major boundaries between personal trainer and client

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This article has been reviewed by certified personal trainer Carrie Tredwin-Rolinger scientifically and practically.

A well-managed personal trainer/client professional relationship may be one of the essential elements in catalyzing the health goals achievement process. However, sometimes it may be complicated to keep it balanced. This article explains what proper boundaries with clients need to be considered in an optimal professional relationship between personal trainers and clients.

“Although professional accreditation programs have accelerated the trend toward more formal arrangements between trainers and clients, interviews with trainers and clients suggest that roles, norms, and such contractual specifics as time with clients, place, and content of training sessions may be vague and easily altered. “(Gavin & Weinberg, 1993)

The new twist of personal training

Personal training is a new twist on the old fitness coaching profession with a long and distinguished history. That has become very popular and demanding nowadays for all who may seek individualized fitness coaching, technical advice, or emotional support for their exercise programs.

People now tend to profit from the personal training service as they hire counselors, lawyers, or physiotherapists for other services. By hiring a personal trainer, you may benefit from individual professional practice sessions as frequently as you wish over periods ranging from weeks to years.

The exercise program style conducted by personal trainers varies from trainer to trainer and, theoretically, according to the fitness level assessed by the trainer in an interview, including active and passive fitness assessments and the client’s needs. So, they need to be given professional practice.

Some professional bodies, including the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the Institute for Aerobics Research, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine, have made significant progress toward establishing definitions, criteria, and credentialing programs for personal trainers. Yet, there are virtually no legal restrictions on using the title Personal Trainer.

Personal trainers burnout

Personal trainers who spend too much time with clients and energy on their work may come up with BURNOUT; Burnout is a psychological cognitive-affective syndrome driven by work-based perceptions such as emotional exhaustion. Emotional exhaustion is represented by mental fatigue and emotional distance from work.

Although a professional qualified personal trainer is supposed to be able to contribute positively to the health and well-being of its clientele, the concerns about strict boundaries being held in the balance still remain.

Some issues as below may cause trouble for both parts:

  • Sessions without time boundary issues or cancellation;
  • Trainers dispensing advice on personal, marital, and nutritional matters;
  • Sexual relationships developing during training relationships

Know what you’re worth

Estimating, as a personal trainer, the reasons clients hired personal trainers, body shaping, and improving physical health will be the most predominant reasons coming to the mind. While many clients may employ personal trainers to enhance their self-esteem, some may hire a personal trainer for social reasons.

Here are the 12 most common reasons why clients hire personal trainers:

  • Body shaping
  • Weight management
  • Muscular strengthening
  • Exercise adherence
  • Improving physical health
  • Lifestyle improvements
  • Nutritional and dietary improvements
  • Improving self-esteem
  • Aerobic improvement
  • Improving psychological health
  • Improving athletic performance
  • Meeting social needs

Be aware of your limits

Some aspects of your professional role as a personal trainer need a careful survey to comprehend how specific boundaries and ethical codes might best form you as a fitness instructor. You need to pay attention to the code of ethics. As a personal trainer, you may often be a free agent who works independently and train your clients in unsupervised places such as your own homes, your clients’ homes, public areas, or fitness centers.

In some cases, clients’ health problems are basic elements, but the reason may often be related to clients’ difficulties with exercise adherence. Trainers also report that some clients approach them with unrealistic expectations of physical transformation or agendas involving friendship, psychological assistance, or physical contact (Gavin & Weinberg, 1993).

You need to remember not to go to the extreme on a major issue discussed earlier. The point is eye contact is an integral part of the sessions. It’s one of the basic elements of a professional relationship. Being friends with clients is Ok but you should have some limits.

What is critical about client-trainer relationship boundaries is the dynamic of potential power imbalance. Be aware of how your power management conditions the nature of the professional-client relationship. As a health professional, you must be clear about the context of your recommended personal relationship with clients and the processes leading to damaging disconnections. In this regard, there are 11 types of potential conflict or disagreement you, as one of the fitness trainers, may have with your clients:

  1. Client’s lateness
  2. Trainer’s scheduling availability
  3. The amount of effort the client puts
  4. When a client misses or cancels a session
  5. Fitness goals the client wants to achieve
  6. Coaching fees the trainers ask for
  7. Payment of coaching fees
  8. Client’s behavior during the session
  9. Trainer’s methods of training
  10. Length of the appointment
  11. Trainer’s behavior during the session

You need to have a policy and make your clients aware of that to solve these matters. For instance, there needs to be a cancellation policy. Also, you should talk about coaching fees before the sessions and make a deal.

9 Relationship considerations you must take care of

There are some essential elements you, as a personal trainer, need to take care of to avoid their consequences:

  • conduct well the use of time with clients in the session
  • Motivating clients to step toward their health goals
  • Good control over how personal the relationship becomes
  • Design professional practice client will do in every session
  • Determining the level of intensity of coaching practice sessions
  • Care about client’s satisfaction with training
  • care about the client’s feelings during the session
  • Applying client’s objectives of the training
  • Direct to the client’s health goals
9 Relationship considerations you must take care of
boundaries between personal trainer and client

Set professional boundaries around your work hours

The average length of a fitness instructor’s working time with every client is about 27.3 weeks or more than half of a year. Further, it is normal for clients to schedule two or more sessions per week. If you do not manage these working times, it may put you in a major issue (i.e., family issues, mental and psychological burnout, etc.). Trainers should set aside personal time each day for their own health and wellbeing, including family affairs, efficient sleep, healthy eating, individual coaching practice, etc.

Avoid being too available

You may experience being exposed to engaging in some forms of role relationships with your clients other than the time spent in the training session itself. This, if not managed well, may cause a major issue in your professional current situation. These out-of-training session roles may seem somehow acceptable professionally or not. However, you’d better avoid doing anything out of your professional defined services. Some of these roles are listed respectively from the most acceptable to not acceptable at all as below:

  1. Being asked to advise about a scope of practice outside the training session
  2. Being encouraged to inform about the client’s health and lifestyle habits
  3. You may tend to have friendly, ongoing conversations with your clients
  4. Being asked to advise about nutrition
  5. Becoming close friends with clients
  6. Informing about private or emotional issues
  7. Entering the client’s social circle
  8. Being asked to work for an unrelated job and not a career in fitness
  9. Emotionally or romantically involved with your client

Keep the personal boundaries

Considering the particular circumstances of you/your client relationship, you’ll understand that clients, as part of their contract with you, are physically stressed because, technically speaking, this is what coaching practice represents.

Please pay attention to the fact that your clients are already exposed to being coached, manipulated, and persuaded into training harder than they would on their own. Additionally, being physically exposed in their workout clothes may intimidate them and put them in a harmful situation.

Under such conditions, it may be expectable for clients to barely focus on maintaining a social behavior or their individual social distance. In this case, details of clients and emotions are more likely to show up out of control naturally, which might lead to a harmful situation.

Then, remember what the communication between you and your clients would consist of. Naturally, your professional role consists of instructing, guiding, supporting, rewarding, and typically providing technical information and feedback whenever needed while training

A practical piece of advice is to keep the limits of your ongoing conversation and try not to let them progress from general issues such as world events, weather, and real-life toward deepening and becoming more intimate over time working together. You can be friends with clients though.

It’s not a big surprise if, during training sessions, your client who entrusts their physical well-being to you tends to expect you for other forms of support or assistance. It is not a professional standard dress code defined for you as a fitness professional, a specific training place, or a set of rules about a conversation around themes during your training sessions.

In the personal training market, self-disclosures may create an easy exchange between trainers and clients. If you remain in business, you may feel you do not have to expand your professional role and your clients’ scope of services. You must not provide the scope of services other than a personal training service to attract and retain clients.

Keep the personal boundaries
boundaries between personal trainer and client

Don’t overbook yourself

Your business day concerns a necessity to attract and retain a sufficient number of clients in a specific time to meet your financial objectives or even your professional role in a system. This necessity may cause trouble for you. Work-caused perceived mental and physical stress and workload incongruence, sooner or later, will lead to the experience of burnout and emotional exhaustion, which ultimately results in your health life damages other than professional failure. Keep your session volume as tolerable as your personal life can go on healthily.

Have a solid plan for when you need to take breaks

Your job as a fitness professional is to design and apply fitness-enhancing, preventive, and rehabilitative exercise programs for multiple clients within a competitive and mostly responsive environment. Moreover, your managing and supervisory roles may aggravate job-induced stress

Remind that you need to take time to address non-work considerations to have the opportunity to regulate your overall health and well-being. You’d better conduct the positively and adapt to the real-life challenges. For example, you can outsource domestic household duties to create more family time. Although the outsourcing strategy could be costly in the first approach, it can be budget-saving by reducing stress and keeping you away from eventual more costly burn-out consequences such as headaches, high blood pressure, weight concerns, indigestion, fatigue, and sleeplessness.

Have a solid plan for when you need to take breaks
boundaries between personal trainer and client

Take care of yourself

As one of the fitness trainers, you may often show an affinity for your clients’ needs. Sometimes this intuitive approach may sacrifice your own individual needs, including time for coaching practice, sleep, and other critical healthy habits

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that an individual get no less than 6 and no more than 9 to 11 hours of rest per night. If a good night’s sleep does not happen, a power nap, which should be between 15 and 30 minutes, may also help improve one’s mood and productivity.

S. M. Mazerolle and C. Eason

As a fitness instructor, when you fall into career burnout, you’ll be more likely to experience emotional problems such as irritability and depression. Remember that every individual can only tolerate a certain amount of stress, which will not change how they adapt or cope.

Achieving a work-life balance is a challenge. Having a realistic mindset is critical, and accept that when you are trying to balance everything, challenges will worsen. If you are struggling to balance everything, you need to ask for help and profit teamwork in place as a way to make it all. You need to get appropriate help reducing your stress and finding a work-life balance. It would be best if you had time management and prioritization. Talking about self-care is about managing your professional stressor and enhancing your overall well-being, which includes the reduction of stress through various physical and mental activities.

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