I am a qualified PT and fitness instructor who is close to graduating as a sports massage therapist so I deal with people of different sexes, ages, backgrounds and levels of health and fitness.
I pride myself on my work ethics. I need to feel that I am a professional and possess a knowledge in this field that is greater than my clients’. I am always prepared for my classes and I take continuous professional development courses.
The way I see it, people come to see me – as a fitness instructor or a massage therapist – with a goal in mind. They need help with a joint or muscle, or they want to get fitter, etc. My job is to help them to get there and to do it SAFELY. At the end of the day I am the professional. I am supposed to know HOW they should approach the journey. They put their trust in me and they are paying me for it.
Let me put a disclaimer here: I am not saying that I will know on the spot all the answers to: what, how much, how often, how intense. I am not a god; however, my qualifications give me the tools to try and deliver these answers eventually.
Health & Safety – Bare Basics
I took an instructor training with a great trainer who despite (or maybe BECAUSE OF) having 20 years’ teaching experience, still includes bike set up in each class.
Still if I had a penny for each time I walk into a spin studio and walk around setting people up and I hear: “Wow! I have been coming to spin for years and nobody ever explained this to me!” …
Pre-Screen Like A Pro
Recently I have been introduced (online) to Jenny Burrell of Burrell Education who is a specialist in pre- and post-natal massage and fitness and runs her own training programmes. She posted a great video listing 6 Pillars of Programming for Post-Natal Client on her FB page. Please look it up as the points are a fantastic takeaway for any PT or instructor and in particular, those working with special populations.
If you are a group exercise instructor a few of these points won’t apply as we normally get random people walk in, plus we cannot tailor a workout to individual needs with 40 participants in a room. Nevertheless, pay attention to the point about screening.
Today my class was being inspected by the head office. I got to see the check list of what they would be paying attention to and I was impressed as it included bike set up, form cueing and modifications throughout the class but also pre-screening.
And What Then? What Makes A Professional PT/Group Exercise Instructor?
I have the impression that these things are still often neglected. And if we do get to ask the right questions and get the answers – what do we do with them? This is what makes the difference between a pro and a cowboy…
Let me tell you two stories.
The first one happened to me a couple of months ago when I decided to get some personal training sessions to work on my upper body strength which I need in my work as a massage therapist.
I met up with a PT beforehand to see if we would work together. I explained my routine, gave him the medical history of the spinal surgery etc. , specified my goals and said explicitly: when it comes to upper body strength treat me like someone who has never been to the gym.
Session one was tough as expected. In session two he put me on the pull ups machine. It’s assisted but still it is not a beginner’s exercise but as a PT you need to see the new client perform various exercises so you can assess what they can do. After the first series, I was suffering. In the second, my form was fading. Still we pressed on despite me not being able to complete the set. After the third, I could not lift my water bottle to my mouth as my arms felt dead. I wasn’t pretending I was fine. I did say that this was too much and my arms felt like they were not connected to my body. Still I was to attempt another set. Unsuccessfully.
After the session, I was teaching a double spin.
That night a horrible pain woke me up. I felt like my arms were wooden. I couldn’t straighten my elbows and after taking some pain killers I had to rest my arms on cushions to ease the pain enough to be able to sleep.
When I woke up in the morning the insides of both elbows were horribly swollen and I had to keep my arms bent at all times. I must have partially tore the tendons. At work, I could not open doors and after sitting at the desk for 30 min when I stood up my arms remained bent and I had to so some serious self-massage of my biceps and forearms to get some movement into the joints. I was horrified!
I sent a text message to the guy explaining the situation. No word of apology or advice or anything like that came back. I cancelled the next session as I could not risk this getting any worse.
I was angry with him for not taking what I was saying seriously but then I was angry with myself as with my background I should have refused point blank to continue with the exercise.
I was not an average Joe Gym who got injured doing some crazy stuff like running backwards on a treadmill. I had someone WATCHING me. They have prepared a session with me in mind.
I have come to teach classes many times with a great plan in mind but it would go out of the window as I would see just by the way people were setting their bikes up, that my original plan just would not work. Sometimes you can just modify the plan and coach a different intensity level but the point is:
Whatever your plan may have been before the session, adapt it to the client/group in front of you.
You cannot ignore what you see and still plough ahead because in your mind it’s a great session.
The second story involves my sister who despite a very young age suffers from a severe form of arthritis which is being controlled by strong medication. The key with any form of arthritis is to keep the affected joints mobile.
My sister knows her body well and has been living with this condition for a few years.
Recently she decided to get a PT. In their first meeting, she explained the condition and the limitations it imposed on her body: she needs to keep moving not to seize up BUT the condition is painful especially left knee.
I do not expect every PT or a sports massage therapist to be familiar with EVERY condition any client presents themselves with.
That is where Jenny’s suggestion in that video of having a pre-screening questionnaire that you e-mail to a POTENTIAL client before you even decide if you take them on, is first class.
It not only makes you look extremely professional but gives you time to
Prepare And Research
the condition and the contraindications and modifications necessary to provide a safe workout or a massage session.
Suffice to say after a session the said PT decided to help my sister stretch the gluteus doing what makes me cringe every time I see it performed: client is supine on the floor, one leg is bent at the knee (or straight on the floor if they are flexible); the PT takes the client’s other leg, straight at the knee, and pushes it towards the client’s head performing a hamstring stretch; then the client bends the knee, rotates it laterally and the PT pushes the bent leg up just like before but this time targeting the gluteus.
I hate seeing that done as I still need to see a PT checking the client’s ROM first. They just whack the leg up and push, often holding the client’s other knee down (or worse still pressing on the knee joint of the stretched leg) despite clients breathing as if they were giving birth, their heads and their hips off the floor as the stretch is too deep.
What happened to my sister was much worse as he did that with the leg where the knee is severely arthritic and she heard something pop. She told him something went wrong but he didn’t acknowledge it. She then limped off to the changing rooms.
She could not sit or get up from a chair for days. When she told him about it, he suggested that when she gets better she should join his outdoor boot camp classes in the local park… Lack of knowledge or research of the condition and its seriousness is an understatement here. To me this was a gross misconduct and she could sue him.
Keep Your Client Safe – Avoid Legal Action
I had a client the other week who mentioned to me in his e-mail prior to the session that he had recently suffered from a whiplash. I never considered whiplash in a context of massage session. I made sure I did my research, knew what tests to perform, what techniques to use. I also got him to sign an additional disclaimer confirming they had seen a doctor who deemed it safe for massage to be performed.
Admittedly it is different in a group exercise environment.
People come a few minutes before the class and you don’t always get to speak to everyone but ASK the pre-screening questions EVERY SINGLE TIME. Observe your riders as the session progresses and get off the bike if something doesn’t look right.
As an example, beginners who are asthmatic are notorious in NOT telling you they have asthma and then trying to push themselves too much. Or if you get a pregnant client ensure their bike set up is right, they are in a place where there is a fan or air con unit close by and that they would find it easy to leave if they needed to.
I understand that the real danger are the people who do not disclose their conditions but if you asked the question out loud in front of the whole group and if anything was to happen, you can sleep soundly. They made the choice of holding back vital information, you could not give them the correct modifications and advice.
To sum up, take pride in being a professional.
Keep expanding your knowledge.
Stand out as the one who knows and who cares.
Safe workout does not mean boring and easy and if that’s what you think you, re-read this post.