Here are several strategies I suggest.
First, do a bit of introspection and assessment. Ask yourself why you want to work with the particular group. This may help you hone in on the specific needs of the group you would like to support. Next, ask how prepared you are right now to serve these specific needs within this specific group. Your answers will help you identify the education and other resources you will need.
Second, get prepared. When you do present yourself to this new market, you want these clients to feel certain that they want to hire you for the job. Devise a clear plan involving the following components: Determine what education is necessary; how much you already have; and how much more you need to be prepared. Consider educating yourself in these three categories:
Technical Skills. Do you need more knowledge of range of motion and functional training? Do you know the relevant medical terminology and what to do for common medical conditions?
Equipment. Do you have what you need? Is it time to buy that balance board or heart rate monitor to use with this population?
Needs of Clientele. What does this group need and want? For example, what is the difference in mindset between a Boomer and a Gen Xer? Conduct a survey to find out; you might just pick up a few clients to start with.
Third, model someone else who has already worked with this target population. In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel! See prior issues of IDEA Fitness Journal and make inquiries on some Web forums. People out there may already have the information you need.
Last, but not least, believe in yourself. Act confident and start now. If you’ve done your homework, and you have good intentions to serve this new group of people, then get started and see what kinds of magical things happen in your favor so that both you and your clients benefit greatly.
Director, Optimum Human Performance
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
I was fortunate enough to receive a full library of reference materials from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) when I was named the ACE Personal Trainer of the Year in 2003. Those materials are in addition to the extensive library of over 400 books and 200 videos I already had, so I’m rarely at a loss for suitable references when researching a new type of client. In addition, my wife is a physician, so in the rare case that she can’t answer my questions about a medical condition, she can always recommend another source.
If I didn’t yet have these resources in place, I would first turn to the Internet. I highly recommend resources like Pub Med.com, MedicineNet.com, nsca-lift.org and PTontheNet.com, as well as www .IDEAfit.com.
However, I’m careful to make sure I’m sufficiently qualified before working with a new type of client. I believe in the IDEA Code of Ethics, which states: “Recognize your limitations in services and techniques, and engage only in activities that fall within the boundaries of your professional credentials and competencies.”
Stephen Holt, CSCS, PES
I can address this question from my own experience working with breast cancer survivors.
Early in my career, I was inspired by a client who made such remarkable progress in her fitness program following breast surgery that I felt there must be other women like her who could also benefit. As I began to research what exercise resources were available to this special population, I found only one: the Encore Program, offered at a few YMCAs. Common sense told me that because of the treatments, surgery being the most obvious, there might be a large, unmet need for exercise counseling among these women.
My research into exercise guidelines also turned up very little concrete information. I found what I could in medical libraries and was fortunate to locate a few physical therapists who were willing to share their postoperative exercises with me. Along the way, I met individuals who had had breast surgery, and they also shared their rehab programs. I attended as many hospital-based community education programs as I could to understand what treatments physicians were endorsing. Luckily, I knew a physician who guided my work. At that time he was the chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and he worked mainly in breast reconstruction. With his supervision, I developed the initial guidelines. Over the years, as more information became available, I studied the specific effects of cancer treatments—including surgery, radiation and chemo- therapy—on the anatomy and physiology of the body. Once I understood which functions could be altered, I could recommend exercise modifications.
I sought to become affiliated with a cancer organization in order to offer my services to their members. Again, I was lucky. I found a small, flexible support organization for women with breast and/or ovarian cancer. At that time, SHARE (not an acronym, but a cue word as in “sharing information”) had a great forward-thinking program director. After my credentials were thoroughly screened, she worked with me to develop fitness programs aimed at the needs of their members. I am still working with SHARE 13 years later!
Consider these steps when choosing and working with your own special population:
Identify the Special Population With Which You Wish to Work. Why are you drawn to this population? Why are you inspired to work with them? Your connection will be more powerful if you understand your own motivation and why you relate to this condition/age group.
Research the Population Using Reliable, Medically Approved Resources. Remember that you must adhere to national consensus guidelines when there is controversy about exercise recommendations.
Discover the Specific Needs of This Population. How would they benefit from fitness training? In the beginning of my work with breast cancer survivors, I asked myself how they would benefit from enhancing each of the health-related aspects of physical fitness. For example:
- Improved body composition would maintain lean body mass during chemotherapy.
- Enhanced aerobic capacity would increase energy level and stamina, control percent body fat and minimize weight gain that might occur during chemotherapy.
- Greater strength would prevent muscle atrophy and decline, relieve back pain and neck stiffness and help postural realignment of back and torso.
- Greater flexibility would increase freedom of movement in arm and shoulder joints and combat natural tendency of scar tissue to contract.
Talk With Experts. Discover organizations that address the needs of your special population: Take their training programs; volunteer your time as a speaker or an instructor; develop relationships with physicians. (Start with your own. Let them know what you do and establish a professional relationship with them.) Network with professionals: Ask how you can help them solve problems; for example, doctors often recommend exercise but don’t have time to implement it; see if they will refer patients to you.
Owner, Joan Pagano Fitness Group
Author, Strength Training for Women
New York City
Despite our education and training, clients come along who present us with new challenges or require us to refresh our knowledge of something we may have learned previously, but have forgotten. When I want to begin working with a new type of client, one with certain medical conditions or of a different age than my current clientele, here is what I do to educate myself.
Sometimes I’ll go online to obtain information about conditions such as sciatica, osteoporosis or Parkinson’s. It’s quick and easy, and I’ve come across some useful information this way. I also receive several fitness magazines and journals (including IDEA Fitness Journal) and whenever I read an article that I think might help me in the future (even if I’m not currently working with that clientele), I’ll save the article in a folder so I can pull it out when I need it. I have folders titled Prenatal, Seniors, and Diabetes, just to name a few.
Another great educational resource for me has been to speak directly with physical therapists and chiropractors regarding specific clients (with the clients’ permission, of course). Because we are working together to care for the same individuals, it makes so much sense to contact these medical professionals. I’ve learned things this way that have helped me with other clients and, in several cases, the therapists and chiropractors have actually referred other clients to me!
Finally, I’ve sought out workshops and certifications. At the IDEA World Fitness Convention® last July, I went to some wonderful workshops about senior fitness and prenatal fitness. They added to my credibility and confidence when working with these special populations.
Truly the best way to educate myself has been to listen and to be open. There is always something new to learn. It’s up to me, however, to synthesize and integrate all of the information to provide the best possible programs and services to my clients.
Dayle Webber, MS
Personal Trainer and Fitness Counselor, Frog’s Club One
Solana Beach, California
We specialize in working with clients with special challenges. Our clientele ranges in age from 10 to 91. Prior to meeting with a client, we review health history and PAR-Q to see if there are any red flags. We use the release-of-information form that allows us to contact a client’s medical providers. We then schedule an initial assessment appointment. At that appointment we go over the client’s health history so that we fully understand his condition. We then perform a musculoskeletal screening and assess blood pressure, lung capacity, girth measurements, balance and flexibility. We take the information and the client’s goals and we develop his workout program.
If we are working with a client who wants to enhance her abilities in a specific sport that we are not familiar with, we may observe a practice, consult with the coach or use research periodicals. If the client has medical or postrehab needs that are new to us, we can consult with our extensive library and a network of both local and nationwide medical practitioners. We will also research equipment needs to see if we need to supplement our equipment inventory to train that client effectively.
Scott and Barbi Jackson
Owners, Scott Jackson’s Real Life Fitness
Nevada City, California