Responsibilities of a Personal Trainer

When I was at school earning my fitness degree I learned what is and what is not considered to be in the 'Scope of Practice' for a personal trainer.  What my teachers didn't cover was what clients consider the 'scope practice' trainers are supposed to have.  I've written this post in hopes of clarifying matters for trainers and clients alike.

A personal trainer IS responsible for:

  • Education
  • Program Design
  • External Motivation
  • Listening
  • Support
  • Accountability 

A personal trainer is NOT responsible for:

  • Internal Motivation
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Mind Reading
  • Workouts at home
  • Nutrition menu planning
  • Selling supplements

Yesterday I received an email from a client that shared that they were unhappy with the training program I created for them because it wasn't 'fun' and that they would rather be outside made them unhappy with the training program.  This is the 'Readers Digest' version of the email and I wish that I could say that this was the first email of it's kind (or phone call or conversation) I had ever received but it's not.

Years ago I was training a client who wanted to lose weight and so I did everything I could do to support her with her weight loss goal.  After 12 weeks we assessed her progress.  What the assessment showed was that she was stronger and more flexible.  It also showed that she had not lost weight or inches.  The lack of weight loss didn't concern me much because muscle is 4 times more dense than fat and she had gained strength which means that she gained muscle.  Needless to say she was somewhat discouraged.

After asking her a bunch of questions I discovered that she wasn't doing her scheduled cardio workouts on her own, she was only working out when she was with me, she was eating ice cream most days of the week as well as enjoying home made beer daily.  Even though I brought this to her attention somehow it was my fault that she wasn't getting the results she wanted.

I really wish that this was the only client I've ever worked with that this has happened with but it's more common than you may think.  Hiring a personal trainer and expecting the results you want without putting in the effort on your own to achieve your goals is unrealistic.  For years I went above and beyond for clients like the one in the example above because I am SO passionate about supporting my clients to achieve their goals.  One day I realized that I was getting resentful towards these clients which just about broke my heart.  I thought what on Earth is wrong with me?  Well I spent quite a bit of time pondering that question and what I realized is that it wasn't me it was the client.  I had the epiphany that I cared more about my clients health than they did. 

It didn't matter how much I wanted them to be healthy and happy if they weren't willing to even meet me half way then there was nothing that I could ever do to help them reach their goals.  I take what I do very seriously and put a tremendous amount of time, effort and energy into creating custom programs for my clients based on their needs, their goals and their likes.  I will go above and beyond for my clients and have many, many times but I am no longer willing to care more about their health than they do.

Another point that is super important to cover is that unless a personal trainer has a nutrition degree they are NOT qualified to give specific dietary advice or sell you supplements.  The only ones truly qualified to give specificnutrition information and recommend supplements are Certified Nutritionists or Registered Dieticians.  To become a Certified Nutritionist you need an Masters in nutrition and to become a Registered Dietician requires the MA + an additional 1000 hours of internship experience.  Most trainers do not have this training, in fact I haven't met one yet but I'm sure that there must be a few out there.

As part of my degree I was required to take three 10 week nutrition classes: intro to nutrition, nutrition for sports performance and nutrition for weight loss.  Even though I've taken these classes it does not make me qualified to give specific nutrition advice.  I can give general information which outlines healthy eating habits but I do not help clients with menu planning unless I have gotten the information directly from a registered dietician.  Food is very powerful and we trainers need to be respectful that we are trained in biomechanics and physiology not nutrition.

Going back to the beginning and the email I received - I did design a workout program using the equipment they wanted to use - equipment that they had available, a program that met the needs they stated they had.  I taught them a way to determine how hard they working when doing their cardio inside so that they could do their cardio outside at peak efficiency during nice weather.  Due to their state of health it is SUPER important for them to do the specific strength training exercises in the customized training program that I created for them.  When clients are with me in person I can and often do make the workouts fun but I have no control over what happens when they are at home.  That's their responsibility.

I will continue to do everything I can to be the best possible personal trainer and wellness coach I can which includes having the 'hard' conversations with clients about what is and what is not my responsibility in our relationship.  I'll leave you with a question, a thought to ponder......  Is there a place in your life that you are resentful or frustrated with someone else? 

If so I challenge you to ask yourself:

  • What part am I playing in the relationship?
  • What is my responsibility and am I doing everything in my power to have a positive impact?   
  • What can I do to have different results
  • Am I blaming someone else or making someone else responsible for me and my actions?

Only you can answer these questions and the answer(s) may surprise or even upset you but if you take the answers to heart and do your best to take personal responsibility you WILL be happier and more motivated than ever before.

At the end of the day the only person who is responsible for me is me and the same goes for you.  Here's to Personal Responsibility!  WUHOO!!!  Trust me it really IS a good thing.

Here's to your Health, Wellness and Fitness

Jennifer Malocha CEO of Fun at Wuhoo Fitness