I came to a realization a few years ago. After spending five years in university taking a science degree in exercise, I found myself working in a health club (the same one I work in now), reading the “Help Wanted” ads looking for a new job. Within the first 10 months of employment I had peaked at about 30 clients and then found myself with only about 5, meaning I could barely afford rent, groceries, and keeping myself knee-deep in trucker caps.
At the time, I was casually dating a pretty swell gal who seemed to like hanging out with me, and I didn’t want her dating a dead-beat who couldn’t maintain a client. I mean, I knew how to program till the cows come home, I was one of the only trainers in my entire city who was working on any type of Post-Rehab style of programming, forming a few relationships with chiropractors and physios, but they weren’t producing anything yet. It was probably the lowest point of my training career, and it hadn’t even really begun.
Then one morning as I was trying out some different types of exercises to see what they did and whether I liked them or not (a practice I would DEFINITELY recommend to everyone out there), I came to a realisation:
I was focusing only on the physical components of working out, the controllable variables, angles, and specifics of an exercise program. I had completely forgotten about the individual doing the workout.
From that point on I changed pretty damn near everything I did for my clients. I changed the questions I asked in the consultation, I changed how I talked to my clients, what I talked to them about, how I approached their lifestyle habits, how I held them accountable, how I flexed to meet their needs, etc, etc, etc. I didn’t really change much in how I programmed for my clients, or how I taught them the exercises, progressions, or anything like that, because that area didn’t need the most overhauling. If it didn’t produce some form of measurable improvement in how likely my client was to continue training with me, it was out, and I was going to try something else and see what it did.
Within 2 weeks, I went from 5 clients to 10, all from people watching me train my clients and wanting to train with me.
Within a month, I was up to 20 clients. All of my clients were renewing with me, and I was back to being busy. This continued to grow, and within the next year I had reached my maximum number of clients that I could realistically train in one-on-one sessions without skipping those pesky things called “sleep.”
I’ve kept a consistently full clientele since then, and all because of one simple thing that a lot of new trainers forget: we are responsible for teaching people not just how to exercise, but how to find the excitement and passion to exercise that we have. We are responsible for helping people find solutions to their physical problems, which sometimes have emotional or mental roadblocks that need to be properly addressed. We’re responsible for showing our clients that success is measured in steps along the way, not merely in reaching the end of the road.
I’ve used the analogy of the yellow brick road leading to Oz with a lot of clients, saying that each brick may be small, but they all lead closer to Oz, and that each brick forward is still further along than they were when they started to walk the path.
One other component that I have always found incredibly important to success as a trainer or in helping someone achieve their goals is to make them laugh at least six times during a session. Seriously here, laughing is done waaaaaay too little in today’s society. Babies laugh on average around 200 times a day, where your average desk jockey in their thirties will laugh about 15-20 times. That’s a whole lotta giggles left on the table between diapers and dress shirts!! Laughing has a seriously beneficial effect on people’s hormonal balance, stress management capabilities, metabolism, bowel health, and sex life. Don’t believe me? Ask any female out there what they find most appealing in a man, and most will say “sense of humor” is right up there. How else do you figure a guy like Zack Galafinakis can get laid??
I’ve always said that everyone is someone else’s weirdo, so I want to be that weirdo to as many of my clients as possible.
For example: I like to sing during my training sessions. Loudly. As off-key as possible, about what I see and think, not specific songs or anything like that. Kinda like Randy Newman on Family Guy when Y2K hit. Look it up if you want, I won’t mind, just come right back here when you’re done. To top it off, I try to make people laugh any way possible, and in most cases this would be when they are trying to balance or maintain a stable core, and where laughing would be like having an earthquake shake a bridge.
I’ve also had clients reveal some pretty deep things to me at times: they were diagnosed with cancer and didn’t want to tell their spouse for fear they wouldn’t respect them any more. They lost their job and didn’t think they could find another one because they were too old and couldn’t afford to change careers at this stage in their lives. Their spouse was cheating on them, or they were cheating on their spouse, or they were getting a divorce. They’d attempted suicide. Each situation was unique, and as much as I wanted to go all Dr. Melfi on them and try to diagnose their problems as somehow relating to their parents not driving them to soccer practice enough, I simply listened and asked questions to let them talk more. It’s not my job to be a psychiatrist, but people open up to those they feel comfortable with and who they trust.
Essentially, as much as I like talking about the anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and adaptive possibility of the body, the most difficult part of becoming a good trainer or coach isn’t the ability to design the greatest program on the face of the earth, but the ability to relate, listen, and encourage a client to help them achieve their goals as best as possible, regardless of what may be standing in their way. I’ve known a lot of trainers who didn’t know their ass from their acetabulum, couldn’t spot their clients arching back to save their lives, and had them training legs on Tuesdays, EVERY Tuesday, but their clients absolutely loved them because they understood them. Check out this article for more details on why you should be fired.
A good trainer can program a workout. A great trainer can coach. A client who knows that you take ownership of their results and their livelihood will pay off huge in the long run, as they have the utmost confidence in your abilities to help them succeed, whatever their goals may be. I’ve had clients that I met in a consult who couldn’t afford training, but because I took the interest in them to develop, stopped to chat with them every time they were in the gym, and encouraged each step along the way, they decided to pursue a career in personal training on their own. I can’t tell you what kind of feeling it gives me when someone says they changed how they felt about themselves by simply having me believe in them enough to help them make a change in their lives.
Please don’t take this as me bragging about how fantastically awesome I am, because it’s really not about me here, but about how important forming a relationship with someone is in their personal development. I’m sure everyone out there can think of one or two people who have positively influenced their lives and who they thank every day for taking the time to make their worlds a better place. Great trainers take the time to figure out how to make that kind of a difference in the lives of their clients.
So the whole point of this little post is to say that a good trainer will show a client how to exercise, where as the great trainers will help a person understand what they can achieve. The difference may be subtle, but the end result is the difference between a client for a week versus a client for life.