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FITNESS: How to Safely Help Your Clients and Participants Return to the Gym

As health and exercise professionals, we have to ensure that our clients and participants are able to make the transition to in-person fitness experiences safely and smoothly. It is dangerous and unrealistic to expect that participants can be returned to pre-pandemic levels of exercise after more than a year’s worth of modified outdoor and at-home workouts. It is important that we modify our approach in order to increase safety and improve participants’ self-efficacy.

The fitness industry did an amazing job innovating and pivoting to help our communities during the pandemic. Now, we are returning to our old setting where we may feel content to return to teaching and coaching in person. We must acknowledge our collective stress and re-invent our approach rather than just going back to business as usual. Some people were able to continue to be active at home while others couldn’t do so. Some participants may feel uncomfortable or anxious about going back to the gym. This could be due to fear of injury, extreme soreness, and/or a lack of skills necessary for a workout. Their bodies might have changed, and they may no longer feel the same level of intensity or perform the same activities. You may feel anxious about them being around other people again. It is important to plan for this and make the transition as safe and comfortable for all.

Here are a few ways to help make this a smooth transition for both you and your clients and participants:

Offer Validation

Taking time to validate the needs of others reduces anxiety and allows for a deeper connection with clients and participants. We’ve seen a lot and are not the same people we were in early 2020.. Allow clients and participants to take a step back and reflect on the things they need for their safety and health. Start a training or class with this recognition and acknowledgement. It is acceptable and expected that they do what is best for them during the class or session. Recognize the possibility of returning to a scary place and make sure they are aware of all the options available to them. Support participants who make a decision that is different than others. Validation creates trust, comfort, and a sense of control over one’s own safety.

Focus on Form

Every person is different. Our posture, movement patterns and strength have been affected by the stress and lifestyle habits we developed over the past year. Even for those who were active, it wasn’t likely to have been at the same intensity as pre-pandemic. It may have involved different types of exercise. Give time and to help people focus on form, not load. Participants will be able to identify their bodies and prioritize how they can move safely, efficiently, and with confidence. This improves self-efficacy and adherence.

Prioritize Movement

Celebrate your clients and participants for showing up to move their bodies, rather than for achieving a specific level of intensity, even if they intended to move for 60 minutes but could only manage half that time. Sessions should not be exhausting. We can make sure that participants are safe and adhere to the sessions by not putting too much pressure on themselves to work at high intensity. Participants will return more often if they are encouraged to move at a high intensity.

Provide Options

Give participants options that allow them to feel safe, cared for and empowered to make choices that are right for them. These options include our standard exercises , regressions, and progressions as well as other options. You can also choose to continue physical distancing. It can be quite jarring to go from a quarantine to a gym filled with people. Clients and participants may need more rest and recovery options than usual. the option to modify workouts or even to end their session early can make them feel at ease. You can expand your view on what it means for you to offer choices and empower them to make the right decisions.

Create Specialty Offerings

Consider creating specialty classes or small group training sessions that focus specifically on returning to the gym. You might offer sessions that are focused on form, movement, and/or conditioning. This allows for a greater concentration on you and your participants while clearly communicating your intention to your community.

Eliminate comments on weight

Avoid using pandemic weight gain as a marketing strategy or inspirational tool. Comments about changing your body size or shape based on a trauma experience are not motivating and can lead to shame. Focus on healthy habits that support overall well-being.

These recommendations can be applied to all clients and participants in the future. Training that is grounded in kindness and care gives clients and participants the opportunity to meet their individual needs. It also empowers them to make decisions that are best for them. This ultimately promotes self-efficacy, belonging, and adherence.

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