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Personal trainers and ethical conduct

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 11th of February 2014 Hadyn Luke 11/02/2014

Tags: Client analysis

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Because personal trainers influence the health and wellbeing of their clients, they have a responsibility to behave in an ethical manner – and ethics in personal training is the subject of this blog.

There are two potential areas where ethics can be applied:

  1. In the training programmes and advice the fitness instructor delivers
  2. In the general business activities of the fitness professional

Why is ethical conduct important?

Ethical conduct in personal training is important for several reasons. The first argument is simply that it’s a moral decision – behaving in an ethical manner is the right thing to do.

Another reason is that you are more likely to win and retain clients if they feel that you are treating them honestly and fairly and that you have their best interests at heart.

A third reason is that – especially in this digital age – you are unlikely to be able to operate unethically for long. You may even leave yourself open to litigation, which could damage your business or prevent you from working in the industry again.

An individual should not set themselves up as a personal trainer or fitness instructor without the correct qualifications (see our blogs on The importance of qualifications in the fitness industry and What qualifications do I need to become a personal trainer?). If they start work without the correct knowledge of their subject, they risk causing injury to their clients. They should also ensure that they keep abreast of advances in their profession through continuing study, for example, taking a more advanced fitness course.

A personal trainer acting unethically may also damage the reputation of their profession.

What are the most important ethical concerns?

One of the key issues a personal trainer will need to address is the safe and effective delivery of their instruction. Health and safety regulations exist because it’s all too easy for a client to injure themselves in a gym environment and the personal trainer should take responsibility for their clients’ safety.

A personal trainer has a duty of care towards clients and is responsible for creating a safe working environment to minimise the chance of accident or injury. If working with younger clients, a fitness instructor should be aware of their different needs and abilities, as well as taking responsibility for their physical and mental safety while the client is in their care (see our blog on Gym instruction for adolescents).

The ethical approach also means getting to know your clients, analysing their fitness levels, finding out what their goals are and working out targeted exercise programmes that will help them achieve this aim (see our blog on The importance of fitness testing).

While working with a client, a personal trainer should be aware of how they are coping with the programme, bearing in mind such aspects as hydration (see our blog on The importance of hydration) and ensuring they get a proper warm up and cool down (see our blog on Flexibility and warming up). Proper supervision is essential – it’s unethical to set a client off on an exercise and then stand chatting on the phone until they finish.        

REPs and its code of ethical conduct

The Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) is an independent public register that recognises the qualifications and expertise of fitness instructors in the UK and provides a system of regulation to ensure they meet national industry standards.

As such, it places great store by its Code of Ethical Conduct and expects registered professionals to adhere to its principles.

REPs sees the role of an exercise professional is to:

  • Identify and meet the needs of individuals
  • Improve performance or fitness through programmes of safe, effective and enjoyable exercise
  • Create an environment in which individuals are motivated to maintain participation and improve performance or fitness
  • Conform to a Code of Ethical Conduct in a number of areas – rights, relationships, personal responsibilities, professional standards, safe working practice

Ethics in business

Anyone who works in a business environment will encounter situations that require ethical decisions, whether working as a self-employed personal trainer or as a manager or sports trainer in a gym.

These can include issues such as transparency in your pricing structure, ensuring a client isn’t short changed on the time allocated to their training session and adhering to advertising standards.

Going into a profession for the money alone is not usually a recipe for success. A passion for helping others achieve their fitness goals is likely to drive your business much more than chasing the bottom line.

On a more personal level, it’s important that a fitness instructor does not discriminate against clients on the basis of age, gender, race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. They should also practice discretion with any personal information given by clients.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a personal trainer or fitness instructor is placed in a position of trust by the nature of their work. Honest, open, transparent and integrity driven dealings with all clients should be a starting point – and ultimately these make good business sense. 

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