Career Choices: PT or LE?



I'm currently studying criminology and plan on working for my local police. At the same time I have had a burning passion for fitness/health/working out and want to be a personal trainer. For the last 6 months ever since I've entered the university, I have been in a constant tug of war between choosing to be a personal trainer and a police officer.

I came by your articles and found out that you are a police officer, personal trainer and Asian-American (like myself). It's really inspiring to see someone like that.

My question is:

Would majoring in criminology, minoring in kinesiology and a certificate in personal training be a good idea to pursue a job similar to yours?

Thanks,
Aaron L.



My Answer: I was an independent trainer before becoming a peace officer. I stopped training once I started law enforcement, but resumed training clients off-duty a few years into my career.  Then I stopped training once I had a daughter.

There are pros and cons to both jobs.  The great thing about law enforcement is that it is real world work.  You have to deal with people, both good and bad.  You take responsibility for your actions and you take care of your community.  You have a sense of civic duty.  You're a leader, not some clueless office drone insulated from reality.  You deal with real problems and real situations.

The role of a police officer is larger than life, so initially the job is psychologically overwhelming.  But over the years you'll grow into the role.  You'll learn and develop a wide variety of skills, since law enforcement provides numerous specialties.  You will mature and become a better person as a result. 

Depending on the department, the pay and benefits are good.  Some departments better than others.  3% @ 50 is the gold standard for retirement.

As far as drawbacks to law enforcement, there are many.  For one thing, shift work is very tough on the body.  People who do shift work are 30% more likely to develop cancer.  The stress of the job wreaks havoc on your health, as well as your marriage.  Plus it sucks not seeing your kid on holidays.

Law enforcement is a dangerous job.  This is a given.  But it is dangerous on many levels.  Obviously bad guys resist, but sometimes they also carry diseases.  God forbid you get stuck with a needle from a drug user.

People view you differently, once they know you are law enforcement.  Some people admire law enforcement, and other people use law enforcement as a whipping boy for society's ills.

Now as far as personal training, it is a very tough business to get into.  The problem with personal training is that there are no real standards set.  On one end, you have personal trainers who are high school and college kids being paid minimum wage with only an in-house certification.  Then on the other end, you have high end trainers being paid $150 an hour.

Part of the reason that personal training is all over the map is that the public can't figure out a good trainer from a bad trainer.  Certifications don't mean jack, because the public doesn't know about certifications, let alone differentiate an easy certification from a high quality certification.  Plus the public can't figure out good personal training from crappy personal training.  People think personal trainers are like doctors, since they're supposed to know about nutrition and exercise.  But most personal trainers are simply bullshitting about the science aspects of diet and training, because they don't know anything beyond how to do the exercises.

Most trainers don't make much of a living.  The ones that do make a living have 5 things:

1) They have a lot of training knowledge and experience.
2) They're very good teachers.  They can observe people and troubleshoot their form.  They can explain complex topics in simple language.  They can motivate people to train and stick to their diet.
3) They're extremely good at marketing themselves.
4) They don't just rely on their clientele for their business.  They have multiple streams of income (i.e. books, articles, etc.)
5) They have a lot of satisfied clients who refer other people to them.


Now, should you choose personal training or law enforcement?  Does a criminology degree or a kinesiology degree help?  Does a certification help?

In my experience, none of that helps.  I know most police officers do not have a criminal justice degree.  It doesn't matter.  You learn everything in the police academy and during the first few years on the job.  Many agencies like to recruit people from a wide range of backgrounds, so that they can have officers and special agents with a wide variety of talents and expertise.  It doesn't hurt to have a criminology degree, but most officers I know don't have it.

A minor in kinesiology is fine, but again, plenty of personal trainers without a kinesiology background.  Personal trainers, especially these in-house trainers, don't utilize kinesiology as much as business and sales. 

If you get a certification, then get one that will provide a lot of business support.  People in the industry always point to the NSCA certification (which I have) or the ACSM certification as the best certifications to get.  But quite frankly, your clients don't give a shit as to what certification you have.  They can't tell the difference.  Plus these certifications don't do anything to help you with getting your personal training business off the ground.  They just take your money and call you certified.  If you do get certified, then I would suggest something like ISSA, which provides business support.

Bottom line: keep majoring in criminology and minoring in kinesiology.  Start training as a in-house trainer to get the experience and see how the gym business works.  When you're eligible, start applying for your local PD, because it will be a long process before you get hired.  You might as well explore the personal training field while you're waiting.  Also do a ride along with the PD's you plan to apply to.

Good luck!
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