Personal training is very physical by its nature, and performing exercises can be more dangerous than you might initially think, so sometimes a trainer needs to explain in great detail how to perform an exercise correctly so that you don’t hurt yourself.
For some, these “touch cues” as they are called are no issue at all, but for others, they can feel like an invasion of personal space. There’s a right and wrong way to use touch cues, so how can you tell if your trainer is trying to help or being flat-out creepy?
The good news is, today I will explain in detail when it’s completely fine for a trainer to be getting touchy and when it definitely isn’t so you’re completely in the know.
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Even when I had been training clients for years, I always made sure that I made it very clear when I was going to touch them, and asked if that was ok. I spent so much time with my clients that they had become friends and people I knew very well, but even so, it should always be made perfectly clear when you are about to touch someone.
In a nutshell
As a general rule, Personal Trainers will make of “touch cues”, that allow them to effectively teach exercise techniques and explain which muscles they work. It is completely normal practice for trainers to touch you, but if you feel uncomfortable with this, you can ask them not to.
These are only a few of the pointers in this article, there are a ton more, so read on to find out whether it’s normal for trainers to touch you and the right way and wrong way for them to do this.
Why do personal trainers touch clients?
The majority of personal training clients will be people new to exercise, they may have very little (if any) experience of working in the gym. There are complex exercises being taught that require in-depth instruction, or, important safety aspects that need to be carefully explained.
Physically touching a person on the muscle or area the trainer expects the exercise to work the most also helps build a mind-muscle connection, which can improve the quality of the movement, whilst enhancing its efficiency.
How should you expect a PT to touch you?
Being physically touched by another person can make some people very uncomfortable. This is why when trainers such as myself attend their training courses, they are given very strict guidelines on what is ok, and what is definitely not.
When demonstrating either safety tips or how to perform a complex movement, a touch cue should be performed in the following manner:
- The trainer should explain they are going to touch you and ask if you are ok with that.
- They should use open hands each time to demonstrate a movement or to explain which area the exercise will be working the hardest.
- The actual “touch” should last no more than a second or two.
- They should be used sparingly, and only when it is more beneficial than explanation alone.
How should trainers NEVER touch clients?
There are very clear and defined rules as to where and how a personal trainer should NOT touch a client whilst using touch cues.
Intimate areas of the body such as the groin, breasts, inner thigh, and posterior should never be touched by your trainer. There is no reason for these areas to be used as touch cue points. If an area like the posterior or “glute” muscles is intended to be worked on, your trainer should simply explain that is the area of focus.
A closed hand should also not be used, as this can make people feel uncomfortable. For example, a trainer pressing on the quad muscle (front of the thigh), with one finger is ok, whereas a hand squeezing the muscle is not.
What’s the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching from your trainer?
In the previous section, we listed some areas of the body that have no reason to be touched, at all, but there are other factors that should be considered when deciding if touching is appropriate or not.
A trainer may use their hands to guide you whilst in a movement, and this is generally ok. For example, when I would teach my clients how to properly perform a lunge movement, I would use two open hands as a reference point for them to aim for with each rep.
This was to teach them to keep their knee in a straight line, as many people find their knees buckle inwards during the movement. I would use this method until I could see that they had caught on to what I was asking of them, and then remove my hands to let them perform the exercise without assistance.
This is a good example of the right way to use touch cues.
Inappropriate touching would be needlessly touching without any real requirement to do so, either whilst an exercise is being performed or explained, or touching far too frequently throughout a session.
For some, it’s not even about being made to feel uncomfortable, it can be pretty annoying to have someone constantly touch you whilst you are trying to exercise, so anything more than a few touch cues here and there during a single workout can be considered either inappropriate or at the least, unnecessary.
What should you do if you don’t want to be touched?
Touch cues are used by trainers as a way of clarifying what they are explaining, but they are not vital. If you feel uncomfortable with your trainer touching you, you should make this very clear to them.
Any trainer with an ounce of respect would immediately stop and explain each exercise or muscle to be targeted by their voice only from that point onward.
It’s also worth noting that this is an aspect of personal training that bothers you, you should let the trainer know before you even start training with them to avoid the issue coming up in the first place.
Should your trainer ask permission before touching you?
Allowing a person to mentally prepare to be touched makes the situation a lot more comfortable and takes away the element of surprise, which is something we certainly don’t want.
What are the rules for stretching?
At the end of each training session, your PT may offer to stretch you. You can of course stretch yourself, but this has its limitations. With assisted stretching, your trainer will use their body weight to take your muscles through a further range of motion than you could yourself. They also make use of a fantastic method called PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching.
This method requires a trainer to again use their body weight to stretch you to your maximum, then for you to push as hard against the trainer’s weight as possible for several seconds, take a deep breath and then relax into the stretch once again, which will allow an even deeper stretch to occur.
Why am I telling you all this?
Both PNF and assisted stretching are a highly beneficial part of a training routine, and whilst there are methods to do this yourself, it’s much more effective with someone helping you.
It can feel very awkward for some though, as it involves prolonged physical contact in very close proximity.
The same rules apply for these kinds of stretches as the others, any place where pressure is to be applied by the trainer should be done so with an open hand, and no intimate areas should be touched in any way. Whilst they are beneficial, they are again not vital, if you feel uncomfortable with your PT being so close to you in this way, you should let them know beforehand. They will be able to show you alternate methods to get the best results possible yourself.
Should trainers touch during body composition testing?
Fitness testing and body comp tests are by their very nature, pretty physical, and a great deal of the tests will require some degree of touching. For example, you may have your waist or thigh measured with tape to establish body fat levels or progress from hypertrophy training (muscle building).
The same goes for using body fat calipers, as this requires your trainer to pinch (lightly of course), the skin before placing the calipers to take a reading. Of course, none of the sites where these measurements are taken are usually considered to be intimate in any way, bar the thigh, which may make some people feel uncomfortable.
After you have signed up to work with a trainer, it’s common for them to want to perform some sort of testing on you in order for them to establish a starting point. This is not something to worry about, if you’re nervous at the thought of this, you have several options available.
- Ask to perform the measurement yourself (although the accuracy may be compromised)
- Ask for simple measurements to be taken instead (such as having your weight taken)
- Ask to wait until you feel more comfortable with your trainer
- Ask for a Bio-electrical impedance scan (if available), as this will require no touching at all from your trainer.
How to report a trainer
I’ve mentioned in this article a few times which areas of the body should never be touched by your trainer and the correct manner you should be touched generally. If you feel that a trainer has crossed the line in any way during a training session, the first thing to do is to speak to them. Make it very clear that you feel the way you were touched makes you very uncomfortable and it is unacceptable.
Of course, this is for only minor complaints, for more serious manners, for example, if you think a trainer was taking advantage of their position to touch you inappropriately, you would be better off speaking directly to the gym manager. Explain clearly what happened and how it made you feel.
There are a few options from this point, you can either wait for the manager to speak to them directly and take any further action they deem appropriate or, if you feel this is not enough, you could make a complaint to the police if you feel your complaint warrants it.
Other factors that may make you feel uncomfortable
Not only may trainers touching you make you feel uncomfortable, but there are also other behaviors that are just not on that you should report immediately.
A trainer looking at you in any way other than professional, for example, leering or looking at certain body parts whilst you are exercising is not acceptable, and should not be tolerated. Neither should they be asking you anything about your personal life that makes you feel uncomfortable.
It’s common for a PT to ask you a little about your personal life as they get to know you, this is usually a good thing and can help to increase the client/trainer bond. However, if their questions begin to turn flirtatious or in any way sexual in nature, this again is not on and should be reported.
I’d like to make it perfectly clear that poor behavior by trainers outlined in this article is exceedingly rare, so please don’t let it concern you too much, I simply want to give you all the information you need in the unfortunate event that it has/does.
I hope this article has cleared up any questions you had regarding whether or not personal trainers touching clients is ok. In general, it is pretty normal for a PT to make physical contact with their clients, as it can help in a manner of ways.
It’s very rare that a trainer would take advantage of this, and in fact, in over ten years in the fitness industry, I have never heard of this occurring in a gym I’ve worked in. The vast majority of trainers are nothing other than professional, so this shouldn’t be too much of a concern, however, like anything in life, it can, and unfortunately does happen in rare circumstances.
Good luck with your exercise journey.
Have a great day.
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