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 Fitness Information Center: Professional Ethics - The choices we make will determine the success of our industry  
Gregory Welch L. MS, ATC ©
How often have you heard the word ethics used in relation to business? Whether the term is used to recognize high ethical standards or criticize unethical practices, it's a concept many businesses are currently discussing.

Any industry thrives if the public decides in favor of the industry's product. Buying decisions are based on perceptions of the product's value as well as of the industry as a whole.

The key word is perception. A perceptive person is one who can discern the truth of a particular matter. However, a person's "perception" of an entity or object does not necessarily have anything to do with truth. Information need not be factual or pertinent to create or change a person's perception. For example, a common perception is that personal training is a fad for the rich and famous. The fact is that training can be a significant facilitator of wellness.

When an industry (like personal training) is based primarily on service, every word, action and deed of every individual within the industry affects the perception of prospective buyers. If the perception is that the industry is unethical, the industry will not prosper. For example, look at the negative impact on the health club industry of clubs that presold memberships and then folded--or that oversubscribed in the hope members wouldn't show up. Reliable, service-oriented clubs are still fighting to differentiate themselves from the negative perception created by those clubs.

Obviously, we don't want that to happen to personal training. However, trainers are in a vulnerable position. We are the "new kids on the block" in the fitness industry, and we are being watched closely. We should be very concerned about how the public perceives us and how other health care professions view our contributions to wellness.

Professional ethics in business-or the standard of right and wrong-might appear to be a rather simple concept. We can generally count on adults' abilities to differentiate between right and wrong. However, not every decision is black and white. Circumstances commonly occur that place many choices in a "gray" area. In business, the gray area of professional ethics is ever increasing due to the complexities and sensitivities of the marketplace. The advertising industry is well aware of this point as it continues to connect cigarette smoking with a positive lifestyle.

How then do we shelter our profession from the negative connotations that could harm it? From my observation of the industry, I feel that trainers' behaviors in the following areas will dictate the public's response to our industry.

Misrepresenting Results
Although misrepresentation is almost commonplace in our society, we don't have to do it. Don't you think misrepresentation is simply a watered-down term for fraud? Personal trainers, like people in any business, run the risk of misrepresenting themselves in three major areas: (1) results, (2) knowledge and (3) products.

1. Claims of What We as Personal Fitness Trainers, Can Do for a Client. Slogans on fitness business cards and advertisements often say something like. "Get the body you've always wanted." While pursuing the perfect body is certainly the client's prerogative, prudent disclosure by the trainer about possible limiting factors, such as genetics, is warranted. "Let me help you reach your optimal potential" would be a more appropriate slogan. Let's not fall into the ''don't forget to read the fine print" category of business. Clients who have been fooled by a personal trainer will certainly spread the word about their bad experience.

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