In my twentieth year as a Personal Trainer and Coach, I know there’s no formula for guaranteed success. There are Trainers all over the social skills / education graph. Sometimes, a terrific personality like Richard Simmons can get by on exuberance and a great haircut. Sometimes, though, a genius like Mel Siff isn’t heard – or can’t capitalize on his life’s work – because he’s not out there enough.
There should be a third dimension, of course: coaching skills. Knowledge and charisma are both important, but if you can’t translate your knowledge into action on the part of your client, it’s useless. If all that charm – practiced or natural – can’t motivate a bar off the floor, it’s not enough.
When I started, I’d argue on discussion forums and in chat rooms that education trumped experience, because I had a lot of one and very little of the other. “But you could be teaching the wrong stuff for years!” I’d argue. That was 1996. Now I recognize the necessity of both.
The curve above represents my path, I believe, toward my current position: owner of two gyms and several other businesses, with an expanding client base and a valuable brand asset. Three other Trainers make full-time living here, as well as several part-timers. An Athletic Therapist and RMT are both on staff, too, as well as gym staff and interns. As far as I’ve figured it, here’s my mental checklist for every client appointment:
- A great greeting.
- Banter during the warmup to include a personal detail mentioned at the last meeting (hey, how was your daughter’s play?) Let the client know that you care about what happens in their life.
- Ask how the homework assigned at the last meeting played out.
- Brief outline of the goals of the workout.
- Skills and reinforcement. Keep it positive and corrective. This is where you want 100% perfection on technique. I also try to keep the client smiling during this portion – this is the frustrating part, where people can get down on themselves.
- Break out at least one scientific explanation, but keep it short. This isn’t just good salesmanship (“look what I know!”) it’s also building a more knowledgeable clientele.
- Explain the WHY of the workout.
- Outline the goals of the WOD – ie anaerobic capacity – and your rationale for the weight chosen (“I know you can do more, but I’m concerned that grip strength will limit your performance, instead of work capacity. I want you to keep moving, so I’ve chosen a lighter weight.”
- 3-2-1 go! Voice and inflection change, posture changes. Shorter sentences, exclamation points, no more technical instructions. Commanding tone.
- Collapse. Sharing of water. Now’s the time to tell a story. “Last year, we had this tournament called ‘FranFest.’ One lady lost a tooth. She kept going anyway. Hahaha….”
- Stretch and review homework challenges for the week. Encourage contact by phone or logging workout results.
- Any questions?
- Book the next appointment, if not already scheduled.
- Mention something coming up in the client’s life (“Enjoy painting that fence this weekend!”)
The very fact that it’s a checklist makes it imperfect. You have to be able to touch on all of these without seeming to refer to a spreadsheet-in-the-sky. If you can’t do anything else:
1) make them laugh
2) remember things that are important to the client
3) impress upon them your technical knowledge in a non-academic way. One more example: after I explain rotational torque, in 30 seconds or less, with a chalk stick-man on the gym floor, I usually say something self-demeaning, like, “…or maybe I’m just making this all up.” They usually laugh. They won’t remember any of the content, but they will remember that I know, and that’s enough.
Got a formula? Please add it below.