All personal trainers will encounter problem clients at one time or another. These are the clients that cause you frustration and even anguish. There are effective ways to handle all problem clients so that they don’t sap your energy and enthusiasm for your job. Some trainers will simply tell you to refuse to train these clients. However, there are ways and means to developing a more productive relationship and successful sessions with any client.

The key is to learn how to identify behaviour patterns in clients. We all have habitual behavioural patterns that govern our everyday behaviour, often without us being aware of it. The good news is that these patterns, even destructive ones, can be altered and changed for the better. Once you can identify a behavioural type, you can put in place the appropriate boundaries and suggest the best lifestyle changes for that client.

The Hypochondriac Client is the client who is always complaining of aches and pains, injuries and illnesses. He often arrives complaining about pains or injuries he is certain are the result of the previous session – even though you can’t find a link between the exercises he completed and the pains he’s experiencing. He’s often resistant when it comes to training and frequently seems nervous.

What to do: The behaviour displayed by a hypochondriac client is usually based on fear and anxiety. Start with gentle exercises and give your client lots of reassurance. Clearly explain what exercise-related discomforts he could experience – such as mild soreness of particular muscles – so he knows what to expect. At certain points in a session, you could even give your client a choice between two exercises. Giving him some choice might decrease some of the anxiety he feels towards exercise.

The Negative Client always makes your heart sink as she enters the gym. She is resistant to exercise, complains throughout each session, sighs, and constantly keeps an eye on the clock. You feel yourself losing your own enthusiasm as a result of her consistent negativity.

What to do: Remember that negative clients are negative about everything – not just your sessions. Start each of her sessions with a few minutes on the treadmill and allow her to vent her frustrations. For the rest of the session, make it clear that she is not allowed to negative words. If she does start to be negative, you can always up the intensity so that she understands that you are interested in her fitness rather than her complaints. A last resort is to suggest she joins group training sessions where she will hopefully be influenced by others’ enthusiasm and energy.

The Type A Client is often stressed out, has poor nutrition and insufficient sleep. Even though he’s frazzled and sometimes feels dizzy or suffers from fatigue during sessions, he still expects you to push him to his absolute limits.

What to do: Clearly explain to your client that he is pushing himself too far and outline the advantages of training for shorter sessions. Try to encourage him to opt for 30 minute training sessions as a healthier alternative. Shorter sessions will enable him to feel that he has accomplished something, but it won’t push him too far. It’s okay if you don’t push him to his absolute limits during these sessions. It’s more the likely that he would also benefit from seeing a nutritionist so sort out his diet. In short, encourage him to adapt his lifestyle so that he’s not frazzled all day every day.