Personal Trainers And Smoking: Get The Facts

Several months ago, I was teaching a class which included a lot of people who were hoping to become certified personal fitness trainers. At noon, I gave people a lunch break and it was then, while I was walking back to the college I was teaching at, that I noticed something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: Several of these want-to-be personal trainers were smoking! Was I seeing things? Did I just fall down a rabbit hole and land in the Bizaro World? I really thought about this for some time afterward and it’s what prompted me to write this.


As I drove home that day I wondered why so many smokers would want to take a certification class to be a personal trainer? It just didn’t make sense and reminded me of what the robot in Lost In Space Robot might say:  “That does not compute.”  I remembered that earlier in the day, before the class began, I asked people how they heard about the class that I was teaching. Several of the people said that they heard about the class from a very well known chain of health clubs (that will remain nameless) that I’m sure everybody in the US has heard of. Now this started to make sense. Keep reading…


How Most Gyms Hire Trainers

Most big box gyms don’t pay personal trainers very much money. Some gyms pay as little as $6 per half-hour personal training session! Because of this, there is a high turnover as people get tired of the low pay. As a result of this, gym managers are always on the lookout for new people to replace those who go on to other opportunities. Based on the stories told to me over the years, here is the typical scenario on how many personal trainers tend to get into the business:

     1. Person walks into a gym.

     2. Gym manager asks: “do you want to be a personal trainer?”

     3. Person says, “Sure. What do I need to do?”

     4. Gym manager says, “Take this class. If you pass. I’ll hire you.”


Heck, that’s similar to how I was first hired too! The difference with me however was that I was also in college for exercise science at the time.


The important part of this exchange is the last part – “if you pass.” Keep this in mind because as I’ve been told, many of these gym managers often don’t give people any direction on how to prepare for a personal trainer exam. They just give them a phone number to call or a website to go to. The people sometimes think, ‘How hard can it be? I like to workout so it should be easy. I’ll be OK.” As such, a lot of them fail ―and waste the money they spent on the personal trainer certification exam.

The gym won’t be reimbursing them for that money either after they fail.

The gym manager at the big box gym often doesn’t care if the person smokes or not. He/she only cares about getting somebody working so that they can say to their boss “I got somebody working the 7-12 shift.” Whoever they hire is in a “sink or swim” situation. In other words, either the person will thrive or they will get so frustrated that they quit.

And then the cycle of getting a new person to fill the slot in the gym begins again…


Personal Trainers and Smoking

Smoking and being a personal trainer would appear to me to be about as far apart as Republicans and Democrats. Why did these guys who took my class want to be personal trainers in the first place? Most of them looked like they worked out, but did they really think that their smoking habit would not impact their success as a personal trainer? Did they really think it would not matter to most people who were paying them?

I’ve always felt that fitness and personal training was a big tent, with room for many people. Personal trainers come in all shapes and sizes and if the desire to succeed is there, it doesn’t matter if the person is a little overweight or even has a physical disability. Heck, I even feel there is room for people who’ve been convicted of crimes. All of that falls aside when the common goal between the client and trainer is focused on smoking


That said, when it comes to personal trainers who smoke, I admit I have concerns when it comes to that person’s long term success. Yes, smoking is diametrically opposed to the idea of “getting healthy,” but it’s more than that. I’d bet if we took a survey of who hired personal trainers, we’d find that most of those people did not smoke. Because of that, I think personal trainers who smoke will be discriminated against by potential clients.

True story: I was once discriminated against by a potential client when I mentioned that I like diet coke – Diet Coke! I told her more about her gym equipment (she had her own gym) in 30 seconds that her previous trainer did in 5 years, yet she just couldn’t get over the fact that I drank diet coke. If enjoying diet coke lost me a client, what chance do smokers have?


Most non-smokers are very good at smelling cigarette odor on people who smoke. As such, the personal trainer will have to work really hard to mask that odor. Cologne probably won’t hide the smell unless a lot was used. Cologne can be another problem all together because fitness people should keep it and aftershave to a minimum when working. Not only can one person’s good smell be another person’s bad smell, but there is also the fact that  cologne use might aggravate asthma in gym members who have asthma.

Tip. Some people with asthma are so sensitive that lingering cigarette order can also trigger an asthma attack!

Smokers also sometimes have yellow fingers and bad breath – other things that non-smokers will pick up on. If they ask the trainer “do you smoke,” how do you respond?

  • If you lie and say no, they will probably know your lying
  • If you say yes, they may look for another personal trainer (unless they smoke themselves, which is unlikely)
  • If you say “I’m trying to quit” that can work for a while, but you better be prepared to quit, because the client will keep asking about it until you do quit.


I guess the bottom line to all this is sure, personal trainers can smoke if they like, but they will probably have to a LOT work harder to get clients and keep clients ―and they will have to be prepared for the rejection―and yes, discrimination ―by non smokers.

I’m not kidding. That discrimination is real.


I often never know who reads my words and believe me, I mean no disrespect to anyone. I hope that what I have written will be taken for what it was meant to be ―one person trying really hard to help others, with straight talk that very few others will say.  With that in mind, if you are thinking about being a personal trainer and you smoke, instead of listening to some dumb dumb gym manager who fills your head with ideas of how much money you can make, instead, think about whether you are willing to do what it takes to be a successful personal trainer. For smokers, the path to being successful, will be a lot easier if you quit. I suggest you either quit now or make a really good effort to quit, before you start training people.

 What do you think?


  1. Joel Wexler says

    Being a personal trainer is not just about helping people become “buff”. You are teaching them how to be healthier, exercise, diet, weight loss, quit smoking. A healthier life style. Practice what you preach.

  2. says

    Excellent article Joe. I completely agree. A Trainer who smokes will definitely deal with discrimination – probably to the same degree as an obese Dietician.

    • Joe Cannon says

      Paul, yep. Since I wrote this, I’ve been told that a lot of trainers at gyms smoke. I hope they see this someday.

Leave a Reply and Join The Conversation.