Beat Burnout, Part 1

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:07
Posted in category Fitness

The number one occupational hazard in professions that deal with helping people is burnout. It’s a quiet and formidable job killer and it claims more professionals every day.

“Burnout isn’t a neat diagnostic category,” says Michael H. Gendel, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, in Denver, Colorado. Personal Trainers often disguised their burnout as stress, anxiety, frustration or exhaustion. It usually leaves them unable to function, or worse, able to function in a diminished capacity, putting both themselves and their clients at risk.

Fitness professionals are among the most giving people in the world. They place high demands on themselves, often performing over and beyond the parameters of their job descriptions. Exhaustion is the most common complaint of those heating up in the early stages of burnout. However, these signals are usually ignored. “Everything is secondary to running your business and keeping it going,” Dr. Gendel states, “If you want to play the game and be really good at it, you learn early on to deny your own feelings and just keep plugging away.”

Individuals who make their living in the Fitness Profession often have brutal schedules. Their livelihood depends on the schedules of those they provide services for. This sometimes means getting up as early as 4:30 in the morning, working when most people are having dinner, and picking up missed appointments on the weekends.
Jennifer Phegley, an ACSM certified fitness instructor and AFAA certified Personal Trainer, said that during her first year as a professional she trained clients from 5:00 am until 11:00 am, then worked at a corporate wellness center as an Exercise Physiologist from noon to 8:00 pm, as well as taught aerobics classes in the evenings and trained clients on weekends. This was to have been her dream career. The dream, however, turned into a nightmare of 16 hour work days stuffed with one client after another, and spilling over with mountains of paper work recording the minutia of pounds lifted (or shed) and time spent on cardiovascular equipment. The passion for helping people improve the quality of their lives had been replaced with dread and exhaustion. Her marriage suffered. “I would come home and my husband would be talking to me and I would fall asleep,” Jennifer explained.

Fitness Professionals as a whole are a strong and hard working group. Like Jennifer, many feel they can and should work endless hours. Striving for perfection is part of the mind set. Early warning signals such as fatigue or loss of motivation are simply obstacles to overcome.

These qualities, and others, that make Personal Trainers excellent are the same qualities that make them prime candidates for burnout. Many trainers dance much too close to the flame.

Dedicated trainers care about their clients, sometimes over and beyond the boundaries of the Trainer/Client relationship, sometimes taking on and attempting to solve their clients’ personal problems. Christine Vinson, Personal Trainer and Fitness Professional for 14 years, states, “That professional line can easily become blurred. You spend time that is highly focused and charged with energy. For many people this is more focus and attention than they receive in other parts of their lives. It’s easy to get involved and want to help them with everything.”

Other trainers may be indiscriminate about the clients they take on. This is especially true for new trainers, who need the money and who genuinely feel they can address a client’s unrealistic expectations or non-compliance. Dianne McCaughley, owner of Fitness Specialists Inc., and International Consultant and Presenter says, “When I first started training and I lost a client my feelings were hurt. Now I feel differently.

I only take on clients who I feel I can build a working relationship with. It is extremely stressful and frustrating to have a client who is unrealistic or non-compliant.

None of us should have to put up bad manners like not showing up for appointments, and other types of inept behavior. This is a business and it is up to us to insist on professional behavior from ourselves and our clients.”

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