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Black male personal trainer at black board with male client

Have you ever had that one client who thinks that 3 a.m. is the ideal time to discuss the benefits of kale? Or one who fills up your inbox with 250 pictures of their new puppy? What about that lovely gal who is working hard on her revenge body but tends to get a little touchy at the end of her workout?

Today, we’re turning the spotlight on boundaries between personal trainer and client. What are some of the common boundary issues that you’re likely to encounter? And how can you deal with them without offending anyone? 

1. Define Your Limits 

Every individual has their comfort zone, and as a trainer, you’re no exception. Perhaps you’re not cool with clients calling you after work hours, or you’d prefer not to be tagged in their gym selfies. Take a moment to reflect: where do you draw the line? Remember, it’s not about being aloof; it’s about ensuring a balanced trainer-client relationship. 

2. It’s Show and Tell Time: Inform Your Client

Now that you’ve mapped out your boundaries, it’s time to communicate. Make it crystal clear what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. It’s like setting the rules for a fun board game; everyone enjoys it more when they know the score.

3. The Art of the Four-Step “No” 

Rejection is an art and a science. When your client asks for something outside your boundaries:

Acknowledge their query. “I understand why you’d ask that…”

Clarify your stance. “However, it’s against my policies because…”

Propose an alternative. “Instead, what I can offer is…”

Redirect their focus. “Now, about those deadlifts…”

4. Channel Your Inner Therapist: Use “I” Statements 

These statements are lifesavers. Instead of saying, “You shouldn’t ask me that,” pivot to “I feel more comfortable keeping our discussions fitness-focused.” It shifts the perspective and feels less confrontational. And let’s face it; when we’re working so closely with someone on this level, you don’t want misunderstandings or offence to get in the way. 

5. Set Expectations Early

From the get-go, lay out your game plan. Whether it’s your training style, communication preferences, or your keen interest in exercise science programmes, let your clients know upfront. It sets the tone for mutual respect.

6. Keep It Professional, Not Personal 

While friendly banter is welcome, remember the contract between a personal trainer and a client. Discuss it openly, ensuring you both understand the professional boundaries in place. Think of it as building a safety net – it protects both of you!

7. Become the Master of Your Time

Set specific times when clients can contact you. It’s essential for mental health and overall well-being. Plus, when they know you’re unavailable, it amplifies the value of your dedicated sessions.

8. A Laser-Like Focus on Fitness 

The gym isn’t a café, and your session isn’t a gossip slot. While it’s okay to share light-hearted moments, always loop back to the main agenda: their fitness goals. Dive deep into the techniques, reference your personal trainer’s code of conduct, and keep their eyes on the prize.

9. An Equal Playing Field: Avoid Discrimination

Every client is on a unique journey. Some might be fitness newbies, while others could be on the verge of running a marathon. Regardless of their background, treat every individual with the same level of dedication and respect.

10. The Vault: Maintain Client Confidentiality

When clients share their health stats or personal struggles that affect their fitness journey, treat this information like a state secret. Respecting their privacy builds trust and showcases your professionalism.

But Wait, There’s More… 

Relationships are thorny at the best of times. Navigating the waters of relationships in the gym can be trickier than a burpee for a beginner. Training friends? Dodgy. Turning clients into BFFs? Slippery slope. Always have a backup plan for those times when sessions run longer than a kettlebell swing, or clients want advice that’s out of your zone. A robust policy is like a trusty gym towel: always good to have on hand.

How can eta College Help?

Negotiating complex relationships that live on that blurry line between personal and professional can induce migraines in the uninitiated. However, there are some valuable tools ingrained in our courses which will definitely assist. For example, the psycho-social studies modules in the Exercise Sciences streams can help in the following ways:

  1. Understanding clients’ motivations: Psycho-social studies can help fitness professionals understand their clients’ motivations for exercise and physical activity. By understanding their clients’ motivations, fitness professionals can tailor their training programmes to meet their clients’ needs and goals.
  2. Building rapport: This information can help fitness professionals build rapport with their clients. By understanding their clients’ personalities, communication styles, and social backgrounds, fitness professionals can create a comfortable and supportive environment that fosters healthy relationships.
  3. Addressing mental health concerns: An understanding of psychological concerns can help fitness professionals identify and address mental health issues that may affect their clients’ physical activity and exercise. By recognising the signs of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, fitness professionals can provide appropriate support and referrals to mental health professionals.
  4. Encouraging behaviour change: Psycho-social studies can help fitness professionals encourage behaviour change in their clients. By understanding the psychological and social factors that influence behaviour, fitness professionals can develop effective strategies to motivate their clients to adopt healthy habits and maintain them over time.

The Personal Trainer course includes many of these elements, as well as others, which help both the trainer and the client to get the very best out of their sessions. These include:

  1. Verbal and non-verbal communication: Personal trainers learn to use both verbal and non-verbal cues to convey information and connect with their clients. This includes using appropriate tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions to enhance understanding and build trust.
  2. Active listening: Personal trainers are taught to practice active listening, which involves fully focusing on the client’s words, understanding their message, and providing appropriate responses. Active listening helps trainers better understand their clients’ needs and concerns, leading to more effective communication.
  3. Empathy: Understanding and sharing the feelings of another person is a vital skill for personal trainers. By demonstrating empathy, trainers can create a supportive and understanding environment that encourages clients to open up and trust their guidance
  4. Positive reinforcement: Recognising and acknowledging clients’ progress and achievements is an essential communication skill. Personal trainers are taught to provide positive reinforcement at the end of each session, which helps motivate clients and build their confidence.
  5. Building rapport and trust: Effective communication is key to building rapport and trust with clients. Personal trainers learn to establish a connection with their clients by being attentive and responsive, and understanding their unique needs and preferences.
  6. Motivating clients: Personal trainers use their communication skills to motivate clients to stay committed to their fitness goals, especially during challenging periods. Trainers can help clients overcome obstacles and maintain their motivation by providing encouragement, support, and clear instructions.

Your Line in the Sand

In the dynamic world of personal training, striking the right balance is paramount. It’s not merely about sets and reps but navigating the intricate dance of rapport and professionalism. Armed with these refined insights, peppered with knowledge from eta College, you’re poised to build not just muscles but resilient, respectful, and rewarding trainer-client relationships. 

Here’s to sculpting bodies, nurturing trust, and carving out an enviable niche in the fitness universe! Contact eta College for more information.


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