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Too Close for Comfort

One last thought about space. We all need some sometimes.

In this industry we're always telling our staff to know the client and develop a relationship with them. We should know their names, when they come in and a few other conversation-starting tidbits of information. What we don't always find out about a person though is the limits of their personal space.

Taking inspiration from Seinfield's “close-talker” episode (In case you haven't seen it, a close talker is just what you think he/she would be: a person who doesn't understand the concept of personal space during conversation), I'd like to call out the “close-exerciser/personal trainer/group exercise instructor/staff member. Sometimes these people, while their reasons may be pure, just need to back off.

For example, take an experience I had in a flowing yoga class. The class and instructor were great. I had worked up a sweat and was grateful at the end of the hour when the instructor turned off the lights, lit a candle and led us through relaxation exercises and meditation. I had just fully gotten comfortable in corpse pose when I heard footsteps near my head. I then felt hands on my shoulders. “Now, relax your shoulders,” my instructor said. Caught completely off-guard by the contact, I immediately tensed up, losing any sort of tranquility I had gained in the class. I made my best attempt at loosening my shoulders while the instructor moved her hands to massage my neck and then again to my shoulders and upper back. While the massage probably would have felt good under different circumstances (say if it was from a friend, family member or someone I knew just a bit better), this was a person I did not know well who was touching me in a poorly lit room.

I managed to come out of the class laughing at the situation and knowing it would make an interesting “you won't believe what happened to me at the gym” story. But, I found that other class participants thought the end of the class mini-massage felt good, and they enjoyed it, even looked forward to it. Is my personal space zone really that much smaller than others?

I'm not sure what kind of space the average person needs. What I do know though is that we need to keep in mind that not everyone has the same comfort zone — especially in a fitness facility where people may already be over-aware of their body or shy because they're sweating and without their make-up or other comforts of their daily routine.

In our quest to get closer to our members, we should get to know more about them by asking questions such as: What are your goals? What activites do you like best? And, how are you feeling? But maybe the most important question we should ask is this: Is it alright if I touch your shoulder to show you the proper form? Instead of just hopping in there and expecting that it is okay. And besides, who wants to be nicknamed the “close-talker/exerciser/personal trainer/staff member” of the club anyway?

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