Tricks of the Trade

Oct 01, 2004

Have you ever refused to work with a specific client? Why? How did you handle the situation?

There have been several occasions on which I have refused to work with a specific client. Once, I was meeting with a potential client and discovered that her goal was to lose 15 pounds in the next month. There was no talking this client out of this goal and into a more sensible, slower weight loss plan. She was adamant that if I just gave her the exercise plan, she would handle the eating (or not eating as it turned out) and would supplement with some sort of stimulant. I nicely explained to her that my philosophy of weight loss was to eat sensibly, exercise and not take stimulants. I further explained that if she did not want to work within my plan, then I could not help her, because I believed in being healthy—and her plan was not a very healthy one in the long run.

In another instance, a relatively new client came in for his workout and was chewing gum. I asked him to spit the gum out while we worked out, and he refused. I explained that it was against my policy to allow clients to chew gum during workouts because it would interfere with proper breathing techniques, and there was a potential for swallowing the gum or choking during an exercise. He refused, saying he would stop chewing during exercises and chew only during rest periods. I held my ground; I explained that I had set rules for workouts and expected him to follow them, or he would not be allowed to work out that day. He got upset and left (and I charged him for the session). He returned for his next workout, apologized for being so stubborn about such a little thing and told me he respected me for upholding my rules.

Finally, I once had a client who would not do her exercises as I explained and demonstrated them. It wasn’t that she couldn’t do them; she just felt that if she was moving, it didn’t matter if her technique was correct. All she was interested in was burning calories through movement. I explained that correct technique was important to prevent unnecessary muscle and joint strain, which could result in injury. Her reply was that she had not gotten hurt yet, “and until I do, I’ll do it my way.” The obvious answer to that was to ask her to comply with my instructions or find another trainer. She decided to leave.

In each instance, I decided it was more important to stand up for what I believed and knew than to cater to the whims of clients just to make a few dollars. In the long run, I knew that allowing a client to do something that was wrong could be construed as negligence on my part.

Patrick S. Hagerman, EdD, CSCS

  • D, NSCA-CPT
  • D

Owner, Quest Personal Training

Professor, University of Tulsa—Exercise and Sport Science Program

NSCA Board of Directors

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Trainers are in a service business and therefore not obligated to take on or keep every new client for fitness training. As an established trainer who concentrates mostly on residential performance-based exercise programs, there are numerous occasions when I think it is appropriate to decline or discontinue services to a particular client or athlete.

Time Slot Not Available. This is the most common reason I decline to work with someone. A potential client will call up and request a spot that simply is not available.

Action Step. I politely tell the person I am sorry, ask for his contact information and then keep him in mind if a spot opens later.

Lives Too Far Away. Almost all of my appointments are in people’s homes. If someone lives farther than a 15-minute drive to the next session, I am very reluctant to take her on.

Action Step. Sometimes I suggest trainer directory websites.

Needs Outside My Scope of Practice. In the past I have declined to work with people because their medical situations or fitness goals were outside my scope.

Action Step. If someone presents with unstable hypertension, behaves in a bizarre way (watch those Internet referrals) or is interested in climbing Mt. Everest (something I know nothing about), then I find it is best to refer that person to a specialist.

Trying to Negotiate Price. An absolute deal breaker for me is a potential client or athlete who tries to negotiate the price. The rates are firm and consistent across the board. Everyone pays the same upfront for one session or 50 sessions.

Action Steps. I will politely respond to the negotiation attempt and say that everyone pays the same and the rates are firm. If the person persists, I end the conversation, politely excuse myself and tell him this service is not for him.

Uncooperative Clients. Anyone who is repeatedly confrontational about my advice for her fitness program is declined continued service. A recent example was a woman who tried to dictate what exercises were best for her, while refusing to perform the drills I chose.

Action Steps. I send a formal letter suggesting that the client would do better with another trainer; I enclose a refund for any unused sessions.

Lack of Respect for Privacy. Since most referrals come from my existing client base, I feel that it is important for clients to respect other people’s privacy. If someone discusses another client’s possessions, home decor and private life, no matter how innocuously, the situation must be dealt with carefully. A client once found it necessary to gossip incessantly about the person who referred her to me.

Action Step. After a short break from our sessions, when the gossipy client called back to resume, I said I was no longer taking on new sessions because I was full. I felt that the situation was too dangerous—that by listening to her speak negatively, I was condoning her remarks and they could get back to the referral source.

Phillip Bazzini, CSCS

Owner, www.BalanceTraining.com

Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

I have never had to look a person in the eye and refuse to work with him or her. Several times on the phone I have refused to work with what I would refer to as “weirdoes.” I do in-home personal training and have never had to worry about actually seeing these weirdoes because they always “out” themselves during my phone interview. For instance, I once got a call generated by the Yellow Pages from a male who sounded 30-something, looking for someone to train him at home. The conversation was normal until he asked me if I would mind if he trained in a G-string. Still wanting to give him the benefit of doubt—since we had had a worthwhile interview up to this point—I asked him why. He said he liked to look at his muscles while he worked out. I asked him what muscles he would not be able to see in a pair of shorts and a tank top. The conversation deteriorated at that point, and I ended by telling him he should continue looking for a trainer.

Also, I once had a client who was very difficult to read and in terrible moods. I thought he was not happy with my training and asked if he would like to find another trainer or have me help him find another trainer. It turned out that he was very unhappy in his personal life. He wasn’t unhappy with me or the training. We actually had a good talk, and he was much easier to work with after that.

Daria Clarke

Owner, Daria Clarke Personal Fitness Training

Las Vegas, Nevada

Once I had to refuse to train someone I had been training for a few years at a health club. It was soon after the 9/11 attack. My client had previously expressed some difficulties with his marriage and children. After the attack his problems at home became more severe. Our workouts turned into his venting more and working out less. I saw him three times a week. He worked out every day, and most days he would do cardio in the early morning and then again in the evening. He started to have delusions that there were terrorists in his neighborhood. His stories about home became disturbing. His marriage was failing, and his kids were having problems at home and school. He was ruining a lot of his personal relationships.

Instead of avoiding his training sessions, I nipped the problem in the bud. I told him I no longer felt comfortable training him. I explained that he was exercising too much and becoming obsessive about it. I told him I had tried my best to keep him focused on training and to limit his workouts, but I’d been unsuccessful. I had spoken to my manager at the time, and we’d agreed to stop the sessions and try him with a new trainer after a short break.

The client did not take the conversation well and said a few unpleasant things. I kept calm and simply restated my views on discontinuing our personal training relationship. I referred him to another trainer outside the club and refunded his money in full. I kept tabs on him periodically and know that he went through some pretty tough times shortly after we stopped training. He sought counseling, realized he had a serious problem and got his feet back on the ground.

It was obvious that the client was having a breakdown. I knew that continuing to feed his exercise obsession would only delay his recovery. I knew a few other people around him were trying to open his eyes, so it was perfect timing to say I would no longer train him. I am dedicated to my clients, but I was very affected by those sessions. They had become draining and very stressful.

Jeff Castaldo

Owner, The Training Studio Inc.

Nyack, New York

I will refuse to work with a client under two circumstances: when I simply have no more room in my schedule for new clients, and when I feel I am not qualified to handle a client’s specific needs or goals. In both instances I will refer the client to another trainer. It is easy to do in my circumstances because I am fortunate to work with other highly qualified trainers. In cases where I do not feel qualified, the clients are usually grateful for the honesty and cooperative spirit among the staff. If I don’t have the time, clients sometimes want to wait, but I encourage them to work with another trainer rather than lose their motivation to get more fit and healthy.

Even if a potential client is personally offensive or objectionable to me, I approach the situation as an opportunity to improve my professional skills and possibly change my initial opinions. I almost always discover something interesting and worthwhile about the person. However, sometimes it doesn’t work out that nicely. Usually, when that is the case, the client also senses that there is not a great chemistry and does not renew his package, which saves me from having to refuse to continue training him.

Andie Talmadge, MS

Personal Trainer and Group Exercise Director, Riverpoint

Sports & Wellness

Albuquerque, New Mexico n

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 1, Issue 3

© 2004 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.