Crossing the line means going beyond accepted limits or standards of behavior. Like

When criticism crosses the line from being helpful to hurtful.

The fine line between joking and being offensive.

When someone ‘invades” your personal space.

Any form of violence where innocent lives are taken away.

There are some generally accepted norms where it is evident that someone is crossing the line, like cutting in front of you in traffic without an indicator, any form of gun violence, and someone putting toilet paper around the wrong way.

People who put it underneath instead of over the top really grind my gears. But anyhow, crossing the line, let’s get back to that.

In my job as a personal trainer, training people one-on-one, it’s difficult not to form a personal relationship with the client. You do get the occasional client who keeps it all professional, but if I like the client and they tolerate me, we usually have a friendly relationship. Because let’s face it, how much can you like a person who makes you do stuff you hate?

Although in my efforts to keep it professional (for the most part), crossing the line between professional and personal becomes blurry and sometimes blatantly crossed. Here I’ll explore this line so that you can better understand a personal trainer’s job dealing with clients.

Crossing The Line: Is it Acceptable?  

There’s a lot more to personal training than designing programs, counting sets and reps, and wearing tracksuit pants. Sometimes the professional/personal line between coach and client gets crossed.

Since being a personal trainer, I’ve had.

Five clients die.

Three have beaten cancer.

One who developed dementia.

One who developed Parkinson’s disease.

And trained several clients have had their joints replaced and gone through painful rehabilitation.

When studying to become a trainer, these situations never came up in my textbooks because nothing prepares you for things like that. Only life can. Trainers, when dealing one-on-one with these clients while they’re suffering, the professional boundaries that should exist with their clients get blurry.

Let me give you an example.

A while back, I was hired to work privately with an elderly couple in their home. Both had health problems, but the male was in 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 twice weekly.

Both were very welcoming to me, and it was difficult not to get close to them. I often stayed after our sessions to hear their stories and join them for lunch. They welcomed me into their home like I was a part of their family. But the male’s health took a turn for the worse a few months into our time together, and a few weeks later, he passed away peacefully.

During this challenging time, I’d visit him in the hospital and when he went back to his house. Being a personal trainer was the furthest thing from my mind; being a decent human being wasn’t, and lines were crossed. Was it acceptable?

Another Example

Two of my former clients battled pancreatic cancer around the same time, and both had very different outcomes. Both discovered by accident or good fortune that they got this terrible form of cancer with only a 10% survival rate.  

My lady client discovered by accident that she had gotten this cancer. It started as a pain in her ribcage. When the pain didn’t go away, she pushed hard to find the cause of her pain because she wanted to continue training with yours truly. Every step, from her diagnosis to treatment, was almost a miracle, and she beat it.

During treatment, I would regularly visit her to offer support. Often, she was very sick and weak, and being her trainer was the furthest thing from my mind.

My other client worked hard to improve his health when he was diagnosed. We were no longer working together, but we were still friends and would regularly hang out. He developed stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and his chances were stacked against him.

During his fight, we’d occasionally hang out and shoot the shit, but this one thing he said to me during remission still haunts me. He said.

“Shane, I do not know how I feel get from feeling this good to being dead.”

And he passed away a few months later, leaving a legacy that reminds me of how to live and care for my family. I still miss my friend.

Is Crossing The Line Okay In Certain Circumstances?

These situations provided a challenging problem for one whose business is personal. When does a professional become personal? When is it ever okay for professional/personal boundaries to be crossed? It’s not okay for a trainer to sleep with their client and for a teacher to get sexually involved with a student.

That’s crossing the line.

But, flipping the coin, is it okay to visit a client on life support in the hospital and be there for help? Is it crossing the line to lunch with a client and sharing personal stories? Maybe some lines need to be crossed, especially when it’s a matter of life and death.

There is inherent risk involved. When putting yourself out there and crossing lines, your or the client’s feelings may get hurt. I decided to be there for clients regarding life, death, and sickness. Am I crossing the line? You’ll be the judge. You should often follow the heart and toss away the lines between the service provider and a client when the situation calls for it. 

Wrapping Up

Usually, it is obvious when someone crosses the line. In a helping profession like personal training, the professional and personal lines get blurry and sometimes crossed. Because sometimes being human is more important than being professional.

I would love to know your thoughts below.


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