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Achieving Professional Status

by Phil Kaplan

This article was originally published in Club Industry Magazine.


It's a great word, an adjective that can make a big difference.

In sports, we can all define a professional athlete, the people who receive compensation for outstanding ability and performance. Similarly, in medical and legal arenas, the "P-word" is clearly understood.

Not so in our industry.


While trainers can acquire certification from any of the more than 100 certifying agencies and stake claims to the "Professional" title, a uniform definition for “Fitness Professional” does not exist. The industry remains unregulated, and anyone willing to splurge for business cards can print “Personal Trainer” in bold type.

To establish professional income in the fitness industry (comparable to the professional income in other industries), it's first essential to develop a professional standard.

Many trainers spend their days counting backward. If trainers limit their focus to walking clients through routines, professionalism will always be in question.

In order to command professional fees, trainers must first recognize the importance of perception and adjust marketing accordingly. If, through strategic marketing, a fitness professional can place him- or herself on a “value” platform with legal and medical professionals, income limitations are obliterated.

The Challenges

The absence of professional recognition frustrates personal trainers, particularly those with acceptable credentials. Our industry asks trainers to conduct free assessments, free orientations or free workouts, placing the perceived value of training services at zero. Trainers must climb a steep hill to rise from “valueless” to “valuable,” becoming a profesional worthy of handsome fees.

Further compounding the frustration, supplements, drugs and spot-reduction devices are hawked in a media-driven frenzy. Given the choice between “take a pill and melt fat” or “retain a trainer and work hard,” people often pick the pill.

Go Beyond Rep Counting

Trainers must be viewed as resources, not only for exercise prescription, but for basic understandable truths that relate to improving a human body. People are failing to find desired results due to ineffective technologies being promoted as reputed solutions. Professional trainers should establish positions as recognized experts who guide hopefuls through the maze of misinformation.

Initiating Change

When global change takes place, it's initiated by a rare few willing to break an old paradigm. An elite core of bold trainers must unite and take a stand. Professionals deserve to be paid for their time.

In the health club industry, there must be a middle ground where owners, trainers and sales forces meet. The trainer can spark dramatic revenue increases, but only if positioned to do so.

A perceived “expert” can guide members to make purchases, participate in for-fee programs, and ultimately to renew and refer. To position the trainer to succeed in this manner, there should be a clear value attached to all personal training services. Moving toward this end will take collaboration of all components of the health club “team.”

Trainers will be respected as professionals if they are placed in a position where information has value. They can author articles in local publications, appear as guests on local television and radio programs, and conduct seminars for varied groups.

I teach trainers to arrange health fairs where they include themselves alongside doctors as speakers; this boosts the perception of professionalism. Developing a newsletter that integrates articles from physicians with articles penned by trainers also creates the perception of professional expertise.

Trainers should not be presented as another “feature” in clubs, but as the vehicles most likely to bring new and existing members the results they seek. In order to perpetuate the recognition of trainer professionalism and pave the way for professional fees, three elements need to be in place:

  1. A collaboration between owners, sales forces and trainers to establish a professional position linking the training staff with value.

  2. A standard that allows trainers to act confidently and accurately as resources for basic understandable truths.

  3. A commitment to combine strategic marketing and dedicated effort to deliver more value than members expect.

With the establishment of a professional standard and a focus on the elements above, trainers can become the heroes of an industry capable of benefiting the health and fitness of America and the world.

Professional Traits

In the June 1995 edition of his Health & Wealth newsletter, Phil Kaplan shared the traits (beyond certification) that he believes can qualify a trainer as a professional. These traits, listed below, are not included in any specific order; they are all equally important.

    • Extraordinary people skills
    • Ability to motivate
    • Creativity
    • Acceptable level of knowledge in exercise technique, exercise theory, human physiology, human nutrition
    • Exceptional knack for applying that knowledge to bring about changes in others
    • Responsibility
    • Honesty
    • Concern for people
    • Integrity
    • Loyalty
    • Marketing ability
    • Willingness to keep abreast of new developments
    • Exceptional communication skills

Phil Kaplan is the author of Personal Training Profits and A Secure Fitness Future and one of the world’s most in-demand fitness professionals. His PEAK Training seminar program helps fitness professionals build and develop their careers. He can be reached at 800.552.1998 or you can visit him on the Web at www.philkaplan.com.


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