How a second career in fitness reignited our passion for work 

If you’re passionate about being active, retraining in the fitness industry could be a first-class choice for a second career – as these four stories show.

When someone says they work in fitness, it’s natural to think of a gym or leisure centre run by young, ultra-fit personal trainers, or enthusiastic aerobics instructors.  

The truth is the fitness industry is a wide and varied sector that attracts a diverse range of people for many reasons. Some choose to work in fitness from a young age and follow a traditional route, studying sports science or similar, before starting their career.  

Some work in fitness as a second job, teaching fitness classes in the evenings or at weekends, and do it because it’s their passion 

Becky teaching a fitness classCredit: Exceptional
A career in fitness reignited a passion for work for our writer, Rebecca Fuller

Then there are those who decide to change career later in life, and retrain for a dream job in the fitness industry.  

With people now working longer than ever, that’s what many are deciding to do. Working in fitness can be an appealing choice if it’s already a passion – offering a career change that reignites your love for work. 

That was the case for me, and retraining to become a personal trainer when I was 37 gave me an opportunity to help others achieve their goals. I had fallen in love with fitness and could testify firsthand to the mental and physical benefits of exercise.  

I wanted to share that experience with others and to highlight the benefits of staying active as we age. I had been very fit in my younger years, but my twenties and early thirties were taken up with raising children.  

Like many people, I started exercising again to lose some weight, but I quickly realised it had many more benefits. I slept better, my energy, confidence and happiness all increased. And because I felt better in myself, I became a better parent, daughter, colleague and friend.  

Becky doing a deadliftCredit: Just James Media
Strength training has become a passion for Fuller

I was getting older but feeling more alive and energetic than ever. On a whim, I decided to train as a fitness instructor. Teaching HIIT (high intensity interval training) classes on a weekend was fun, but I soon wanted more. Working as a freelance journalist was a great job, but very isolating, and so I retrained as a personal trainer.  

Although I am now a fitness journalist for Exceptional, I still work as a personal trainer and kettlebell instructor in the evenings and at weekends. Like many of the stories you’ll read below, the reason I keep doing it is because the community formed in my classes is incredibly special.  

It’s a true privilege, coaching women to become stronger and fitter both in body and mind. I’ve worked with a range of clients, from complete beginners to those already exercising, and it’s a joy to watch them achieve things they thought they couldn’t.  

Age 42, I made the decision to move back to full-time journalism with Exceptional because it was all of my passions combined; an opportunity to help and inspire more people to exercise, to write, and to highlight how important it is to stay fit and active in order to age well.  

I am lucky enough to be able to say I love what I do (and they didn’t pay me to say that). Like many people who have retrained later in life, I’ve never looked back. I spoke to four other people who have retrained for working in the fitness industry to find out what they love about their jobs, and why exercise and being physically active is so important. 

Becky doing a dumbbell chest pressCredit: Just James Media
Being physically active remains a passion

I have known Helen for several years, having trained as a StrongFirst kettlebell instructor under her tutelage. What struck me when talking to Helen for this feature was her empathetic and caring nature. She really captured how it feels to coach a group, the unique position we are in as instructors, and her passion for strength training is something we share.  

I also know Peter through StrongFirst, having met at several weekend events. I am in awe of his tenacity and his determination to inspire people through fitness, and how he found purpose in a time of grief.  

Nick’s story was fascinating to hear. When we spoke, what struck me was that he did what a lot of us dream of doing: quitting the corporate world and heading to the great outdoors. How wonderful that he’s inspiring so many people to explore the mountains. I love what he said about not wanting repeat business but instead, wanting to give people the tools they need to explore by themselves.  

Pat has a job that I’d love to do: working as a paddleboard instructor. It’s an activity I really enjoy, so it’s easy to see the appeal of working in the industry. Pat said she really likes seeing people’s confidence increasing, and I think that’s what we all enjoy about working in the fitness industry. There is no greater reward than seeing people achieve things they thought they couldn’t.  

“People leave with a big smile on their face – there’s no greater reward in a job”

Kettlebell coach Helen HallCredit: Exceptional / Helen Hall
Helen Hall is a Kettlebell coach in Portishead

Helen Hall

Helen Hall is a StrongFirst Elite kettlebell and strength coach, and one of only a handful of athletes to hold such a high qualification. She’s the owner of Hels Bells, a kettlebell club in Portishead, Somerset, where she trains small groups and individuals in kettlebells and lifting.  

I’ve always been into fitness. I trained as a PE teacher and taught for nearly 20 years. When my children came along, I decided to take some time out, so I could concentrate on being a parent. 

I was given the opportunity to do a bit of kettlebell coaching and I loved it so much that I went on to certify with StrongFirst. That was in 2018, and then Hels Bells was born.  

The range of people who train with Hels Bells is very diverse. I don’t get many clients in their twenties. But then, I’m a 51-year-old coach and it’s all about who you relate to.” 

In recent years I’ve noticed the tide has turned. It’s OK to lift as you get older now, which the media has had a lot to do with. It’s no longer considered something for young individuals, and it’s not about how heavy you can lift. 

In fact, I have a lot of clients over 60, and my oldest one is 79. Everyone can do something, and I believe if more people did strength training, a lot of injuries, such as knee issues or lower back issues, could be avoided. 

For the people I coach, it’s about how to lift safely, with good technique, and how that can help them in everyday life – whether that’s walking, carrying the shopping, or going up a mountain. It makes people fit for life. 

What is vital is finding the right coach who will support you and tailor the sessions to your needs. Fitness is not a generic one-size-fits-all activity. 

I’m very privileged, because I still get to use the skillset that I originally trained for. I have always been passionate about supporting and working with others – the difference with teaching adults is they want to learn. Coaches have a tool bag of teaching methods, and when someone gets that lightbulb moment, when it clicks for them, those moments are the absolute best.  

“I love the positivity in my club. Everyone feeds off the energy created. I also love and value the fact I support people in all aspects of life, not just as a strength coach but with their mental wellbeing, nutrition, how they’re feeling about life, and how all of it is so interconnected. 

Sometimes someone will arrive at class with the weight of the world on their shoulders, because there’s a whole heap of stuff going on in their lives. Then an hour later they leave with a big smile on their face. I don’t think there’s any greater reward in a job.” 

“Getting active takes a bit of courage, but it will be worth it”

Mountain leader Nick PhillipsCredit: Exceptional / Nick Phillips
Nick Phillips is a mountain guide in Lancashire

Nick Phillips

Nick Phillips classifies himself as retired, even though he now runs his own mountain walking business, Mountain Walking UK – Expert Mountain Guide service in Lancashire, leading walks in the Lake District, Peak District, and more.  

I used to work in the oil and gas industry in Texas until 2018. When I was 58, I thought: ‘I could stick this out until my full retirement age or get out now, while I’m still young and healthy and do something I want to do for a change.’ 

I’d had an amazing career, travelled the world, and I thought it was time to step back and do something less stressful and more enjoyable. I set up Mountain Walking UK and it’s all I had hoped it would be and more. 

I started a new life when I retired, and I keep very active. My wife and I go out walking together, and I’m part of the local mountain rescue team as well. 

I’m one of the oldest trainees they’ve ever had, but that’s fine by me. It’s good to know I’m a safe pair of hands out in the hills or on the mountains.    

So many people want to get outdoors, and it can be quite a daunting challenge if you don’t know much about walking. I structure my walks on three levels., One is for complete beginners, and we go for a nice walk around a lake or valley. For those with a bit more experience we go higher up; and for experienced walking groups we go to summits, such as Scafell Pike or Great Gable, both in the Lake District. 

It’s not just about being in the mountains. A lot of the experience is at foot level, what’s growing around you, the plants. I try and educate people about what they’re walking on and around. 

For me, it’s about giving people the skills and the confidence to get outside and enjoy it. One of my ambitions is to help people to stand on their own two feet. I don’t necessarily want repeat business, it’s nicer to see them enjoying the outdoors by themselves. 

I go to a small gym in our village nearly every day and I’d say that it’s populated with those north of 50. They’re all very fit, healthy, committed people. When I go out in the hills or to my rock-climbing club, I see many people pushing hard at 70 plus.  

The first step is the most important step you’ll ever take. Getting active takes a bit of courage, but it will be worth it.”   

“I love seeing people achieve something they thought they couldn’t”

Pat Macdonald paddleboard instructorCredit: Exceptional / Pat Macdonald
Pat Macdonald is a paddleboard instructor in Wales

Pat Macdonald

Pat Macdonald lives in Abergavenny in South Wales. After a career as a consultant engineer, she turned her love of the outdoors into a new career as a paddleboard instructor. She teaches regularly for Paddleboarding Adventures and SUP in a bag. 

I’m a freelance paddleboard instructor, which suits me as I don’t have a full-time commitment to it, and the role fits around my life. It’s entirely up to me when I work and how much. 

I chose to teach paddleboard because I felt it was an accessible sport for older people, or those who are less fit, or don’t have much outdoor experience. I really wanted to be a role model for others, and to encourage people, who maybe aren’t 30 year-old athletes, to try something new.  

I live in South Wales, but I work all over. I do a lot of instructing on the river Wye, but I’ve also done a lot of work around the south coast of Cornwall, which is lovely. Exploring somewhere on a paddleboard is a totally different experience.  

Paddleboarding is a very accessible sport. A lot of people think they won’t be able to do it. But with the correct encouragement and coaching, most people can learn to stand up and paddle. It can be recreational, comparable to the fitness levels of going for a walk, up to full expeditions or even racing.   

I teach people from all demographics, from children up to more experienced paddlers wanting to do a tour lasting a couple of days. 

If people are particularly nervous about being on the water, they can look for a provider that can offer a session in a swimming pool. That might be a more comfortable environment to start in.  

I really like to work with people who have confidence issues. I’ve been working with a business who’ve done a lot of women-only sessions, and it’s been really pleasurable to see their confidence increasing.   

It’s a very therapeutic activity, it can be very calming to be out in the countryside on your board, almost like it’s your own personal island.   

If you want to try paddleboarding, find a local provider, check if they’re accredited with one of the paddleboarding associations and take part in an introductory lesson.  

I love getting people out there. I love it when they achieve something they thought they couldn’t, and to see them having fun is incredibly rewarding.”   

For more info on paddleboarding, see bsupa.org or British Canoeing. 

“Strength training is brilliant, especially for the over-50s”

Peter Swallow, strength coachCredit: Exceptional / Peter Swallow
Peter Swallow is a strength coach. Pictured with StrongFirst leaders Claire Booth (L) and Fabio Zonin (R)

Peter Swallow

Peter Swallow is a Strong First-trained strength coach based in Long Riston, East Yorkshire. Peter runs Fundamental Fitness and Coaching, offering strength and conditioning training in a private studio and outdoors.  

My wife and I were wholesale greengrocers from 1987 until the end of 2012. When my wife was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in mid 2012, we decided to make the best memories we could in whatever time we had left together.

I was teaching martial arts in Slough from 1999 until the end of 2012, when we moved to East Yorkshire, so, I was already very familiar with teaching and instructing. I then passed my Strong First kettlebell certification in May 2013. It was a natural progression for me to move into coaching.  

Strength training is a brilliant thing to get involved in, especially for the over-50s. In fact, the higher proportion of my clients are over 50, or approaching it, and they want to remain fit at the very least, if not get fitter. 

“There are so many benefits to be had, from supporting your strength and mobility to maintaining a good posture, not to mention encouraging other healthy habits such as a good diet. Other health benefits can include reducing blood pressure, weight loss, staving off osteoporosis and more. 

I have a wide range of classes and clients. I do outdoor and indoor group classes, which take the form of strength-based circuit classes. These are different every week. Variety is the spice of life, and that keeps clients coming back. 

I also run one-to-one and two-to-one sessions. These are tailored specifically, working towards the client’s goals, and then I offer a strength and conditioning small group class once a week.

My youngest client is 18. My oldest is 86, and he is an inspiration in everything he does. I coach people that want to run marathons, one is the captain of the local ladies rugby team, and I have a few I am helping to rehabilitate back from injury, and one from a major road traffic accident. 

My initial reason for keeping fit and strong was to be able to support my wife during her battle with cancer. She passed away in February 2020, just before lockdown started, and I was not in a good place mentally.  

During lockdown, to give myself purpose, I started doing some online fitness courses, which culminated in doing my Level 4 strength and conditioning, and an Elite Coach Mentorship by the end of 2020. 

Self-improvement has become my hallmark, and I want to be the best coach I can be for my clients.” 

Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her

Updated:

Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain. Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

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