Although our workouts have been more tame the last couple of months while nursing a cranky knee, Neil enjoys these modified sessions better because he's not completely worn out for the rest of the day.  As his trainer, how do I handle that information?

There's an underlying confidence a trainer must have in order to come to a client"”regardless of his situation/goals"”and think "I can make you better."  We expect the clients to follow our commands and not particularly care how they get along the rest of the day, because we know we made them stronger and got them one step closer to their goals.

We're fulfilling their goals but how much of the training process fulfills ours?

By training clients and developing in them greater physical skills, confidence, and energy that they can apply to other areas, we are simultaneously satisfying our egos with the knowledge that WE got them better.  Other health professionals feel this way too "” a doctor saving a life validates his own abilities.

However, we get to work with people most frequently and have more intimate knowledge of their lives.  This relationship should guide our administering of exercise, considering that most of our clients are not pro athletes and must function well in other parts of their lives.

A delicate balance must be achieved so that clients feel like they were pushed, worked hard, but not so hard that they can't function well later.  I have to adapt to how much energy and effort my clients choose to put out:

Nila only uses up as much energy that she has self-designated for "workout time" so that her brain still works well enough to teach graduate students or give a coherent talk to 1,000 people.  On the other hand, Rosy wants to be pushed so hard she can't get off the toilet the next day without arm support.

There's great satisfaction in tearing someone to shreds, watching them give absolutely every ounce of effort, and observing that capacity increase over time.  Early on, the "exhaustion factor" was a large element in how successful I thought a session was.

But with greater experience and insight into the training process, I now know that balance is key: energy management within and among sessions should provide enough stress for adaptations to occur while being mindful of a client's needs to prevent deterioration of life's other activities.

Ask yourself:

Do they approach the sessions with energy, positive body language, and enthusiasm?

Some clients are cheery and enthusiastic while others are more cool and aloof.  Get a baseline feel for their behavior during the initial assessment and watch how they react to different challenges during subsequent training sessions.  Over time you'll develop a "database" of information on their behavior to help determine if their mood remains consistent or starts to change.

If training a client feels easy, meaning that she follows instructions, welcomes feedback, and strives to improve, then you are probably not overtaxing her.

If you find that working with a client feels like pulling teeth because he is resistant, tired, closed off to your feedback, disengaged, and constantly looking at the clock during sessions, re-evaluate your approach to determine if this person is just grouchy from life or expressing symptoms of overtraining.

 Do they show up for sessions on time or late/cancelling routinely?

 It's possible that punctuality is not your client's strong suit or that her perennial lateness is due to a jam packed life.  But if Susie constantly cancels or, when she does show up, strolls in late without seeming like it's a problem (wasting valuable training time and disrespecting you) then you may need to determine the underlying reason.

She may be burnt out from months or years of working out and doesn't have the energy to apply to her sessions.  Re-evaluate your programming to make sure you have enough variety (fun!) and deloading time scheduled.  People don't pay good money not to show up to activities that they really enjoy.  Something deeper is going on and it's up to you to find out.

 How much sleep do they get?

 I ask this during the initial assessment because gives me clues about a client's general energy state and if she's resting enough to recover from training. Research is pointing to the role of sleep in learning "” we consolidate new movement patterns by "rehearsing" new skills we have done that day, strengthening the memory of those skills, and refining the procedures used to perform them.

8 hours of sleep is a good guideline for most people.  If your clients consistently get less you may need to lower their energy requirements for the sessions periodically to avoid overtraining, mechanical breakdown, and injuries.

Are they routinely sore after workouts?

Follow up with clients after workouts to determine if they're energized, worn out, or just plain sore.  Do this at the beginning of your sessions to get their feedback and to start noticing trends.

If your client says how the workouts energize him for the rest of the day then you know you are on the right track with moderating the intensity level (and perhaps you may want to slowly push the volume or intensity a bit higher).

If a client consistently complains of being tired throughout the day, reassess your programming to adapt his workouts better to the rest of his life.  For example, if you know that Jack has a big presentation at work or a long night of baby duty ahead, don't wreck him so badly that he can't put all of his resources into those important activities.  However, when Jack has a lighter work schedule then take the opportunity to ratchet up the intensity.

If the client repeatedly describes being really sore then you are probably using too much volume or intensity.  Soreness isn't a badge of courage or the mark of an awesome training session"”it just means that you haven't properly progressed the client to tolerate that amount of physical stress.  Routine soreness represents a flaw in your program design, not a wussy client, and needs to be addressed.

Clients are not just training to get better at training but to look and function better in the "real world."  Use your careful observations and common sense so that your clients feel that training actually enhances their lives rather than causes them to have less energy and enjoyment of other activities.

Keep on Movin'


photo credit: Elido Turco - Gigi, Edson Hong, istolethetv