Get Therapy out of Your Gym (Seriously)

A man assisting an injured female with an ankle injury in a gym.

“Ohhhh, that feels so great. Mmm … .”

I was sitting in my office and heard a female moaning.

I knew one of my coaches had a personal-training client, but otherwise the gym should have been empty.

The sounds coming from the gym floor were pretty sensual. I froze for a second to make sure I wasn’t hearing things.

She groaned again. “Ohhh … .”

I blasted out of my office, expecting the worst but hardly believing it.

Across the gym (yeah, she was loud), a trainer was rubbing the neck and shoulders of his female client.

He wasn’t a registered massage therapist. She was wearing a tank top. But there was a lot of contact, and the sound alone was way across the line.

I hope you haven’t been through the “massaging a client” scenario. But I bet you’ve seen other instances—or participated in them—where your service crossed the line between coaching and therapy.

Here’s why we do it, why we should stop and what we should do instead.


Creating Problems Instead of Solving Them


Scenario: You’re a fitness or movement coach. A client has a physical limitation that prevents him from doing your fitness method or prescribed movement.

You’re a problem solver, so you do a little triaging. Maybe the client has shortened hip flexors because of too much sitting, right? You just read an article about sitting being the new smoking, so “let’s mobilize the hip flexors!”

The real problem isn’t tight hip flexors. The real problem is that you’re not a therapist.

Personal trainers and fitness coaches don’t have a professional college (at least not in North America). We don’t have a clearly defined scope of practice. That’s good—except that without a clear scope, we go way beyond what we’re qualified to do. That leads to mistrust from other health-care pros, and rightly so.

And hey—sometimes we do know more than a client’s doctor or their dietitian, right? And sometimes we don’t want to send the client to a chiropractor because the chiro will tell the person to stop coming to our gym. It’s just client preservation to do the therapy ourselves!

In fact, this is the primary fear: not that our clients will get bad advice but that they’ll stop coming to the gym.

The solution? Work with the other health-care pros in town.

Look, I know this problem inside and out. In my case, the problem is twofold:

  1. I have a big ego and think I can just solve every problem.
  2. I was really scared I’d lose every client I referred somewhere else.


In fact, the opposite happened.

  1. I lost the trust of health pros because I tried to do their job (and was unqualified and without tools).
  2. When a client had to leave, it was because of a real injury, so the client never came back. And the health-care pros saw clients leaving my care with legit injuries instead of just short-term setbacks. That didn’t create trust, either.


In the next post in this series, I’m going to tell you where we fit on the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum. This will help everyone understand our scope of practice.

In Part 3, I’m going to tell you how to get over the real fear: that you’ll lose clients if you refer them outside your gym.


Other Media in This Series


“Sickness-Wellness-Fitness: Where Coaching Fits”
“Making Local Connections: Your Ecosystem”

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