7 Key Boundaries Personal Trainers Should Establish

Key Boundaries Personal Trainers Should Establish

As a personal trainer, boundaries must be set between yourself and your clients in order to form and manage a successful business relationship. 

This article will discuss 7 examples of ways in which boundaries between personal trainer and client can be established, and how they will affect your overall business.

But first, if you’re looking to advance your career a Level 4 Personal Training course will allow you to work with niche groups of clients. Download our FREE prospectus to learn more about OriGym’s industry-leading courses.

7 Key Boundaries Between a Personal Trainer and Client

#1 - To Establish Personal Trainer Boundaries, Keep Conversation Focused on the Session at Hand

As a personal trainer, it can be tempting to try to fill multiple roles in order to offer clients personal support throughout the session. 

For example, if a client arrives at training upset, you may find yourself offering advice outside of your professional remit. 

Helping your clients during tough personal times is fine, and will actually present you in a more personable light. However, if this support becomes a continuous recurrence, you run the risk of detracting from a client’s fitness goals. 

This could lead your clients to become less focused and underperform during their session, which could cause them to feel unsatisfied with their progress. 

Playing this role can quickly become emotionally draining for you as a trainer too, meaning that you won’t produce your best work either. 

Wanting to build a rapport with your clients is perfectly understandable, but you should never let this relationship impact your role as their PT. 

To avoid becoming too personal with your clients, we recommend keeping the topic of conversation on the session at hand. Should you find the conversation starting to drift away, follow these steps:

  1. Interrupt: No need to be rude or aggressive, simply gently break in by saying something like -  “Sorry don’t mean to interrupt” 
  2. Validate: It’s important that clients feel they’re being listened to, offer some words of encouragement stating - “That sounds really tough, I understand why you’re feeling that way” 
  3. Remind: Of the rules and why they’re training with you in the first place - “Like we spoke about during the consultation you should try to leave everything at the door during your sessions. That way we can have the best possible workout”
  4. Redirect: Bring your client back to their workout - “The best way I can help you is through assisting in pursuit of your goals, and ensuring you have a great workout. So if you’re up to it, let’s focus on just that”.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t help your clients through difficult times should you feel necessary. Rather, these boundaries between a personal trainer and client must be strictly in place during the session itself, in order to ensure optimum results.

This same principle applies for conversations outside of sessions: 

#2 - Maintain Personal Trainer Boundaries During Conversations Outside of Session Time 

When training clients an intense level of trust is required by both parties, which may prompt you to form a friendship overtime. As a result, the way in which you communicate outside of the gym could waver from professionalism.

For reference,  here are some appropriate topics of conversation you can share with clients outside of your training time in order to maintain the professional boundaries of a fitness instructor:

  • Booking or cancelling a session
  • Rescheduling a session or check-in
  • Making an enquiry regarding payment 
  • Ask a question concerning their training

It is also deemed appropriate to contact a client should they miss a pre-arranged appointment. In this instance, the personal contact will be viewed as a necessary check-in on their wellbeing. 

On the other hand, examples of inappropriate personal conversations include:

  • Personal information regarding their family/social life
  • Flirtatious comments
  • Abusive or overly critical language 

These comments should be avoided by BOTH trainer and client alike.

Naturally, talk of personal life may enter the discussion following training but it should be kept to a minimum and never be a point of focus. 

Anything more than this may prompt some clients to view you as a friend, rather than a personal trainer, which could have a knock on effect on their overall performance. 

#3 - Establish Your Working Availability to Create Personal Trainer Boundaries

When initially trying to build a client base many trainers will make themselves available whenever a client needs them. 

Consequently, these trainers won’t be able to relax during their downtime, as they’ll be so focused on offering their clients additional support. Whilst this may benefit the clients, it will only result in physical and emotional burnout on the trainer's end. 

By refusing to establish these professional boundaries a fitness instructor’s business can be negatively affected.

To avoid this from occurring, be sure to establish your availability within the initial consultation. 

Instead of stating you’ll be available wherever, whenever, give precise working hours, during which clients will be able to reach you through your chosen method of contact, such as:

  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Any social media handles, if you feel that this is appropriate.

By establishing professional boundaries as a gym instructor, you will let clients know what hours you’ll be available for both training and administrative purposes.

One way to do this is through personal training software in which client’s will be able to see your availability on any given day. This information will inform them on when they can book sessions, and when you’re available to answer any questions.  

In order to ensure personal trainer boundaries are well maintained try to not deter from these working hours. If a client messages you outside of working hours, reply at your own pace, or during your next working day.

Whilst replying to a message may seem harmless, this could lead to a back and forth discussion with said client, eating into your personal time.

Establishing working hours is vital for any job role, not just personal trainers specifically. By separating your work and personal life, you can reduce the risk of burnout, and give yourself time to unwind. 

#4 - Set Professional Boundaries as a Gym Instructor To Provide Yourself With Personal Time

As discussed within the previous section, establishing the boundaries between a personal trainer and client can ensure that you have personal time to yourself. 

This time can be used for multiple purposes, some may use it to rest and recuperate, whilst others will use it to develop their business for the benefit of their clients.

In this instance, trainers who are interested in advancing their career should complete specialist qualifications such as a Level 4 Personal Trainer course.

This will sharpen your skills and knowledge relating to topics such as:

  • New exercise techniques 
  • Working with specialist client groups - e.g. Obese clients
  • Updated dietary advice 
  • Changing industry protocols that all trainers must follow

In-turn, knowing this information will improve your client’s experience, helping to facilitate their goals in a faster and more efficient way. 

But you don’t necessarily need to pursue a specialist qualification to obtain this information. By simply establishing ‘free-time’ boundaries as a trainer, you could read fitness related articles that specifically pertain to your clients requirements.

Likewise, when setting these personal trainer boundaries you can also grant yourself ‘free-time’.

This could include your own exercise, spending time with family and friends, or even completely switching off with some TV for an hour.

As a trainer your entire job revolves around encouraging your clients to change their lifestyle for the better. Very rarely do you look inward and ask this of yourself, but downtime will ensure that you’re well rested and prepared for the following workday. 

As we’ve discussed, let your clients know what times you will be available to them and stick to these hours diligently. 

These time-dependent boundaries and the personal time they generate, will allow you to  present yourself and your business in the best possible light.

#5 - Your Personal Trainer Boundaries Should Include a Clear Cancellation Policy

During an initial consultation, a personal trainer should clearly establish the expectations they have of their clients. This should include a cancellation policy, which clearly details:

  • How much notice clients need to give to cancel their session
  • What happens if they fail to cancel in time, including charges
  • Payment processes, including what happens when a client fails to pay
  • What happens when clients turn up later than 10 minutes after their appointment time, without notice
  • What happens when you (the personal trainer) cancel a session without minimum notice

To clarify, there is nothing wrong with a client cancelling their appointment, but if this occurs last minute it can be a hindrance for the personal trainer. Whereas if the client provides notice, it will give you enough time to fill the new opening in your schedule with another individual. 

The largest inconvenience is how this cancelled session will impact you financially. With a last minute cancellation comes a loss of income as no one will pay for a session they did not attend. 

To avoid this from occurring, you must establish a cancellation policy as part of professional boundaries as a gym instructor.

A cancellation fee is a firmly established rule which states that a client must give adequate notice that they will not be able to attend a session. Should they fail to provide this, they will be charged full price for the session.

The industry standard cancellation policy requires 24-hours notice, a practice which is implemented by popular gym-chains such as Virgin Active, who state:

To establish these boundaries between a personal trainer and client, you should ensure that your cancellation policy is clearly visible on the likes of your personal training website or social media pages. 

This should be a clearly defined list of rules and regulations that all clients will be able to read and understand. 

For clarity, here is what a cancellation policy should look like:

Please read the following cancellation policy carefully:

  • Clients must cancel a session with at least 24 hours’ notice, via [your phone number] or [your email address]. 
  • Failure to cancel within this time period will result in clients being charged at full price for the session. 
  • Payment must be made in full prior to all sessions.
  • If I (the trainer) fail to give 24 hours’ prior notice of a session cancellation, you are entitled to one free session at a time of your choice.

Notice how certain rules of the cancellation policy also apply to the trainer, this reassures the client that you are being held to the same standard as they are. Afterall, they are paying for a service and deserve to be treated with respect. 

By setting these cancellation boundaries between personal trainer and clients, it enables you to protect both your time and that of your client. Ensuring that you’re both treated with the same level of respect.

#6 - Set a Clear Lateness Policy to Uphold Personal Trainer Boundaries

If your clients are consistently late to sessions, it can begin to have a big impact on both your business and their progress.

Missing 10 minutes at the start may not seem like much, but when this is happening session after session, the time can begin to build up. Consequently, what would have been a 60 minute session, will now become a 50 minute session meaning that you’ll have to shorten the proposed programme. 

Having a shortened session means that the client may be missing out on a few crucial exercises that could help them to make progress towards their goals in a faster manner. 

This means that their workouts won’t be as effective, resulting in unhappy clients who may look elsewhere for training.

To avoid this, you must establish professional boundaries as a fitness instructor and set time-keeping expectations for your clients. 

As with the cancellation policy you should adhere to the same lateness policy, in order to show your clients the same level of respect.

For example, you should stress the importance of arriving on time for every session and how this positively impacts the pursuit of their goals. Additionally, you should also offer what’s called a ‘10-minute grace period for all clients’.

How to Apply 10-Minute ‘Grace’ period for Clients

  • Clients must contact [your phone number] if they are going to be more than 10 minutes late.
  • Trainer must contact the client if they are going to be more than 10 minutes late
  • The client's failure to give sufficient notice for lateness will result in the session being cancelled and charged at full price.
  • The trainer’s failure to give sufficient notice for lateness will result in the session being cancelled and the client rewarded a refund or free session.

One-off occurrences are naturally going to happen on both a client and trainer's end, as there are some things that are simply out of our control. But when a client is continuously turning up late for training you should intervene.

This should not be approached from a place of anger, instead the message should come from a place of kindness and concern. For example, you can choose to say something like:

‘Hi, I’ve noticed that for our last few sessions you’ve arrived 15 minutes late. Is 3pm still a good time for you, or would you prefer to push the session back an hour? In this case, we don’t have to keep cutting into your workout time’

A lateness policy is a simple but effective example of personal trainer boundaries that can be put in place to benefit your client and their training.

#7 - Inform Your Clients That You Will Refuse to Train Them Should These Professional Boundaries Be Breached 

Part of establishing these professional boundaries as a fitness instructor is knowing when to call it quits.

If a client has continuously breached your clearly defined boundaries, you will need to inform them that you no longer wish to train them due to their unprofessional conduct. 

Depending on your business model, you may wish to offer said client a refund for the remaining weeks they paid for, or you could see their existing package through to the end. 

This offer isn’t always a guarantee, as you could state that they were in clear breach of your agreement and future sessions will therefore be cancelled with non-refundable affect. 

This discussion should be approached from a point of professionalism and in no way should feel like an attack on the client in question. 

Calmly discuss why you have chosen to terminate this working relationship, highlighting what professional boundaries were broken by the client. 

Following this, you should listen to the client’s side of the story, before deciding whether to offer them another opportunity or go through with the termination. In the latter instance, you may then decide to refer the client to another trainer within your network, but this decision can be subjective to your own opinion. 

Before You Go!

Personal trainer boundaries will ultimately help your business run at a more efficient level, guaranteeing that you and your clients are working in tandem.

Therefore, in order to create a healthy training environment you should establish these boundaries early on in your working relationship. 

Remember, by completing a Level 4 Personal Trainer course you will be able to successfully build upon your career. These certifications have been regulated by Ofqual and recognised by CIMSPA, both of whom certify them to be industry leading qualifications.

You can also download OriGym’s course prospectus to learn more about every qualification we have to offer, it’s entirely FREE to do so! 


Become a Level 4 Specialist Personal Trainer with OriGym

Progress your career with OriGym and enrol on a specalist Level 4 Personal Training career today! 

Written by Rebecca Felton

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Graduating from the University of Liverpool with a first-class degree in English, Rebecca’s combined passions for fitness and writing are what brought her to OriGym. Rebecca is a keen gym-goer and specifically enjoys lifting weights. Outside of fitness and writing, Rebecca enjoys cooking, reading, and watching the football.

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