compassion trainer

As a fitness professional, you strive to inspire and motivate clients. What happens when you have a client who has suddenly been diagnosed with an illness or needs to undergo surgery?

When a client comes to you and says they will not be able to train due to a medical issue or diagnosis, what is your response? Do you effectively tell them "too bad" and search for a new means of income to compensate for the time they want to take off? Do you cancel their contract altogether? If you have let a person out of their contract due to illness or medical issues, do they ever come back? If your answer is no, ask yourself, "why not?"

When someone is faced with illness or a diagnosis of surgery, usually the last thing on their mind is working out and eating optimally. They are worried instead about the surgery or illness, their recovery and when they will be able to return to simple daily tasks like walking, driving, eating and having a normal life. They may not necessarily be thinking about working out with their trainer. What they hear from the doctor is that they will need to rest, to stay off their feet, no driving, no overexertion, no exercising, etc. Racing through their mind is all the things they cannot do.

What if instead of wishing your client luck and shaking their hand, you become their partner in recovery? What if you ask them if they would introduce you to their doctor/surgeon to make a plan for continuing exercise throughout their recovery? Perhaps if you suggested they maintain some kind of modified exercise program during treatment and recovery, it might actually make their recovery easier and shorter. You of course do not want to do anything that will go against their healthcare provider; but most doctors are probably not approached by fitness professionals about how they can modify their patient's workouts to aid recovery. This is unfortunate since modified exercise may actually help a patient recover. Not only will it keep them physically moving but it will also help their mindset. This in turn will help their self-esteem and keep them in a positive mindset to face what lies ahead; which is usually the unknown.

When facing medical issues it is easy to forget everything around you. The gut reaction is to curl up in bed and forget everything else. This not only puts a client in a negative state of mind, it also starts slowing down the metabolism. It is hard enough to recovery from a surgery or illness without having the added feeling of gaining weight or losing hard-earned lean muscle.

Modifying a client's workouts (with their doctor's consent), even if it means simply putting them on a regimen of light cardio, walking at a slow pace on the treadmill or riding a stationary bike, they will feel better. They will keep their metabolism pumping and maintain a positive outlook throughout their recovery. Don't be surprised by the power of positive thinking ... no matter what the illness.

Many people when faced with illness will stop being as active based on the fact that physicians simply are not asked to work with a fitness professional to keep a patient safely moving during recovery. Their advice to a patient is usually to stop all activity and rest. By working with a client's physician post-surgery you can modify their current workouts appropriately. Find out if simple leg exercises can be used for someone who had shoulder issues. How about walking on the treadmill for someone who is safe to be active without lifting weights? If a patient had knee surgery or injury perhaps you can work on seated upper body moves during recovery.

Is it possible to work with an oncologist and a cancer patient? You bet. Chemotherapy zaps the energy and spirits from even the strongest people. But your client might actually love to have someone who cares enough to help cheer them on to remain active during the treatment. It may even help keep their mind off of the side effects of the treatments. They will definitely feel more in control of the disease if they can stay active during treatment. Mindset is so important to recovery. Many cancer patients give up at the diagnosis. It is a heavy blow mentally. The mere diagnosis changes their entire life in an instant. But what value would you add to their lives if you played a role in helping them change the way they move forward?

Many cancer patients may fall out of their routines simply from feeling physically tired from the treatments, not because they are not allowed to exercise. Well-meaning family and friends tend to want someone they love to 'relax' when medical crisis arises. Sometimes what a client needs is someone encouraging them not to give up their active lifestyle but rather adjust and change the way in which they are active.

It is so hard for a client to see all their hard work up to that point start slipping away because of the side effects of their treatments, you need to be the person who is there to encourage them to keep moving, yet let them know it's ok if they need to slow down. You need to not only be their coach at this point but their cheerleader as well. You can be the person who gently encourages them that it is ok if they can’t go 60 minutes, but a condensed 30-minute workout is an awesome achievement.

Unfortunately most doctors do not have direct contact with fitness professionals to help patients in these cases. It is up to the fitness professional to make sure our clients trust us and look to us as a valuable resource in their recovery and beyond. The hour or so they spend with you each week could be the one thing that keeps them from falling into a slump or depression.

Working with clients through illness makes you invaluable in their life. It means you are the person who is there to help them get through the bad days; the person who will understand when they have no energy and the person who will understand when they feel the need to pick up the energy. Some days are harder than others for this special population of clients. Training with compassion and understanding will enrich the lives of your clients. Isn't helping people why you entered this field in the first place?

Daniella Cippitelli Abruzzo is President/Co-Owner of and multiple corporate owned locations. Visit