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Trainers Getting too Personal?

Dr. Haley Perlus, Nicki Anderson and Darren Jacobson discuss where to draw the line when it comes to personal trainer/client relationships:

Q: “What are the guidelines/best practices policies, if any, to give newly hired personal trainers so they understand the boundaries they must establish between themselves and their clients? I am particularly interested in professionalism and separation of work and personal lives of their clients.”

Personal training places participants in an intimate zone of physical proximity usually reserved for close family and friends.
A: The best practice for your new personal trainers is to keep communication contained within the boundaries of health and fitness. The purpose for this is twofold: (1) to prevent unnecessary ethical issues and (2) to build effective rapport.

(1) Prevent ethics issues: Personal training places participants in an intimate zone of physical proximity usually reserved for close family and friends. Often, personal trainers and clients get too comfortable in this zone and begin to discuss intimate details of their lives. Ultimately, someone can cross the line and create an uncomfortable environment that forces either party to terminate the working relationship.

(2) Build effective rapport: From a Peak Results standpoint, the purpose of building rapport with a new client is to help the client to feel that he/she belongs in the club’s community. When new personal trainers keep communication within the boundaries of health and fitness, the following is achieved: (1) the personal trainer remains the professional expert throughout the session and the duration of the program, (2) the client develops trust in the trainer’s ability and desire to help him/her achieve fitness-related results and (3) the focus of both parties is centered around the client’s training program. Consequently, the client exerts more effort in training, achieves positive results, has a rewarding experience and comes back for more. Now that’s rapport!

Dr. Haley Perlus, Peak Performance Consultant

The minute you blur the lines between business and friendship, is the minute your credibility is questioned.
A: I believe that professional client interaction, communication and service are paramount when training new staff. I have an entire portion of my personal training manual dedicated to customer service, ethical practices and proper communication. I truly believe that you can have the most beautiful gym, studio or club, but if you don’t have a staff that delivers professional service and polished social interaction, you will not be as successful as you could be. That should be part of every managers training protocol.

As for the separation of work and personal, here is what I share with my potential trainers. “The minute you blur the lines between business and friendship, is the minute your credibility is questioned. Sure, there are some great friendships that can come from training clients, but there are more disasters that have been the result of those relationships. In 25 years, I have never become “friends” with a client beyond professional. If I did, it was after they were no longer a client.” It’s the best way to keep business professional and a trainer successful and credible.

Ms. Nicki Anderson AFP, CPT, President
Reality Fitness

A: There are a number of organizations that have stipulated guidelines for Scope of Practice and professional and ethical behavior. One that I have adopted and implemented across our base of trainers is the IDEA code of ethics, you can find this on the IDEA site at It is vital to highlight the importance of a solid reference check prior to taking on your potential trainer. This "gatekeeper" attitude has saved us many headaches later in the process, when the true colors of your rouge trainer may come through. I have always maintained that if you hire the right trainers, then you as the manager/owner can sit back safe in the knowledge that your members will benefit from your new recruit. The days of hiring on physique or interviewing on personality only are over. By taking seriously this gatekeeper role, you dig deep to ask the pertinent questions, such as business motivation, dealing with financial pressures and the ability to engage strangers. This is then followed by an engaging personality and a member-centric attitude. Once you have gone through this process and recruited correctly, the code of ethics and other professional standards are a given.

Darren Jacobson, Head of Fitness and Product
Virgin Active South Africa

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