Handling political discussions during a training session can be tricky. Clients come to sessions stressed-out already, and talking politics does not help reduce their stress level. Living near Washington, D.C., many of my clients are involved in politics or hold positions that are severely affected by the new administration’s direction.
I train clients from both sides of the political spectrum. My views don’t matter because my clients come to me for help with their health and wellness goals. After the initial change of office, many sessions turned into venting sessions, but this took away from working on their health. My rule is: “You have 5 minutes to vent, and then we train!” My clients do not take offense—they understand why we don’t talk politics during our session. This approach has worked well, and our sessions focus on why they came to work with me in the first place.
HEYlifetraining Fitness and Wellness
Silver Spring, Maryland
To avoid unwelcome conversations on any subject, especially something as potentially volatile as politics, consider these suggestions:
- Time the workout rest periods with an audible timer. This has a way of cutting off the conversation and keeping the focus on training, not talking.
- Aim to keep most exercises mindful and requiring concentration. It’s hard to perform plyometrics or Olympic lifts and talk at the same time.
- If possible, shut off the TV and access to the news (we don’t have any televisions or newspapers in our facility).
- Establish a consistent pattern of keeping the focus on training, not banter, to remind clients why they are training in the first place.
- If an unwelcome conversation develops, keep your comments plain and concise, and gently steer the session back to its proper focus.
- Know that with some clients you can have a safe, light political discussion. However, it still slows down the session, can open the door to potentially unwanted territory and may chip away at your professionalism.
Phillip Bazzini, MS, CSCS
Tenafly Strong Exercise Studio
Tenafly, New Jersey
As personal trainers we all have been there when a taboo subject arises, and so does the question: Should I discuss it with my client or not?
It depends on the relationship. I have clients with whom I can discuss politics, religion and finances, and we are pretty cool with it. But with some, I know not to get into discussions of this nature at all. When you’re not sure, keep your mouth shut!
Use common sense (I personally use a lot of humor to get out of difficult situations), and learn how to get out of these particular conversations if it makes you or your clients uncomfortable.
Anette Lynch, CPT, LMT
Personal Fitness Training LTD
I have always had the policy that we work with and respect all clients regardless of gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or political belief. Once clients step into our door, there should be a mind-body focus, and no discussion of politics. Our studio should be an oasis in life.
I have had instructors who have definite political beliefs, often in differing directions, and have asked them to take it “outside” of the studio.
Clients have no idea where I stand politically, and I prefer to keep it that way. I don’t weigh in one way or the other when comments are made; I simply force clients to stop talking by giving them exercises that “take the wind out of their sails,” so to speak.
Patricia Welter, PMA-CPT
Palm Harbor, Florida
I worked in an environment where the vast majority of my clients held political views polar opposite of mine. Clients often spoke about their viewpoints on political issues and social topics. I simply remained silent, stuck to the task at hand (i.e., training my client) and changed the subject as quickly as I could. If asked directly about a political topic, I gave my honest opinion. I was never ashamed, embarrassed or afraid to give it.
If clients can’t handle my honest opinion on a subject (including matters involving exercise, fitness, nutrition, etc.), then they should not ask me for it.
LaRue Cook, CSCS
LEC Fitness, LLC
Alexandria, Virginia, and Vero Beach, Florida
My job as a holistic-lifestyle coach and trainer is to assist my clients with moving positively toward their goals. Our sessions are built around improving their health and well-being. That hour is also a forum for each client to share anxieties, challenges and insecurities in a professional environment. Like many others, I have noticed a definite upswing in political anxiety and frustration in recent months, which will often show in training sessions. What is the right approach to dealing with political anxiety without sacrificing the work that needs to be done?
First, I listen. When a client brings up politics or any subject that might cause them anxiety, I hear them out, but I don’t stop the session. I get them right back into their workout. My goal is to give them the space to express their feelings without judgment and the opportunity to move beyond those limiting thoughts and back into the present moment. If that next movement in their programs doesn’t help them focus on the here and now, I then ask them how what they are sharing makes them feel. Much as in meditation practice, just being able to identify the emotion often means they can get past it and back to the present, where they can focus on themselves instead of what’s “out there.”
One of the amazing things about challenging our bodies is that it can
be cleansing. I coach our clients to get the negative feelings out of their system with movement.
Daniel Lucas, CSCS, ACSM, NASM, CHEK
New York City
In nearly 20 years of working one-on-one with people, I’ve had clients at each extreme of the political spectrum and every place in between. For the most part, I don’t address these concerns. Whatever they believe, we are there to spend time on their health and fitness, so that’s what we do. That said, it’s been an unparalleled last couple of years, so more people are commenting on political matters. Here’s how I handle these situations, with a revised approach given current changes in what is defined by “political.”
If a client is worked up about something or glances at the TV during a session and comments on something they see, I will typically handle it with some variation of “________ has nothing to do with making you better, and that’s our focus right now.” The reality is that they have little control over most of the stuff that works them up, and it will have little effect on their day-to-day lives anyway.
I also don’t mind letting people vent a little as long as they are doing what they need to do. I am careful to read the client’s emotional state, and if they are getting too angry, I’ll give them a moment to get refocused. Further, I remind them that physical activity is a chance to shift focus and is a respite from the concerns of life that await them outside of the workout space.
Recently though, politics has expanded to include opinions on matters of science, but facts matter. Accuracy matters. As a result, if someone mentions something objectively incorrect—for example, global warming is not real—I have a duty to the client and to the rest of society to politely and gently call it out. This does not happen often, but as fitness professionals we are also citizens, and there is some measure of civic duty always in play as we go about our day. This never used to happen when I started working in fitness. The political was political and the boundaries were clearer. Times have changed. When the president eschews exercise because of a verifiably incorrect belief that we have a limited number of heartbeats and doesn’t want to use his up, we have to speak up.
Two-Time Personal Trainer of the Year Winner (ACE and IDEA)
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