Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Katherine M. Polasek, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Erik Lind, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Joy L. Hendrick, Ph.D.


The field of personal training in the United States is believed to have begun in the late 1970‟s and the early 1980‟s (Brooks, 2004). Today, personal training is a healthy profession that, according to the United States Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012), is expected to grow 24% (60,400 jobs) between 2010 and 2020. In comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012) predicts the average growth rate for all occupations within the U.S. to be only 14% during the same ten-year span. Rapid growth within the field of personal training has brought an increased scrutiny on the qualifications of trainers working in the industry. Currently, there is no official unifying licensing body for personal trainers (Melton, Katula, & Mustian, 2008). Melton et al. (2008) highlighted a total of 19 different personal trainer certifications of varying quality offered by several organizations. The lack of a universal licensing body creates tension in the field; Melton et al. notes that in order to become a certified personal trainer, an individual simply has to pay a fee, complete an exam, and apply to a fitness facility. Due to this perceived and actual lack of unifying licensure within the personal training field, there has been a drive to discern what characteristics successful personal trainers possess (Madeson, Hultquist, Church, & Fisher, 2010; Melton, Dail, & Katula, 2011; Melton, Dail, Katula, & Mustian, 2010; Melton et al., 2008). Characteristics that have been found to greatly influence a client‟s decision to hire a personal trainer include personal trainer competence within the field (Madeson et al., 2010), physique, social skills, and credentials/education (Melton et al., 2011; Melton et al., 2010; Melton et al., 2008).

Additionally, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has created a master list of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA‟s) that their Certified Health Fitness Specialists should be familiar with (Central Connecticut State University, 2013). These KSA‟s provide an in- 2 depth and broad knowledge checklist that includes factors such as: proper program supervision, awareness of client medications, and basic human behavior (CCSU, 2013). Of the characteristics mentioned above, personal trainer physique is the only characteristic that is directly observable. Individuals meeting a personal trainer for the first time may use the observed physique as a heuristic to pass judgment on the trainer‟s personal traits and behaviors (Freeman, 1988). Existing research highlights how students within the field of exercise science (Chambliss, Finley, & Blair, 2004) and health professionals specializing in obesity (Schwartz, Chambliss, Brownell, Blair, & Billington, 2003) possess implicit negative biases towards obese individuals. Furthermore, Johnson, Gill, Reichman, and, Tassinary (2007) suggested that morphology and body motion can lead an onlooker to make perceptions of the observed individual‟s sexual orientation.

Clients inherently view physique as an important characteristic of personal trainers (Melton et al., 2011; Melton et al., 2010; Melton et al., 2008). Freeman (1988) also demonstrated that observed physique can be used to pass judgment of others ability. Several studies have also examined the role personal trainer knowledge plays in clients‟ evaluations of personal trainers (Melton et al., 2010; Melton et al., 2008; Rotwein, 2003). The research has examined how credentials and/or certain behavioral attributions of trainers can shift the focus away from external qualities (e.g., physique) towards internal characteristics (e.g., competence, knowledge, and behavioral tendencies). Currently, there is limited research available that examines clients‟ perceptions of personal trainers with regards to the trainer‟s physique (Mears, 2007; DeMaria & Greenleaf, 2009).