Is Your Personal Trainer a Fitness Professional? (Part II)

By Alex Hoffmann on May, 11 2020
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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

Part 2 Of the client’s handy guide to making sure that your personal trainer is a consummate fitness professional!


What is a fitness professional?

“A professional is a member of a vocation founded upon specialized educational training.” (

To be a fitness professional, your personal trainer must have obtained (and be able to demonstrate) a competent level of fitness knowledge such that they are able to earn their living by educating and training others in the performance of safe and appropriate exercises to effectively lead those individuals to optimal health.

See PART I: Does Your Personal Trainer Know How to Train You Safely and Effectively? for an explanation of just what a “competent level of fitness knowledge” entails.


What are the professional standards of personal training?

ISSA expects its certified members to conduct themselves according to the following professional standards of behavior in order to provide the highest quality of service possible to their clients and the community. A trainer should:

Serve clients with integrity, competence, objectivity, and impartiality, always putting the clients’ needs, interests, and requests ahead of their own and striving for client satisfaction.

Personal trainers provide their clients with a service, which means that your trainer should abide by the rules of good customer service. Your trainer should:


Return calls promptly

Don’t expect them to always answer the phone, since they might be busy training someone – you wouldn’t want them answering the phone during your training session, right? – but that doesn’t mean they can’t call you back.


Be on time for your training session

Your trainer should always be on time to your training session. Show them the same respect by showing up on time as well. 


Pay attention to you during training sessions

Your trainer should ask if you are experiencing any discomfort or pain during exercises and listen to your responses. The trainer should also listen to and respond to your own questions and anything else you have to say, whether you are explaining a problem that you encounter when following your exercise program or nutritional recommendations, informing him or her that a particular part of your body has been hurting more than you think it should, personal challenges, etc. Your personal trainer should be focused on collecting and responding appropriately to all information (physical and verbal) that is pertinent to making sure that you avoid injury and reach your fitness goals.


Put in the extra effort

Your trainer should put in the extra effort to ensure that you stay on the path to health and wellness. If you miss a session, a trainer who cares will call you to find out why and make sure that you’re ok and not falling off the fitness bandwagon. A good trainer will give you tips on how to shop for healthy food and prepare healthy meals to ensure that you are eating a sensible diet for your training needs. This doesn’t mean that you should expect your trainer to spend an extra 30 minutes after your session giving you advice. It does mean they should provide you with the resources necessary for you to learn this information on your own and put it into action.

Recognize the value of continuing education by upgrading and improving their knowledge and skills on an annual or semi-annual basis as well as keeping abreast of relevant changes in all aspects of exercise programming theory and techniques.

Virtually every profession requires continuing education, and the personal training profession should be no exception. You entrust your body and life to your personal trainer, and turn to them for questions and advice. Your trainer must be able to provide you with accurate, current information, and the only way for them to do that is to continue their education.

Fitness professionals are responsible for self-assessment of their personal strengths and weaknesses, and for completing continuing education programs designed to ensure their own professional competence. This means that a personal trainer should be able to identify where his or her knowledge is lacking and should take the steps necessary to rectify this situation by actively pursuing further knowledge in that area. Trainers often earn certifications from several different reputable and nationally recognized organizations – this should be viewed as a positive. Each certification organization approaches fitness knowledge and training principles from a different perspective in their educational materials and testing, and offers different specialization certifications, so a trainer with multiple certifications is likely to have a balanced approach to training and be able to train special populations.

ISSA certified trainers are required to complete a minimum of 20 continuing education hours within 2 years of certification in order to renew their personal training certification and maintain their professional status as an ISSA trainer. Failure to meet the continuing education requirements at the time of renewal results in revocation of professional status and ISSA credentials. Other reputable certification organizations have the similar continuing education requirements.


Not knowingly endanger their clients or put their clients at risk

Unless your personal trainer is a licensed allied health care provider (such as a doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist) they should stick to their profession and stay within the realm of exercise training and lifestyle counseling. If you have a special medical condition, your trainer should refer you to proper medical professionals.


Never attempt to diagnose an injury or any other medical or health-related condition

A fitness professional is not a medical professional. Your personal trainer should never give you any kind of medical advice. That is what your doctor is for.


Never prescribe or dispense any kind of medication whatsoever (including over-the-counter medications) to anyone

Physicians are health care providers prescribe medical prescriptions, taking into account your medical history, your current medical condition, and your current medications. Pharmacists are health professionals who evaluate the appropriateness of a prescription, dispense medication, and counsel you on the proper use and adverse effects of that medication. Physicians and pharmacists work together to ensure the safe and effective use of medications. Your personal trainer is not a physician or a pharmacist and should not act like one.


Never attempt to treat any health condition or injury under any circumstance whatsoever (except as standard first aid or CPR procedure may require)

Once again, your personal trainer is not a medical professional! In the event of an emergency, your trainer should call 911, perform any necessary standard first aid and CPR/AED procedures, and have you transported to advanced medical care.


Never recommend an exercise for anyone with a known medical problem without first obtaining clearance to do so and/or instructions from the attending qualified medical professional

If you have a medical problem, you should have made it known to your personal trainer in your initial consultation. Once a trainer learns that you have a medical condition, they should not allow you to engage in an exercise program until your doctor has cleared you for such physical activity. See the Assessments and Fitness Testing section in PART I for more information.


Ensure that CPR/AED certification and knowledge of first aid procedures is current

I’ve already covered why Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training are necessary skills for fitness professionals in PART I. Basic adult CPR/AED certification is a must in order for an individual to be a personal trainer. And yes, it should be current, not expired. Fitness professionals are responsible for updating their CPR/AED status, and any personal trainer who is not CPR/AED certified while training clients is liable.


Work towards the ultimate goal of helping clients become more self-sufficient over time, reducing the number of supervised training sessions

In addition to helping you achieve your own personal fitness goal, your trainer’s long-term objective should be to educate and effectively draw you into the fitness lifestyle and bring you to optimal health. The point of personal training sessions is for you to gradually develop the knowledge and discipline to maintain a fitness lifestyle on your own. Your trainer should have your best interests in mind, and that means helping you reach the point where you don’t need them anymore. This means that your trainer should demonstrate exercise skills for you (including proper form when performing exercises), provide you with facts or background information regarding exercises and procedures, provide you with feedback on your performance, and ask questions regarding exercises and procedures to see if you are learning the necessary knowledge.


Respect client confidentiality and never release client information and records of client cases without written release from the client

This is a no-brainer. Your trainer shouldn’t talk about you with other people, and they should never release any of the records that they are keeping on you and your progress unless they have your written permission to do so.


Charge fees that are reasonable, legitimate, and commensurate with services delivered and responsibility accepted, disclosing any additional fees and services to clients in advance

Your trainer should charge you what their services are actually worth. A personal trainer’s fees are usually based on their experience, education level, knowledge, reputation, and the demonstrated results that they have achieved with former clients. It is always a good idea to ask a trainer for references or testimonials so that you can see what their other clients think of their fitness training services. Most trainers will have you sign a client-trainer contract before your first training session that lays out the fees, payment schedule, session cancellation policy, etc. up front.


Adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in all dealings with clients

Your personal trainer should not lie to you, ever. He or she should be honest about the results that you can expect (and in what timeline) if you follow the exercise program and nutrition recommendations that they give you. Also, he or she should not constantly be trying to push supplements on you. Some supplements can help you reach your fitness goals, but make sure that your trainer is able to explain why they are recommending this for you and how it will work.


Always document training sessions, evaluations, and training programs

Data collection is a continual process for a personal trainer, since that data provides the trainer with feedback regarding your fitness plan and lets him or her know when changes or modifications should be made to your exercise program or nutritional recommendations. Your trainer should document every step of your progress, from your initial consultation until you are no longer their client. Even after you are no longer their client, your personal trainer should keep your file intact with all records in case it is needed in the future.


Always maintain a professional demeanor, not becoming overly friendly with clients

Personal trainers should not become intimately involved with their clients. That is overstepping the boundaries of professionalism, and is unacceptable.

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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

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