certification from the National Recreation and Park Association.

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Fitness instructors usually audition to work in a fitness facility by leading a segment of a class. Krautblatt says hiring managers look for two things during that tryout. “Of course, they’re looking for technique – the mechanics of staying on the beat and knowing the top of the phrase,” he says. “But they’re also looking for personality. You can’t act like a stone – you’re supposed to be having a good time. You’ve got to be a little bit of a performer.”

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility poor Below Average
Stress Level good Below Average
Flexibility good High
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Last updated by Stephanie Steinberg.

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