Can a Fitness Professional's reputation be tainted by their personal image?
I recently had an employee take over a class that I was unable to teach anymore. He was an amazing instructor but, he was over weight. The class went from averaging 16 participants to 3 participants. I had a few members comment on his weight and make it known that is why they would not attend that class anymore. Is it okay for clientel to be biased about their instructors/trainers?
I think the larger issue here (sorry, a non-intended pun) is the perception clients have of the instructor: his credibility, his knowledge, his professionalism...What exactly did they say to you about why they would no longer be returning?
A few questions for you:
-Why did you put him in that position (besides his being an "amazing" instructor)?
-Does he cue well?
-Does he offer challenging, yet modifiable movements?
-Does he treat the class with respect?
-Is he healthy? fit?
-Can he keep up with the demands of the class?
-Is he accomplished in his field? i.e., how many years has he been doing this?
-Do participants still get what they need from the class? (great workout, motivation, inspiration, etc..).
If all the answers to these questions is "yes", then the problems rest more with your participants than with the instructor.
I think a lot of people have difficulty accepting direction (in this case, a class) from somebody who appears to need it...maybe more than the participants. I think if he's able to make an authentic connection to these people, they would realize that it is worth their time and energy to spend it with somebody who might actually teach them something.
People often hate change that has been imposed on them. I am sure the participants had gotten used to your style of instruction and may have found fault with anybody else who would have taken over the class. And then there is the aspect of changing from a female instructor to a guy.
How was he introduced to the group? How suddenly? Any "warning"? Did you acquaint the group with the new instructor? Also: are there a few 'ringleaders' in the class that influence everybody's opinion? On the other hand: does he teach other classes where he is well liked and respected? If yes, what's the difference?
But in the end: people are entitled to their biases whether we agree with them or not. This is a very tricky situation, and I wish you good luck.
Client retention doesn't weigh so much on your physical appearance or even whether you are faster than your client, but what it does weigh on is do you resonate with that client; do you communicate well with that client; do they feel you are listening to them; do they feel you are working toward their goals or physical needs; do they feel that you are "keeping them safe" while doing the exercises; are you able to motivate them and trigger self-motivating habits; are you knowledgeable about what you are doing; do you know how to modify to fit their rom restrictions, etc.
Now I would like to comment that a personal fitness trainer DOES need to live in a healthy manner and abide by the same rules they give their clients. If a personal trainer spends late nights out all the time, or I see them out drinking and partying, or constantly eating fast food, etc. I could not put much faith in them trying to lead me into a healthy and fit lifestyle.
That having been said, many people find it more motivating to follow a leader that is not body beautiful, but a body more alligned with their own, or many are motivated by someone who has had to overcome their own genetic predisposition. Can the client relate to the instructor or trainer?
People are motivated by fun, and by aspirations that are seemingly attainable. A trainer or instructor that is misalligned with her/his audience will find it more challenging to create rapport and build a mutual vision.
Members can be biased for any reason/s we are not aware of however, if performance and business suffers from the personal actions of an employee/instructor/trainer, then I would intervene and address the situation.
You wouldn't work with a broke banker.
You wouldn't order food from a skinny chef.
You wouldn't work with a skinny or overweight trainer.
It implies that the person you are working with doesnt know what they are talking about. Our body is our business card.
Fuel the Movement,
Because our industry involves physical fitness, clients will always base at least part of their judgement of a fitness professional on how they look. This doesn't mean that every trainer must be an Adonis or Wonder Woman. But what it does mean is that we as trainers have to be aware of the potential for client bias in this regard, and so must take as much care as possible to stay in "shape" which, unfortunately means to most of the lay-public, "looking good/healthy."
As LaRue mentioned, "image is everything" in health and fitness! Clients should have the right to choose who they do, and do not want to work with. But - they should know that an instructor/trainer's credibility extends beyond their own image. I am sure that we all know that there are trainers out there that look the part, but they should not be training.
If you don't look the part, then you're chasing pavement in this industry. That's not to say that you have to be 3% bodyfat or look unnatural or intimidating, but you should at least be able to outperform your client 98% of the time. That's not saying you should compete with your client (unless that's the motivational style that works best for that client), but you have to be able to maintain your composure after high intensity bouts so that you can effectively motivate your clients to move forward and push the limits!
Like a good friend once said to me, "It ain't right, but I understand."
To my credit, I don't look like I weigh as much as I do and I have had students comment that they were happy that I looked like a "real" person and not a skinny twig bouncing around the group ex studio.
I teach well, I keep the class fun, and I show modifications for everything. We work hard but if I had to wait until I lost a few more pounds then I still wouldn't be teaching. Now I teach tap and jazz, Turbo Kick, and Hip Hop Hustle. I am confident in my knowledge of nutrition and exercise and I can see the response people have as I speak to them; it's one of respect.
The last thing I need is to spiral down to another bout with an eating disorder because I feel like no one should be listening to me because I have a few extra pounds.