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When A Client Demonstrates Unsafe Exercise Performance

At HITuni, we encourage standards of exercise instruction and application that aim to minimize the risks of any injury occurring during exercise. These measures include:

  • selecting biomechanically correct exercises suitable for the client;
  • using appropriate equipment choices;
  • and teaching the client to be in complete control of the load they are using throughout exercise (which in turn results in cadences that minimize excessive force), amongst other performance points.

These standards are not promoted for the sake of wanting to be seen to take a stand on the issues of exercise performance and safety. They are there for a reason: to protect the client and to ensure that they are able to attain the physical rewards of highly intense exercise within responsible parameters of safety.

As a personal trainer, you will probably find that selecting the exercises and equipment is rather straightforward, but teaching control and safe performance can sometimes be more challenging than it initially seems. Occasionally you may find certain clients struggle to adhere to the standards of safe exercise performance that you teach and expect of them.


Why a client may not be demonstrating safe exercise performance

In rare cases a client can have appropriate exercise technique explained to them several times, nodding as if they have understood you each time. Then, the moment they are let loose on the equipment in their workout, you are left feeling it’s as if the conversation had never occurred.

There are many reasons this may happen; both physiological and psychological. Let’s see some common ones:

  • Some struggle with the accumulating, uncomfortable sensations that are associated with good exercise technique, they are looking for ways to escape this sensation by altering behaviors, breaking form and making things feel easier.
  • They have come to HIT excited about the “intensity”, they have not understood yet that efficient intensity is partly a by-product of safe exercise performance.
  • They are not actually consciously aware of their behavior from some point of the set onward.
  • On some level, they believe that moving the weight at any cost is more important than fatiguing the targeted musculature.
  • They want to show you how hard they are working – they want you to see how tough it feels to them: the grunting, screwing up their face and using leverage are partly a performance to impress you.
  • They are fixated on a metric like increasing repetitions.
  • Although they nod and say they have understood your instruction, they have not understood it fully: it’s true importance.
  • Your current approach to communicating, demonstrating and teaching the need for and specifics of safe behavior during exercise to this particular individual have not resonated and gelled with them.


What can you do about it?

What should you do in these circumstances? Stick to your guns or let the client get away with it?

You may from time to time feel yourself getting frustrated with a client’s apparent inability to process your instruction into the exercise behaviors that will help to protect them and deliver an excellent stimulus, but don’t let their behaviors slide. Keep educating the client as to how to perform exercise safely, no matter how much time this takes.

Keep in mind that some clients are going to be fast learners, others will be slower. Some individuals will have better motor skills that allow them to master safe control of the loads fairly rapidly, others will require much more practice. Take the occasion of working with a challenging client and turn it into a opportunity for you to learn, find, or discover a new way of communicating effectively to that individual.


The snowball effect of allowing unsafe exercise behaviors

If you let technique slide, effectively you have been hassled out of ensuring the client has the safest possible workout, by the client himself. Now, when the client works out in your presence, you have allowed them to increase their risk of experiencing adverse side effects of exercise: strain, injury, headaches, pain and so on.

If an injury does occur, then at the very least, it’s going to require workarounds in the exercise routines used with the client from that point on and at the worse it’s going to mean that the client is unable to train period. An injury is a very real problem for your client, who now has to live with the pain of that injury –  whose day-to-day life is affected by it.

Potentially it is also a very real problem for your business: you may lose revenue from the client’s missed sessions. And perhaps worse: in the long run you may lose revenue you didn’t even know you had the potential of attaining (if your reputation amongst that client’s friends and circle of influence is that training with you may lead to an injury).

Even if we set safety and injury-risk aside for one moment, the exercise stimulus has also been diluted. Now you are looking at the possibility of needing to have the client perform multiple sets of an exercise for the stimulus to be sufficient to cause adaptation. This of course is not near as bad as the concern of injury, and multiple sets may be needed with certain clients in some circumstances, however it does mark a move away from the value of efficiency.


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