To become a personal trainer, you have to become certified. Everybody knows that. But fitness exams only teach information about exercise science, fitness testing, physiology, and stuff like that. Fitness certification exams don't teach you real-life information. This, unfortunately, you have to learn on your own. You can be the smartest fitness instructor in the room, but if you don't know the real facts, you won't get far in the fitness business. I care about you and want you to succeed. So here, for the first time, I present to my 10 commandments of personal training. Remembering these commandments will help you just as well – and sometimes more – than knowledge of exercise science.
Thou Shalt Not Train Everyone The Same
I once heard about a powerlifter who became a certified personal trainer. He trained everybody like they were powerlifters. This is incorrect. Remember that fitness trainers personalize the exercise prescription to their clients based on their goals, health, fitness, and medical issues.
We treat everyone as an individual.
Different health issues, injuries, and goals may require different exercises and exercise programs. How do you know which is the best exercise program? One way is by having new clients fill out a health history form and talking to them, asking both open-ended and closed-ended questions and getting to know their likes and dislikes.
Training clients does not mean you have to devise strange types of programs. Exercise programs don't need to be circus acts to be effective. Stick with the basics and tailor it to the health and limitations of your clients. This will make it more effective and safest in the long run.
Thou Shalt Not Rely On Your Certification Alone
In the business of fitness, there is a belief that one certification is better than another, although the truth is this is just good marketing more than anything else. No matter which fitness organization you think is the best, the important thing to remember is that passing a fitness certification exam only means you know the minimum.
In other words, if you are just certified, you know the least information required to work with individuals during personal training sessions. You would not want your doctor to ONLY know the minimum, would you? In the same way, your clients don't want a fitness trainer who only knows the least either. This is the difference between a certified personal trainer and a qualified personal trainer.
Remember, the fitness business is about service to others. One way you serve people is by educating yourself continually.
How to be an educated fitness trainer
- Read the textbooks of the other fitness certifications
- Listen to audiobooks with Audible.com
- If you have an iPhone, check out iTunes University
- Listen to Podcasts
- Attend fitness conferences
- Learn from experts in their field
Thou Shall Not Date Clients
There's an old saying: you don't pee in the lake you drink from. Unfortunately, some personal trainers have not gotten the memo and continue to make this critical error. It's possible that clients will form an attachment to their fitness trainer (or vice versa). But, it cannot be stated enough that romantic relationships with clients are not ethical.
Consider the ramifications if things don't end well. What if the person tells the gym manager what you did? In some places, this can get you fired – especially if you are accused of sexual harassment. If this ultimately leads to an arrest, your future job prospects may be reduced because many gyms do background checks.
What if the member warns other members about your inappropriate behavior? Think about how that will impact your ability to get clients.
On top of all that, what's to stop your ex-client from posting stuff about you on social media – or making a whole website about how bad of a person you are? Once it's up on the web, it will be difficult to take down. Your clients WILL Google you. In this age of the #metoo movement, I would not be surprised in complaints of this type resulting in trainers losing their fitness certification.
Thou Shall Be both CPR and AED Certified
I think a lot of people who operate gyms don't take medical emergencies seriously. Unfortunately, this leads to some gym owners not requiring their staff to have CPR and AED certifications.
This is a HUGE mistake.
If you want to become a personal trainer you need to understand that sometimes bad things happen. I've seen people die while working out, and I also know personal trainers whose clients died right in front of them too. This is why ALL fitness trainers need to obtain both CPR and AED certifications and renew those certifications at regular intervals.
If you apply for a fitness trainer job in a gym and they say you don't need to be CPR/AED certified, walk away. That's not where you want to work. They are not thinking about you or their members. They only want someone – ANYONE– to work because they are hoping you will make them money. They don't care about quality help.
If you don't work out, they will replace you, without warning. Low-quality establishments like this, go through fitness trainers like you change your socks – often.
If you've previously been CPR and AED certified and know what you are doing, you can opt to get an online AED/CPR certification but if you've never attended a class before, it's best to do it that way and learn the ropes. No online exam can simulate learning how to do chest compressions.
Thou Shall Show Up and Be Prepared
I recently watched a personal trainer run upstairs to get equipment while his client was already working out. This is a mistake! The time to get equipment, get your notes together, etc. is not when the client arrives. It's before. Clients should have your undivided attention during workouts. That also means no talking on the phone or texting people during training sessions.
When working with someone in the gym, you should arrive at least 10 minutes before your session begins and be ready to work. If you are traveling to a client's home or office, you should arrive at least 5 minutes before your session begins.
Thou Shall Have Multiple Streams of Income
If all you do is train your clients, eventually, you may run into financial problems. For example, what would you do if:
All of these scenarios can occur. Because crap sometimes happens, you need to protect yourself. So,
what other ways can fitness trainers make extra money? Here are a few.
- write books
- start a youtube channel
- create a blog
- start podcasting
- become a speaker to businesses
- become a consultant for fitness trainers
All of these things could potentially help you make an income. I've done these and many others. If you want help, let's set up a consultation to help you grow your income outside of the gym.
Thou Shall Not Purposely Hurt People
Muscles soreness often happens in those new to exercise but it's not ethical to make people sore on purpose. This is a message personal trainers need to hear.
I say this for a reason.
At some of the biggest gyms in the fitness business, there is a dirty secret that needs to be exposed. Over the last several years, fitness trainers working in many different gyms, have told me the same thing: their fitness managers instruct them to make clients sore on purpose.
The sorer they make them, the better! As one trainer put it, “beat 'em up” is what they were told to do.
Why do they do this? It's a psychological trick. The idea is if the new client feels sore the next day, she/he will think they are really out of shape. If this happens, they may be more likely to hire a personal trainer.
Either way, you slice it; this tactic is unethical. This stupid and unethical practice can lead to muscle injuries, including rhabdomyolysis.
Thou Shall Stay In Your Lane
You don't need to be your clients:
- marriage counselor
- or their massage therapist
You are their fitness trainer. That's enough. Yes, clients may tell you things – sometimes sensitive/private things – but inserting yourself into their personal problems/drama should be avoided. This will prevent it from backfiring on you in case things don't go as you hoped. If this happens, it can hurt your reputation.
Also, be careful expressing your political or religious views unless you are 100% certain your clients share those opinions. As a personal trainer, you will clients who watch the same 24-hour news stations. They will see the same information each day and yet will be at polar opposites on the political spectrum. Don't get caught in this quagmire.
What about dietary supplements? Can personal trainers recommend supplements? Tread carefully. Physical fitness and nutrition fitness don't reside under the same umbrella. While fitness trainers have a good background in exercise, some will have only a basic knowledge of dietary supplements. They may not be aware that even some “natural” supplements could be harmful.
Listen to this podcast episode too.
Thou Shall Keep Client Information Private
But, in general, HIPPA does not apply to gyms or personal trainers. This means there is nothing stopping fitness centers or fitness trainers from sharing private information.
When Gyms Need To Be HIPAA Compliant
- They are associated with a hospital
- They employ physical therapists, dietitians, or other healthcare professionals
Even so, fitness centers and fitness instructors should treat ALL private information -written and verbal – with care and not share it with anyone.
Sometimes clients may be reluctant to share certain information with personal trainers. For example, taboo subjects may include:
- medications for depression
- smoking or alcohol habits
- eating disorders
If exercise professionals are going to help their clients, they need to know as much about their relevant health issues as possible. To achieve this, it's suggested that fitness trainers start off right by reassuring clients that any and all information they receive stays private and will not be shared without their permission.
Thou Shall Not Sign a Non-Compete
Some gyms make their fitness staff sign non-compete agreements. They may require this for several reasons such as:
- If you quit, they are afraid you will take your clients/their members with you. This means less personal training revenue for them.
- They don't want you working for their competition.
- They don't want you sharing their trade secrets with their competition
- They are afraid you will start your own personal training business
While I'm not a lawyer and can't tell you what to do, I would think twice before signing a non-competition agreement. In one instance, Equinox Fitness sued 3 New York personal trainers for 40 million dollars after the trainers opened their own fitness studio. They had signed a non-compete contract when they worked at Equinox.
I remember one fitness trainer telling me a gym would not hire him – for a part-time position – unless he gave up his in-home clients. These were people he trained on his own time in their homes. He had them before he applied for a gym job. Yet this gym would not hire him until he stopped working with them. Again, this was for a PART-TIME job. This is typical of some of the crazy antics fitness facilities will try to pull on employees.
Don't fall for it.
If you are hired as a full-time manager with perks like medical benefits, IRA, etc then, it's a different story. It makes sense to sign a non-compete. But for an independent contractor who is only working part-time and receiving no benefits, a non-compete would be a red flag for me. Again, just think carefully if it makes sense to you.
Are There More Commandments?
In this review, I addressed 10 topics that fitness trainers need to consider, do and avoid if they are to perform their best. These are not the only commandments, though. Can you think of anything I missed? Leave a comment below and help your fellow personal trainers.
Judy Leahy says
Thanks Joe. Good advice. I wasn’t aware of all the requirements for HIPPA compliance. Independent contractors would need to abide by confidentiality too.
Judy, I totally agree. I think both gyms and independent self-employed trainers should give more thought to privacy issues.
I signed a non-compete agreement with the gym I work at. They asked all the trainers to sign one after a trainer left and took multiple clients with her. I had home clients before I started there and they have never ask me to drop them, not when I was part-time with no benefits, and not when I became full-time with some benefits.
CS, I’m really glad to hear there have been no repercussions from signing the non-compete.
Puja Mittal says
Excellent and very true – all ten of them .
Thank you Sir.
Puja, thanks so much! I appreciate you taking the time to write 🙂