Okay so I do not have a towel boy. (Do those even exist anymore? And if s
o, is their job really just to bring you towels?) But, from group-fit instructors to yoga teachers to personal trainers to nutritionists, I do have a lot of great fitness people in my life! And there’s no better time than the holidays to show my gratitude, right?
Unfortunately in the past that’s about where my thought processes end. For people who are close personal friends (like Turbo Jennie), I get them a gift like I do all my friends. Plus, with my job, I can’t give gifts to people I work with because as much as I’d love to give prezzies to every great fitness guru I know (and I’m blessed to know many), I can’t, you know, look like I’m paying for sources…
And then there was the experience a few years ago where someone at the gym gave Gym Buddy Allison and I a very expensive gift and the only reason we could surmise from his curt explanation was because we were such great entertainment for him. Which made us feel a little weird and icky. Of course we had no idea what to do – give it back? Reciprocate? Make our next Great Fitness Experiment burlesque so he’d get his money’s worth? In the end we baked him a loaf of bread. He probably didn’t even eat carbs. Just… ack.
See? So many good reasons not to think about this kind of thing! Clearly it’s much better to fly by the seat of my pants when confronted with awkward situations!
But then I got this e-mail from Reader Michelle, who asks some really great questions:
I’m a big fan of your blog — thanks so much for your openness, humor, and insight! I’ve been floating a holiday question with my friends and no one seems able to agree on an answer. So, if you have time, I turn to you for help. What’s proper to give a personal trainer for the holidays? I have two trainers — I see both once a week — and they are great! Is it appropriate to just give a (cash) tip — what my boyfriend suggests — or might a gift card (or some sort of fitness gear) seem more personal? And, how much should it be — around the cost of a session?
Thanks so much! And, happy holidays!
As soon as I read it I knew she couldn’t be the only one wondering. Mostly because I am also wondering and one plus one equals… more than one. Consensus in my book! (I should totally go into politics.) This was part of my reply:
“My short answer is that it depends on your relationship with them – if you are close and have worked with them a long time then yes, a tip or gift card for 1 to 1.5 the amount of a training session is pretty standard. If you’re not as close it’s more common to just give a nice thank-you card and a small gift/gift card. And if you hate your trainers bake them triple-chocolate brownies and bring them the whole pan! Kidding;)”
When I threw up her question on Facebook, people seemed as confused as Michelle and I are.
Aussie trainer Nate Hamon answered, “Wait Wait – What?!?! You Americans and your tipping! Maybe I should bring my training school over there!”
Kim Ludeman wrote, “As a trainer, I have to say I have never been tipped for the holidays. I was given gifts, but never money.”
Mike Schiemer of Frugal Fitness added, “I get tips from maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of my clients, and I’ve been known to give out some free swag or free sessions to clients as well. All depends. Just remember, technically (although nobody does it) any gifts you receive I’m pretty sure are considered taxable income.”
And Melissa Sauser chimed in, “I love my yoga teacher ….hmmm would cookies be frowned upon?;)”
But never fear fit friends, you do have options! Holiday gifting in the gym seems to take one of several forms:
1. A nice thank-you/Happy Holidays card. Often one of the most meaningful things you can do for an instructor/teacher/trainer is to tell them how they’ve helped you become a better person and what you’ve learned from them. Most fitness instructors make squat and unless you’re an aerial silks artist then there’s not a lot of prestige either. Mostly they do it because they love it and they love you.
2. A small gift. Oh what to give the buff person in your life? So many fit gift lists have been made that I hesitate to add to that. Okay here’s one idea: Give them a kettlebell. Put it in a gift bag. Hand it to them by the handles. They’ll love you even more after their broken toe heals. Okay, now you see why I don’t give advice?? Actually though, you can never go wrong with a decent water bottle. If you want to be cutting edge, get them a glass one in a bamboo or rubber shell. But every fittie or foodie needs water! My other seasonal fave that (I’ve convinced myself) everyone loves is candy cane Chapstick. It comes in a cute tin with three flavors, one of which is peppermint! And it does double duty because not only does it keep your lips Zumba ready (oh yes you duck-lip in Zumba! We all do.) but I’m told by runner friends that you can swipe it around your nostrils before a winter run and it keeps your snot from freezing. Although you should probably buy them at least two separate tubes unless you want the gym equivalent of picking your nose and eating it.
3. A gift card. Some call this a cop-out. I call it brilliant. I don’t know what people did before gift cards were invented! (Wait, yes I do, we all got a lot of generic picture frames and candles. That sucked.) So maybe it says “I don’t really know what you’d like but everyone loves money so please take my money and forget about the fact that it’s slightly impersonal” but as long as it isn’t to someplace lame then everyone will be happy.
(Side note: My one major gift card pet peeve: When you give someone a card that requires them to spend more money to use it. Case in point: A friend once gave me a 15$ gift card to a spa to get a facial. I’d never had a facial (still haven’t and you’ll see why in a sec)! But when I called to make the appointment I discovered that facials are like $50. So basically the “gift” would cost me $35. No thanks. That card sat in my wallet for years, annoying the crap out of me everytime I looked at it. Eventually I gave it to another friend who loved facials and was happy to get a coupon.)
4. Food. While food is traditionally a pretty safe holiday gift – who doesn’t love truffles? – it can be pretty loaded in fit circles. First of all, so many people are avoiding gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/carbs that it can be a feat to know what they can eat. Second, even if they can technically eat it, sometimes they don’t want to. I’m not saying that personal trainers shouldn’t enjoy an indulgence but rather that foisting your idea of an indulgence upon someone who is very particular about their indulgences is maybe not a great idea. When in doubt, go with edible underwear. It’s basically fruit leather and you can never go wrong with fruit, right?
Do you have any suggestions for Michelle? Which of the fit people in your life do you tip/gift and what do you give them? Or do you think the tipping thing has gotten out of hand? Has anyone ever given you a really weird gift in the gym??