The following is a letter to the editors of IDEA Fitness Journal. In their most recent issue, they report on Planet Fitness’s decision to eliminate personal training as a part of their business. The CEO of Planet Fitness made the comment that using a personal trainer was tantamount to “renting friends.” After spending the last 25 years working to change that perception and provide a truly professional service, that comment was more than I could take…I had to respond with a letter to the editor. The following is a copy of that correspondence. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

I received our March IDEA Fitness Journal and read about Planet Fitness’s decision to eliminate personal training. It struck me that you must have worn a bit of a smile when you asked for feedback, knowing how real professionals would respond.

There is much I can say, but will focus on the CEO’s comment that hiring personal trainers is tantamount to “just renting friends.” If that is how he describes what we do, I wonder how he describes selling thousands of 15.00/month memberships to people needing help, but end up discouraged and rarely even walking in the front door.

This move is a positive for the personal training industry. Planet Fitness isn’t in the business of helping people get fit or developing fitness professionals. They simply manage facilities with exercise equipment in them. I am certain that what they called “personal training” was anything but. The longer they claimed to provide personal training, the more consumers would be misinformed about our value.

The model most health clubs use is clearly flawed. They invest nothing in their human capital, instead choosing to hire independent contractors with the hope that their “certification” means they are competent. Our experience is that generally, they are not. Even those who intellectually know what they should be doing most often don’t know how to artfully deliver a high quality experience.

For years we have (successfully) worked to overcome the perception that a personal trainer is a “workout buddy.” Our trainers, regardless of background, go through our in-house, eight week training program and never touch a client until they have demonstrated they are capable of delivering what we refer to as “One on One quality” work. The lion’s share of the training program is spent teaching them the “art” of training…how to be professionals.

We specifically address the importance of not getting into what we call “the buddy zone.”  Our team members are taught to avoid talking about themselves or discussing matters that are outside their field of expertise. This investment in our team is significant, but it sets us apart. We do over 400 sessions per week and our clients have been with us for an average of just under 5 years. We are truly making a difference in people’s lives…both our clients’ and our team members.

What consumers want is a professional interaction and results. They are not interested in “renting friends.” This is a fact that many aspiring trainers fail to realize until it is too late.

It sounds like Planet Fitness did a good job of attracting many of these aspiring trainers.