Both the IDEA Personal Trainer Code of Ethics and the IDEA Group Fitness Instructor Code of Ethics urge fitness professionals to “uphold a professional image through conduct and appearance.”

However, what type of clothing helps fitness professionals project the right image? Some owners and managers believe that providing uniforms is key to maintaining a consistent business image, especially for personal trainers. Others think that a uniform can hinder job function, particularly for instructors.

Why do some fitness businesses require uniforms for certain job positions and others don’t? Here are the pros and cons of uniforms plus guidelines for selecting a uniform.

Pros of Wearing a Uniform

Most businesses require uniforms for personal trainers. Why?

Creates Staff Identity. Paris fitness professional Fred Hoffman, MEd, who has helped companies launch their personal training services and is the 2007 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, always recommends that companies provide T-shirts, sweatshirts or jackets that clearly define the personal trainers. “The uniforms provide a sense of value and recognition to the personal trainers,” he explains.

Promotes Professionalism. “Uniforms make your company more professional and keep everyone on the same page,” says Nicki Anderson, president of Reality Fitness Inc., in Naperville, Illinois. “People recognize who is staff and who is not. Plus, I liken it to why I love school uniforms: no one can out-dress anyone.”

Increases Approachability. A uniform makes the trainer visible, says Charlie Hoolihan, personal training director of Pelican Athletic Club in Mandeville, Louisiana. “A passing member can see what is happening during the workout and identify the trainer within a professional workout,” he explains. “Plus members can feel like they can ask a trainer a question about a workout and get a good answer. This helps establish member relationships.”

Cons of Wearing a Uniform

While many trainers like wearing uniforms, others frown on them. For example, a trainer in the Hawaiian Islands, who requested to remain anonymous, feels that uniform tops are often uncomfortable or unstylish. “I need shirts made of stretchy material so I can move freely when demonstrating exercises to clients,” she says. “Uniform material can often be too warm, which is a big issue here in Hawaii. I think a name tag should be enough to identify a personal trainer or, better yet, one of those cards you can wear on a cord around your neck like you see at the conventions. Then you can comfortably
exhibit your own style of clothing.”

Uniform Examples

What type of uniforms do fitness businesses provide for their staff? Here are a variety of responses:

  • Trainer uniforms at Pelican Athletic Club consist of a navy or black short-sleeve T-shirt, a polo shirt, a long-sleeve T-shirt and a sweatshirt, says Hoolihan. “The uniform has our business name on the left-hand side of the front and ‘personal trainer’ on the back. If trainers have a favorite style of shirt that is nice-looking and conforms to our colors, they can bring the shirts to the screen printer and have the logos put on them. Our female trainers like this [option] because it gives them choices for a little more stylish uniform.”
  • The Keystone Athletic Club in Poway, California, chose an athletic look and the color red for its trainer uniforms, notes Lynn Frank, group fitness director and personal trainer. “Trainers can wear a choice of a company-provided red top in a T-shirt, tank or baby-doll style, with the club’s name on it.”
  • Staff trainers and instructors at the Oahu Club in Honolulu get two logo shirts of their choice from the stock for sale in the retail shop, notes L. Kae Graniel, the group fitness and personal training director. “They can also bring in any two pieces of their own, and we will pay to have them embroidered with our logo. This is great for our group fitness staff because they prefer a more fitted style of shirt. Some instructors are independent contractors, and they have the option of wearing logo tops or not, since they usually teach only one class and leave.”

Benefits of No Uniforms

Other business owners and managers prefer that personal trainers and instructors wear their own clothing. Why?

Personal Trainers. Trainers who operate one-person businesses and train in their own homes or clients’ homes don’t feel the need to wear a uniform with a logo. “For me, the most significant benefit of not having a specific uniform is that it is easy to pick up clothes when I need them, whether because it is time for new ones or because the weather is changing,” says Diana Rochon, director of Dynamic Core Fitness in Whistler, British Columbia. “Also, I can take advantage of great sales when they come along. Because I have chosen to consistently dress the same way when I train clients, however, people do tend to view my black jacket and pants as my uniform.”

Instructors. Many managers and owners believe it’s too limiting for instructors to wear a specific uniform. “Instructors [at all our locations] can wear clothing that is functionally suitable for the activity they are teaching,” explains Grace DeSimone, national director of group fitness for Plus One Health Management in New York City. “They can express their own individuality within the policy guidelines provided and, most importantly, they can choose clothing that is comfortable.”

DeSimone thinks that students look to the instructor for cues on how to dress for both motivation and function. “When a cycling instructor dresses in full cycling gear to teach, it sends a message to the students: ‘Hey, this is the real deal,’” she says.

Another reason to give instructors freedom of choice in clothing is that “the classroom takes on a new life, color and creativity with each style of class and each instructor who occupies it,” says DeSimone. “Dress plays an important role in that landscape.”

Other business owners note that cost plays a role in deciding not to supply uniforms. Instructors for Stroller Strides, an outdoor exercise program for moms and babies, aren’t required to wear set uniforms. “Our guidelines are that each instructor should wear some type of Stroller Strides gear of their choice whenever possible,” says Lisa Druxman, the company’s San Diego–based chief executive officer and founder. “We also ask that they not wear logo gear from other companies. Why no uniforms? One benefit is that you don’t have to worry about the cost and hassle of supplying them,” adds Druxman, the 2007 IDEA Program Director of the Year.

Focus on Professionalism

Most facilities that don’t require instructors to wear set uniforms do require them to follow a dress code that prohibits excessive skin exposure, inappropriate attire or dirty or threadbare clothing.

Whether your company chooses to provide you with a uniform or just mandates a certain dress code for staff, know that clients do form an impression of you, in part, based on what you wear. Always err on the side of a professional appearance and you can’t go wrong.

SIDEBAR: Selecting a Uniform

If you are in charge of choosing uniforms, how do you pick something that conveys professionalism and works for your company? Consider these tips from seasoned professionals:

Nicki Anderson, president of Reality Fitness Inc. in Naperville, Illinois

  • Make sure the uniform style looks good on all body types or offer different styles.
  • Choose a traditional style uniform, versus something too trendy.
  • Pick a fabric that “wicks” away sweat for trainers who may sweat more than others.
  • Find a color that goes with a lot of other colors.
  • Check out uniform designs in sports catalogs to see what’s out there and what you like.

Lynn Frank, group fitness director and personal trainer for Keystone Athletic Club in Poway, California

  • Offer both feminine and masculine versions of the uniform.
  • Provide both cold- and warm-weather versions of the uniform.
  • Provide employees at least two uniform tops for free before requiring them to purchase others.
  • Find a company whose style works for your image and target customer.

Sabra Gardner, associate executive director of the Palomar Family YMCA in Escondido, California

  • Ask staff what types of uniforms they would like. It helps them feel empowered and part of a team.
  • Make the final decision (as owner or manager) on what you think will look best after getting input from staff.
  • Contact local businesses and see what it would cost to order a quantity of uniforms from them, and have them do the design for you. They can give you templates to choose from after you provide guidelines on logo use, color, etc.

Justin Price, MA, co-owner of theThe BioMechanics in San Diego

  • Try on several different styles of uniform shirts to determine the best look and comfort.
  • Choose an embroidered logo over a screen printed logo because the embroidered one looks more professional.
  • Use a thread color that contrasts with the shirt’s color when embroidering a logo so that it’s easily readable.

April Durrett, an IDEA contributing editor, is an award-winning health, fitness and lifestyle writer and editor. She can be reached at [email protected]