We trainers tend to be a creative bunch. In our quest to keep personal training interesting and dynamic, especially for clients who train with us more often than once a week, we enjoy stepping outside the box as we design workout programs. After all, isn’t variety the spice of life, even in the gym? Certainly one of our goals as professionals is to continue challenging clients as they adapt to particular exercises/levels of strength/rep schemes. However, there does exist a delicate balance between having a client say, “I can’t” and “I won’t”.


When To Push

I had a client a while back who professed to body image issues. As such, she refused to perform squats if her back was turned in such a way as to be facing other gym members. We know in our hearts that 90% of the people in our fitness centers could care less about what anyone else is doing, preferring instead to concentrate on their own agenda and their task at hand. How do we convey such knowledge to an extremely modest and uncomfortable client? Should we force the issue for the sake of the training?

Considering All Sides

My Group Exercise participants know that I have a favorite saying that has evolved over my 28 years in this industry, and I espouse it any time I am introducing a new challenge for them. “We don’t say I can’t; we say I haven’t mastered it yet!” This assures them that while I have acknowledged the level of difficulty associated with the new exercise, I am leaving the door open to them for self-improvement over time, while empowering them to believe that progress is possible. When training a client one-on-one, this philosophy usually works beautifully…but not always.   As part of our commitment to maintaining a close working relationship with a hesitant client, we must listen. Perhaps the client failed to inform us of a prior injury that has left a shoulder immobile, for example, or knee replacement surgery that limits the range of motion around that joint. In cases such as these, we can completely understand his blatant refusal to perform particular movements, regardless of how great the exercise seems to us.

Respect Goes A Long Way

While those are concrete, black-and-white situations, others will be more emotionally driven. A female Orthodox Jew whom I train must always wear a long skirt over her workout leggings, as part of the observation of her faith. It may be hard for a trainer to understand the reasoning here, but one must learn the importance of respecting the beliefs and traditions of others, and design exercises that can accommodate her clothing. This client also prefers to work away from others, particularly men, if an exercise might be in any way construed as “showy”.

Impromptu Thinking

Regardless of how hard we worked to design a program to help a client reach – and surpass — his goals, the above situations illustrate how vital it is that we think on our feet and quickly come up with suitable substitutions. Rather than make the client feel badly for messing up OUR plans for the hour, remember that it is HIS time, not ours. Take it from Frank Campitelli a veteran NFPT trainer, “it’s always ALL ABOUT THE CLIENT”. Leaving the session feeling empowered, and excited to return, is the #1 goal for which we strive in all of our clients. As always, the client possesses a desire to change; it is incumbent upon the trainer to facilitate this path, and to discern when to push and when to respect.

Check out this article, too!


Come chat with us about this topic in the comments on Facebook.

If you’re an NFPT Trainer, join our Facebook community group!

Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at trainhard@kronemer.com. She welcomes your feedback and your comments!