Independent Contractor Agreements for Personal Trainers | Learn: Your Fitness Business Resource

Independent Contractor Agreements for Personal Trainers

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

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UPDATED: Aug 25, 2020

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  • An independent contractor agreement means a trainer isn’t an employee. The trainer is their own boss, and they train clients at the gym for a fee.
  • Trainers who work as independent contractors control the details of their own work. They decide how to conduct training sessions and set their own terms for working with clients.
  • If the gym treats the trainer as an employee, they might legally be an employee. An employer-employee relationship can exist legally even if there’s an independent contractor agreement.
  • There are benefits and drawbacks of an independent contractor agreement for both the gym and the trainer. The gym doesn’t control the trainer’s work, but the trainer must keep their own insurance and education up to date.

An independent contractor agreement is a written contract that puts a business relationship in writing between a gym and a personal trainer. It’s a document that makes it clear that the personal trainer isn’t an employee of the gym. Instead, the personal trainer remains their own boss and is in charge of the specifics of their work.

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In exchange, the trainer can offer training sessions at the gym. The trainer decides how to train their client. The gym usually pays a trainer a flat fee for training sessions. The gym may refer clients to the trainer. The agreement may or may not allow the trainer to also work at other locations while they train clients at the gym.

Key Features of an Independent Contractor Agreement

When a trainer is an independent contractor, they control the specifics of their work. The gym operators can’t tell the trainer to have clients do specific exercises or stick to any kind of training plan. The gym can’t make rules that all of the trainers must do things in a similar way.

While the trainer has use of the gym and pays the gym a fee for each client, the trainer is free to act as their own boss. Gyms and trainers can use an agreement to make it clear that the trainer doesn’t receive benefits from the gym. The agreement can also state that the trainer must maintain professional liability insurance for their work.

An independent contractor agreement may be detailed and specific, or it might only confirm the lack of an employment relationship. The agreement usually states what equipment and supplies the gym will provide and what the trainer needs to provide.

For example, the agreement might state that the gym provides weights, machine use, and other fitness equipment, but the trainer must provide their own paperwork, clothing, footwear, and nutritional supplements.

Why Have an Independent Contractor Agreement?

There are reasons why both gyms and trainers might prefer an independent contractor relationship to an employer-employee relationship. From the gym’s perspective, working with an independent contractor instead of an employee can protect the gym from legal liability if accidents occur.

If a client gets hurt because of the trainer’s negligence, the independent contractor agreement might work to the gym’s favor to protect them from legal liability. In addition, without an employee relationship, the gym doesn’t have to manage income withholding for taxes.

From the trainer’s perspective, an independent contractor agreement can allow the trainer to remain in control of their work. The trainer has the final say over the details of their work. That control allows the trainer to build their own business and reputation based on their own strengths and their own decisions.

Maintaining control can allow the trainer to build their brand and their business instead of simply holding a job. The contractor agreement may also allow the trainer to take their clients and client information with them if they ever decide to work with another gym.

Is an Independent Contractor Agreement Enforceable?

Just signing an independent contractor agreement isn’t enough to make a trainer an independent contractor. Even if a gym and trainer sign the agreement, they must treat each other as contractors rather than an employer and an employee in order to keep the legal relationship as contractors.

If there’s ever a legal dispute between gym and trainer, the court or other government agency looks at a number of factors to determine the relationship between the gym and trainer:

  • Does the trainer have to wear clothing issued by the gym?
  • Can the trainer refuse clients referred by the gym?
  • Does the trainer attend staff meetings?
  • Can the trainer work for other gyms?
  • Who keeps the client list if the trainer leaves the gym?
  • Does the gym mandate certain training programs for the trainer?
  • Does the gym reimburse the trainer for business expenses?

There’s no clear answer on what percentage of trainers work as contractors instead of employees. Whether a trainer is an independent contractor or employee depends on the specific nature of each relationship and the way the gym and trainer interact.

The exact characterization of the relationship may never be an issue until there’s conflict in the relationship between the gym and the trainer. However, when there is a disagreement or a difference in opinion, each element of the trainer’s work may be important for determining the trainer’s relationship with the gym.

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Examples of Independent Contractor Relationships

In one case, the New Hampshire Superior Court determined that a trainer was an independent contractor where the gym and trainer had a detailed, written agreement that spelled out the nature of the agreement. The agreement said that the gym didn’t control the trainer’s work. The gym required the trainer to pay for their own continuing education courses.

The trainer also paid their own taxes. The court said that there was “no question” that the business relationship was that of an independent contractor.

In another case out of California, the court said that no employee relationship existed because the trainer paid the gym a fee so they could conduct personal training sessions in the gym’s facilities.

Using an Independent Contractor Agreement to Your Advantage

An independent contractor agreement allows the parties to clarify their expectations before their business relationship begins. Just having the agreement alone can be enough to save disagreements between a gym and a trainer.

The gym and the trainer should have a clear agreement in place. The agreement should be in writing.

Once the parties have an agreement in place, they must follow its terms if the agreement is going to be enforceable.

If the parties follow the terms of the agreement, there’s a good chance that a court or other government agency will uphold the agreement. Having a written independent contractor agreement can help a trainer keep a good working relationship with their gym while they work to build their brand as they help clients set and reach their goals.

Working with an Independent Contractor Agreement

An independent contractor agreement solidifies the nature of the trainer’s relationship with the gym. It’s important to read it carefully to ensure that the agreement covers all of the important topics.

An independent contractor agreement is enforceable only if both the trainer and the gym abide by the agreement’s terms and treat the trainer like a contractor while they train clients at the gym.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Which personal training certification is the best one?

All of the various personal training certifications have different requirements, costs, study materials, exam details, recertification requirements, and continuing education credits (CECs) or units (CEUs). It’s important to do your homework and review all of the details before deciding on which one is best for you. The certifications that have been NCCA-accredited are more reputable than others that are not accredited because they have met a certain level of standards for the certification.

How long should I study for a personal training certification exam?

It varies among individuals. If you recently finished a degree with courses covering most of the content in the exam, you might be able to take it more quickly than someone who does not have that background. With NESTA, once you register for the exam, you have 90 days to complete the exam. Other organizations will vary on their timelines.

How much money do personal trainers make?

This varies depending on location, experience, and how many clients you are training.

Where can I train my personal training clients?

There are a number of places where you could train your clients like a gym, a park, your home, their home, or your own studio.

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