Friday, May 21, 2010

Rebuttal to Globe and Mail article "Annoyed at gym? Your personal trainer doesn't like you either"

I couldn't help myself. I had to put my two cents in about this article that many of my clients mentioned this week. It's kind of career suicide and totally damaging to the personal training industry to have an article like this come out. The last thing people need is to be AFRAID of pissing off their personal trainer. Many personal trainers including me charge something in line with what one would pay for psychotherapy. So to me, getting quoted in the Globe and Mail complaining about the very people who put food on your table is just plain STUPID. Keep it to yourself folks and sort out your client management issues. We are paid good money to deal with resistance and human behaviour. Personal trainers need to be able to manage issues that arise in relationships with clients. It's not a black and white profession. We are PERSONAL trainers, that is, we get closer to people than most people do.

So here goes.


Sandra Bueckert, founder of One on One Fitness in Calgary, was once working with a client when she got down on her knees to adjust his footing. Standing over her, the man looked into her eyes and said, “While you’re down there.” He then coughed suggestively.

Sexual come-ons, from the crude to the subtle, happen all the time. Often, clients seem to think they’re in a bedroom rather than a gym.

“Just because we’re getting sweaty together does not make it foreplay,” Ms. Bueckert says. Having to shoot down a client’s flirtations and get back to work can make for an incredibly awkward session.

And female trainers aren’t the only ones attracting horn dogs, says Ben Spooner, owner of Alive Personal Training, also in Calgary.

“It definitely goes both ways,” Mr. Spooner says. Male trainers often get propositioned or have a hand placed suggestively on their chests, he says. “It’s uncomfortable.”

Trainers may be in great shape, and working with you in close proximity, but that doesn’t mean they’re down for sexy times.

My response: This type of thing doesn't happen for me because I set the tone of the relationship. If it did I would nip it in the bud and set proper boundaries to clarify the nature of the relationship. If it happens repeatedly with the same client then either end the relationship or speak more clearly.


Clients who wolf down cake and fried chicken at home, then wonder why they aren’t losing weight have become common enough at Precision Athletics in Vancouver that the company now requires all clients to undergo nutrition counselling in their first month.

“Obviously, if you’re not losing weight, you’ve got to look at your nutrition,” says Craig Boyd, director of trainers. “But people just brush that off and say, ‘I eat healthy.’ But when you get a food log from them it’s ridiculous.” One client turned in a log that listed a scone as a healthy snack. “It’s a pastry!”

And more often than not, clients who drink four double mochas with whipped cream each day will blame the trainer, not themselves, for their failure to shed pounds.

“People go, ‘Oh, I eat healthy.’ First of all, they don’t eat healthy. And second of all, it takes you months of them working hard and not seeing results for the effort they put in [to identify the problem],” Mr. Boyd says.

My answer: Well duh. Who ever thought people can be totally honest with themselves yet alone other people. It's our jobs to read people accurately and deal with resistance. Digging deeper into someones resistance is part of being a great trainer. Stop complaining trainers and start learning how to move people through this stage of denial. If they aren't ready today, maybe they'll be ready tomorrow. They aren't there to make our lives easier or our jobs easier. They are paying big bucks to train so that we can help them move forward at a pace that works for them. If a client is disappointed with results and they are sabotaging themselves with eating habits, then learn how to listen actively, re frame, reflect back on their behavioural choices and be more creative. Resistance from clients is part of the job you signed up for.


Some clients think that because they’ve paid for an hour with a trainer they are going to get an hour, even if they show up 15 or 30 minutes late for an appointment – or, in many cases, cancel appointments at the last minute.

“She is hell on our schedule,” Ms. Bueckert says. “You’ve planned to see this person, and your time is your living.”

Often, trainers will have to deal with one client who has arrived late but expects a full hour while the next client waits for their appointment. “That next person’s in the corner tapping their toes and giving you the evil eye,” Ms. Bueckert says.

Conor Kelly, owner of Evolution Fitness in Toronto, says Late Lucy is probably the most annoying client type for trainers.

“For a professional who makes their money by the hour, it’s kind of like the ultimate disrespect,” he says.

My answer: If this continually happens, the appropriate boundaries and expectations of the client trainer relationship have not been set. Resolving this issue is up to the trainer. I make it clear from the get go and in a client contract what's going to happen when someone is late. This type of thing would only happen once at my studio because it would be addressed appropriately immediately.


“It just really surprises me how people will pay so much money and hire a professional, just to ignore all the advice,” Mr. Kelly says.

Often, clients will sleepwalk their way through a routine, and then months later still not know how to do a particular exercise properly even though they’ve been taught the proper technique over and over again.

“That’s definitely something that we as trainers find very irritating,” Mr. Kelly says.

Some clients just never learn, says Debbie Scott, founder of Phoenix Personal Fitness in Calgary.

“You have some of those clients that it just doesn’t matter how many times you say to them, ‘Slow down, do this, do that,’ ” she says. “Their technique is just brutal and you just kind of pull your hair out. You know those assisted pull-up machines? Sometimes it’s like a ride at the fair.”

My answer: I just taught a client a proper Romanian dead lift in two reps today. Her former trainer tried multiple times without success. If someone isn't getting the exercise then one of the following things has happened: the trainer has chosen an inappropriate exercise for the client's skill level. The trainer isn't trying a variety of ways to explain it or the trainer needs to learn to be more patient with the client and keep at it without getting frustrated. Plus I'm working with older clients with NO training experience introducing activity later in life and who might also have mobility issues or be coming out of a serious illness. I choose activities that build on their confidence, not make them feel inadequate or uncoordinated. I thought our job was to work with people wherever they're at and not expect a client to be worried about our experience in a session.


As with bartenders and hairdressers, people spill the details of their personal lives to trainers all the time. But that doesn’t mean trainers want to hear it.

“You’re trainer is not your therapist,” Ms. Bueckert says.

What has she had clients talk about during a training session?

“Their husband’s cheating. What he’s doing with the secretary. Why they want to leave their husband. When they plan to leave their husband. In fact, some of them have a timeline. What their children are doing. What drugs their children are doing. What schools their children have dropped out of.”

“Oh my,” she says. “I feel like I’m a bartender.”

Trainers want to help you get in shape. They don’t want to help you deal with your divorce or other details from your personal life.

My answer: Most people don't have environments in their lives where they can let it all hang out. Someone trying to get healthier is an interconnected being. Mind body and soul move forward together in getting healthier. If someone needs to bitch about someone or something freakin deal. It's not about us the trainer but about the client for the hour. You don't have to solve their problems and don't even try. You're not qualified. Just listen nonjudgementally and refocus people on the task at hand. This morning I sat on the floor with a client who started to cry during a side plank. It was a gift that she would share those details about her life and allow herself to be vulnerable around me. What do you expect from clients? For them to keep sucking it up like they have to in the rest of their lives. If they're running into major troubles, then have a roster of psychotherapists you can refer them to. I can easily make people work and listen to them at the same time. I am honored to be there considered part of someone's support network

So for the trainers quoted in this article, all I can say is bad career move and in a recession, you are not serving the rest of us who are working hard to evolve personal training from something more than counting squats and pull ups into a holistically integrated health service.

Jane Clapp


  1. GREAT response!! I agree 1000%.

  2. Great response Jane, right on the money. And thanks, because I know for a fact that you stand behind everything you said.

  3. Thanks for the feedback guys! Comments like this really make trainers look unprofessional and myopic in their thinking. It's time to start evolving old school fitness people!