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Professional Boundaries - Toeing the Line

Professional Boundaries - Toeing the Line | April Merritt | Exam Preparation Blog | 4/26/2010


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TrainersWhen preparing for your ACE certification exam, you’ll read in your manual about the importance of establishing rapport with your class participants/ clients. The rapport stage is the foundation for the entire relationship between you and your client. Rapport means a relationship of mutual trust. For the helping relationship to be successful (meaning the relationship between you and your client) professionals need to communicate the attributes of empathy, warmth and genuineness.  In general, you’ve got to be a nice, likeable, understanding type of person.

Bonding with your clients can help increase their motivation and adherence. It can make your training sessions flow easier due to increased communication. Knowing more about your client can help with developing their exercise program, and troubleshooting when progress stalls. Being on good terms with your client can also make work easier for you! Such great things…what could be wrong with making friends with your clients?

Well, it depends on who you ask. The ACE Code of Ethics (Appendix A in all of the manuals) states that it is imperative that professional distance is maintained in relationships between instructor/trainer and participant/client. Fitness professionals are responsible for setting and monitoring the boundaries between a working relationship and friendship with their clients/participants. The manual goes on to list cautions for the fitness professional with regards to touching – appropriate versus inappropriate, social or personal contacts with clients and the impact on the professional relationship, and steps to take if a relationship has crossed professional boundaries.

Now there will always be discussion about what is and what isn’t considered appropriate consideration of boundaries.  For every trainer who says a relationship should be strictly business you’ll hear of another trainer who keeps clients not necessarily because of his success rate but rather this personality and the relationships he develops. The key word to keep in mind is ‘professional’.

So how does this apply to your exam preparation? During the exam you may come across questions which address this issue and its related professional issue of referral. The question may bring up a client who constantly wants to talk about her pending divorce while you are conducting the training session. Do you emphasize with the client? Change the subject? Recommend she speak with an attorney? Gossip about her dog of a spouse and what you saw at the juice bar last week? Again, keep in mind the ‘professional’ aspect of your position when you reply.

As you are reading through your manual, take the time to understand the leadership and implementation chapters listed below:

ACE Group Fitness Instructor 3rd edition manual: Chapter 5 and Appendix A

ACE 5th edition Personal Trainer manual: Chapter 2 – 4 and Appendix A

Establishing a good relationship with your participant/client can help both you and them. However, maintaining professional boundaries is a key aspect of growing and operating as a professional.