The nature of a fitness opens the door to several different types of potential ethical problems. The reliance on membership numbers for a significant chunk of revenue, the relationship between clients and trainers and the trust that customers place in the club to manage their exercise plan all leave a club susceptible to taking ethical shortcuts to increase revenue.


Many fitness clubs rely on memberships for much of their revenue, getting customers to sign contracts pledging their commitment for a period of months, even years. All terms and conditions should be clearly spelled out and referred to several times in membership documents before the first check is accepted, rather than relying on fine print. Even so, if a customer finds himself unable to use the facilities for health-related reason, or if a financial setback leaves him unable to pay to finish off their term, the signed contract may not outweigh the ethical problems that would come from pressuring that customer to fulfill the contract.

Behavioral Guidelines

Ethical problems can occur at fitness clubs when personal boundaries between staff and clients are not respected. Any kind of sexual harassment or discrimination cannot be tolerated. No sexual contact should be permitted, nor should clients be given different levels of service based on their appearance.

This isn't just an problem for staffers. Locker-room talk that objectifies women not only puts the club on shaky ethical ground, it creates an uncomfortable environment that can drive customers away. If club members say inappropriate things or act in inappropriate ways, the club staff must step in and let the offending members know that such behavior will not be tolerated.


Staffers, particularly those trainers who conduct one-on-one or small-group training sessions, may learn personal information from clients about their health concerns or personal problems. Passing this information along to others in the form of gossip is inappropriate. Even something as innocuous as loudly telling a member that you haven’t seen them in a long time can be seen as an ethical problem if the customer takes it the wrong way.


If a fitness club augments its membership revenue by selling health products, it has an ethical responsibility to ensure that those products are safe and that they perform as promised. Should the fitness center be given incentive to push a particular product line, such as a bonus payment if a certain amount of a particular energy bar is sold, the potential financial reward must not lead to employees overstating the benefits of the product.

Best Interests

Customers come to a fitness club to get healthy, and trust the staff there to help them achieve their goals. It is the ethical responsibility of a fitness club to guide that client’s workout plan, as applicable, to serve the client’s best interests and health requirements. This doesn't mean doing whatever the client wants. For example, if a client who enters significantly overweight and out of shape says he wants to compete in a triathlon in a month, the ethical response would likely be to note that the goal might be unrealistic and suggest a different activity or a longer time frame.

If a staffer or club member publicizes that he uses performance-boosting drugs, tolerating that drug usage sets a terrible ethical example to the rest of your members. Moreover, fostering a workout environment where use of those drugs is promoted by club members, even informally or by implication, puts your business at risk.

In addition, if your business plan stresses enrolling members in fitness classes for additional revenue, make sure your staff members do not push those classes on members unlikely to benefit from them just to boost their numbers.