Personal Training – The eta Student Experience

eta personal training

Do you want to become a personal trainer and inspire others to reach their fitness peak? Check out what eta students Ongie and Happiness told us about their fitness studies and about pursuing a career in the personal training profession.

As peaceful Keurboom Park falls behind in my rearview mirror, I pull up in front of eta college. It’s a crisp, late autumn morning in Cape Town as I make my way to the reception area of the renowned sports and fitness institution. Left and right, students pass by me wearing their navy eta tracksuits. After a short moment, I see two sporty, smiling ladies approach me. These must be my interviewees, I think to myself, smiling back.

23-year old Ongeziwe Ningiza and 21-year old Happiness Mesi are two 2nd-year students sweating their way towards eta’s National Diploma in Fitness: Sports Conditioning. They have kindly volunteered to meet with me to chat about what it’s like to study at eta, as well as give me insight into what it takes to get qualified in the fitness industry.

The National Diploma Fitness: Sports Conditioning

The qualification that the two girls are studying towards is the 2-year National Diploma Fitness: Sports Conditioning. It is one of the current running eta programmes.

The 1st-year of the Diploma qualifies students as personal trainers – which means they can start working. In the 2nd-year, they choose to focus on either Sports Conditioning or Exercise Specialist

“Conditioning is more sports-specific. We learn about all of the sporting codes and how to condition its athletes. So if I were to get a netball client, I know how to condition them for netball while giving them personal training,” Ongie explains.

Trainers for exercise specialist, as it were, focus more on different ‘groups of people’, as opposed to specific types of athletes. For example, they may train the elderly, or children, or pregnant women.

In Sports Conditioning, students specialise in training athletes or sports teams for a specific discipline, for example a professional boxer, or a rugby team. eta College provides a broad introduction to coaching various types of athletes and types of sports, after which graduates can then go work in their preferred niche.

Note, eta College is in the process of offering some new courses for 2017 and 2018. For more information on the future Sports Conditioning stream, click here.

Admission Requirements:

NQF L5 Higher Certificate or National Certificate in Fitness, or an equivalent qualification in the field of exercise science (NQF L5). You can find out more on this info sheet.

 There’s Something About Fitness

As a child, Ongie enjoyed being very involved in sports, and so, throughout her life, her parents have pushed her to keep exploring this passion. When I ask her what attracts her to fitness and sports the most, she explains that it’s the way it forces her to push her own boundaries.

“What drives me is the desire of wanting to consistently perform at my peak.”

Happiness says it’s the element of personal growth.

“Fitness makes you really get to know yourself. I have learned how to understand my body and how it works. And because I know what techniques work for me, I also feel a lot stronger and fitter. Learning about fitness gives you a chance to recreate your body,” Happiness tells me.

personal training
Happiness Mesi
personal training
Ongeziwe Ningiza

Why Did They Choose eta?

I ask the girls why they decided to study at eta in specific.

After Matric, Happiness took a local gap year and started a training bootcamp for her friends – just for fun. Though it hadn’t occurred to her before, it soon became clear that she was meant to pursue a sport and fitness qualification, particularly in personal training. When she spoke to the eta College representatives at an expo, not only was Happiness immediately convinced of the level of training she’d receive at this college, but she also realised that a Diploma with a strong practical focus might work more in her favour than a university degree.

“My parents expected me to get a degree, since they sent me to private schools all my life and paid so much. But they were aware of my situation, and that practical experience is invaluable in this field.

After you graduate, the first thing an employer asks you is whether you have experience.”

Ongie tells me that one of the trainers at her former gym pointed out how happy she looked while working out, and that she should consider going into the industry.

“My gym trainer told me, ‘Go study to be a personal trainer.’ I asked him where I would go to study that, and he simply said, ‘Go to eta College. Look it up.”

Both of the girls also tell me that eta’s reputation is a big reason for why they have come here. Ongie explains,

“The eta brand is very big. If you tell people that you studied here, they immediately perceive you as someone who has come from the top. It’s a very powerful qualification to have, and can easily compete with the weight of a university degree.”

What’s the General Vibe Like?

When I ask the girls about the general vibe, they both respond with a clear and straight-forward “awesome.”

“Outside the fitness world, you are seen as different – as the sporty person. But here, you find people who are just like you, and that click on the same level, without having to say anything. We are all experts in our field here on campus, and we get to share our opinions and passions with each other,”

Ongie tells me about the daily sports chatters, and how heated discussions about the most recent game brings about a friendly and competitive atmosphere alike.

Both girls emphasise that because the student body at eta is very tight-knit, it feels like they are family. But they can’t deny that sports people are naturally competitive.

 “There is no conflict here,” Ongie says before taking a deep breath and laughing, “but when it comes to the sports team you support, it’s a different story!”

Happiness nods with a big smile, and testifies to the family feeling the students experience.

“As soon as I got to eta, I thought, ‘Why does this feel like home?’”

 What are the Lecturers Like?

“Our lecturers share a lot with us. Whenever you need help, they will make a plan to squeeze you into their busy schedule, no matter how much they have on their plate,” Ongie says.

The girls emphasise the invaluable aspect of having lecturers who are currently working in the industry.

Happiness notes,

“It’s very personal here. Our lecturers are almost like friends to us, because they get to know us on a personal level. They know our strengths, or when we are injured, or have had a lot of stress lately.”

How is the Weekly Schedule?

2nd-year classes take place in the morning between 9am and 3pm. In first year it gets split between some mornings and afternoons. Students only spend around 2 hours per day in the classroom – for the rest they are outside or in indoor fitness facilities like the gym.

Happiness explains, “In class, we’ll learn about things like the biological and kinetic aspects of increased heart rate. Then we go outside and learn how to practically apply the theory.”

The schedule allows many students enough time to get a student job. Many coach and do personal training, but some also do other student jobs like waitressing to help pay for their studies.

The schedule also allows the professional athletes to train and study at the same time.

Is Good Nutrition Encouraged?

When I ask this question, both girls burst out laughing. I take it as a big ‘Yes.’

The lecturers don’t control what the students eat, but encourage a healthy nutrition. And most students follow this diet, simply because it’s so important to their overall fitness.

“We hear the voice of the lecturers in our head, telling us to eat well. We know it’s going to come back and bite us later if we eat crap. Besides, why would you come study here and spend all that money when you’re not going to follow the advice the professionals give you?” Ongie points out.

What Have Some of the Challenges Been?

 For Ongie, it’s clearly been the physical aspect.

“You have to be ready to train at all times. The lecturers might say, ok let’s go, run for 2.4km. They really push us to stay at our physical peak.”

At this point I wonder about the way lecturers prevent injuries when pushing the second year students so hard, but Happiness assures me that they always check the students’ wellbeing and physical condition first.

She notes, “Many of the students here are professional athletes and sports people. eta certainly doesn’t want to cause any sports injuries, especially when the students’ sports career is affected.”

For Happiness, the biggest challenge has been moving away from home to come study here on campus.

“The biggest challenge has been living alone and adjusting to a new world, and not having your friends around. It’s also challenging not to have a car – I used to arrive on campus soaking wet from the rain.”

The only room for improvement the girls can think of in terms of their eta experience as a whole would be to have a campus residence. They do however point out that eta is very helpful when it comes to finding private accommodation near their campuses that don’t have a residence.

Ladies Take Charge

I can’t help but smile at the thought of the two ladies in front of me coaching a team of massive, male rugby players. It seems that more and more women are taking the industry by the horns.

When I ask them about it, Ongie explains,

“At first when you, as a woman, rock up to coach a team of guys, they might underestimate you. But as soon you prove your worth and hold your ground, you won’t take that pre-assumption from anyone. You’ve put in your due work.”

Both of the ladies seem to be heading in the right direction, know what they want, and already have a selection of job opportunities waiting for them in 2017. I’m loving the female power here.


As our chat comes to an end, I thank the girls for taking the time to give me insight on what sounds like a very exciting qualification. It seems like the place to be if you want to go into the fitness industry.

As a final piece of advice to prospective eta students, the girls have the following pearls of wisdom to share.

“Come here to grow. Come to get to know yourself.” – Happiness Mesi

“Look forward to be challenged, because it will change you. Each and everyone of us here has experienced that in one way or another.” – Ongeziwe Ningiza

EduConnect 2cents

If you’re interested in getting into the Sport and Fitness industry, check out what you can expect in this industry by reading the awesome interview we did with Dallas. Click here to glimpse into the day in the life of a fitness trainer – and make sure you watch the motivational video too. Pretty amazing stuff.

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