What Do Coaches Really Need? — Tools

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 4.

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 registering them for the Two-Brain Nutrition Coaching course. 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?


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 our RampUp program. Which of these tools are you already using?


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.