Trauma-Informed Personal Training (UPDATE!)

By Emily Young | June 1, 2021

“Movement is the unifying bond between the mind and the body.”
*Deane Juhan*

Many know me as a Therapist, but I am also a Certified Personal Trainer. As a Therapist, I ​have witnessed​ ​my clients explore the many ways in which their body ​has​ carried the legacy of past experiences and​ ​traumas. As a Personal Trainer, I ​have​ ​witnessed my clients struggle to abide by past Trainer’s​ ​standardized models of training due to their ever changing mental, emotional, and physical​ ​capacities. As Dr. Rev. Katie Cannon states, “our bodies are the texts that carry the memories.” I​ ​began to see a huge gap in the way that Personal Training was conducted leaving behind a​ ​significant number of people who were attempting to assimilate into a structure that did not truly​ ​see or understand them. It would be great if we could leave everything non-fitness related at the gym​ ​door, but that’s just not how human beings work. Knowing this, I began to ​blend ​my​ ​therapeutic skills and trauma-Informed practices into my fitness services in order to engage clients​ ​in a way that considered the whole person, not just their fitness backg​round.

Trauma-informed care is at the foundation of my professional practice, both as a Therapist and Personal Trainer. According to the ​Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care (ITTIC) “Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) is an approach in the human service field that assumes that an individual is more likely than not to have a history of trauma [and] recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms [while acknowledging] the role trauma may play in an individual’s life.” In the world of fitness, we’re often trained and taught in a way that focuses heavily on physical capacity, history of injury, and training experience. What’s missing? Everything else. Mental and emotional health, harmful belief systems, the ways in which systemic racism and oppression is held within the body, sensory challenges, body awareness, and history of trauma. As trainers, it is not necessary to specialize in each of these areas, but we fail our clients when we fail to see how movement​, or lack of movement, ​can be​ ​impacted by past and present experiences.

In working as a Trauma-Informed Personal Trainer (TI-PT), I work specifically with clients who have identified complex needs. As such, my approach is one that is founded on compassion, curiosity, and continuous learning. As stated by the ITTIC, “Trauma-Informed Care requires a system to make a paradigm shift from asking, “What is wrong with this person?” to “What has happened to this person?” Subsequently, sessions with my clients are often not the typical personal training sessions.​ ​You will not hear me say, “no excuses keep pushing,” “no pain no gain,” “you can rest when you’re​ ​done,” “I know you’re not feeling good, but don’t quit.” Instead, I choose to believe my clients when​ ​they are setting boundaries and limits within a session. In fact, I encourage my clients to listen to​ ​their bodies and communicate with me about their internal experiences. My sessions often change​ ​course and are flexible based on how my client is showing up on any given day. In practicing TI-PT, I​ ​begin each session with a mini-assessment to ​gauge​ what my client needs that day​. This could range ​from intense strength training to a restorative stretching session. I consistently strive to​ ​create an environment in which my client’s not only recognize their own needs but are comfortable​ ​advocating for themselves. How can we expect our physical performance to be the same, when as​ ​humans we are frequently shifting states as we navigate our external worlds. I actively push against​ ​fitness culture that suggests we push our clients to their max. Instead, my training philosophy​ ​revolves around providing fitness programs that are specific to my client’s needs, knowing that it is​ ​normal and expected for needs to change at and throughout each session. If 2020 has taught us anything it is that we all experience our own challenges and we cannot expect that those challenges​ ​stop at the beginning of a workout.

Long ago, I read a statistic that over half of gym members cancel their memberships within the first year. I’ve personally witnessed many reactions to this statistic, none of which have been empathetic or curious. My first thought in reading this number was ‘why’? What barriers kept people from staying in a gym or what factors contributed to their decision to leave? Again, shifting from “what is wrong with this person” to “what has happened to this person?” (Institute On Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care) With this in mind, I make​ ​conscious efforts to create fitness programs that are accessible and individualized to the unique​ ​experiences of my clients. Additionally, there are 5 Guiding Principles​ of TI-PT that I incorporate into​ ​my business model:

❏ Safety: ​I value creating an environment in which my client’s physical and emotional safety is prioritized. This can mean anything between confidentiality practices, to ensuring the body is safe during a workout, to creating an environment that is welcoming and compassionate.

❏ Choice: ​I value my client’s right to choose within their fitness programming. I believe and respect my clients when they tell me that an exercise scares them or feels harmful in some way. There are a million different exercises out there and programs can be easily modified.

❏ Collaboration:​ I work closely with community organizations to provide appropriate referrals for all my clients who have needs outside of the realm of training. Even though I am a therapist, I hold strong boundaries with my fitness clients and will assist them in finding their own clinicians if appropriate. Additionally, collaborating with other TI-professionals is crucial to ensuring quality of care to my clients.

❏ Trustworthiness:​ I value being transparent and consistent with my clients. I also believe that boundaries increase trust and as such, interpersonal and professional boundaries are an active part of my practice.

❏ Empowerment: I strive to help my clients learn about their bodies and advocate for their own individual needs. I want to help my clients experience what it feels like to activate different muscle groups, or how to recognize, on their own, when their form has started to break down. I recognize fully that the skills and neural pathways built in a personal training session can significantly benefit our lives outside of the gym.

Being able to offer Trauma-Informed Personal Training services is what I envisioned during my early​ ​years in graduate school. At the time, I had no idea how rewarding it would be to walk alongside my​ ​clients as they learn to appreciate and understand their bodies while improving their health. It’s a​ ​messy, imperfect, beautiful, sweaty, and exhilarating experience.

“Moving more can make us feel more. When we feel resistant or unable to move more in our lives,​ ​we might consider how being sedentary comes from a place of short-term self-preservation vs. a​ ​lack of self-discipline.
*Jane Clapp*

To train with Emily, email or find her on Instagram @theembodiedlifter_

For Personal Trainers/Fitness Professionals looking to increase their skills in trauma-informed care, please visit


Emily Young is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Emily’s career both clinically and within the personal training field has focused on integrating trauma-informed embodied interventions with her clients.

Emily has specific training from PESI and the Center of Complicated Grief and specializes in working with clients with complex trauma histories, dissociative reactions, and traumatic losses of a loved one from suicide, substance abuse, homicide, and perinatal traumas.

Emily is a co-creator and the lead presenter of the Trauma-Informed Personal Training (TI-PT) Certification program through Hope Ignited Training.

About The Author

Emily Young

Emily Young is a Licensed Master Social Worker and received her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland. Since graduating with her MSW, Emily has worked to provide highly specialized trauma-informed grief therapy to children, families, teens and adults in hospice and outpatient settings. Emily has specific training from the Center of Complicated Grief and specializes in working with clients who have experienced traumatic losses of a loved one from suicide, substance abuse, homicide, and perinatal traumas.