Tipping etiquette is a touchy and debatable topic, but the question of tipping personal trainers, Yoga & Pilates instructors, etc. is an issue worth addressing.
While tipping is technically never required, it is something we do to express gratitude for a job well done, and ultimately it is an engrained part of American culture (others as well, to greater and lesser extent). Overall Americans are generous tippers.
It is standard to tip hair stylists, massage therapists, aestheticians, and other one-on-one service providers between 15% and 20%. These service providers have undergone special training and are creating a (hopefully) positive experience that clients both want and need. When it comes to trainers, private exercise instructors and the likes, in theory it should be no different. Once again this is a specialized individual whom, at least in the case of a comprehensively trained Pilates instructor, has spent many hundreds of hours learning and honing his or her skill set. A private session is taking place, and individualized attention to specific needs, conditions, concerns, and more are factoring into the interaction.
If you think about it, physical trainers are facilitating physical wellness; from a physiological, purely medical perspective this is very important to living a long, healthy life. Indeed haircuts and facials are important and beloved services, but someone could suffer from serious and life-threatening conditions and find help through something like Pilates or Yoga (burn fat, build muscle); no one ever died from not enough hair cuts or too few massages. Having said that, one would think a client would LOVE tipping the health instructor who is making life more livable.
It is also important to consider things like rental space and other costs that instructors incur. Just like many hair stylists split their earnings with the salon, instructors give a (sometimes very large) percentage of earnings to the studio they use. Or, if employed by a studio, work at a rate that is often far less than is paid by the customer.
Bottom line, as a society we are not conditioned to tip trainers in the same way as we are hair stylist, massage therapists, etc. and yet these services fall within similar categories. If you see an instructor 3 times a week a smaller tip is certainly understandable, but overall a Pilates or Yoga instructor or Personal Trainer working in a private setting (versus a big box gym with certain policies) should be viewed like a ‘body’ stylist and tipped accordingly. Remember, personal exercise instructors/trainers are not dieticians or acupuncturists; those are medical providers and often are dealt with and paid for by insurance companies.
Next time you take a private Pilates or Yoga lesson for $70 consider giving the instructor $10 -$15. Of course there is no need to tip in group classes – the point is to express gratitude for a customized, individual service.