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Working With a Challenging Client

Client: Barbara

Personal Trainer: Angela McCampbell, Total Body Fitness

Location: Ventura, California


By age 64, Barbara had suffered her share of injuries and ailments. She had endured breast cancer, two total hip replacements, a frozen shoulder and severe osteoarthritis. Angela McCampbell, personal trainer at Total Body Fitness in Ventura, California, recalls feeling nervous about training this new client.

“I first met Barbara about 10 years ago after her trainer had left the business, and she was searching for a new one,” says McCampbell. Although Barbara presented with a host of potential challenges, she was also experienced with training. “My initial impression was that I had to know my ‘stuff’ or I would fail to keep her as a client,” Angela says. “Barbara had been training for years and seemed to know much more about fitness than the average gym-goer.”


At the outset of training, McCampbell facilitated several assessments such as a functional movement screen and flexibility and balance tests. These assessments revealed some movement dysfunctions—Barbara’s glutes seemed to have difficulty firing—and while Barbara had performed higher-level exercises with her previous trainer, McCampbell thought it best to start fresh. They began with exercises like floor bridging and step-ups so that Barbara could gain a better sense of what she was feeling while performing them.

“Barbara was perfectly capable of doing extreme exercises; however, their purpose was lost on her, and her goal was to just get through them,” McCampbell explains. “I really wanted her to change her thinking and focus on her body and how it responded to each movement.”


McCampbell admits that working with Barbara produced concerns. “Barbara’s physical issues were initially a daunting challenge for me. While I had worked in the past with people who had injuries, I had never encountered someone with this many issues.”

McCampbell addressed her worries by gaining the support of Barbara’s physicians and physical therapists and by implementing any recommendations they had for her. “Don’t be too proud to take all the advice you can get from medical professionals,” she advises. “The most important thing was staying connected to Barbara and her physicians and physical therapists so that we were all on the same page.”

McCampbell also relied heavily on feedback from Barbara. The trainer describes her client as having an acute awareness of her body and being able to easily zero in on areas where she felt aches or pains.

“Barbara’s feedback to me was the most valuable input in dealing with these issues,” says McCampbell.


There were some significant hiccups over the subsequent decade—Barbara would eventually have both knees replaced, for example. However, McCampbell says that her client has also seen plenty of improvements.

“Barbara has had many small victories when it comes to exercise and fitness, but I think the biggest success is that she is able once again to do everything she loves to do. Barbara is now 74, and she and her husband travel the world for months at a time on active vacations. When she’s home, she’s hiking in the local mountains, taking yoga and Pilates classes, touring museums and training with me twice a week.”

McCampbell attributes the success of the program to communication, adaptation and observation. “We spend the first few minutes of Barbara’s sessions talking about how she feels and what effects the last session had on her,” she says. “It seems to be an ever-changing situation.”

Barbara is a go-getter in the gym, which can sometimes become problematic, says McCampbell, adding that one of her greatest struggles is keeping her client from pushing too hard. “Some days we need to go back to the basics for a refresher course, and other days she is the strongest woman I know and can’t get enough exercise,” she says.

Throughout all the challenges they’ve faced, McCampbell remains awed by her client. “I can only hope to remain as active as she is when I reach that age,” McCampbell says. “Many people would simply give up with all that she has been through. Barbara merely sees any adversity as a speed bump and carries on striving for perfection.”

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