Rochelle Rice by Rochelle Rice

Clients may begin training with you due to pressure from family, concern from their doctor or even shame. But what's in it for them? What type of relationship will be established? What type of boundaries? What about values and ethics? And what is possible on a cultural level?

Trust—Do No Harm

training obese clientsA new client may arrive with shame, embarrassment, self-loathing and self-deprecation. It is important to note that just because a person is overweight or full-figured, it does not necessarily mean they posses these characteristics. Do not stereotype. It is essential that a relationship of trust is built without any discrimination or sense of judgment. Whether you verbally say something or not, the client will feel it.

The bridge to building trust is very delicate. To begin, observe the client's reaction to how close you stand to him or her. When offering a greeting, allow more physical space between you and the client. For example, don't overcrowd by stepping in so close that the client jumps out of his or her skin. Second, look the client in the eyes gently. You may not connect initially because the client may not be used to being seen. Although large, the client may have the feeling of being invisible or wanting to hide. Go slow. And finally, do not touch the client in the beginning. There are many cases of trauma and abuse and any hands on could disconnect the client further from his or her body. Ask for permission before laying your hands on the client.


You cannot promise weight loss. The overweight client may present you with a complex web of issues that you may not even be aware of initially. You can promise more breath and fluidity in the body, less stress, better sleep and adaptability to activities of daily living. You need to be honest and clear in your policies and procedures. Start and end your sessions on time. Be clear about your cancellation policy and hold to it. Do not talk about your personal life during the session.

Cue the activity or exercise, ask for permission to place your hands on the client if necessary, tell them which muscle it is and where it is located, and ask if he or she can feel that muscle working during the exercise. Help the client develop a sensation vocabulary within his or herself by asking, "How does your body (that muscle) feel?" You may have to offer a list of sensations in the beginning (tingly, stretched, energized, flowing). While many trainers measure the success with numbers (weight lost, inches lost, etc.), there is nothing more honest than the feelings experienced by the client as he or she experiences—and expresses—the sensations arising from his or her own body.

More Than Weight Loss

The goal of the training should be to help the client lead a more active lifestyle. A set of values and ethics can also be incorporated by using the activity to confirm their values. There is integrity in completing an exercise while being fully present, connecting to the body and with the best technique. There is also integrity in completing a project at home or work. Help the client make that connection between the gym and his or her life.

There is also the value of an active lifestyle that blends itself with the client's culture. Dancing at social events such as weddings may provide a significant workout for the client, while also requiring a good deal of self-confidence to get on the dance floor in the first place. Training with you could include reviewing the shoes the client will wear, how to be strong in the core to prevent lower-back discomfort from dancing all night, how to pace oneself for cardio levels, proper water intake, limiting alcohol to avoid poor food choices, and treatment post-celebration to include rest and stretch. By taking an active interest in your client's culture and social engagements, you may find that he or she will be more engaged in life!

Building trust, honesty and a connection to the client's physical life outside the gym will help create a meaningful relationship between you and your client. Helping the client connect with muscles, bones and internal organs will help anchor the client in his or her body. Clear boundaries, policies and communication will provide a sense of structure that may not exist elsewhere in his or her life. From the moment the client walks in the door to the moment the session has ended, learn to embrace the sense that you may be teaching a full-life lesson by standing in your values with deep respect for the amazing person in front of you.

To learn more on how to empower clients to make long-term healthy changes and meet meaningful goals, attend our “Effective Strategies for Training Obese and Overweight Clients” workshop in a location near you!

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