Legal and Ethical Scope of Practice for Personal Trainers: A Primer on Professional Conduct

Legal Scope Of Practice

With the lines of health and fitness professionals, including certified personal trainers, being continually blurred with all the cross-over, synergy, and holistic education programs/niches available, it can be quite difficult to discern what is within a personal trainer’s legal and ethical scope of practice with regard to their business.

For those who hold multiple certifications, licenses in other health industries, or doctoral degrees, your scope of practice will be dictated by your highest level of education or licensure in the area of question. For those who are solely fitness professionals, first and foremost, there are several areas of consideration where knowing the law and the boundaries can be the difference between your ending your career and continued success.

Scope of Practice for NFPT Personal Trainers

There are plenty of areas where personal trainers should excel and focus on with regard to best practices and continuing education. Although being the most professional and adept trainer is not limited to the following, this is a checklist you should have no problem ticking off:

Personal training is a job that starts with heart, motivation, and a love for all things fitness. But, there’s much more to it than your own personal motivation to be fit. Your clients’ needs, goals, and health are entrusted to you; taking that responsibility seriously is the difference between a fitness enthusiast and an effective professional personal trainer.

A good personal trainer delivers safe, effective, fun, and interesting workouts to all of their clients. The training programs you develop should be varied and progressive, and geared toward improving your clients’ health and wellness. As a trainer, you should be enthusiastic and supportive, so that your clients remain interested and stimulated, which helps ensure they stick with the program — and with you.

What Personal Trainers Should NOT Do

While personal trainers often assume multiple roles with their clients — which sometimes includes being a coach, cheerleader, or confidant, there are some responsibilities that personal trainers should avoid.

  • DO NOT give medical advice, physical therapy advice, or attempt to make a medical diagnosis.
  • DO NOT create specific meal plans and/or dietary recommendations that include portioning and/or timing of meals and/or supplementation.
  • DO NOT provide body massage to clients, or any similar service that can be construed as inappropriate touch.
  • DO NOT serve as a psychological counselor to clients or offer mental health advice.
  • DO NOT have a romantic or interpersonal relationship with a client.
  • DO NOT push your own preferences for fitness goal-setting on clients who do not seek out those same goals.
  • DO NOT flagrantly upsell your services or steer your clients towards products or programs they neither need nor want.
  • DO NOT allow your credentials, liability insurance, and other trainer business standards/practices to lapse.

When in doubt, refer out. Having a mentor or other close fitness professional to consult when uncertain situations arise can help you navigate ambiguous territory regarding scope of practice. And be sure to check out the detailed Codes of Conduct for NFPT personal trainers, for additional guidelines.

Become a Master Fitness Trainer


NFPT Publisher Michele Rogers, MA, NFPT-CPT, manages and coordinates educational blogs and social media content for NFPT. She’s been a personal trainer for 20 years with a lifetime passion for all things health and fitness. Her mission is to raise kinesthetic awareness and nurture a mind-body connection. After battling chronic lower back pain and becoming a parent, Michele aims her training approach to emphasize corrective exercise and pain resolution. She holds a master’s degree in applied health psychology from Northern Arizona University. Follow Michele on Instagram.