Much like hairdressers and dentists, personal trainers invade a client’s personal space on a regular basis. Because of this proximity and also the slightly more relaxed and informal nature of the environment, it’s important to be aware of what constitutes best practice when dealing with clients.
The following list covers some of the more obvious faux pas and some that are perhaps not as widely recognised. It’s not in any particular order as failure to observe any one of these could get your head turned into a canoe in the wrong gym or with the wrong person.
Mobile Phone Use
With the advent of smartphones and health-orientated apps, this becomes a harder and harder breach to call subjectively. Regardless, personal trainers should never be focused on their phone instead of their client. Even if you’re making a phone call on behalf of your client (to check the macros of a mail-order food service for example), maintain eye contact with the client. Not only does this reassure the client that your focus is on them, but to any casual observer, it also shows that you’re probably not checking on the latest odds for the 3:45 at Cheltenham.
Clients have their own challenges and trials to deal with; the last thing they need is you unloading your woes during an hour they’re paying you for. That said, some clients like to have some degree of informal relationship with their trainer, so if they ask, it may be appropriate to share. Just stick to the facts of the matter and return the focus to them and their reason for being there.
Many gyms are a nightmare for unwelcome odours and out-of-place bodily fluids. Make sure that none of them are yours. Showerfirst thing in the morning and after any workout that precedes a client session. If that’s simply not realistic, then at least use a deodorant or body spray; just don’t go overboard and asphyxiate the client.
You’re being paid to personally train your client. That means your focus should be on them and only them for the duration of the session. If anyone else asks you a question or diverts your attention, deal with it as succinctly as possible and return your focus to the client. Many clients like the fact that their trainer is popular or well liked, but very few appreciate their trainer taking 10 minutes of their paid time to chat to someone else.
Knowledge Is Specific
Rarely addressed in PT etiquette lists is the need for humility. The average gym goer gets their exercise and nutrition knowledge from popular media, rather than professional study. Any expectation that their knowledge is complete or even well rounded is therefore unfair. Just as you shouldn’t be expected to understand the concept of membrane theory in quantum physics, nor should you expect someone with no formal education in physical exercise to know the correct way to squat or deadlift. If someone’s doing something incorrectly, offer your help; just recognise that it may not be wanted, and if so, that’s totally fine.
Clients and Gym Users
As exercise becomes more and more important to people, gyms will invariably become progressively more crowded. It is therefore essential that trainers respect the space around other gym users while they exercise. There are few things more potentially hazardous during a heavy squat than a trainer wriggling past the end of your bar in an attempt to get the 2.5s to put on their client’s bar rather than waiting.
Equally, a client’s personal space is just that, personal. Regardless of the relationship you have with a client, be aware that there could be anywhere up to 50 people watching your session and considering your worth as a trainer. The wrong impression could lose you a client before they’ve even approached you.
Far too often, trainers get too attached to their methodologies, and any criticism of these feels like an attack on them personally. If the information you’re passing on to a client is your belief, acknowledge that. Likewise, if it’s well supported by research, advise them of that too. More and more, trainers are presenting their opinions as fact and forcing their preferences on clients. If your faith in your beliefs is just that, faith, you have a professional responsibility to communicate that to your clients.
Scope of Practice
Personal trainers are not doctors or dieticians, nor should they be. The skill sets and knowledge required for those tasks are completely different. Don’t try and operate outside of your scope of practice. If in doubt, refer out.
In any gym, a member failing to return their weights to their correct place is a breach of gym etiquette. For a trainer to do this is unacceptable. PTs should lead by example and strip the bar after using it or return dumbbells to their racks. Not only that, they should educate their clients on the importance of doing the same.
Even if a PT moonlights as a fitness model, there is no justification for exposing inordinate amounts of skin while working on the gym floor. Not only is it unprofessional, it is potentially intimidating (or off-putting) for members. You may think you’re being inspiring, but the truth is that you’re more likely to come off as vain or arrogant. That said, you don’t need to dress like a monk or a nun either. A simple T-shirt/polo shirt and shorts or trousers is fine for almost any gym.
The above list is not exhaustive by any means, but making sure you’re on top of each point is probably not a bad place to start either.