Building rapport with clients is essential to our long-term success. Anyone can run someone through an assessment or design a program -- great trainers set themselves apart by cultivating long-lasting client relationships.

The key is establishing a foundation of understanding and meaningful interaction, ensuring that not only the clients' needs are met, but that their training session represents an enjoyable experience they're willing to come back for again and again.

Here are four expert strategies you can employ to develop rapport and build long-lasting client relationships...

1. Body Language 

Understanding body language is an important skill for any trainer. You need to know when clients are buying in to what you're saying, or more importantly, when they're not. Look for things like:

  • Eye contact
  • Arms - folded or by their side?
  • Where are their shoulders facing?
  • Are they subtly nodding or shaking their head as you speak?

Little cues like these can help you understand where a client's head (figuratively) is at. If they aren't making eye contact and their shoulders face away from you as you try to address them directly, they may not be into what you're trying to say.

Always try to re-position yourself if you feel this may be happening. Body language is innately tied to emotion, and one can influence the other. Helping a client change their body language to be more open can help make them feel better and more comfortable.

Another important aspect of body language within a training session is to stay on the client's level. You may have them doing exercises on the floor, half-kneeling, and standing all within a given workout.

If you're trying to ask them about how they're feeling today while they're foam rolling, kneel down so they can address you without looking up.

This shows you want to hear what they have to say, and minimizes the power differential between the two of you, putting them more naturally at ease. You should never be carrying on a conversation with a client standing up with your arms crossed while they are lying on the ground.

I recommend The Definitive Book of Body Language if you want to take your understanding and knowledge of body language a step further.

Something as seemingly innocuous as crossing one's arms can tell you a lot.
Something as seemingly innocuous as crossing one's arms can tell you a lot.

2. Listen To Them 

We're always asking clients questions - how their day was, how they felt after the last training session, how they're feeling today, etc. Yet all too often, we latch onto something we hear as soon as it comes out of their mouth, and butt in with an explanation or an answer before they have a chance to finish. I think it's borne out of a natural desire to have all the answers.

Any trainer knows its commonplace to get hit with questions about virtually anything health and fitness related - supplements, diet, sleep, you name it.

But most of us aren't legitimate experts in some of these areas outside exercise selection and program design, and it can be uncomfortable to let a client see that you don't have all the answers.

Giving your client a chance to fully answer your questions and say what's on their mind can often make the difference between whether they feel you really care about them or not.

Clients want to tell you what's really bothering them, whether it's about what happened at work, or what they think about their training program. You just have to give them time to get it out.

Not everyone is comfortable coming right out with what's on their mind, so it's your job to get comfortable smiling and nodding your head, and simply listening.

If your client doesn't feel like you truly care about them, they'll remain forever skeptical, and probably drop off at some point. If you give them a chance to really communicate to you what's going on, though, they'll always feel comfortable bringing their problems to you and going with the solution you propose -- and they'll stick around because they trust you. 

3. Include Them In The Process 

As trainers, we all have our preferences when it comes to how we like to design programs, what exercises we like to use, and how we approach classic or common cases in general. This is the expertise our clients are paying for - the reason they've come to us.

And while everyone should have some exercises in their program that they don't like (because often they're the ones they need the most), they shouldn't have to suffer through a program without enjoying any of it.

There are plenty of different exercises you can program for horizontal push/pull, knee dominant, hip dominant, or anterior core slots in a program.

While you may prefer the seated cable row to the TRX row, or the walking lunge to the split squat, there's no good reason you can't solicit feedback from your clients after they've had a chance to try several different programs with different variations, and find out what they enjoy most.

Your programming should be based on principles and an overall philosophy, and therefore shouldn't hinge on using one exercise over another when both represent similar risk/reward, and the client prefers one over the other.

This doesn't mean you need to compromise your beliefs, but that there are ways you can make your client an active part of the process, and therefore increase their engagement in the overall training experience, which benefits both of you.

If there are reasons you choose one exercise over the other for their specific case, then articulate those reasons to them. But if not, allow them to weigh in, and you'll find they will likely accept the unpleasant exercises more readily, and enjoy the ones they got to choose even more.

4. Follow Up 

Chances are you consider continuous learning and mastery of your craft as a top priority. This means you come across lots of health and fitness material in your journey, and keeping an eye out for articles, videos, or studies that are relevant to your clients' interests is a great way to build relationships and demonstrate your thoughtfulness and care for your clients.

When a client tells you they want to learn more about the recent headlines on red meat, or additional mobility drills they can perform at home, or any other topic you might not typically cover in a training session, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your value to them.

Following up with an appropriate article or video, or recommendation of other industry experts to follow can help empower them, and reinforce your position as someone who cares about their goals and needs.

Even a short message after a particularly tough workout asking how they're feeling or checking in after they've been away due to sickness can go a long way towards reminding them that you have their best interests at heart. This is what long-lasting client relationships are made of.

Put It All Together

Everyone can recognize a skilled service provider when they come in contact with one, and it's rarely pure technical knowledge that's responsible.

Technical expertise requirements will vary depending on your client demographics, of course, but what will set you apart as a great trainer is your ability to interact positively with your clients.

Knowing how to get your message through, knowing when to speak and when to listen, incorporating their feedback into the process, and taking the opportunity to provide meaningful follow-up will guarantee you provide an exceptional client experience to everyone, develop long-lasting client relationships, and continue to grow your business.

To Read Next:

Building rapport is one of the most important parts of being a trainer but it's rarely taught. In your next article, PTDC head coach Jonathan Goodman breaks down the steps to building it:

--> How to Build Rapport With Your Training Clients