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How to Stay Within your Scope as a Personal Trainer

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October 21, 2022
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As a personal trainer, you know more about your clients than most people. You understand what motivates them and what holds them back. You know about their eating, exercise, and sleep habits. You know when they are having a good day and when they are having a bad day.

This puts you in a trusted position. However, it is always essential to understand what you can and cannot do without operating outside of your scope as a personal trainer. This article aims to clarify some of the support and services you can offer.

What a personal trainer CANNOT do.

Let's begin by looking at some things that are not within your scope as a personal trainer.

Don't #1. You cannot give out meal plans with exact amounts, meals, and timings.

Not even nutrition coaches are permitted to give out such specific meal plans. Only a registered dietitian is licensed to do so and your personal trainer insurance likely won't cover it. This professional profoundly understands the human body and the effects of nutrition and food, obtaining a university degree in dietetics and learning to assess, diagnose and treat nutrition-related problems. Personal trainers do not have suitable qualifications to do this, even if they have a nutrition coaching certificate.

Don't #2. You cannot take on a therapist's role.

As mentioned in the introduction, you will learn much about your clients. You may even find that some of your clients pour their hearts out to you. While you can be a sounding board, you cannot advise on matters of the mind or heart. This is a therapist's job.

Furthermore, you may discover with some of your body composition clients that they might have an unhealthy relationship with their body and food, or you suspect they either have disordered eating habits or an eating disorder. You must refer them to a specialist and only continue their program if the doctor signs off on it for them. While you might not think they have significant issues, they can become severe if these problems go untreated.

Don't #3. Flirting is strictly prohibited.

As a personal trainer, finding the odd client who tries to flirt with you is not unusual. However, just because someone else is being flirtatious does not mean you can return the favor. It would be best if you always kept it professional to protect your client, yourself, your integrity, and your income.

There is no denying that sometimes a client becomes the significant other to a trainer. The professional way to manage that from an ethical point of view is to cease the trainer-client relationship immediately to maintain your reputation as a personal trainer.

Don't #4. You may not be able to work with specific segments of the population.

Unless you have the required qualifications, you will be unable to work with specific client types. Examples include the following:

• People with certain health conditions - asthma, cancer, etc.

• Obese people (those with a BMI over 30)

• Older adults (60 years old and above)

• Pre/postnatal women

The good news is that there are CPD courses available that enable you to get the qualifications you need. However, the average personal trainer with an L3 Diploma or Certificate is not qualified to work with any of the groups of people mentioned above.

Don't #5. You cannot push specific diets or supplements.

Just because a supplement or diet works for you or another person with the same goals does not mean it is suitable for your client. Everyone is different. You cannot prescribe a specific product or diet for reasons discussed in the first point. You most certainly cannot do so for financial gains, either.

If you affiliate market for a supplement brand, you'll need to tread lightly with promoting those products and how you frame their usefulness to clients. They will be more susceptible to your opinion due to the trust in your relationship. The best way to approach this if you want to sell products is to list their benefits, potential side-effects, and recommendations and allow your clients to make informed decisions.

What a personal trainer can do (and is encouraged to do).

Now that we have established what personal trainers cannot do, let's take a look at some of the things you definitely can and probably want to do.

Do #1. Deliver suitable workouts to your clients.

Delivering workout sessions in person or remotely via Zoom or other video platforms is the most fundamental task of a personal trainer. If you're qualified at level 3, you can work with generally healthy adults who want to work with a trainer to achieve their fitness goals.

Whether that's to get stronger, lose body fat, or be more active, your job is to get to know the client, understand what they want to achieve, and deliver workouts that aid their goals. You can enroll in CPD courses to learn more about working with a specific population, topic, and equipment and use that knowledge to deliver workouts that get the desired results.

Do #2. Design Exercise Programmes

Another fundamental role as a personal trainer is to programme exercises for your clients. Delivering workouts might not apply to all online fitness coaches. Still, if your goal is to grow the coaching section of your personal training business, you'll need to get exceptionally good at programming workouts that get results.

To do this, you will need to understand your client. What is their history? What are their objectives? You can then perform a needs analysis. This will help you to put together a program's skeleton, which you can then tweak with different exercises, sets, and reps.

Do #3. Give general health advice.

As mentioned above, you cannot tell your clients exactly what to eat and when to eat it. However, this does not mean you cannot give nutrition advice.

You can certainly share your knowledge with your clients to encourage them to make healthier decisions. Of course, if you have furthered your education in nutrition, you can offer any service in line with the scope of the nutrition coach certificate you have. You can also use a food log to look for patterns in behavior and missing or even excess intake of macronutrients. If you believe your client might benefit from speaking to a nutrition coach or RD, don't be afraid to refer them.

Do #4. Encourage healthier lifestyle habits.

As a personal trainer, you are concerned with your patients' lifestyles and ensuring they continue to take steps toward a healthier existence. Certain habits like smoking, excess alcohol consumption, high-stress levels, overtraining, or sleep deprivation can jeopardize your client's goals.

You can make suggestions and encourage healthier lifestyle habits so long your client is open to discussing these topics. Remember, Don't #2, though. If you suspect they need specialist help, don't hesitate to encourage them to seek it out.

Some main areas of concern include exercise recovery, stress management, and sleep. For example, you can guide your clients on how to consistently get a better quality and long enough night of sleep.

Do #5. Recommend other professionals.

Looking out for any red flags is something that personal trainers are encouraged to do. You may be able to notice a health issue while it is still in its early stage, and this could make a monumental difference to the outcome for your client.

However, this does not mean that you can start diagnosing physical or mental health issues. Instead, you can recommend another professional, such as a GP, mental health professional, or physiotherapist. Naturally, you need to broach these matters carefully. Do not force someone into making a decision.

Do #6. Continue to learn and hone your craft.

You probably already know that new scientific data comes to light every month in the fitness and nutrition fields as well. It's an excellent idea for personal trainers to keep an eye on new research because sometimes, what we believe to be the right approach might be outdated in a few years. Or sometimes, we learn more in-depth knowledge that can make a difference in client results.

As you become more experienced, there will be topics you want to understand much more in-depth than others. That's when enrolling in CPD courses will help you hone your expertise and allow you to start working with niche clients, like older adults, pre and postnatal women, or people living with health conditions like asthma, Type 2 Diabetes, or even arthritis.

Understand your scope of practice as a personal trainer.

As a personal trainer, you must ensure you never cross boundaries. If for not else, because your insurance will not likely cover any out-of-scope practices. I hope the above guidelines have helped you understand what you can and cannot do in your current role.

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