College’s personal trainer program gaining traction

05.16.2016 | By Rob Vanya

As the fitness industry continues to expand in Houston, the San Jacinto College personal trainer program continues to gain traction.

When the program first launched in fall 2014, the student enrollment was 8. Enrollment now stands at lab capacity of 21, and adding an additional class is under consideration, which would allow for additional students.

“Numerous professionals in the field say there is a real need for qualified personal trainers with hands-on skills,” commented Kelly Saenz, San Jacinto College South Campus athletic director and softball head coach.

The program encompasses the study of scientific principles, methodologies and research applied to exercise and fitness. Students trained in the certificate program learn about complex movements in biomechanical terms, how to analyze mechanical and physical factors involved in strength building and how to design programs for clients with musculoskeletal deviation based upon the client’s age.

The two-semester (24 credit hours) personal trainer program includes eight courses: first aid, personal training, exercise science, fitness event planning and promotions, lifestyle changes for wellness, theory of exercise program design and instruction, kinesiology and biomechanics, and wellness and health promotion. Upon completion, a graduate earns a certificate of technology credential and is eligible to take the International Sports Science Association Personal Training Certificate exam.

“It’s a great way for students to have access to personal fitness training while simultaneously preparing for a career in one of the largest industries in the nation,” said Saenz.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 24 percent national employment growth in the personal training field through 2020, with approximately 6,033 fitness trainer and instructor jobs available each year. The Texas Workforce commission projects an average of 260 personal trainer job openings per year. Personal trainers can earn an average of $17,010 annually (part-time) to $63,400 (full-time).

The San Jacinto College personal trainer program stresses safe and rigorous health and fitness training technique based on comprehensive research. “Taking an online course and studying a book doesn’t make someone a personal trainer,” commented Judy Harrison, San Jacinto College physical education instructor and a former Olympic and para-Olympic coach. “You need hands-on, real-life training.”

As a wellness coordinator at the San Jacinto College South Campus, Harrison sees firsthand the results of improper training. “People limp in and tell me what a trainer has asked them to do,” she said, noting one example of a 65-year-old woman who was started with 45-minute jogs three times a week, followed by heavy weightlifting.

The job market for personal trainers is growing, Harrison added. “More and more people are looking for personal training. They want to do something about their physical health.”

In addition to teaching proper technique and biomechanics, the program also teaches students how to market themselves and the fitness businesses in the real world. “We wanted to develop a program where students could step into the industry and be successful,” Harrison said. She cited the example of the first graduate of the program, who now works as a personal trainer for a local fitness business. In six months, the graduate’s fitness classes became some of the best attended in Houston. “Geri Niess (the first graduate) directly attributed her success to our teaching her how to add value to her classes,” Harrison said.

Wanting to help people improve their lives through better physical health was the main reason Niess decided to become a personal trainer. “I worked with some high school students from my church to get healthy and fit,” she commented. “Seeing the change in their lives inspired me to go back to school, and seeing the changes in my clients lives today inspires me to get up each and every day and do it all again.”

Niess works as a full-time personal trainer for Camp Gladiator, a relatively new and rapidly expanding player in the Houston area fitness market. She was hired by Camp Gladiator about the time she earned her personal training certificate of technology from San Jacinto College last spring.

At 52, with three grandchildren, Niess is living proof that it’s never too late to follow one’s dreams. “I am so glad I accepted the challenge of going back to school after so many years of staying at home and raising a family,” she said. “My focus since starting an outdoor boot camp is to improve people’s lives. I love the outdoors and I have always been athletic and team oriented.”

Knowing she would need specialized career training, Niess was glad to learn that San Jacinto College offered a complete personal training program. “My husband and two of my five children attended San Jacinto College, and they all recommended I further my education there,” commented the Deer Park resident. “Thanks to the College, I have attained the dream of working in the field I have a passion for, personal training.”

To learn more about San Jacinto College’s personal trainer program, please visit

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.

For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.