Many of us head off to our local gym, regular PT session or boot camp in an effort to increase or maintain our health and well-being, especially heading into the warmer months. Whether it’s in the pursuit of running a marathon, general exercise, or recovery — you typically expect your gym and PT to keep you safe and help you achieve your goals. Unfortunately, personal training injuries and accidents do occur, sometimes as a genuine accident, but sometimes due to the instructions you’ve been given or by being pushed too hard.
In this article we examine the liability for injuries suffered while undertaking a personal training program and how personal trainers and gym owners can limit their exposure to liability.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has indicated that Aerobics/Fitness/Gym has the second highest participation rate in Australia. Many people enjoy the convenience of being able to exercise when they please with numerous gyms now open 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. In addition many gyms make personal trainers available to their clients who design exercise programs for clients to follow and conduct exercise sessions one on one.
But do personal trainers push their clients too far?
A personal trainer was charged with supplying dangerous drugs to his client in order to help with the pain he was suffering from a gym injury.
While we are definitely not suggesting that all personal trainers engage in this type of behaviour, we do often hear about injuries claimed to have been suffered as a result of carrying out a program/exercise designed by a personal trainer.
What happens when an injury occurs?
There has been some litigation surrounding whether personal trainers are liable for injuries sustained by a person while undertaking one of their programs. In general it is accepted that personal trainers do owe a duty of care to their clients to take reasonable precautions to ensure the program that they have designed will not cause harm to their clients.
If you believe you have suffered an injury at the hands of your personal trainer you may be able to bring a claim for negligence against them or the gym in which they work. To be successful in bringing such an action you will have to prove that your personal trainer breached the duty of care they owe to you e.g. they failed to take the necessary precautions to prevent injury. For example:
- Failing to consider the consequences of requiring you to undertake a certain task when you were not at the appropriate level of fitness to do so;
- Requiring you to perform variations of exercises that were not supported by written material (i.e. variations to exercises supported by the Australian Institute of Fitness).
You will then need to prove that as a result of this breach (or repeated breaches) you suffered an injury.
If you are a personal trainer, how might you go about discharging your duty of care?
There are several ways in which you could discharge your duty of care. Some of these include:
Undertaking a proper induction and assessment of the client prior to preparing their program to identify any risk factors that may result in unnecessary injury. These factors may include:
- Any previous injuries;
- Level of fitness;
- Physical condition.
Undertaking training in correct techniques that should include:
- Being aware of the risks of injury associated with different exercises and of the physical condition of the clients for whom they are appropriate;
- Having knowledge of the physiological consequences of requiring a client whose physical condition does not allow them to undertake a particular exercise without the risk of injury.
Making sure you utilise caution in preparing a program for a client who is unfit, overweight, or has a previous injury.
The gym itself may also owe a client a duty of care with respect to the contract that their client signs when joining. There is often an implied term in the contract that the gym will take reasonable care to prevent foreseeable injury. This could extend to being held vicariously liable for their personal trainers actions.
It is important that any exercise program or class you are undertaking is professionally run and that the trainer or Gym running it takes time to assess your ability to complete the program. It is also important that you be honest with your trainer about any pre-existing injuries, health factors and that you keep this dialogue open while training.
By ensuring your program is tailored and by providing all the relevant information to your gym or trainer, you can help to reduce your risk of any personal training injuries. If you have experienced an injury, it is important that you seek medical advice – ‘pushing through the pain’ could cause further injury.