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Five Mistakes Personal Trainers Make that Alienate Clients

Learn to avoid them and build better relationships with your clients.

Personal trainers (PTs) can become the voice of reason and health for many who seek self betterment. They can provide comfort, promote health, and increase a person’s fitness levels, while also acting as a nutritionist and sounding board.

Becoming this figure in someone else’s life comes with a heavy responsibility to give good advice. Many who seek help from trainers are not well-versed in fitness, exercise, and nutrition. They come looking for someone to take the responsibility of learning away from them and to tell them what to do without the headache of research. They trust that what the trainer will tell them is the truth and that their advice constitutes what is best for the client. In some instances, trainers abuse their position on the client’s pedestal and turn what could be a very healthy relationship into a toxic one.

From my time as a trainer and as a client, I have gathered the five top mistakes that trainers make, which drive clients away from them, and sometimes away from fitness.

  1. Crossing the line between professional and personal

As much as it is crucial for the trainer to be friendly and make the client feel comfortable, there is a line that cannot be crossed between the professional and the personal. When training, it is highly inappropriate for the trainer to begin telling the client about his or her personal life unless specifically asked. Even then, one should never delve into too much detail, which can make the client uncomfortable.

It is good to remember that they are there to learn and that this could be the one hour a day that they dedicate to bettering themselves. PTs should not sully the client’s time with their own friend-group drama, which also means that while talking about themselves they are not focusing on the needs of the client.

It is good to note that wishing a client a happy birthday and checking up on them from time to time are all acceptable and professional behaviours that can strengthen the client’s trust in the trainer. However, being pushy, contacting the client randomly, booking them sessions without their consent, and other behaviours that can make the client uncomfortable should be avoided at all costs.

2. Lack of focus on the client

Trainers need to make sure that their attention is one hundred percent on their client as long as the latter is performing an exercise. Looking around the gym, playing around with their phone, giving an exercise then walking away, and chatting to other gym-goers are all big no-nos. The trainer should remain with the client, even during warm-up and cool-downs, which includes being on a cardio machine (treadmill, bike, elliptical…). Using this equipment has a purpose and is not a buffer for the trainer to tend to their own business while the client warms up. When a trainer does not pay attention, they risk the client getting injured. They also make the client feel unimportant, which will lead to mistrust and frustration since the client is paying for this time and not getting much out of it.

3. Berating the client

The client comes to the trainer because they do not know how to do things themselves but are willing to learn, so the trainer should teach! A PT should explain what a movement is and what it is supposed to feel like, they should demonstrate the movement, and then make sure to let the client do it while they watch and adjust. Only demonstrating is not enough, a trainer needs to be patient and adjust the client’s position as they do the movement. Getting frustrated because the client is not perfectly executing the exercise is never an option. Start small and the client will get there, but a trainer should never make them feel bad for not being perfect. Yelling is obviously out of the question, but so are demeaning statements, and sarcastic demeanour. Encouragement at every step is invaluable, and praise can always be found because the client is always making an effort.

4. Programming without considering the client’s needs

There is no one-size-fits-all program. Every body is unique and reacts differently to various stimuli. A trainer must make sure to listen to the client’s history, to their goals, and to their abilities. Even if a client’s goal is very ambitious, it is the PT’s job to know how long it will take to achieve and to set up a realistic time frame. Promising impossible goals and overloading the client’s programme with weights or rep-schemes that are too extreme can lead to exhaustion and injury, which will not help them reach their goals and might demotivate them from ever working out again.

5. Hurting the client

If a client says they are in pain, the trainer needs to stop and assess to avoid any discomfort. If they are helping a client stretch, but that leads to wincing, eyes watering, or the client saying that it hurts, a trainer should not keep going because they think it is okay. Unfortunately, I have seen many trainers who do not believe their own clients when they are in pain due to some preconceived notion that they are just acting weak or trying to avoid the exercise. A PT is paid to help people get healthy and fit, not to teach them to tolerate whatever pain the trainer thinks is manageable.

The same is applicable to exercises that may prove too difficult, that may cause pain in the joints, or to weights that could be too heavy. Even if the PT thinks that the client has done the same exercise before, no two days are the same, and a particular session may need to be rolled back or changed accordingly. Every person goes through times when they are tired and may need a more relaxed session. The trainer must always listen to the client’s needs and adapt accordingly. They need to make sure that the client leaves the session happy and full of endorphins, not in pain and having had the worst day of their lives.

If you are a trainer, make sure you put the client’s health and comfort ahead or your prejudices. If you are a client reading this, and have had a PT who did these things, do not despair, there are many great trainers around and you will find the right one. Do not give up on fitness and health due to the mistakes of some.

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