A Code of Ethics for Personal Trainers

A Code of Ethics for Personal Trainers

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A Code of Ethics for Personal Trainers

By Rob Rowland-Smith



Welcome to Fitness PRO, the new industry magazine.


Over the next two months, we’ll provide you with a series of articles to give you a taste of what our industry experts will provide in Fitness PRO Magazine. With a focus on all aspects of the fitness industry, this series of PT-focused articles will give you an idea of the in-depth, all-round industry knowledge you can gain from a new subscription.



Cert IV achieved - check. 
Love of all things health and fitness - check.
Bundles of energy and enthusiasm - check.
Client base begins to build - check.

All the technical knowledge, passion and personal experience in training can never fully prepare you for the challenges and trials that will come with your job. The only thing that can prepare you for it is mentoring from someone withthose years under their belt (and listening closely), or experiencing failures so you can ultimately learn the right way. Both will get you there eventually.

Here’s my top list of ‘ethics’ from my decades of experience – the ones they don’t tell you about! Take them as you will, I’ve learnt them along the way. Most of my learnings have come from making mistakes - lots of them! But, I have learnt from them over my journey; I am older and wiser.

Pinching someone else’s client – in short: DON’T. It’s inevitable that clients move around. Be respectful that we are all in this business to earn a living; your enemy is ‘un-health and un-fitness’, not other PTs. It’s a relatively small industry, so avoid bad-mouthing and canvassing clients from other trainers.


At arm’s length – you are a PT, not a trained therapist. As with all ‘service’ industries, when you’re one-on-one with someone, you can end up seeing someone at their most vulnerable. It can become a very sticky, confused mess if you don’t draw your lines very clearly. Be aware of your role; take an interest in their life, but don’t become an emotional crutch. People have family, friends and paid therapists for that. I made the mistake once; inadvertently becoming a client’s number one emotional support through a tough patch in their life. When I pulled back I was accused of not being there as a support. It was difficult - and nasty - and I should never have put myself in that position.  Lesson learnt… the hard way.


Be upfront about financial costs – there is nothing worse than souring a client relationship with an invoice dispute. At its worst, it will spell the end of the relationship; at best, it will be an uncomfortable conversation. Ensure everyone is accepting of all costs involved; GST, equipment hire etc. It is inevitable that there will be increases in price over time; put the increase in writing and state, with notice, when the price increase will start (not ‘as of today’!). Don’t casually mention it at the end of a session, or worse still, say nothing and see if they say anything after receiving the next invoice. You must give your clients the opportunity to decline further sessions if it doesn’t meet their financial situation.


Be attentive – I’ve said it before: DO NOT answer your phone while you are in a session. It’s my pet peeve; your clients are paying you for your time. Unless you are waiting to hear if your wife is in labour, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone else to be butting in. Don’t talk, don’t text, don’t email. Don’t have any conversation other than the one you are having with your client in the session.



Reply, respond, react – one of the difficulties with personal training is the accumulating stack of correspondence which occurs over the course of the day while you are in training sessions. It is imperative that you respond to all client enquiries with a simple voice message/text/email; a simple acknowledgement that the message has been received and will be attended to at your earliest convenience (within 24 hours) is fine. Have a stored text/email template that you can use to reply quickly between sessions. It could be the difference between a new client or not. After the initial acknowledgment, respond appropriately within 24 hours.


Dress and act accordingly – a no-brainer? I’ve spent 20 years as a school teacher. If there was one thing I learnt, it was personal grooming and presentation. Due to my teaching background, I’m fortunate enough to have a few schools as clients. I absolutely love taking the kids - it’s completely different to an adult client and a whole lot of fun. When I show up to take a school session I am not only neatly presented, I am clean shaven - irrespective of the time of day. I have an electric shaver in my car so that if it means having a second shave for the day to take an afternoon session, then so be it. If I have to jump in the harbour after taking a corporate lunchtime group to be presentable when I arrive at a school session, then it happens. And yes, in winter the water is cold! If time doesn’t allow for even that, I have baby wipes in the car, and in the very least I will swipe the armpits for the next victim - sorry, client!
The point is: while it might be passable to have a ‘shadow’ at a 6pm weight session, it’s not okay to turn up to a school looking like I’ve been pulled through a bush backwards - despite feeling like I have sometimes! Be respectful of your clients, present immaculately. 


Don’t be creepy – really. If you think there is any chance anything could be misinterpreted, then don’t do/say/think it. For a long while it seemed like PTs were known as glorified womanisers (it wasn’t that long ago when you couldn’t find a female PT). Thankfully, we’ve shaken that tag for the most part. We do get to see people at their most vulnerable at times (see point two); don’t mistake the cues. Just as in any job, keep it clear and keep it above board. Avoid any position that will make either of you uncomfortable.


Don’t strive to be something you are not – through training, reading and personal experience, you will have a little information that covers a lot of bases. You are a trained personal trainer; not a nutritionist; not a counsellor; not a physiotherapist; not a chiropractor. Don’t be afraid to redirect a client. I have made a point of accumulating professional contacts that I trust and recommend. By all means, give your client your thoughts, but then instruct them to seek professional advice.

Being ethical really comes down to common sense and making smart decisions that will serve you in the long run. We all make mistakes; just learn from them when you do. 

Lastly, remember it’s not a competition. Be respectful of other PTs – we’re all in this together. I try to make a point of saying hello when I pass other PTs – hope to see you out there!

The Sandhill Warrior

Rob Rowland-Smith has been involved with the fitness industry his whole life; before ‘personal trainers’ even existed. As a teenager he was taking peers for training sessions on the beach and today has face-to-face contact with 800+ clients during summer. Rob has trained people all around the world and from all walks of life; world champions, people with disabilities, schoolboy athletes, corporate high-flyers, cab drivers and high-security prison inmates. He believes that to be successful you have to truly love what you do and give others something to smile and laugh about. Quite simply, Rob believes he was put on this earth to be a mentor in this industry; he has built a business around fitness, written books about it, and even spoken about it on radio and television. To learn more, visit http://www.sandhillwarrior.com/profile.php

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