I want to first tell you a little story. This story is about my client Pam. Pam had 3 trainers before me and failed with each. Looking back, I have no idea why she continued. 3 bad experiences with an industry are enough to send anybody packing with a nasty taste in their mouth.
Pam’s goals were to lose weight and put on muscle. The three other trainers gave her circuit training because they wrongly believed it was the best way to burn the fat. I mean, if her heart is beating hard the whole time she’ll be burning fat right? Isn’t that how it works?
I told Pam that in order to “get lean” she would have to lift heavy-a** weights. (Check out this article for some great ways to convince women to lift heavy.) Pam’s World was flip-turned upside down. All of the circuit training that she had done previously was thrown out the door. To top it off, I was tough on her. I didn’t compliment her for 2 months! Sure, there was the occasional fist pump as she finished her set but I wanted her to get pride out of that compliment. It had to matter.
When I did compliment Pam it showed her that I was different and wouldn’t be satisfied until she got results. 2 years later, Pam has achieved all of her goals. Bought over 100 sessions and referred me more clients than I can handle. Here’s the story in her own words:
“…I learned a long time ago that if I could walk all over somebody, I inevitably would. I think that’s why I wrote off the other trainers. You seemed far more formidable than that! In our initial sessions, I was scared that, if I wasn’t good enough, you would give me the boot. That fear must have come from my music student experience, because I no longer have that impression of you; however, it got me off to a diligent start… . I enjoy all the positive reinforcement but I also appreciate that you made me work pretty hard for about 2 months before you coughed up a solid compliment.” – Pam
This story from Pam is not an anomaly. Compliments are an under-utilised tool by trainers and can be a very powerful way to cement the relationship and dial in good habits.
There are two main types of compliments that you can keep in your arsenal as a personal trainer. They are appearance and exercise form. I’ll cover both of them separately.
Compliments based on appearance
These can be broken up into two sub-sections. The first is obvious and something that most of you probably already do. If a client gets their nails done, a new haircut, new shoes, new workout clothing etc. you tell them it looks nice. This form of flattery will show the client that you pay close attention to them as a person. In addition, you care enough to take a special interest in them.
The second and perhaps more powerful compliment is based on workout attire. How often does a client start training with you looking like Raggedy Ann? Baggy t-shirt and sweat pants and hair’s a mess. They seem embarrassed to be in the gym and keep a closed off stance and slump their shoulders.
Then one day usually after a month of two everything changes. You snap your fingers and all of a sudden your client’s showing their curves or gasp – some skin.
New workout clothing is an indicator of increased confidence. It tells me that the client is ready for people to start noticing their bodies. The second a female client walks in with a backless shirt I make sure to compliment her back development. She’ll act embarrassed but I promise that shirt isn’t getting returned. The compliment doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s an example:
Wow, your back muscles are coming in really nicely. The definition looks great! Well done. Guess all of those seated rows are working.
Nothing fancy right? I didn’t even mention the clothing itself. I just made sure to notice her change and reiterate the fantastic work she had done. Your goal is to paint a picture of the work your client’s done and dial in the emotional component of exercise.
The first time you throw down a great compliment based on appearance I promise your client will act embarrassed. Good – your goal is to put them on the spot. A lot of our clients hide their bodies from the world for years before entering the gym. Once they do it’s a long drawn out process for them to commit to training. The second your client has made the mental shift to have others notice their body is your chance to cement the relationship. This is your make or break moment. Throw down a high quality compliment to show that their new-found confidence is well-deserved.
Complimenting based on exercise form
Be careful! Don’t give these compliments too often.
I learnt this lesson from my parents. As the youngest of 4 children I had a pretty free ride. Rarely was I chastised for doing something wrong. When I was, you bet your a** I listened and felt horrible about it.
Complimenting is similar. I save them up for the big accomplishments or for habits that I want to see repeated. My clients know that when I give them a real compliment it’s meaningful and they work hard to get the next one. Refer to the focus system where I describe the importance of having 1-2 primary exercises for a new client to get better at. These are what I base their progression and results off of and these are what I compliment them on. If they do a biceps curl well — great! But I’m not wasting my compliments on isolation movements.
Have you ever had a client who struggled at squat form due to tight hip flexors? If you haven’t then you’re not a personal trainer and should stop reading. I had a client who worked for 7 weeks every single day performing self-myofascial release, visualization, stretching/mobilizations, and progressions. Sure I gave them hand-slaps and well-done’s but I made sure not to compliment them until they did it. Here’s what I said:
“You kept a nice strong back on the way down and didn’t have any forward shift coming up. You were definitely focusing on driving through the heels. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see you squat so well. Remember when you started out and your knees hurt even as you sat down. I guess all that stretching helped huh? The sky’s the limit from here on out. That was the last step to effectively squatting – the best fat burning exercise there is.”
In my compliment I first reiterated the key points on form that he got right which I knew he was thinking about throughout. I then made sure to notice that he was successfully performing the major cue that I gave him in driving through his heels. Next, and perhaps the most important, was that I made the compliment personal. I told him that he had specifically made me happy watching him finally accomplish something that he worked so hard at. Lastly, I highlighted the struggle that Fred had before ending the compliment on a lighter note so as not to make him feel awkward and painted a picture of the future.
The effectiveness of compliments and punishments are similar. When my clients get a real compliment from me they know that I’m truly proud of them and, after they get the first one, they work hard to get subsequent ones. I plan to compliment a client when they’ve been struggling with a movement for a long time. The goal is to highlight their struggle within the compliment specifically address how they’ve overcome it.
The anatomy of a high quality compliment
I hope you agree that high-quality complimenting is of utmost importance. It can help your business and lead to a dedicated army. But how do you compose a high quality compliment? Here are my simple steps:
- Make it sincere – A simple “good job” isn’t effective. Instead stop what you and your client are doing and look them in the eye. Change your tone of voice and…
- Be specific – Tell the client exactly what it is they did well. Not just the exercise. Be more specific than that. What parts of the exercise did they do well? Did they finally get their butt back in a squat? did they keep on their heels in a lunge? Did they retract their shoulder blades properly and squeeze your finger in a seated row? Whatever it is be specific to the skill they finally mastered.
- Paint a picture of where they came from – Relate back to their struggles. A simple “… remember when your arms shook as your pressed 10lbs dumbbells above your head?” helps them get a clear picture in their head of how far they’ve come.
- Paint a picture of the future – How will the new skill they just mastered help them in the future? Paint a picture of the importance of what they just accomplished. If they retracted their shoulder blades for the first time tell them that it will lead to less neck pain and headaches. Now they can use their middle back more effective and take pressure off the neck.
Personal training’s about relationships. Build and nourish them and you’ll never make a cold call again. Lack of sincerity is transparent. It will hurt the relationship instead of strengthening the bond.
How do you compliment? Comment below and, as always, please share. If you want to hear more from us and get the free e-book entitled “6 ways to show that you’re different… and better” put your info in the form on the bottom right of this page.