The following is a guest contribution from Kat Whitfield. If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, please refer to our contribution guidelines.
When you work with a new client in person, you’re giving a lot of value beyond just exercise instruction and programming. Your ease of movement across the gym floor, expertly adjusting equipment, and selecting appropriate weights all serve to help put beginners at ease.
However, what about your distance clients or program design clients? When you train clients online or give them exercises to do on their own time, there are a few little things you need to remind them of to make being on their own a more comfortable experience.
Go the extra mile for your client by making them completely familiar with the gym before they ever step foot in it on their own.
This short list doesn’t cover all the details, but should be enough to get your client confident for their first solo workout.
1. How to adjust a squat rack.
After the first few sessions with a new client, I get them to help me adjust the squat rack, setting the bar up, stacking plates, etc. Giving them a little ownership over their own workout and increasing their familiarity with the facility can go a long way towards making them feel like they belong. (Not to mention drastically reducing downtime between exercises.)
Before entering ‘3×5 Squats’ into your online client’s spreadsheet or telling an in-person client to do overhead press while he’s out of town, make sure they know how to adjust the rack to their height.
Keep in mind the squat rack they’ll be using may be different from the one your facility has. Make sure they know how to adjust any kind of rack and they’ll avoid the perceived embarrassment of looking like they don’t know what they’re doing.
2. How to clip weights on the barbell properly.
We do this a million times every day for our clients, but as with the squat rack example above, gyms use a wide variety of weight clips. Make sure that they know what way to turn the clamps, or that the basic clips require Herculean grip strength to slide on sometimes.
Again, being afraid of looking stupid is a surefire way to make sure your client doesn’t do the workout as prescribed.
Also, here’s a great video from Bret Contreras on loading and unloading a barbell properly to save your back.
3. How to adjust weights on pulley machines.
Nothing is worse than approaching a machine and having no idea how it works. Do they know that if the pull-down bar is heavy enough, it will sometimes pull the weights up in the middle of your adjustment?
Tell them that sometimes you have to keep the stack pushed down. Do they know that some models have a little button you have to push to release it? Do they know that the 80 pounds they can row at your gym may feel heavier or lighter on a different machine? Don’t leave them hanging.
4. Correct way to lie down on a bench.
This tip is mostly for beginner online clients and only needs to be mentioned once. Make sure they don’t smack their head on the hinge of the adjustable bench — tell them which way to face!
5. Kinds of things they may see others doing at the gym.
This one won’t help out their workout per se, but it will increase their comfort level, especially if you’re working online with a beginner. If you want them to travel into the weight room for the first time, let them know ahead of time what kinds of things they may see: what are dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells? What are some exercises they may see other people doing?
The more they know about the environment they’ll be in, the less nerve-wracking it’ll be. Make sure to emphasize that no one else is paying attention to their workout — everyone is too focused on their own.
On a similar vein, it’s imperative that you teach your clients proper gym etiquette.
6. What to do when someone is using a piece of equipment they need.
If you work at a private facility this is likely a problem your client has never run into before. Let them know it’s appropriate to kindly ask how many sets someone has left or if they can work in a set.
Teach them the cold, hard truth that sometimes you just have to sit around and twiddle your thumbs before a squat rack opens up. (Or give them an alternative exercise.) Make sure they know how to put back plates and dumbbells in the right order.
7. Blocking the sales pitch.
Chances are someone will approach your online client at some point to chat about the latest diet and training craze, or to push a certain supplement or recovery shake on them. Make sure that they know how to defend themselves against these kinds of unwanted solicitations.
Either default to a kind “thanks but no thanks,” or teach them what to look out for themselves. Make sure a smooth-talking trainer doesn’t dupe your client or get them buying garbage they don’t need.
DO sweat the small stuff
As trainers we’ve spent so much time around gyms that we forget what they look like to complete beginners. You may think that these small things don’t warrant mention, but take a second to try to see things through your client’s eyes.
When’s the last time you tried something completely outside your expertise? I feel uncomfortable and stupid just going to a new restaurant without knowing if I need to seat myself or wait for a host!
So take that extra 15 minutes and explain this stuff to your client. Make a 30 second video demonstrating how to do it or a short series of pictures. You’ll give your client a much better experience, plus it shows to them that you really care about their comfort and well being.
A happier, more satisfied client is a long-term client — a win-win for both sides.
Kat is a personal trainer based out of Raleigh, North Carolina. She enjoys lifting weights, puppies, teaching people how to lift weights, and dogs. You can follow her ramblings about fitness in the media on her blog at katwhitfield.com