Unfortunately, fitness professionals and facilities alike are at risk for claims of sexual abuse in the United States today. Both the physical assistance that fitness instructors give to members and words spoken to training clients can result in a sexual abuse claim in our current legal environment. Actions and words can be misinterpreted, even if no offense or harm is ever intended.
It is absolutely critical for fitness instructors to be aware of what amount of physical contact is appropriate with their clients. People differ greatly in their desire for physical contact. Each client should be approached as an individual, to gradually grow the training relationship and understand the individual’s unique personality. This is the first step in building mutual trust that will help the trainer and client work together to achieve their goals. Trainers should always be conservative, and ask before offering to physically assist a client in a workout.
Additionally, it is necessary to be extremely cautious in assisting minors with physical contact. Trainers should try to always work with minors either in a group or in front of others if their parents or guardians are not physically present. Trainers should not be alone with minor clients.
It also is very important to keep professionalism in mind when speaking to members and clients.
Trainers need to be mindful that humor can easily be misinterpreted. Fitness facility owners and professionals care deeply about their members and clients, and want to treat them like personal friends. It is, however, a work relationship — not a personal relationship. All humor should be professional.
It is also never a good idea to use belittling words or a condescending tone with members. Even terms of affection or endearment are not appropriate at work. Fitness professionals should avoid using diminutives or talking down to clients when training.
Finally, it is critical that trainers never be perceived to judge a member’s body vs assessing their progress. There are encouraging ways to review a client’s workout and goals without offending them. Fitness professionals should keep in mind that even complimenting a client’s appearance or body can be interpreted as sexual harassment, so trainers should always be professional.
Fitness professionals can strive to motivate members to achieve their fitness goals while building the commitment and purpose that drives a positive sense of community. By remembering these guidelines and teaching them to employees, a fitness facility owner can help protect their business, employees and members.
Jennifer Urmston Lowe is the national account manager for Sports & Fitness Insurance Company.