If you’re in the business of health and fitness, it’s because you live and breathe a healthy lifestyle. Of course, breaking a sweat and helping your clients meet their fitness goals is only a small part of it.
Being a personal trainer, health coach, or nutritionist also means being a responsible business owner.
Just like any other business, a professional fitness business is grounded by specific practices and paperwork that keeps things in order and helps you to manage your clients. It’s the fundamental system that will govern your business, and so in this article, we’re going to provide you with a list and descriptions of the essential forms and disclosures that you need to include in your system as a personal trainer, health coach, or nutritionist.
The Welcome Letter
The welcome letter is the first piece of paperwork in the document packet that your client will review. It’s important because not only does it welcome them to the gym, team, or center they’ll be attending, but it also sets the tone of the establishment as well as the expectations for both parties.
Your welcome letter doesn’t necessarily have to be tailored to each individual client. It should, however, state their name and a simple thank you for choosing you as their personal trainer, nutritionist, health coach, or the facility. It may seem like a passive effort, but trust us, it matters. Between you and all your competitors, they chose you. So, take the opportunity to show your appreciation.
Your welcome letter should also gloss over the rest of the paperwork they’re expected to fill out, being sure to state that until all forms are adequately filled out, they won’t be allowed to participate. This is extremely important, especially if your client has a medical condition and needs their doctor to sign off on their fitness journey. Without the necessary paperwork and signatures, they become a liability—and you’re on the hook if something goes wrong.
You should also use the welcome letter to address what is expected of them. This includes the proper gym attire, what they can expect from their first session; session scheduling and duration; and policies for lateness, cancellation, refunds, referrals, and so on. Be sure to include your contact information as well. Most importantly, make sure they sign that they’ve read and agreed to your terms.
The Medical Clearance Form
A medical clearance form is more or less a liability form. It’s especially for clients who have medical issues and need their doctor to clear them for exercise. It’s a pretty straight forward document, but it should include a brief summary of your client’s fitness and/or nutrition goals and how you, as the trainer or nutritionist, plan to help them achieve those goals.
It should also include your contact and location information so that their doctor may get in touch with you to discuss anything medically relevant that may affect their patient. Once the doctor fills out this form and signs it, the client is clear to exercise.
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The Health History Form
The purpose of the health history form is to gather subjective data from the patient so that you can assess their habits and lifestyle. Think of it as an initial health/fitness assessment that will help you put together a personalized training or nutrition program. It’s also meant to be kept confidential.
More importantly, it’ll help you determine the safety and/or possible risk of certain exercises for your clients based on their health history, any current symptoms they may be experiencing, and other risk factors. This form typically poses its questions next to “yes” and “no” boxes that the client can check off accordingly. Some of the questions will require a brief explanation, and it will help determine whether or not the client should get medical clearance before participating in a personal training program.
A Symptom Questionnaire
The symptom questionnaire is similar to the health history form, and it’s an important part of your client’s initial health screening. Its questions are posed next to “yes” and “no” boxes for the client to check, with some brief explanations required. These questions are for the safety and health of your client as well as the assessment of their physical capabilities.
The symptom questionnaire will have questions like “have you experienced any of the symptoms/problems listed below and have not been medically evaluated and cleared for unrestricted participation in a physical training program.” The list of answers would typically be “unexplained chest discomfort without exertion,” “unusual or unexplained shortness of breath,” “dizziness, fainting, or blackouts associated with exertion,” and so on.
This questionnaire along with the health history form is to determine whether or not your potential client must be cleared by a doctor before participating in your personal training program. It’s also used to determine any potential risks and limitations to include in your training program. This form is also to be kept confidential.
The Liability Waiver
The liability waiver is arguably the most important document in your packet. By signing this form, your client releases their right to sue you if they sustain an injury during (or after) one of their training sessions. A signature also signifies that the client has reviewed all terms—including the potential risks that come with exercise—and is aware of the potential risk of injury.
Every new client must sign this form before participating in their personal training sessions, even if you have personal trainer liability insurance. This is mainly because personal trainer liability insurance differs from regular liability insurance. General liability insurance protects you in the event that accidental damage occurs outside of your training session.
For example, a client trips on their way into your studio ten minutes before their session starts and gets hurt. That’s where general liability insurance would kick in if they decide to sue. If your client tears an ACL while training and decides to sue, that’s when your personal training liability insurance would kick in. Chances are you won’t have both, so having your clients sign a waiver consenting that they can’t hold you responsible for any injuries is your best bet to protect yourself.
A Nutrition and Food Practices Inventory
As a personal trainer, health coach, and/or nutritionist, you have a professional responsibility to educate your clients on proper nutrition guidelines. Your first step in doing this is to have your new clients fill out an initial nutrition and food practices inventory form.
The nutrition and food practice inventory form is a way to document their eating habits throughout the day and assess those habits in order to give them nutritional advice. This is important because as personal trainers and fitness educators, we know that food is 75 percent of the battle when it comes to getting into shape. It’s much easier for people to get into the habit of exercising every day than it is to change their dietary habits.
Have your new clients fill out this form honestly so you can review it with them during their first training session. You can discuss any food allergies or any other food limitations they may have and begin to create a new food plan for them to follow in conjunction with their training sessions. Most nutritionists and some fitness coaches will give their clients several nutrition and food inventory copies to fill out so they can keep a daily record of what they ate and drank.
It’s a great way for your clients to get on the right track and also map their success. They can use it to reflect on how far they’ve come on their health and fitness journey as well.
A Fitness and Activity Practices Inventory
Much like the nutrition and food inventory form, the fitness and activity practices inventory form is a way to document the client’s movement throughout the day. It will help you gauge your client’s fitness level by what they do throughout the day.
For example, if your client works a 9-5 job where they’re sitting most of the day, chances are, their cardio isn’t at optimal levels. Adversely, you may have a client whose job requires that they constantly move around and lift heavy objects—from there you can determine their weight lifting capabilities.
Additionally, your training sessions won’t—and shouldn’t be—the only times that your clients get a workout. After you review their initial fitness and activity practices inventory, you’ll want to encourage them to carry out some form of exercise each day. You can give them extra copies of this form so that they can catalog their activity each day, much like their food intake.
Over time, they’ll be able to look back at their success and how far they’ve come, which will serve as an inspiration to keep setting and achieving fitness goals.
A Stress, Nutrition, and Fitness Journal
This is less of a form and more of an ongoing journal for the client to track their progress—mentally and physically. We know that there’s a direct correlation between stress and physical activity, which can be positive or negative, and as a personal trainer, health coach, and/or nutritionist, you want to encourage your clients to be healthy in all aspects of their life.
Encourage them to utilize their journal for the duration of their fitness journey, highlighting their daily and inherent stressors, how they cope with them, and especially how they talk to themselves. A journal like this will help clients who have gained weight from stress eating to kick the habit.
It’ll also help them keep track of what they’re eating, how much they’re exercising on a daily basis, and how they feel before and after. This will ultimately help them take back any control that they’ve lost over their lives and self-control. There’s plenty of scientific evidence out there that support stress, food, and fitness journaling, making it a great strategy to employ as a fitness or nutrition coach.
You don’t have to buy your clients a full journal as part of your essential client forms packet (although it is a nice touch!). You’ll be just fine starting them off with a few journal sheets that they can fill out for the first week or so and encourage them to commit to a full journal. Along with the journal, you can include tips on combating stress and other tips on nutrition and fitness to help your clients get into making better choices and creating successful habits.
Don’t Forget Their Signature
Remember, these are just the essential forms you need to include in your fitness packet for your clients. There are plenty of other documents you can add, e.g., a fitness goals form. Of course, outside of the necessary legal forms, you don’t want to overdo it—otherwise, your clients will feel like they’re getting homework.
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Don’t forget to make them sign each form!