How Do You Handle a Situation When the Body Odor of a Client Offends Other Clients?

From time to time, we come across fitness participants who lack proper grooming and who even offend others with their body odor. There are a few ways to address this situation.

First, if the client is on my roster, it is much easier for me to have a dialog about the issue. If the member doesn’t currently work with me, I find a way to engage in light conversation before raising the topic. In either case, I talk first about the different aspects of health and fitness, such as weight training, cardiovascular training and the importance of good flexibility.

Then I will ask the client, “How are you with body awareness? One of the most important things we teach our clients is how to listen to their bodies, in terms of not pushing too hard and preventing injuries, noticing changes in energy levels (both increases and decreases), recognizing symptoms of withdrawal from substances like sugar and caffeine, sensing when they are starting to come down with an illness or infection and, especially, paying attention to body chemistry. Altered body chemistry can occur if we do not practice good hygiene, if we eat certain foods that do not agree with us and sometimes when we ingest other substances. Do you practice the principles I mentioned? Do you mind if I offer you some feedback? I think you have altered body chemistry. I might suggest attending to your hygiene, specifically, on a more regular basis by making sure you shower daily, shave and groom regularly, use deodorant, etc., so as not to offend others in close quarters to you. I’d even recommend doing a weekly cleanse by drinking more water than usual to help your internal systems as well. What do you think?”

This issue is probably the most difficult one to address with clients or members, but if done with intelligence, support and respect, we can attempt to get them on the right track!

Linda Kennedy, CSCS, MES

Elite Trainer, The Sporting Club One

La Jolla, California

I researched this issue with a mental health professional. He suggested taking the following points into consideration before approaching someone with this problem:

1. Try to find out if the person has a medical condition (glandular problem) causing excessive sweating/body odor.

2. Take into account that being obese or overweight may contribute to the situation.

3. Attempt to find out if something in the person’s diet is contributing to the problem.

4. Keep in mind that certain mental disorders (e.g., depression) can lessen a person’s awareness of how he or she looks and smells.

He also suggested creating a rule in the membership guidelines regarding showering and grooming before working out. Finally, he recommended intervening in a soft, supportive, inquisitive way and using a straightforward, matter-of-fact approach.

These are all suggestions “in the rough.” I don’t have a great success story to share, but I hope that bringing these ideas to light will give us all better ways of dealing with this common situation.

Timothy J. Callaghan

Director, Liberty Fitness

New York City

We have encountered several different situations involving body odor. In one of them, a teenager had very strong body odor. We discussed the situation and decided it would be too damaging to talk to an overweight, depressed teenager about body odor. Instead, we made sure we scheduled him as the last client of the day and cranked up the fans to blow the odor out the front door of our small 900-square-foot facility while he worked out. If the smell became too much for us to handle, we would “program design” a power walk outdoors to finish his session. As he lost weight, the odor diminished. We feel we chose the right path in this situation.

Another scenario involved a chain-smoking client. I think we can all agree that cigarettes do not smell good, but some brands are particularly stinky. Unfortunately, my client loved one of those brands. As he walked in, the smell coming off his leather jacket was so strong we nearly gagged as he passed by. I broached the topic by asking him about smoking and the tender subject of stopping. He admitted he would love to stop but said he couldn’t right now. I took that opportunity to be direct and let him know that his jacket and clothing were holding onto the smoke from his drive over. I didn’t have to ask him to do anything in particular to fix the problem; he resolved it for me. I think smokers are generally considerate people, and he started leaving his jacket in the car and not smoking on the way over. I also noticed that he always chewed gum after that.

The most uncomfortable “smell” situation for me to deal with was actually when a trainer wore scented body lotion. I knew when she had been in the gym even after she was gone, because the overbearing scent would linger. It was an extremely strong scent of vanilla. Approaching someone to say, “You smell good; now stop it,” was very uncomfortable. I took a few minutes to talk to her about the fact that more people than not have issues with perfumed smells, especially when working out in a small space. She was visibly irritated and quit soon after. Mission accomplished; smell gone.

We now have a sign posted asking clients to be considerate of other clients with allergies and please not to wear scent or scented products while working out. We also ask them not to apply these products in the changing room after their workouts.

Lori Chaplin, MA, CSCS

Owner, Sol Gym Personal Training Studio

San Diego and San Francisco

As a former intensive-care nurse, I can tolerate unpleasant smells. I train so many beginners who initially will use any excuse to stop exercising. They have to feel completely safe and valued in order to continue working with me as a trainer. Therefore, my ultimate goal is to create an atmosphere of complete acceptance, warts and all. If a client really had a hygiene problem, I would probably overlook it.

The issue escalates when you bring that person into a group setting. Other people might not be so willing to tolerate body odor. If someone were to complain about a client’s smell, I would hope that by then the client trusted me. As an educator, I would consider it my job to teach this person the proper rules of gym etiquette. These rules include not only racking equipment and disinfecting benches but also wearing deodorant and showering appropriately.

Lisa Bell, RN, MBA

Owner, Bell Bodies Fitness

Newburgh, Indiana

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March 2005

© 2005 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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