The Formula

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.

Smarts v social

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:

  1. A great greeting.
  2. 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.
  3. Ask how the homework assigned at the last meeting played out.
  4. Brief outline of the goals of the workout.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Explain the WHY of the workout.
  8. 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.”
  9. 3-2-1 go!  Voice and inflection change, posture changes. Shorter sentences, exclamation points, no more technical instructions.  Commanding tone.
  10. 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….”
  11. Stretch and review homework challenges for the week.  Encourage contact by phone or logging workout results.
  12. Any questions?
  13. Book the next appointment, if not already scheduled.
  14. 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.