What is the most important clause in a personal trainer contract?
A. Terms of payment
B. Indemnification clauses
D. All of the above
The answer is D. because each provision is valuable, along with numerous other clauses necessary to protect you and your company. Rest assured, we have crafted contracts specifically for personal trainers and those in the fitness industry. Let’s take a peek into personal training contracts to see what should be included and why. If you just want the templates without further explanation, click here.
First Things First: What is a Contract?
A contract is “an agreement between two or more parties creating obligations that are enforceable or otherwise recognizable at law.” Legal contracts have three basic elements: an offer, acceptance, and consideration. It can get hairy, but that’s the basic idea. Between a personal trainer and customer, the trainer offers to provide a service, the customer agrees to accept the service, then the customer pays “consideration” to the trainer in the form of money. Reducing the transaction to writing is tremendously helpful. Without writing the agreement, opinions become facts if the relationship sours. A note of warning: contract language matters. Just knowing what should be in a contract is one thing but communicating terms the way courts approve is another. Don’t forget, people should objectively understand the terms of the agreement. If something is ambiguous, it might not count (and even worse, can be interpreted against you). Sometimes, contracts make things seem overcomplicated. If a new customer shows up for a workout and you whip out a clipboard with a contract, that could totally ruin the excitement. A recent client at our law office refused, calling it a “buzz kill.” He’s right. What we learned is timing is key – some people place the contract near the payment page on a website so it’s easy to see. The goal is to provide a roadmap and a place to look for resolution if something goes wrong, not put in the customer’s head “things are going to go wrong and we blame you.”
Scope of Project
All contracts must define the scope of work to be performed. It can be tricky because it’s hard to know out of the gate the extent of the services. A person may say he or she needs a particular package or number of training sessions, but then something happens. An injury or work conflict interrupts training, so you have to reschedule. Schedules, work, kids, sickness, and other responsibilities are part of life, so flexibility is crucial for your business. Primarily, contracts need to indicate the service you are providing, including when and where. If it’s going to be evolving, then indicate the terms are subject to changes. Specificity is key. A personal trainer contract will account for various scenarios. One option is to leave the “scope” section blank and fill it in with the customer, so you can tailor plans for each person. Depending on your business, you may need flexibility. Another way to do it is by providing options, then letting the customer select the option that makes sense.
Terms of Payment
How are you going to get paid? That’s one of the big questions, along with when and how much. Transparency is key in the personal training industry. People don’t like surprises when it comes to payments, so don’t hide the ball. Place the language prominently in the contract for all parties to see. One consideration is collections. If someone does not pay or otherwise breaches the contract, what do you do? Outlining in the contract the consequences of breaching not only keeps people honest but gives everyone fair expectations. In addition, many contracts explain the penalties for not paying, including additional fees and fines. Alternatively, you may design your business to require upfront payment or monthly billing. As long as payment, pricing, and penalties are clear, you’re ahead of the game. Hint: Some lawyers have both parties’ initial key terms, but that might be overkill.
Statement of Health
A statement of health is unique to the health and fitness industries. As a personal trainer, you must understand your customer’s health. A statement of health will help you and the customers identify any health concerns or physical limitations. It will also give you the peace of mind to push your customers to the limit. People have all kinds of medical, physical, and mental issues. These are not limitations, just information you need to know in order to provide the best possible product to your customers. The last thing you want to do is start training someone with serious ailments and find out you have exasperated a pre-existing condition. The better you know your client’s health, the better you are able to help him or her achieve their goals. You are really handicapped if you do not have an understanding of your customer’s health. Depending on what type of training you emphasize, this section may vary. For some personal trainers, it may be as simple as having the customer initial that he or she is in good health. For others, it may involve a detailed list of conditions, medications, and health history. And if you are really dialing it in, having a detailed account of past health and fitness success (and failures) will aid your training.
Assumption of Risk
The assumption of risk clause is fairly self-explanatory, but necessary. It is an agreement that the customer understands he or she is assuming a risk by partaking in any and all activity advised by the trainer. It essentially places the responsibility on the customer, not the trainer, so long as the risk is known and understood. While these clauses do not totally absolve trainers from all responsibility, they do have value. They help both sides contemplate health risks, who is responsible in the event of injury, and what happens if the customer is injured. There is enormous value in the customer signing a contract that makes them accept full responsibility.
Waiver and Release
Along with the assumption of risk clause, a waiver and release contemplates a wider scope of potential claims. The customer essentially waives any and all claims he or she may make against you, the trainer, or your facility. It’s not just injury, it could be anything like minor breaches of contract or causing a termination of the contract. Often, you cannot predict how outside influences can affect your business. Natural disasters such as hurricanes or a global pandemic can force you to pivot in a new direction to make things work. These sort of events force you to violate the terms of your own agreements. Other times, another person might breach an agreement with you, causing you to break your promise. The gym you use goes out of business or the city erroneously forces you to close. You’ll never survive if you have not built into your agreements some flexibility and room for error. Likewise, you could have a personal event force you to breach. In the instance of a breach of contract, especially when you are the breaching party, a waiver and release clause will help reduce your exposure. While nothing is bullet proof, meaning you can still be sued, you are much better off using waivers and releases than not.
Indemnification clauses work with assumption of risk, waivers, and releases, but these are usually intended to guard against third party damage or claims. According to Black’s law dictionary, an indemnity clause is “A contractual provision in which one party agrees to answer for any specified or unspecified liability or harm that the other party might incur.” Let’s take an example. Suppose you are training a group one morning and a negligent customer hurls a kettle ball across the room and it lands on the foot of another customer. The indemnification clause will help reduce your risk of being held liable. The injured customer can take it up with the negligent customer, hopefully leaving you out of it.
There are a host of other considerations when drafting a contract, many dependent on your particular business. For instance, certain types of training or locations may require particular waivers or notifications of risks. It’s impossible to anticipate all scenarios without hiring a privacy lawyer, but along with the previously explained elements of a healthy contract, we have additional pointers to help. Be sure to consider the following five ways to improve your agreements:
- Include a mandatory ADR or mediation clause to avoid the hassle and expense of litigation
- Add an addendum – you can have a well-crafted contract for most situations but maintain the ability to add an addendum to the contract
- Be specific about pricing and payment
- Keep records of every customer, vendor, marketing agreement, and everything else
- Stay informed of changes in the industry
Contracts are important. Business owners must take the lead by drafting a contract that properly sets out the expectations and provides legal backing if something goes wrong. It’s not just flexing legal might, but also showing professionalism. If you can’t get the paperwork done, then how will you perform your duty as a personal trainer? If you need help, we’ve got templates and more information to make sure you are set up for success.