Are you going to be the fun-loving trainer that has their clients laughing as they leave or the performance-minded trainer that uses the latest in scientific research? Do you want to train baseball players or work with general population clients? Each style attracts a different type of client, and contributes to your style as a trainer. Do you use more progressive exercises or traditional variations?
I made a decision early in my career that I was going to be a high-energy trainer that focused on providing results and enjoyment in my sessions. Many of my clients do their cardio with basketball drills rather than cardio machines. It’s more fun for the client, and it gives me a chance to interact with them in an enjoyable setting rather than punching numbers on the elliptical. I also make it a point to high-five almost everyone in the facility at 6AM.
2. Develop a referral base
Don’t be afraid to refer clients to other trainers that have more expertise. Introduce yourself to other trainers around the facility. Make sure they know your background and training style.
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a football player inquiring about training for the NFL Combine. For a fleeting instant, I imagined myself taking him through grueling workouts and ultimately making it in the NFL. Then reality hit, and I realized that I had little experience training football players.
I ended up referring him to another professional in the area that had much more expertise in the realm of strength and conditioning for athletes. This was not only the best decision for the athlete, but strengthened my professional relationship as well.
3. Create your system
I used to spend hours creating completely unique workouts for all of my clients. Then I had a revelation: the majority of our clients require similar programming with minor tweaks and modifications along the way. Rather than create a new workout for each client and each workout, develop a system of progressions for your clients.
This not only benefits me as a trainer by saving me time, but provides my client with a program rather than a compilation of workouts. Maybe each new client starts out with the same basic 5 exercises for 2 sets of 10-12 including individual variations. Once they become proficient, progress the exercises within your system (i.e. bodyweight squat to barbell squat).
4. Assessment is your friend
In order to create an effective system, you need to track progress with each client to make sure it delivers results. If it doesn’t, don’t panic and revamp the whole thing. Tweak some areas and see if things improve.
After a few weeks of solid progress, a recent weight-gain client of mine was beginning to plateau. Rather than get frustrated and scrap a successful program, we tweaked the frequency and immediately experienced progress. The key was constant feedback and progress assessments.
Frequent assessments indicate that you are actively working towards your client’s goals rather than just training for the hell of it. The assessments should be geared towards each specific client. Initially, my clients go through a range of assessments including posture, flexibility, core strength, as well as the basics. Rather than make them go through the whole thing each two weeks, we repeat the applicable ones. For a weight loss client, it may only be weight or girth measurements.
5. Write down everything
Did certain exercise combinations work well? Did a client make huge progress in just a few short weeks? Taking notes helps you to reflect back on the session after the fact and identify trends and potential hazards.
A past client of mine was experiencing shoulder pain throughout certain movements over a few consecutive weeks. After 3-4 workouts in a row with the same symptoms, I suggested they go see a specialist rather than push through the pain. Turns out, the pain was left from years of throwing sports and required intervention. Sure the program was temporarily put on hold, but the situation was addressed before it became much more serious. Another client had jumped up 40 pounds on bench press after only 3 weeks of training. He didn’t notice, but I sure did. Once I showed him our progress, he was elated!
6. Learn from everything
Chances are, you’re going to make mistakes. The key is not repeating the same ones over again. My first clients got beat up. I repeatedly pushed them too hard in our initial sessions leaving them nauseous. I thought hard workouts were the key to success and vomit was a badge of honor. Rather than beat my head against the wall repeatedly (and have no clients), I learned from my mistake and changed my initial approach.
7. Read, watch, and listen to whatever you can, but with a cautious eye
New fads are coming out every day. Rather than follow the fads, ask yourself if this will contribute to the success of your clients within your style of training.
When kettlebells began to re-emerge in the fitness industry, I was quick to hop on the bandwagon. I had every client doing some sort of swing and clean variation. Some loved the new variation, while others hated it. For a few weeks, I pushed on reinforcing the benefits of kettlebell training, until one day when I accepted that kettlebells may not be for everyone.
8. Personal training is an experience-based business
When a client has a good experience, they tell everyone, but the same goes for when they have a bad one. Along with sets and reps, take notes of other events happening in their lives.
I primarily work with students so I keep notes of when they have exams or presentations. Not only do I back off the strenuous workouts during periods of high stress, but I also ask them how their exams are going. I don’t periodize — I plan. For my adult clients, I take note of business trips and family events. It shows that I not only care about them as a client, but also as a person. Create good experiences by selecting a proper program, but also through building a relationship with your client.[hr_shadow]
Jeremey DuVall is a current graduate student at the University of Florida specializing in Human Performance. He is a personal trainer, coffee junkie, and deadlifting addict. He currently manages the personal training program at the University of Florida Department of Recreational Sports. He maintains a blog or can be reached via Twitter