Phil Kaplan on Fitness Professionalism

Opening Note

This is an excerpt from one of the "classic" issues of my Health & Wealth Newsletter. By that I mean it's an issue that has been often requested in back orders and people at my seminars often refer to it. Although I wrote it years ago, every word hold's true today. You'll find, as you go through this, the thought process that lead me to develop my "Coaching ProgramĒ and write my Personal Training Profits book.

OK. A trip back in time . . .


Excerpt, Health & Wealth Newsletter, June '95

A few months ago I wrote about my frustration in interviewing trainers. Forgive me if my renewal of this topic in this monthís issue appears repetitive. Itís just that this interviewing hell Iíve often been subjected to is symptomatic of an industry which, in some areas, comes pretty close to a free for all. I mean, for some reason, this fitness field plays homage to a bunch of idiots running around claiming some astute level of greatness not recognized by anyone but perhaps those who come into my office for interviews.

Now, Iíll surprise you by saying, from a selfish standpoint, and for all of you who are subscribers, I donít think this fitness field mayhem is such a bad thing. Why? Because the cream will rise to the top, and for those who maintain high levels of professionalism, along with of course the proper marketing skills and people talents, the idiots en masse make up an easily passable wall, one which offers great reward for those who have the initiative to make it to the other side.

Iím about to share with you a statement Iíll use to describe professionals and leaders. Before I do, let me clear up the meanings of some of the words Iíll use. It seems many people are using these words with far different definitions than those Iíll relay. I want to make sure weíre all on the same page before I make this profound statement. Here, then, are the definitions.

Professional (pre fe jen ul) adj. maintaining a standard or conduct showing sound workmanís command. engaging in some activity as a renumerated profession.

Qualify (kwo li fai) v. to be considered fit or competent to perform a specific duty or function. to reach a required standard.

Excel (iksel) v. to be superior in quality, degree, performance

Leader (li der) n. someone who holds the foremost or front position. one who sets a standard or holds a position for others to follow.

Here, now, is my statement:

"To Qualify as a Professional in the Fitness Field, I believe itís important to maintain a standard of excellence. To qualify as a leader, I believe itís important to take the qualities of a professional and use them to continuously provide service above and beyond the expectations of customers and clients. A leader should help others to grow by multiplying acquired and inborn skills and talents continuously with a strong concern for maintaining a morale code of the highest integrity."

At the time this Newsletter is being mailed, Bruce, my sign maker, is making that into a sign thatís going to hang outside my office. Maybe that will minimize the use of the words "professional" and "leader" among the many who come into my office for jobs with less professionalism than an orangutan might display put in the same position.

Sometimes they come in straight from the gym wearing grubby sweats and torn up rag tops. Sometimes tattoos jump out of holes in these rag tops. Sometimes they smell worse than the orangutan might. Sometimes I think hiring an orangutan might not be such a bad idea.

Sometimes they sit for the entire meeting putting down everybody and everything in the world outside.

"Do you know so and so? Heís an asshole. I worked for him for a few weeks but he wanted me to help him get clients. Thatís bullshit. Iím professional (at this point I wish I had a button to open the trap door and send him down into the pit of alligators below) enough so that I should just get clients handed to me. Back home (whatever planet that might be), I used to get $1500 a month from some of my clients, even if they didn't get results. I know how to workout."

"Why do you want to be a trainer?"

"Well, all the time people are asking me how I got this great body. I figured if Iím gonna keep telliní Ďem, I may as well get paid for it. Beats the hell out of construction."

"Do you have a construction job now?"

"No." (Iím not surprised)

"Why do you feel youíre qualified to be a Personal Trainer?"

"Hey, Iím more qualified than any of those bozos on ESPN. Did you ever see that one chick who does those aerobics? Man, I donít think anybody would want to look like her. Whoíd she do to get her own show? Now, Kiana, sheís a different story. Sheís smokin. If I had her for one night, Iíd tear Ďer up."

"Perhaps you misunderstood the question. Why do you feel youíre qualified to be a Personal Trainer?"

"If I was gettiní from my clients $1500 a month without haviní no stupid certification, its pretty obvious I got somethiní special." (At this point Iím wishing a hairy ape is sitting in the office outside for the next interview).

"So you are not certified by any agency or organization?"

"Thatís a waste of money. I know this guy who spent like five hundred bucks on a certification and I made ten times more money than him. He didnít even look like a bodybuilder. One day maybe Iíll get one, just to do it. Your girl out there told me that you only hire certified people, but I figured thatís so you know these people know what theyíre doiní. I think you can tell by the way I look that I know what Iím talkiní about (Sure, youíre talking about digging a grave for yourself so deep, I wonít even need alligators). Anyway, she said you thought the best one was ASCM (ooh,all this and dyslexic too!). I could pass that one easy."

My final question, one I didnít ask, but should have:

"Say, werenít you in a few movies with Clint Eastwood? Was it, Clyde?" (If you donít get it, bring this issue to the person behind the desk in your local video store. Heíll explain it to you.)

If you think Iím exaggerating, run an ad for Personal Trainers in the Help Wanted section of your newspaper. Put it under the heading of "Professional." Lay out specific requirements such as "certified." Youíll then realize that if anything, Iím understating the case.

There are, of course, some good ones that come in. Itís just that youíve got to weed through lots of mud, dirt, and sewage to get to the true "professionals."

Professional, if you read my definition and statement, to me is more attitude than achievement. Iíve been fooled and disappointed many times by trainers who appeared "professional" but were simply experienced and educated. Experience and education hardly guarantee "professionalism."

Maybe thatís what makes finding trainers that I am comfortable allowing to wear my name on their shirts so difficult. Education is important, but is not enough. There are a lot of qualities I need to find in a single living breathing thinking human animal before I get anywhere near the "Eureeka, Iíve found it," that I hope for every time someone stops in to fill out an application. I believe, to be a "professional" Personal Trainer, requirements include:

  • Extraordinary People Skills
  • The Ability To Motivate
  • Creativity
  • An Acceptable Level of Knowledge in Exercise Technique
  • An Acceptable Level of Knowledge in Exercise Theory
  • An Acceptable Level of Knowledge in Human Physiology
  • An Acceptable Level of Knowledge in Human Nutrition
  • An Exceptional Knack For Applying That Knowledge To Bring About Changes in Other
  • Responsibility
  • Honesty
  • Concern For People
  • Integrity
  • Loyalty
  • Marketing Ability
  • A Willingness To Keep Abreast of New Developments
  • Exceptional Communication Skills

Wow! Thatís a lot to look for in a single person! Does that mean Iím being too strict, too careful, or too unfair in my qualifying of potential trainers? Does that mean that Iím too discriminating in my search for "professionalism?" Does that mean Iím being unreasonable?

Suppose someone who does not have all of the above qualities picks up a copy of this Newsletter, reads it, and says, "Wow. This is tough. I thought a training career would be fun. Iím giving up." Should I be blamed for jading the outlook of a fitness career hopeful? Well, Iíll take the blame!

I think that working to change bodies is some pretty serious business. I think itís time to stop people from getting ripped off and to truly educate our pathetically unfit society on the simplicity of health and fitness. I think we need a level of "professionalism" with the capability of meeting that end. I think if I discourage someone by simply listing the qualities I feel vital for a rewarding and morally sound Personal Training career, that person needed to be discouraged.

Hereís the point of all this for you. Firstly, if you're looking to hire, donít settle. Iíve made that mistake and paid for it many times over. If youíre looking for professionals in this industry, you have to find people with the qualities of professionals and then raise them to the next level. Leaders can do that. Professionals in fitness, at least by my description, are hard to find. They do, however, exist, and when you find one, you realize it may have been well worth the wait.

If youíre looking to excel, live as a professional and maintain the highest standards possible. That sometimes puts you in a small minority and you may feel isolated in the large field until you establish the "elite" status professionalism allows. Youíll then find comfort in being part of a much smaller field, a field with which youíre thrilled to associate and proud to have found your way into.


I recently did a radio show I called "The Expertís Round Table" with three highly respected professionals, all on the cutting edge of fitness, bodybuilding, and sports nutrition. You might recall my announcement of my desire to do this show in the January 1995 issue. Joining me were, Dr. Michael Colgan, John Parillo, and Anthony Almada. These three professionals had never, to my knowledge, been brought together to discuss the realities of nutrition, supplementation, and physique development and the response to the program was phenomenal!

We discussed protein quality, protein need, single nutrient supplementation, vanadyl sulfate, MCT oil, steroids in sports, and more. Itís hard, honest, unrehearsed conversation.

Although the experts agreed on the basic technology behind getting lean, muscular, fit, and healthy, there were some areas in which they chose to respectfully disagree, and at the very least, some excellent questions were raised.

As further testimony to the expertise and professionalism of my guests (who by the way donít need my provision of testimony to their expertise and professionalism), they put out quality in an industry where, as you by now know, quality is in great demand and short supply. If you donít already have them, get Dr. Colganís books, Optimum Sports Nutrition and The New Nutrition, Medicine For the Millenium. Parillo is the pro bodybuildersí guru and his manuals are on the shelves of more pro and amateur bodybuilders than we can attempt to count. If you donít have them, get them. Anthony Almada, aside from writing valuable articles for many publications including Muscle Media 2000, is the esteemed biochemist behind the release of what I believe to be the first true supplement that lives up to its claims for increasing muscle, Phosphagen, Creatine Monohydrate. If you havenít tried it, try it!


I urge you to work hard to maintain a professional standard of excellence. Love what you do as you deliver a higher quality of service than people have come to expect. Donít get stuck behind that easily passable wall. Rise to the top and together, weíll continue to make a difference in the biggest way possible! Most of all, STAY FIT AND KEEP GROWING!

Closing Note: The "Experts Round Table" program is available on line for free by visiting the archived menu of my Mind & Muscle Fitness Hour Radio Broadcasts.

Additional Note (March 9, 2004) - For the past six months I've had the development of the Personal Training Industry's representative trade association under wraps. The American Association of Personal Trainers (AAPT) is now open for membership. The AAPT will strive to maintain a standard that earns true fitness professionals the success, respect, and recognition they deserve.

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