My friend and former client Greg Hodak passed away Saturday night surrounded by family and friends. To say God broke the mold when he made Greg would be an understatement.

The gun show.

He was one of a kind. Larger than life, generous to a fault, loving father and you felt special when you were around him. He was a great client and friend who’s grace while he was suffering inspired this article.

This is why I have decided to re post this again because the personal/professional boundaries get cloudy sometimes. Please enjoy.

Since being a personal trainer I’ve had

  • Three clients pass away
  • Three who have beaten cancer
  • One who’s got dementia
  • Several clients who have had their joints replaced

When studying to become a trainer, these situations never came up in any of my textbooks because nothing prepares you for things like that. Only life can.

When dealing one-on-one with these clients while they’re suffering, the professional boundaries that trainers should have with their clients gets blurry.

How can it not? Trainers are not robots.


Although my (and most) personal training clients come to the gym to forget their problems, sometimes the burden they carry is too heavy and they need someone to talk to. All a trainer can do is lend a sympathetic ear.

And for most personal trainers (myself included), personal training is much more than a pay check or a business transaction. It’s a real opportunity to make a difference in the lives of their clients whether they’re fighting fit or not.

Trainers share in their clients’ successes, failures and heart aches. Often exercise is the easy part of the equation during a session but the mindset or ‘getting into the mood’ can be more difficult.

Trying to get clients into the right frame of mind when they are in pain takes this mindset thing to a different level. Because let’s face it, exercise can be hard enough even when we’re healthy, let alone sick.

Almost two years ago now I was hired to work privately with an elderly couple in their home. Both had their share of health problems but the male was in really bad shape. He was unable to perform simple self-care duties and found walking extremely difficult.

He and his wife performed simple balance and mobility exercises and fundamental human movements once or twice a week. Even at their advanced age, they were looking to improve their quality of life.

Both were so sweet to me that it was difficult not to get close to them. I would often stay after our sessions to hear their stories and join them for lunch. They welcomed me into their home like I was family.

However, the male’s health took a turn for the worst a few months into our time together and a few weeks later he passed away peacefully.

It was one of the saddest situations I’ve ever witnessed and made me feel very fortunate that I got to spend time sometime with him and his wife before his number was up. I’ll cherish the stories they told me forever.

Recently, I was rocked by the news of a former client who’s been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. When we worked together, over a year ago now, he had turned his life and health around.

He was fit, strong and full of life and now he’s fighting for his life this with every ounce of his being. When he needs a hand, I’ll be there to provide it, professional boundaries dammed.

Unfortunately, he lost his battle.

Both of these situations provide a challenging conundrum for one who’s business is personal. When does professional become personal? When is it ever okay for professional/personal boundaries to be crossed?

Most of us know it’s not okay for a trainer to sleep with their client and for a teacher to getting sexually involved with a student. That’s clearly crossing the line.


However, on the other hand, is it okay to visit a client who’s on life support in hospital and to be there for support? Is it crossing the line to go out to lunch with a client and share personal stories?

Like some laws are meant to be broken, some boundaries (I think) need to be crossed, especially when it’s a matter of life and death. However, there is some inherent risk involved here.

When putting yourself out there and crossing boundaries your feelings or the client’s feelings may get hurt. Your wallet may suffer, and if you ever witness sickness or death it’s going to be painful for all involved.

I made a judgement call (and will continue to make it) that I’m going to be there for clients when it comes to life, death and sickness. Am I crossing the line? You can be the judge.

However, I feel in matters of the heart, you should follow the heart more often than not and the boundaries that exist between a service provider/client should be tossed away.

Wrapping up

 Personal and professional boundaries exist for a reason. It can stop laws and feelings from being broken. However, when suffering and death happens and you’re in the middle of it, lines will get crossed.

After all, we’re only human.


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