Personal Trainers and Fitness Professionals: A Healthcare or Service Occupation?

This content sponsored by W.I.T.S.

The fitness industry has had a long history and evolution. Through research and practice, it is widely accepted that fitness and exercise are not fads or gimmicks but are significant components of the healthcare continuum. Regular exercise is directly related to positive health and quality of life, and it can delay if not prevent the onset of disease. The benefits are even greater when the exercise program is customized to be safe and effective for the individual's needs, interests, fitness level, health and goals. The positive impact of qualified and competent personal trainers who follow scientific principles for prescribing individualized fitness programs for their clients cannot be denied. In fact, one might argue that a personal trainer who works with a client regularly can have a greater impact on an individual's health and longevity than that person's physician whom he or she may see once a year.

In spite of the role that personal trainers play in the healthcare continuum, the profession does not have the recognition it deserves. Outside of the fitness industry, personal training is not given the respect of other healthcare and related occupations. In fact, the Department of Labor Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) lists personal trainers under Fitness and Recreation Workers, which is part of the Personal Service occupation category. Although personal trainers are providing a personal service, this occupation classification lumps together hairdressers, chauffeurs, butlers and tour guides. Is this the most logical place for an occupation that can have such an impact on a person's health status?

There are other options that make much more sense for the SOC of personal trainers and other fitness professionals, which may ultimately impact the recognition and respect that the industry receives. Specifically, the Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations category may be one option. Occupations listed in that category include: physicians, dentists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, recreational therapists and dietitians. Those professions seem to be much more compatible with the work that personal trainers perform.

Another option to consider is the Healthcare Support Occupations category. Occupations in this category include occupational therapy assistants, massage therapists, physical therapist assistants, home health aides and a separate listing for miscellaneous healthcare support occupations.

The impact of this classification system and the position of personal trainers and fitness professionals within the classification system is profound. Information about occupations—employment levels and trends, pay and benefits, demographic characteristics, skills required and many other items—is widely used by individuals, businesses, researchers, educators and public policymakers. Fortunately, the SOC is not set in stone, and revisions are considered every 10 years to reflect changes in the economy and the nature of work. The changes are made with revision requests and public comments submitted by those affected by the classification. In fact, the Department of Labor is currently working on the 2018 SOC changes, and there is still time to submit a request and provide comment, but time is running out.

If you agree that personal trainers and fitness professionals contribute to the healthcare continuum and deserve the recognition and respect of a healthcare occupation, you must get involved. The reclassification and repositioning of the occupation won't happen unless invested individuals, employers, and educators make it happen. Below, you will find instructions that are directly from the Department of Labor's website. The steps for getting involved, submitting a request, offering public comment and participating in the process are included and additional information can be found at  Make your voice heard, and let's unite as an industry to elevate the profession.

To discuss this issue further, please contact Amy Hyams, Ed.D., vice president of educational services at W.I.T.S. at [email protected]

How to Provide Input to the 2018 SOC Revision

1. Carefully review the Classification Principles and Coding Guidelines. As these provide benchmarks for the SOC Policy Committee's reference in developing its recommendations. Comments that reflect these principles and guidelines are more relevant.

2. Carefully review the elements of a detailed SOC occupation.

3. Review the Input Requested by the SOC Policy Committee section above. Provide specific and detailed information and documentation that addresses—as much as possible—the types of information described in that section.

 4. Provide information on the nature of the work performed, including specific activities and tasks.

This is the most important type of information. Indications of activities that are required of all workers and those that may be performed by the worker are also helpful.

5. Prepare well-organized and concise comments. Remember that the SOC Policy Committee will likely be reviewing hundreds of comments.

All comments should be submitted as responses to the Federal Register notices, using the submittal procedures described in the notices. This will ensure comments and recommendations are included on the dockets that the SOC Policy Committee will review. The SOC Policy Committee encourages those interested in commenting, as well as others, to monitor the SOC revision process on the SOC website at On this site, you can subscribe to receive e-mail updates. You can also review SOC materials, including the 2010 SOC, the Direct Match Title File, the 2010 SOC Classification Principles and Coding Guidelines, the Federal Register notices for the 2010 revision and more.

You can find out more on this topic by attending the Personal Trainer Summit at this year's Club Industry Show. The Summit is from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 23, at McCormick Place in Chicago.