A career as a fitness centre manager combines an interest in sport and leisure with great people skills and business acumen
Fitness centre managers generally work in centres or clubs that contain a fitness suite or gym and some or all of the following:
- swimming pool
- sports halls or courts
- spa, sauna or therapy area
- catering and other recreational facilities.
Responsibilities usually cover the broad areas of marketing the facility and any special events, managing staff and dealing with the technical aspects of fitness provision and health and safety.
The manager is also accountable for the overall profitability of the centre.
Large centres may have a team of several managers who specialise in certain areas.
A fitness centre manager may be known as a health club, leisure club or sports centre manager.
Tasks vary according to the size and facilities of the centre. There are some differences between local authority and privately run establishments. In general, working as a fitness centre manager you'll need to:
- design and promote activities to meet customer demand and generate revenue
- advertise and promote the centre to increase usage, which may include commissioning and considering market research
- maintain high levels of customer care, often with a particular focus on avoiding loss of existing users
- prioritise target activities and user groups, especially in local authority centres
- manage maintenance, insurance, repairs and cleaning
- recruit, train and supervise staff, including managing staff rotas
- carry out health and safety checks on the equipment and site
- handle complaints and incidents, e.g. accidents, emergencies or theft
- ensure own and staff members' first aid training is up to date
- deliver some fitness training or coaching in sports activities - often a good way of maintaining contact with customers
- prepare and check budgets and generate income
- cash up and keep stock records
- purchase equipment and supplies
- use advanced management information, such as footfall and popularity of classes by hour, to improve provision and timetables and cope with fluctuations in demand
- write monthly or weekly reports and prepare cash projections for centre owners or more senior management.
- New entrants to the profession are likely to start out as assistant or trainee managers, and will work their way up to higher management positions by gaining experience and completing further training.
- Salaries for assistant fitness centre managers start in the region of £17,000 to £21,000. This can vary depending on the size and location of the centre, and whether it's privately owned or under the control of the local authority.
- Fitness centre managers earn around £21,000 to £25,000.
- Those with significant experience and who work in the large leisure or health clubs (those with a turnover in excess of £2million) may earn £35,000+.
Bonuses related to targets, such as membership retention or attracting new members, are frequently paid in the private sector.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are typically 37 per week and include regular unsocial hours, with early and late shifts and weekend working. Fitness centre managers may be called in to cover events or staff absences.
Self-employment and freelance work are uncommon except as a personal trainer or, occasionally, as a consultant. The majority of positions are full time. Some employers allow unpaid career breaks.
What to expect
- The need to meet key performance indicators and financial targets may be stressful.
- Most organisations provide a sportswear uniform, although some managers may wear business dress.
- The job is primarily office-based but with frequent visits to different parts of the facility.
- Jobs are available in most areas. Fitness centres are widespread throughout the UK but are more commonly found in urban areas.
- Overseas work or travel may occasionally be required. Some chains of clubs are expanding into Europe. Jobs can also be found in expatriate communities abroad.
It's possible to enter this career with a degree, HND or foundation degree in any subject, but the following may be particularly helpful:
- business, management or other business-related subjects
- life sciences
- sport, leisure or recreation management
- sports science
- travel, tourism or leisure studies.
Entry without a degree, HND or foundation degree is possible but this will usually be at a lower level. Candidates often start in a general role within the facility and move up to assistant or trainee manager and then progress to manager of the facility after gaining substantial experience and professional qualifications.
Having a degree will allow you to apply directly for management positions. In some cases large, privately-owned centres offer graduate trainee schemes. These provide experience in different areas of the facility and often involve training for professional qualifications as well.
Employers often value personal qualities, business and management interests and skills and relevant fitness qualifications as much as the degree you have studied, so try to provide evidence of all of this in applications.
Think about becoming a member of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA), which can help to keep your knowledge of the industry current and provide networking event opportunities.
For career-related news and information, see The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) and SkillsActive.
You'll need to show evidence of the following:
- an interest (but not necessarily outstanding performance) in physical fitness and sport
- good interpersonal, time management and organisational skills
- good teamworking skills and the ability to lead and motivate a team
- business acumen, creative thinking and problem-solving
- energy and resilience
- flexibility and multi-tasking skills
- computer literacy
- a customer-focused, approachable and outgoing personality
- the ability to relate to the requirements of customers from all age groups and sectors of society.
Pre-entry experience in a fitness or leisure centre is almost always essential. Related fitness qualifications in areas such as fitness instruction, sports coaching, pool operation or a national pool lifeguard qualification (NPLQ) can be useful. Ideally, fitness qualifications should be recognised by The Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs). Marketing or events experience can also be useful, and experience and qualifications in management, sales or finance may be advantageous.
First aid certification and Disclosure and Barring Service checks are invariably required.
There are often vacancies in fitness centres for part-time and casual staff, particularly for evening and weekend shifts, in roles such as swimming pool attendant, membership sales adviser or fitness centre assistant. Use roles such as these to build up your experience and be prepared to show your commitment by taking on as much responsibility as possible.
Learn as much as you can about the management of the centre, find out how other centres are run and start to establish a network of contacts. If possible, attend relevant events and listen to the key speakers from the fitness sector.
Employment opportunities can be found in the following settings:
- local authorities
- health authorities
- private health clubs and fitness centres
- corporate gyms
- on board ships.
Hotels are another popular employer of fitness centre managers, as they increasingly offer guests on-site fitness facilities or provide complimentary use of a private club nearby.
Many large companies and organisations offer employees a gym or fitness centre at the workplace or negotiate discounted corporate membership of private fitness chains.
Chains of clubs tend to target different types of customers, so there is some variation in recruitment policies and pay, as well as the facilities provided.
It may be possible to work abroad for one of the national chains of health and fitness clubs that have expanded into Europe. Get more tips on how to find a job.
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Many of the larger commercial organisations offer extensive programmes of in-house training. Topics covered may include:
- corporate memberships
- payroll management
- teamworking skills
- health and safety
- customer care
- employment law
- business planning
- IT skills.
Training and professional development should continue throughout your career. CIMSPA provides a range of education and development opportunities. At more senior levels, fitness centre managers may consider an MBA qualification.
There are different levels of membership available with CIMSPA depending on your experience and qualifications. Full membership can be reached after three years' experience in the sector and chartered membership can be gained if you meet the formal CPD requirements of CIMSPA.
Information on industry-recognised training and qualifications, together with national occupational standards, can be found at SkillsActive.
Details of approved training providers are also available at REPs.
Promotion prospects are usually good, if you've gained the right experience, though career development often means moving to a larger centre where you can take on greater responsibility.
Internal promotion is possible once sufficient experience has been gained. Progression may be to jobs such as senior leisure officer or centre manager, operations manager, general manager or regional manager (where you may manage several centres), but opportunities available will depend on the size and turnover of each employer.
It's also possible to move into a sales or marketing role, either for a large centre or chain of centres, or as a sales representative for an equipment or fitness accessories company. Management roles with sports development agencies are also available, although some background in sports coaching and development may be required.
The broad base of transferable management skills gained in the fitness industry may make it possible to move into other aspects of general management.