What is consent?
Consent is an open, evolving conversation based on mutual respect, trust and recognition of personhood; the rights, protections and privileges due to all people. All consent should be informed consent which means that effort needs to be made to ensure a person understands they have choice and the implications of their choice.
Why is consent necessary in fitness?
Other than being a legal requirement, consent:
- Protects the rights of all individuals
- Promotes mutual respect and trust
- Shows care and interest in clients’ wellbeing
- Results in better outcomes, productive and more enjoyable training
- Encourages inclusivity
- Reduces the risk of adverse events, including injuries
- Protects the reputation of coaches and the studio
- Leads to happier, healthier clients and more business
When is consent required in fitness?
Clients have the right to make reasonable, informed choices about matters that impact them directly. This can include but is not limited to:
- How they are addressed, including preferred names and pronouns
- How they can be contacted, and what they can be contacted about
- What they want to happen in the event of an emergency
- Who is privy to the information they provide you
- If and how you use their image
- The content of their training
- If it’s appropriate to make physical contact (When, Why and how)
If you are not sure something is ok for a person, ask them.
If you are not sure if something is still ok, ask them.
But don’t we have a waiver for that?
Most gyms and studios require clients to sign a liability waiver before they train. This doesn’t constitute consent. Let’s take a look at the differences;
Isn’t a client consenting to train by turning up?
Implied consent is the idea that by turning up to participate, a person is automatically providing consent. Even if you have trained them 3x a week for the last six months, do they know exactly what you have planned for them today? Do they have a choice, not just to train or not train, but the content of their training? Call it consent or just good coaching; it’s always appropriate to agree on a training plan together before starting each session.
What if I need to put my hands on a client during training?
Always ask first. We all have a right not to be touched. It doesn’t matter if you regularly use your hands to spot or facilitate a client; it’s appropriate to ask permission each time. This doesn’t have to be formal or awkward. A quick confirmation from your client that they are comfortable continuing is often all that is needed.
Besides being their right, there are many reasons an individual may not want to be touched or touched without permission (even if they have consented on previous occasions), including injury, pain, cultural beliefs, sensory concerns or past trauma.
What if I put my hands on someone without consent to prevent an accident?
- Apologise; we all have the right to consent to be touched.
- Check in to see how the client feels about the situation.
- Ask how they would want a similar situation handled in the future.
Creating a consent friendly space
Studios need to be safe spaces to say ‘no’.
- Offer choices
- Ask for preferences
- Don’t make decisions for your clients but with them
- Always respect decisions
- Normalise asking for consent
- Encourage feedback
- Provide education
- Explain options
- Be open to constructive criticism
Often trainers are held in high esteem by their clients. Be aware that clients may say ‘yes’, just to avoid disappointing you.
Consider consent an opportunity
It's very short-sighted to think of consent as an annoying obligation. Instead, asking for consent allows you to learn about your client, build a stronger, more rewarding coaching relationship, get better results, and become a better coach/human.