Should PTs ever train alongside their clients?

When this question was put to the Network Community the responses highlighted the conflicting standpoints held by personal trainers in Australia and New Zealand.

As a fitness professional, you’ll be only too aware that the world of fitness is rife with conflicting stances on the best ways to train, eat and recover. Isolated versus integrated? Paleo versus raw? To stretch or not to stretch?... ad infinitum.

Here at Network we love to know what our members and fans are thinking, and to gauge your stance on any number of issues. To this end, social media has been a fantastic addition to our range of communication tools in recent years, allowing us to post stories and news relevant to all aspects of our industry, and to see where you, our members, stand on assorted issues.

Figure 1: Should PTs train alongside their clients?

Recently Network was contacted by a member, Lisa, who asked:
‘I have a question – do other trainers train alongside the client during their session? Over the years, I've found some clients expect you to do the same as them during a session. This is OK if you don't have 20 sessions booked in every day! But what about watching what the client is doing? I'm a stickler for form and technique, specialise in injury rehab and work with a lot of older clients. If you are not watching your client, chances are they might perform an exercise incorrectly or injure themselves, thereby increasing liability.’

Prompted by Lisa’s message, we posed the following question on the Network facebook page (which recently passed 12,000 page followers):

‘Are you a PT? If so, do you train alongside your clients during their sessions? We'd love to hear from you below, whether it's just a simple yes, no, or a longer explanation!’

The response was immediate and although the majority ruled against training alongside their clients, the responses were varied, as the selection below illustrates:

The ‘YES’ camp…

Tommy: Leading by example has always worked for me, that said there are some types of 10 Week Boot Camp Challenges that I run which need some close scrutiny for Safety, Form, Technique etc but it is always a lot of fun (and hard work) to give them an opportunity to "Train the Trainer" either half way through or at the completion. I believe that it is very important to show your clients that you are willing and able.

Christine: Yes, with a particular small group, because it works better. Also, occasionally with personal clients for motivation. I normally would not do this with personal clients, but have found doing it occasionally makes them pick up their game, in some ways. It certainly depends on the circumstances.

Julie: It has its place. I started doing PT myself to be fitter, so when my clients were struggling, I could go from 0 to 100. For example if I had them doing sprints, they could pace off me. I had one client continually questioning if I could do all the things I asked him to do. Eventually he challenged me to do a PT boxing session with him. I did everything he did and talked him through it. He was wrecked but impressed and respected me more. As long as your focus is on technique, it can have its place. You need to know when it’s appropriate and not make it about yourself. …If you think no no no never....think outside of the square!

Patti: Yes, in my boot camps, group training and one-on-one PT I do as much as I can with my clients within the limits of advising and correcting technique and setting them up. Clients love that I do it with them – it shows them motivation, endurance and correct technique and the fact that I love activity and challenge.


The ‘No’s have it…

Stephen: I don't; my role is supervision of my client’s safe technique and well-being.

Marnie: No. Except to show certain techniques. It's the client's workout, not mine.

Graeme: No, definitely not. They’re paying you to train them, correct form and encourage results not be their training buddy.

Alison: No never never never. It's a big NO. Your role as a PT is to give your undivided attention to your clients and how can you possibly do that if you’re concentrating on working out yourself? A BIG NO.

Amanda: No it's their workout not mine, they are paying me to train them. Can't watch form or spot properly if training as well.

Paul: No. Pay attention, listen, correct form, give encouragement. It's about the client, not yourself.

Kate: No. I did when I first started. I soon learned that I could be a better trainer by observing and if I kept constantly exercising with them I would risk overtraining and/or injury.

Sarah: No way. If I'm working out, how am I supposed to be watching them? They are paying me for instruction. It is also counter-productive to my goals as it would be way overtraining.

Skye: No, my clients are paying me to train them, not for me to train with them. Also for safety!


Well, sometimes…

Adam: I do the warm up with them. It's a good opportunity to have a quick chat about their week and to build a better connection.

Simone: Yes sometimes for ‘learn to run’ clients, no for weights, strength or Pilates work!

Kirsty: It varies, depending on the situation and the client. Mostly no though.

Winnie: Sometimes clients need some interactive motivation, but not all the way through.

Erica: No and yes. No with weights and circuit training, yes when it’s the running group.

HEAT PT: I think it really does depend upon what type of exercise you are instructing your client to do. Generally I would say no to training alongside of them as you need to be fully focused on correcting their technique and at the ready to help them if needed. If, however, you are going to get them to run laps of an oval or to travel up and down stairs, you would need to be running with them to help motivate them and to be at their side ready to help them if they run into trouble. It's not helpful or motivating for the client if you are barking orders at them from a distance, army style.


What do you think? Feel free to add your experiences and thoughts below, or head to the Network facebook page where you can add to the post (dated 4 July 2014) or join in with any other conversation!