In Part One of this series, I asked, “What do coaches REALLY need to be successful in the fitness industry?”
Of course, the largest thing a coach needs is a business plan, or to work for an owner with one. Without a stable foundation, the best coaches in the world will be forced to work in call centers or bussing tables. I’ll address the financial needs of coaches and owners in Part Four.
But successful fitness coaches also need professional tools on top of that business plan. Systems, software and apps have create opportunities for diverse revenue streams that actually help your clients. Coaches are no longer forced to trade their time for money; you don’t have to coach 13 hours every day to make a decent living.
Here’s are the tools ALL successful coaches have:
The ability to prescribe a nutrition program. Nutrition is the foundation of your clients’ fitness. Professional coaches know that no one can outwork a bad diet. Many gym owners create amazing opportunities for their coaches by signing up with Healthy Steps Nutrition. Others choose to get their coaches certified by Precision Nutrition (a good course, but there’s no business help attached.)
Or you can build client spreadsheets and handouts yourself, and track your clients’ meals on an app like MyFitnessPal.
The ability to assess a client based on what THEY want. Every coach knows that building a program means starting at Point A and working to Point B. Determining the client’s starting point is important for building a program. But most coaches make a huge mistake with their assessments: they test things the client doesn’t care about.
For example, no client says “I just want to move better” when they come in for their first appointment. They’re more likely to say “I want to lose 20 pounds.” But some coaches still perform rehabilitation tests like the FMS instead of taking body fat measurements. That’s crazy: the client doesn’t care whether they can touch their knee on the 2×4. They’re more likely to think “I’m not good enough to do this kind of exercise” than “Wow, that girl is a real expert at weight loss!”
We use the InBody on every client who wants more muscle, less fat, or any kind of visual change. It’s not a cheap piece of equipment, but it’s far more valuable than a few more barbells or Assault Bikes. Even if you use skin fold calipers or measuring tape, you have to measure what the client wants measured.
A clear way to assign homework. For many years, I printed clients’ homework onto a prescription tearaway pad. The pad had my logo on the top (a big green arrow.) The clients would take their homework to the globo-gym, prop it up on the treadmill or squat rack, and record their workout as they went.
Now, it’s far easier to prescribe homework to each client (unless you’re using an app from the CrossFit space. None of the popular ones include a good way to deliver homework beyond the daily WOD scoreboard.)
There are great apps out there. We use Trainerize. Catalyst has a white-label app (it’s just Trainerize with our logo and colors). We prescribe homework for clients who do Personal Training or Nutrition Coaching. The app integrates with MyFitnessPal and a bunch of others. It’s easy to attach demo videos that you make, or already exist elsewhere.
There are other options out there. You need one.
The ability to mentor a client to action. You can call empathy and care “soft skills” if you want to, but they’re really the skills that matter most. A balanced relationship of accountability and care are what makes a great coach. You’re not their friend, but you’re not their boss, either. This is what we develop first in the TwoBrainCoaching program. Because a client has to WANT to come back tomorrow…
Continuing education. Certifications and seminars are great. But they’re usually too much at once; as someone who used to run large seminars every month, I know that most attendees retain only a fraction of what’s taught. Coaches are lucky to remember three useful things a week after any seminar, and most aren’t using more than one thing a year later.
The best method for continual coaching development is a slow drip of information and application. A balanced approach (learn something and apply it; learn another thing and apply that) creates long-term growth. Annual seminar weekends have a novelty effect: your coaches replace previous knowledge with new knowledge. For example, after attending a mobility clinic, my coaches began spotting mobility “problems” in every single client. Monthly seminars for your coaches have a compounding affect: each lesson builds on the one before. Coaches gain broader context and can prioritize what’s most important for each client against that backdrop.
A way to measure progress. It’s really hard for clients to see their progress from inside their own skin. So you have to show them. That means frequent body fat tests; or applying a performance scale like The Level Method; or diligently applying Bright Spots.
The most important part is that you’re meeting with your clients every quarter to discuss their goals and SHOW them their progress. Many coaches make the mistake of assuming their clients can look at themselves objectively. That’s impossible for humans to do. A key part of retention is making sure your clients know exactly how much they’re progressing.
A way to change course. Nothing works for everyone. If a client doesn’t make progress for three months, you haven’t failed as a coach…unless you don’t alter their plan. If you’re not measuring their progress; meeting with them to discuss their goals; and then creating new plans based on both, you’re not really coaching them. You might be choreographing their classes, or selling them a membership; but is that enough?
Mindset. I mentioned that one of the Tools a coach possesses is mindset. A coach can have different philosophies about how their clients are served.
A method-first mindset: “This program is what I sell. Here’s how this program will solve your problems.” Does CrossFit cure everything? Does Pilates, or Yoga, or Spin? Of course not. But disciples of each discipline want to believe they hold THE answer, because they think that’s their job. Many think they have to talk their clients out of every other avenue to fitness and hold them close to keep them long-term; that’s not true. And no method is best for everyone forever.
A programming-first mindset: a derivative of the method-first mindset. “CrossFit is the best, and we’re the best at coaching CrossFit.” Evidence of this mindset appears on almost every CrossFit gym’s website. Clients visiting the website hear all about why the gym is the best CrossFit gym in town; but see nothing about how the coaches will help them lose weight. The programming-first mindset focuses on features instead of benefits. But clients only care about benefits.
A client-first mindset: “I’ll do anything to get a client to their goal.” Some clients need yoga. Some need weight training. Some need a rest. And all of them need different things at different times. A client-first mindset means the coach views every relationship as a ten-year plan, with ebbs and flows in intensity. They forge partnerships with other coaches. They build new programs and groups around what their clients need, instead of what they think they can sell. And they change a client’s prescription based on their progress. This is tough, but I know examples of Spin Studios who transitioned into CrossFit gyms because the majority of their clients needed CrossFit, not spin classes. Can you imagine making that shift in your practice? What would it take? And what would the penalty be if your clients made the decision to take up Spin instead of CrossFit today?
How do these tools work together to create meaningful careers? That’s part of the gym’s overall business plan, which we build in the Incubator. Which of these tools are you already using?
I’ve owned a CrossFit gym for 11 years, and a personal training studio for 14. I’ve been a fitness coach since 1996.
Years before that, I was a cyclist. And now I’m a Zwifter.
Last summer, I started cycling again. Before long, it became all-consuming: I’d give up my CrossFit workouts to get on my bike most days. I thought I’d get back to CrossFit full-time when winter took me off the roads. But then I found Zwift, TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest. I brought my bike indoors, added a smart trainer, and haven’t been bored since. I ride around 4x/week on Zwift now.
The most compelling thing about Zwift for a CrossFitter is the data: you can track improvement in Wattage over time, for example. The AI engine changes my workouts as I improve, and the courses and group rides keep it novel.
The most compelling thing about CrossFit is the constant novelty and combination of strength training with HIIT. And while most CrossFit gyms don’t include much in the way of aerobic capacity building, I’m convinced that you can’t build strength on a bike in a meaningful way. CrossFit actually has some roots in cycling: its founder, Greg Glassman, was a part-time cyclist. And the Tabata protocol was developed for cyclists first; now it’s used almost weekly in many CrossFit gyms.
If you’re a cyclist trying to get stronger or improve your wattage threshold; or if you’re a CrossFitter who wants to ride a bike faster, this is how you do it.
- Strength Training – a little goes a long way. Stick to the major lifts (deadlift, squat, and press.) Don’t avoid quad-dominant lifts, but don’t specialize in them, either. Use weight training to balance out your musculature and avoid overuse injuries.
And go heavy: you get plenty of reps on the bike.
- HIIT – replace some of your hill climbs or harder intervals on the bike with high-intensity anaerobic work. I don’t mean step class or a spin circuit. I mean thrusters and pull-ups with maximal effort for short duration. If you haven’t done CrossFit, you don’t know what “hard” is. Find out.
- Cycling – do your workouts on Zwift, TrainerRoad or The Sufferfest after your strength training. You’re not necessarily trying to prefatigue your muscles, because you’ll use different fibers and metabolic processes on the bike anyway. You’re simply doing your high-skill work while you’re fresh. And lifting weights is high-skill work.
Now, should you replace 1-2 of your workouts every week with CrossFit? Probably, at first.
If you’re a cyclist, you should start combining CrossFit into your workouts by joining a CrossFit gym and going through their OnRamp program. Here’s a map of over 500 gyms I recommend (not all CrossFit gyms adhere to the same standard of quality, unfortunately.)
Tell the coach your goal, and that you’d like to do CrossFit 1-2x per week. They’ll tell you which days to attend classes. Then they’ll review your goals every quarter, because your CrossFit prescription will change. Make sure you sign up for a nutrition program while you’re there!
If you want to add some strength training or mixed-modal HIIT training to your workout at home, follow these steps.
- Take OnRamp at a local CrossFit gym (or whatever they call their Intro program.) Learn the fundamental movements until you can do them under fatigue.
- Start with calisthenic movements like squats, lunges, pushups and burpees. Since your first adaptations will be neuromuscular, you don’t have to add external weights right away.
- When it’s time to add weight, buy a barbell or kettlebell or dumbbells. Do NOT buy a “home gym” or anything with levers. If you have room to add a pull-up bar, fantastic. Hip flexion movements (like leg raises) are really important for cyclists.
Here are a few suggestions to get started:
- Choose a shorter, circuitous route.
- Add bodyweight “calisthenic” movements into your ride.
- Monitor your heart rate and keep an eye on your wattage.
- Keep it simple.
Some CrossFit + Zwift workouts I’ve used:
- Volcano CCW Lap + 20 Squats
Set up on the Volcano Flat CCW course. Ride in to the start line as your warmup, staying around 50% of your FTP. When you cross the start line, hop off your bike and do 20 air squats. Then ride the 4.1k lap as quickly as possible. When you cross the start line again, repeat.
Your goal: do 5 laps (with 20 squats at the start of each) for time. Record your time.
- EMOM (Every Mile, On the Mile)
This is great for artificially raising your heart rate, and then attempting to maintain output in that state.
Use a heart rate monitor and try to maintain 80% of your FTP, at least.
Ride a mile. Hop off the bike and quickly do 10 burpees. Note your heart rate.
Click back into the bike and ride another mile. Every time you reach the mile mark (or 1.6km) do 10 burpees.
Your heart rate should keep climbing. Your goal is to continue for a certain distance, like 30 miles.
If you want to scale this workout (meaning modify it to last longer), base your total workout time on your wattage output. Continue only as long as you can keep your wattage output above 80% of FTP.
Choose a flat route, like Greater London Flat.
- AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)
Give yourself one hour to complete the following as many times as possible:
Ride the Richmond Flat Loop (5.0km) or similar
Complete 30 pushups
Complete 40 situps
Complete 50 air squats
Complete 60 jumping jacks.
Then return to the bike and start again. Record your score.
- Tabata: 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest
After a warmup on the bike and some mobility work:
Ride hard for 20 seconds (at least 3 watts/kg)
Coast or ride very easy for 10 seconds (<1 watt/kg)
Repeat for 8 rounds.
Then hop off the bike.
Do as many air squats as possible in 20 seconds.
Rest for 10 seconds.
Repeat for 8 rounds.
Hop back on the bike, and repeat. Your wattage output will definitely dip on the second round of 8 Tabata sets.
After 8 more sets on the bike, hop off and do 8 sets of step-ups or lunges.
Your pattern should look like this:
8 sets of Tabata (:20 on, :10 off) on the bike
8 sets of Tabata squats
8 sets of Tabata on the bike
8 sets of Tabata step-ups or lunges
8 sets on the bike
8 sets of leg raises
8 sets on the bike
8 sets of planking
8 sets on the bike.
If you’re really pushing hard, this is MORE than enough, even though it’s short.
- “We Will Overcome”- complete the following for time
11.5km ride – use the Astoria Line 8 route (New York)
Complete 100 pull-ups, 200 pushups and 300 squats–break them up any way you like (I would usually do 20 rounds of 5 pull-ups, 10 pushups and 15 squats)
11.5km ride – Astoria Line 8
Now, you’re probably going to be doing all of this stuff in cycling shoes. Make sure you have lots of space behind your bike to move around. Also try the half-variation of these first: cut everything (including the rides) in half.
These are also great replacement workouts on days you don’t have 90 minutes to ride your bike. On those days, focus on intensity: cut the above workouts down to half, and go hard.
Make sure you warm up first, and don’t do any of these workouts until you’ve been through an introductory program at one of the CrossFit gyms on this map. They might give you different workouts, or might tell you not to do these at all. Let a live coach be your guide unless you’ve been doing both cycling and CrossFit for awhile.
My wife and I just recently bought a home. Anyone who has been through this process knows that before you decide to sign on the dotted line, you go through a home inspection. Their job is to point out the problems, both potential and existing, so that you can make an educated decision on whether to buy this home.
Arguably the biggest check-up is done on the foundation of the home. After all, this is the part on which the entire house resides. A poor air conditioner or other dilapidated appliances can be replaced. Even walls, flooring, and plumbing can be fixed relatively easily. A compromised foundation on the other hand is grounds for moving on to another property.
In the fitness business, the foundation that you set with a client is of vital importance. Like a home, it forms the basis from which everything else is built. This is why all great gyms put new clients through some sort of On-Ramp program – to build a solid, reliable foundation. If nutrition and mobility are fundamental in your gym, they need to be present in your on-ramp program. If nutrition is a core service that you offer, it needs to be addressed right away. The initial interactions with your service in an on-ramp setting will set the client up for success and get them to buy-in that what you are selling (coaching) will deliver the results they desire.
The make-up of an on-ramp program is as varied and individual as each gym that runs one, but the great gyms have 3 goals with their On-Ramp Programs:
- Introduction to your services: in your on-ramp, the client should come away with a clear understanding of what private training, group training, and nutrition coaching are all about and the value that each service brings. At the very least, they need to be aware that you offer all of these things!
- Build relationships: after your initial consult, what we refer to as the ‘No-Sweat Intro’, your job is to cultivate trust with your clients. They need to believe that your facility has their best interests at heart, that what you are delivering to them is one thing: the result that they are looking for.
- Teach the client there is always more to learn. This is the toughest for owners to wrap their heads around. Many say that they want to ensure that clients are ready and moving well enough to enter the group classes. But what does that mean; does everyone receive a pass/fail grade? Do they have to go from moving like a ‘D’ to moving like an ‘A’? Do they have to be proficient in the 9 fundamental CrossFit movements? Should they be able to do a muscle-up? Our goal here should be simple: show them a few things that are important (for instance: how to hip hinge, squat, press, pull, and carry), give them a big win, and then teach them that things within movement build upon one another over time.
This is also the time to get out in front of the common questions you might hear once a client enters group classes. Here’s an abbreviated list we came up with at our gym:
- Where do my keys go?
- How do I sign in?
- Why should I log my workouts?
- Why is strength training important?
- But all I want to do is lose weight – should I still lift heavy?
- What does RX mean?
- What is this mobility stuff everyone talks about?
- How much weight should I be lifting?
- How will I know what movements I should be doing?
- What should I be eating before my workout? After?
- How many days should I work out each week?
- Is it ok to workout if I’m sore?
- No…like I’m realllllly sore…should I take something?
- What this Kill Cliff stuff? Do I need it?
- Are all Canadian babies really wrapped in flannel from birth?
Ok, so this list can seem overwhelming. Put yourself in your clients shoes and try to imagine how they must feel. Your job is to make them feel comfortable, right at home. And remember, a good home starts with a solid foundation. In the fitness industry, that foundation is a well done On-Ramp Program.
Why do people stick around your gym for the long-term?
Is it excitement? Novelty? Education? A combination?
Any of these might be the primary reason. But people QUIT when they stop learning (that’s most important,) stop finding your service novel (second) or stop finding the gym fun (important, but not most important.)
I study human behavior and motivation more than I study weightlifting now. After almost 20 years in the fitness industry, I know the long game is more important than anything else. I’m finally starting to understand why people quit gyms and why coaches stop coaching. Education is the linchpin.
There’s a ton of research on employee retention and education–more on that on the TwoBrainBusiness site. But coaches should know one thing about keeping their clients engaged:
When they stop learning, they’re done.
One of the ways we ensure constant teaching is through the 90-Second Rule: ensure every client in every class receives at least 90 seconds of one-on-one instruction.
90 seconds doesn’t sound like much. But it’s enough time to watch a client do a squat, suggest one point of correction, watch them perform, and move on.
After all clients have been covered, the coach returns to the client who needs the most support: the person at the limits of their competency, or the girl going for a PR.
My friend Sean Manseau uses a technique he calls “sharking,” where he’s in constant circulation and looking for movement faults. I like his strategy, but prefer to be proactive and provide coaching to everyone regardless of need.
I do the same for coaches: teach in advance instead of reactively. Because when coaches stop learning, they’re done.
The 90-Second Rule creates a minimum standard of constant learning. If clients want more, they can simply move to personal training. But little nuggets, delivered over time, is what keeps them moving down the path. When the nuggets disappear, so do they.
After four years of University and a CSCS, I knew everything there was to know about fitness.
Then I got my first client; a soccer / basketball player who wanted to look good for college coaches.
The first question that immediately struck me was:
“But what do I actually DO?”
My education didn’t survive first contact with a client. So, I thought, I’d better get another credential.
I found the ISSA, and ordered their textbooks. Back then, they actually put big books in the mail. I read Dr. Fred Hatfield’s take on training athletes (hint: squats), overweight people (squats) and people with bad backs (squats.) I read and tested and read and tested, until I earned so many credentials that I needed a longer business card to print them all.
No joke: for awhile, my business card said “Chris Cooper, BSc., CSCS, CFT III, CSC”. If I could have listed all of the supplemental courses I took on nutrition and running and football training, I would have.
I hadn’t yet learned how much I didn’t know.
Sure, I had earned the right to call myself a serious student. But I was far from being an expert. My education was imbalanced between theory and practice. And it wasn’t only me: there’s a famous story of Paul Chek calling Dave Tate a “dump truck” in an online group. (Dave told the story on my podcast here). Dave had just squatted over 900 pounds; he knew a lot about strength training. Chek loved to cite research. He had a ton of letters after his name, too. But he’d never squatted 900 pounds, or trained a professional powerlifter.
In truth, credentials don’t make you a better coach. They might reassure your clients a little, but no credential will ever get you clients. And nobody’s checking the validity of your credentials: not your current clients, not your future clients, and not The Certification Police. Most of the time, the credentials exist only to make you feel better. They give coaches confidence. They’re Alphabet Soup For The Soul.
What SHOULD a coach know? How many credentials DO they need? I’ll get to that in a moment. First, here’s how deep the problem of credential invalidity actually goes.
The Bachelor’s Degree I earned in 1998 was one of the first available. But no one knew what “exercise science” meant; most of my graduating class were headed to chiropractic college next. So my advisors told me to get certified by the NSCA so I could get a job in the field. I learned more from the CSCS textbook than I did in my four-year undergrad. But then I found out that not everyone agreed with the NSCA–or the ACSM, or the ISSA. All of them had particular biases. (And, as it turns out, many of these biases existed because of funding from inappropriate sources.) So who was policing these agencies? Who was checking their science?
As it turns out, most certifications in fitness have never been subjected to any oversight whatsoever.
Now, the NSCA’s certifications became accredited in 1996 by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (you can read about it here.) CrossFit’s Level 1 Certificate Course became accredited by ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) in 2010. That means there’s a level of oversight into the process of certification: the NSCA and CrossFit must deliver their testing in a fair, replicable way; they must report their scoring results; their arbitration processes must be audited. Nicole Carroll does a great job of explaining what accreditation means here. But neither the NCCA or ANSI evaluate the course criteria for validity. In other words, no one filters credentials to say “this one will produce a great coach.”
It’s really up to the buyer to decide which is best. And, of course, that introduces a different kind of bias: after I take the XYZ credential, I’m going to tell everyone it’s the best, because I want it to be so.
So what DO coaches actually need?
How much education is enough?
How do credentials tell a client “this girl knows enough to help you”?
We’ll answer those questions in the next series of articles here. In the meantime, what do you think?
by Gretchen Bredemeier, TwoBrain Kids Program Mentor
I am SO excited you have decided that you want a Youth Program! Here are a few tactics that will set you off on the right foot!
- You are going to need a coach/program manager that fits a few parameters.
You are looking for a hard-working and energetic coach who is excited to create (within parameters) and who sees the long-term value of what they are doing. You need someone who communicates well with you, someone that believes in your values/mission, and someone who is willing to make mistakes, educate themselves, and try again. This person should have or develop a long-term vision for what THEY want and discuss it with you before you consider them as a Program Manager.
- You need to wait until parents are asking for it.
Scarcity is always your best friend. You want few enough events that they fill up. You want to start with few enough classes that the kids AND parents want more! If it’s your idea- you just want the money. If it’s their idea then you are serving your clients, doing it for THEIR best interest. If it’s their idea then you can truly Help First! Typically, the same concept applies for adding additional classes. While it’s good to get ahead of things (plan for classes you want to start in the next year), you want to start them when clients are asking for them.
- The best way to begin is with a 6-week session where parents pay up front.
6-week sessions are the best way to start! There are a few reasons for this. 6-weeks is a short enough time frame that parents can more easily commit, but long enough for them to see obvious results and understand the value of your program. 6-weeks is also longer than a month, which allows you to price well, because parents don’t tend to break the cost down per class, but relate the cost to “a large group of classes.” It makes GOOD pricing easier to swallow, which sets your value from the start. 6-weeks is also usually long enough that kids will miss one or two classes. This isn’t the goal, of course, but gets parents into the habit of seeing missed classes as their responsibility and not yours. You don’t ever want to get into the habit of parents expecting a specific number of classes with their payments.
- You need to consider the rates you’d like to charge in a year or two when you set your session rates at the beginning.
You should set your 6-week session rates based on what you’d like your program to be making once you’ve moved to a monthly membership. This first 6-weeks sets the tone, and begins to develop the culture, that you will be will for the long-haul, so you need to get ahead of as much as you can. Pricing is an easy one. Decide what you want your monthly rate to be once you are monthly and work backwards through the transitions of a 6- then 8- then 10-week session. There are lots of tricks here, but the general concept will move you solidly in the right direction.
- Understand your partnership with parents
Bus stops are the kid-focused version of hair salons or water coolers. And you want your program to be the topic of choice!!! The best way to make that happen is authentic relationships with parents, and just like price you want to start from your first 6-weeks. Make time before and after class to ask your questions and field theirs. Get to know them and their kids for REAL. Set-up a communication system that works for your clients: Email, Facebook, Texts, Instagram… whatever works for them. And then make sure you TELL them when you’ve addressed the issues, made special allowances, seen improvement in the behavior etc. Make sure they understand the things you worked on today, how that will benefit their kids, and why you chose to work on that specific thing. “I noticed that Sammy was uncomfortable in the front roll, so I chose this and that to work on vestibular development today so that as her inner ear gets the challenge it needs, she will become more comfortable in the positions that will be most helpful in creating great lifelong motor patterns.” They have to KNOW how much you know and how much work you are putting into this and they won’t know if you don’t tell them. Encourage them to take photos and to share photos. Make a “Bright Spots Friday” tradition where parents use pictures from the week to brag on their kids. Make fun car magnets that say “My kids sport is Crossfit” so parents can be proud of what their kids are doing. Parents that know you WILL talk about your program at the bus stop, and they will also give you more grace as you inevitably make mistakes. Take the time for parents and you will never be sorry that you did.