Find Your Client’s Awesome Sauce

I had two experiences with personal trainers in my life. The first time, the trainer met me in the gym and walked me around to a series of machines for the hour. She counted my reps and literally chewed gum the entire time, popping and chomping, popping and chomping. I found the workouts incredibly boring, and although she may have had a system, I could not see it. Was there any way I was going to recreate that on my own without her there? No way, it was boring.

My second experience was with a more lively, energetic gal. She did much more compound movements, such as bench step ups with weights in hands for overhead presses. I found her workouts much more challenging, and I liked them more. However, she cancelled on me all the time. Also, would I have recreated these workouts? No, she gave me no tools to do so.

Maybe my first mistake was that I went both times to the same commercial gym. I am sure there are excellent trainers in commercial gyms, but they are also often underpaid, and I can have empathy for them just “going through the motions” in many ways. There did not seem to be much spark for them to be better.

As trainers and instructors in the field of fitness, there are many important concepts and guidelines for programming that merit attention. We particularly love this post from MindPump, which details the five weightlifting exercises every beginner should be doing.  The ACE IFT model also emphasizes training movement-based exercise programming and getting away from the concept of training individual muscles, or solely hitting the machines with your clients.

The five basic movement patterns according to the ACE IFT model are as follows:

  1. Squatting
  2. Lunging
  3. Pushing
  4. Pulling
  5. Rotating

These are all excellent pieces of advice. However, many trainers are well versed in the concepts of science but lacking in the department of people.

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One of the biggest challenges many of us trainers experience is that our clients are NOT as enthusiastic about fitness as we are. Did you hear that? Often times, clients are not as enthusiastic about fitness as we are. They do not care about the logistics of the programming. We must get better at creating programs they want to do and will stick with. How can we get adherence when exercise feels like work to them? We all work enough as it is. It is hard to find what they will stick with, sure. It takes some digging, and problem solving throughout the program.

My brother is a strongman competitor. I recall early days of working out with him at the gym. He LOVED being at the gym. He would bring a gallon of water, and spend hours there, taking twenty-minute breaks between weightlifting sets. He parked it at the gym like it was his second home. I had a different approach. I wanted in and out of there. I wanted to sweat my bum off and hit the showers within an hour. I tried to like weightlifting. I really did. But I don’t. I hated weight training. It was incredibly boring to me. I had to search to find a means of resistance training that I would commit to and do. Hitting the weights in the gym was not it for me.

What does your client like to do? Is weightlifting something they like? Do they find it fun and/or entertaining? The big boom of the boutique fitness market has shown us one thing: people like exercise they experience fully and they will pay big bucks if they find it fun and if it creates that experience. Some clients will love the traditional personal trainer approach with excel spreadsheets categorizing body parts by day. Others will cringe at the thought. We could all use some advice in the coaching department. What makes a difference as simply a trainer of body parts and a full on health and fitness coach is the coach tailors the program to the individual and knows that each individual program will look different. The communication lines are open, and the partnership is well established. There is a goal to get that client moving outside the gym, not just in the sixty minutes he/she is there. Continuity is key. Lifestyle changes are paramount. In neither of my experiences with personal trainers was what I did outside of those sixty minutes ever discussed. That is simply just not sustainable.

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Tailor the program you create to their interests. Help them find opportunities for exercise outside the gym that doesn’t feel like work to them. How do we do that? We ask open ended questions and let them fill in the blanks. We talk less and we listen more. The only way we can be good trainers is by having the best communication skills. We must always meet our clients where they are at, not where we want them to be. We think about them not us when creating programs. Every program will look different. We look at the whole person and try to get to know them as best as possible. This is a skill that takes time and experience to develop. It is not a soft skill you can read about in a book or blog post like this one and just master it. It takes practice. It will always take due diligence to put your clients’ thoughts and preferences before your own. It is one of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and there is no mastery. There is only constant practice with no perfection.