When I was asked to write an article for an industry publication to provide guidance to trainers starting out, or making their way in the industry, I was flattered. To be able to help someone improve their own ability to help others is a humbling task, and rewarding as well. I wanted to share what I had written about my experiences with all of you in our own fitness community. Here it is:
Too often, trainers skew their programs and philosophies for their clients on the basis of what others in the industry may think, like they are trying to please or impress them more than their clients. Too many technical terms without explanation, overly scientific nutritional programs, exercises that are too complicated or advanced for the client’s current level, and a litmus test of the client having to “crawl to the car” after leg day come to mind. Fulcrums, pronation, eccentric movements, anterior pelvic tilt, posterior chain development and the whole host of industry terms may sound cool to other trainers, but what do your clients think if they don’t know what they mean or how they pertain to them? Do they understand? Do they care? The reality is simple and can be summarized in one statement.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
We measure our client’s progress in the gym with our various forms of logging. How much weight they lifted, how many reps, etc. We see improvement as the client becomes capable of lifting more weight, doing more reps, and/or migrating to more challenging movements. For most clients, however, the litmus test of progress is in what they see outside the gym or studio, in the other 98% of their lives.
Adding 20 pounds to their squat is a great piece of progress. To them, however, the fact that the improvements they are seeing are resulting in things that matter to them is what they are really satisfied with. Higher energy levels. Playing with their grandchildren. Lower blood pressure. Getting off medications for diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc. This is where the real report card comes in.
Sometimes, clients suddenly change their behavior. Someone who has been going great guns suddenly starts not doing their off day workouts. Food may not be getting logged. Something outside the world of fitness may have changed, and how to help them get back on track may come from them feeling confident enough in you to share.
Imagine everyone has a sign around their neck that says “Make me feel important”.
The words of the late Mary Kay Ash could not be more true than in a training relationship. The clients that see the best results are, historically, the ones who feel they have a partner in their journey, you. The emotional and psychological aspects of the journey to fitness are every bit as important as the physical one. Many of the clients have one or several failed efforts in their past. Subconsciously, they may very well be thinking their new journey with you will end up the same. This is where being a supporter is a vital component. Get to know them, what’s important to them, what would they really think is an impressive milestone? Sure, they’ll tell you losing weight, but usually there is a bigger meaning behind that, as in what that weight loss may enable them to be able to do. Make sure they don’t only focus on the remaining tasks in front of them, but that they give themselves credit for the work they’ve already done, and the progress they’ve made. The mere fact that they are working with you shows they’ve already made giant steps toward their goals.
Give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.
Many in our industry may disagree with this aspect. If I’m looking for long term training clients, why would I want to teach them everything they need to do it on their own? First, they’ve probably tried it on their own before, and yet they’re working with you. So, what if you are truly in this business to help people? If you get a full roster of clients, and they all stay with you, you’ll never be able to help anyone else. If you migrate people to a fitness path that is self-sufficient, you can still maintain a relationship, be a resource if they need you going forward, but change the concept of the relationship to one where they can do a great deal on their own, but still have a great coach and partner in their arsenal when needed. In our studio, we try to help them develop their strength, stamina, flexibility, balance, and, perhaps most of all, confidence, so that they can move into a group program. This saves them money, gives them a new challenge, introduces them into a great support network of other folks that have been down the same road, and frees up a client spot for you to add someone else that needs your help.
Not invented here, the worst three words in any business
Many people, in any business or industry, with years of experience, pigeon hole ourselves into thinking we possess all the knowledge necessary to succeed. This one thought could limit, or even end, a career that could have been amazing. I am 56 years old, and have been training for a lot of years, with tens of thousands of client sessions under my belt. I still read industry publications every day, many authored by people younger than me, with less experience than I have. Yet I still find useful information that helps me provide a better experience for my clients. Last year, we added to our staff a young man, fresh out of college, as an intern. He wanted to learn the ropes of training from us, and his heart was in the right place, with a genuine desire to help people. In watching him lead group training, for example, I’ve picked up on nuances that I likely would never have thought of on my own, and incorporated them into my skill set. I believe we all can become better by being open to learning from others.
Do a great job. Make sure everyone knows about it
I wish those were my words, but, sadly, no. Jon Goodman, mentor to trainers everywhere, uses those words as one of the cornerstones of his business philosophy. I couldn’t agree more. When we publish a client’s success story, it may resonate with people anywhere. Fairly often, we’ll get an email from someone thousands of miles away, letting us know that one of the client stories they’ve seen on our site has clicked with them, and motivated them to make changes in their life. We’ll likely never meet them, or have them as clients, yet, in a small way, we’ve had an impact on their lives. Isn’t that what we’ll all after?
Respect the Client’s Resources
You’ll read a great deal on trainer mentor pages about insisting that the client respect you and value your time, and I agree with that, provided you have earned it. Early is on time, on time is late. But we certainly owe them respect for their time. Be ready for your client when they walk in the door, if possible. Have their workout set. If you have been communicating with them since their last session, you’ll know if there are any special considerations for this one. Have the training area set for their routine, loaded with correct weights, if possible. Make sure you let them know that you can’t respond to calls, texts or emails while training, but get back to them the first possible minute you can with answers. Let them know, up front what to expect from your policies as to scheduling, cancellations, punctuality, where they can stretch, warm up, etc., so they will feel comfortable in your space and in the relationship. We explain, up front, for example, that we enforce a 24 hour cancellation policy, regardless of reason. Sounds harsh, possibly, but we let them know that it isn’t fair to weigh one client’s reason against another, playing judge and jury, so to speak, so we are uniform across the board. We probably average one client session lost per month, and they usually make sure they mention “charge me” in the event of a late cancel. An area that could be a problem source never is.
At the end of the day, if you invest in your clients, invest in yourself, and take every client’s success personally, you will find that the world will be beating a path to your door. Your existing clients will become advocates for you and your business, and you will thrive in your results just like your clients will in theirs.