I recently conducted an assessment on a client who had been through some pretty amazing circumstances. On three separate occasions she was t-boned on the driver’s side, all by drunk drivers, and as she was trying to get back into being physically active, she went through three separate personal trainers. The first trainer thought she could deadlift the weight he had given and that she was just being lazy, which proceeded to tear her hamstring and left her in the hospital to recover. The second thought she wasn’t working hard enough and called her “fat and lazy”. The third called her “out of shape” because she was feeling fatigued. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard this. I congratulated her for stopping seeing those trainers because those actions are totally contrary and damaging to our profession.

When I was studying for my CSCS certification one of the sections in the text book touched on these exact issues: one of our main concerns as strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers, health care professionals, is to do no harm. It doesn’t take a “specialist” to sit down with a client on your first meeting and conduct an injury or medical history. Getting a history from where your client is coming is essential to know where your training starting point is, and will help guide in what direction the training will take. If you come to the assessment with a preconceived notion as to what that client should be able to do, you will run the risk of doing that client harm. If you have a goal that “must” be achieved, regardless of who your client is, then I’m sorry, but that is poor training practice.

There is a difference between having a set goal that a client must achieve, and developing a goal based on the needs and wants of the client and helping them achieve it. We have to stress our clients in specific ways in order for them to progress: that’s exercise and health physiology; that’s training. Walking alongside our client and knowing their history, knowing their strengths and limitations, adjusting to changes that occur along the path toward a goal, is a trainer’s job. Someone who writes a generic program and thinks that all their clients should be able to do that same program is a terrible trainer. In fact, I would go so far as to say that that person is not a trainer, but a facilitator. A trainer who has a program, yet adapts that program according to their client’s needs and wants is one who has taken the time to understand what being a trainer is.

Doing no harm does not only include physical harm. As my initial example showed, the second and third trainer did harm by verbalizing terrible accusations that I hope no client ever has to hear. Verbal harm can be very damaging as part of our goals as trainers should be encouraging our clients to not only be active when they are with us; but to also be active in their daily living. Someone who is verbally harmed could very well cease to want to do physical activity in their daily living, which is a huge detriment to their health and wellbeing.

Trainers: get over yourselves. If your clients are getting injured, you need to check your methods because they are not working. If your clients are adopting habits that translate beyond your 1 hour session, then you are doing good work that your clients are obviously buying in to. Do no harm. Take the time to know your client, to know how hard you can push them, to know what stressors they can handle and not handle. Of course there is always a chance that your client might get injured, but if you are walking along side them and have been helping guide them toward their goal, they will stick with you through their injury, and then you can adapt your training protocols to keep them moving forward.

Jon Rowe, BKin, CSCS, CEP

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