Find out if you possess any or all of the fifteen traits and values necessary for thriving as a personal trainer. Then see if you pass the three common tests of professionalism that every personal trainer faces.

Why? Because you don’t want to be “that guy” or “that gal”. Have you ever had to work with a co-worker who simply couldn’t understand the definition of professionalism?

No one wants to work with or be “that guy” or “that gal” and you, as a leader and mentor to your clients, have the responsibility to set the tone of the facility and its environment. You don’t have to be the lead trainer or the manager to set the example or “mentor up”; you just have to know how to practice proper etiquette when working with clients and colleagues.

What is professionalism?

Professionalism is more than a pedigree or a collection of certifications. It’s more than a title or a position. Professionalism isn’t about the job you do; it’s about how you perform your duties and the types of behaviors you display.

As a general best practice (and method of building rapport), treat everyone you come in contact with throughout each day as a customer, and customers includes your colleagues. Every client or potential client is a person; every co-worker is a person.

To be successful in this business (or any business), it’s people you have to understand – you can learn the business part – but the people part takes a greater amount of effort. Invest your energy in the people aspect of what you do and success will follow.

Top Professional Traits in Personal Trainers

Clients already expect that you be knowledgeable in your respective discipline; certifications and degrees are a way of stating this without using the words. But what about the other traits that make a personal trainer desirable and professional?

Below are fifteen traits and values necessary for you to thrive as a personal trainer.

  • Punctuality and reliability
  • Supportive of co-workers
  • A growth mindset
  • Prioritize advancement of knowledge and teaching
  • Organizational skills
  • Enthusiastic and courteous demeanor
  • Appropriate attire
  • Code of ethics
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Teamwork mentality
  • Interpersonal and written communication skills
  • Maintain scope of practice
  • Hold yourself and others accountable
  • No gossip policy
  • Confidentiality


While this list of values is not exhaustive, it does include top traits employers and clients look for in someone they wish to hire.

Three Common Scenarios that Test Professionalism

Professionalism, including your value system and code of ethics, will be tested throughout your career. Welcome these challenges because they are opportunities to make mistakes and to grow from them. We all make mistakes.

The Scope of Practice Challenge

Personal trainers have an identified and specific scope of practice (generally speaking). If a personal trainer does not have a degree or license to practice nutrition counseling, it’s advisable to refer clients to a Registered Dietitian to help them with their specific dietary needs.

Clients will not likely know the legal ramifications or scope of practice unless it is clearly communicated to them by their trainer. As such, personal trainers are constantly asked to design a meal plan or menu. This is outside the scope of a personal trainer.

Because this challenges a trainer’s scope of practice, it also tests his or her professionalism and commitment to service excellence. Should a client ask you, as the trainer, to provide a meal plan, the most appropriate, professional, and legally secure way to proceed is to refer the client to a licensed nutritional professional in your facility or network.

Caveat- some trainers are also licensed nutrition professionals. In this case, it would not be outside the scope of practice or a violation of professional standards.

The Counseling Challenge

Clients will develop a certain level of comfort with their personal trainer. This is a good thing and should be encouraged. It’s acceptable to be a sounding board and guide; however, the trouble comes when a client is struggling with something beyond the skill set of the trainer.

For example, if a client is clearly struggling with an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, or other mental health concern, a personal trainer is not qualified to counsel a client. As with the nutrition subject, the professionally appropriate action to take is to refer the client to a mental health professional or social worker in your network

The Comradery Challenge

Working with colleagues and supervisors we don’t “mesh” with is an inevitable experience. Different personalities working together presents unique challenges and, sometimes, can result in inter-office conflicts. Yet, while present, conflicts should not be displayed or discussed with clients.

Sharing your dislike or issues related to a fellow employee with a client is a violation of professional ethics. If a client asks you about a colleague or makes an observation about another trainer, it’s best to not react or have a statement ready that is professional and not disparaging.

For example, if a client questions a technique another trainer is using, your best option is to acknowledge that every trainer has a different philosophy (and that’s true, we do) and to avoid giving the scenario any more focus.

If a trainer is doing something inappropriate in terms of technique or is endangering a client, approach that trainer separately and have a crucial conversation. There’s zero reason to belittle or defame another employee – especially in front of a client. Keep it professional and above board – even when it’s hard!


[info type=”facebook”]What traits and values from the list do you possess? Any you plan to work on? If you’re an NFPT trainer, join the Facebook Community Group to share and if you’re not, come chat with NFPT here![/info].

Erin Nitschke

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at