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How Do You Handle a Client Who Constantly Becomes Distracted When Training at Home?

Feb 01, 2005

For my first few years’ training clients in-home, I found that my training time was greatly extended by clients who were constantly distracted. When I walked in the door, I used to wait patiently for clients to take phone calls, tend to the kids, stop and chat with their mates or even continue eating. The clients, in turn, grew to expect me to sit and wait for them to take calls or do whatever took their attention away. So my hourlong sessions became 11/2 or even 2 hours.

My greatest source of irritation was a client who always took phone calls during our sessions. Then one time he took a 20-minute call halfway through our appointment. When he got off the phone, I started the cooldown/stretch part of the session. He looked startled but allowed me to take him through the stretches. One hour after entering his house, I packed up and announced that I had to go to my next appointment. During the next training session, he took a call again. I did the same thing—started the cooldown/stretch after 50 minutes, based on when I walked in the door. Again, he looked startled. However, that was the last time he accepted a call during a training session!

Another client was a mother who kept checking on her baby while working out. From the beginning, I promptly left 60 minutes after entering her house, regardless of how much time we had actually spent training. After three sessions she realized she was shortchanging herself and started leaving the child with her mother on training days. I have found since, regardless of the situation, that if I let the unacceptable behavior go, the client will continue it. If I end promptly after 1 hour, the behavior stops.

I also started selling only packages of 10 sessions, so that I was not waiting on a check after each session. At the end of session 9, I announce that the next session is the last in the package—and that if the client wishes to renew, I will collect my check at the beginning of session 10. When I was collecting fees per session, I had to wait for clients to write checks after each session.

Pat Massey Welter

IDEA Master Personal Fitness Trainer

Head Trainer, Manager and Co-Owner, Suncoast Pilates and Yoga Center

Palm Harbor, Florida

Approximately 60% of my business is in-home training. I try to use my sense of humor to handle clients who are easily distracted. I’ll let them talk for a minute and then say, “I would love to hear the end of the story but only after you complete the next set. Then you have 1 minute to rest and talk.” I always explain why a long break would not be good—because it would cause a drop in heart rate or a loss of tension in the muscle, for example.

If it’s particularly difficult to get a client’s attention and her focus is just not there, I take a couple of minutes to make her aware that I need a certain amount of time to accomplish specific goals in the session and that she is not going to get the desired results if she doesn’t cooperate. I may also mention that she is paying a lot of money for training and that it’s money thrown away if she doesn’t use the time well. If the situation persists, I will terminate the training because the client would eventually blame me for not getting results.

For clients who just have a short attention span, I design workouts that are fast-paced so the clients move constantly from one exercise to another and never get a chance to get bored or distracted. When they have to think about balance, stability and form at the same time and all of their muscles are challenged, it doesn’t leave much space for distraction.

Monika Tarkowska

Owner, Fitness Science

Los Angeles

Dealing with clients in a home-based setting is a difficult endeavor at times. Clients are in the comfortable and often busy setting of their homes and are easily distracted by normal household concerns like phones, doorbells, pets, children and spouses. One of the most effective means of keeping a client’s attention is to discuss potential distractions and trainer/client expectations during the initial consultation or first session. After the discussion, the solutions should be written down in contract format and signed by trainer and client. Another useful trade secret is to have the client discuss his training expectations and needs with family members and ask the family to sign a contract promising to follow certain guidelines when the training session is in progress.

Here are some common scenarios facing trainers and clients in the home-based setting, along with some useful solutions. While these solutions have worked in many circumstances, trainers should assess each situation individually and modify their approach, if needed, for certain clients.

Pets. Take dogs for a walk as a warm-up, in exchange for their not being allowed in the room during the session. Encourage clients to keep other distracting pets out of the exercise area.

Children. This is often a touchy subject, especially when infants are involved. If no other caregiver can be present and the baby must be in the room, do your best to keep the client on task. Before training a person in this situation, thoroughly discuss expectations and goals with the client. As long as these expectations are out in the open, the occasional distraction shouldn’t be a major problem.

Phones. Turn off ringers on the phones. Often, clients will insist that their phones be available during sessions. While this is not ideal, many times it is the only option to get a client to exercise. Remind clients that if the phone becomes a major distraction, their results will suffer. If they are okay with this, then it becomes your job as the trainer to do the best you can with the resources and situations you are given.

Family. Allow interruptions only in emergency situations or encourage family participation in the training sessions.

Tim Borys

President/Managing Director, Lifestyle Synergy Inc.

Calgary, Alberta

The best way to deal with constant distractions during in-home training is to be proactive and try to prevent them from occurring. When I first meet with a new client, I describe how one of my long-time clients views our hour together as “her time.” I explain how my client makes it clear to her family that she is to be disturbed for “emergencies only” and how family members are pretty good at sticking to this policy. She shuts off her pager and phones and gives the workout her full attention.

Of course, despite such planning, distractions are bound to happen at home. Children and spouses have differing views of emergencies, and I have learned to view interruptions as a normal part of home training. However, in some cases distractions have occurred too frequently for me to feel that my client is getting full benefit from our sessions.

When this happens, I specifically point it out to the client, trying to keep the information as objective as possible. For example, I might say, “You answered your cell phone three times in our last session and two times the session before, and your son was talking to you for 10 minutes last session as well.” I say that I understand how pressured she is, but then I explain that getting a good workout is impossible with frequent interruptions. I put the emphasis on the loss of benefit to her, rather than my frustration at the interruptions. Usually this works (at least for a short period of time!). If it doesn’t, I again point out to the client how she is losing value from our sessions. I explain that I cannot extend our session time because I am training someone else right after her. I’m not happy doing this because I know my client will not get the best results, but I also feel I need to send the message that my time is too valuable to waste!

While frequent distractions can be annoying, I enjoy getting to know my clients’ children and significant others. The clients also seem to enjoy my interactions with their families. (I have endeared myself to more than one client by holding their babies when they woke prematurely from a nap). If a child interrupts frequently and the parent does not seem to mind, I actually try to get the child to do the exercises with us (without weights or equipment). I would love to see a child take an interest in fitness after such a session, but what usually happens is that the child loses interest and leaves us alone!

Janet Weller, RN

IDEA Master Personal Fitness Trainer

Owner, Weller Bodies

Closter, New Jersey

Your best bet right from the beginning is to set a training atmosphere within which you work.From the first time you meet with clients in their homes, they need to understand your working philosophy. Show up with enough time to start the actual training at the agreed-on time. Don’t stop what you are showing them or cuing them to do when they want to talk; just keep cuing, and they will get the message that you don’t want to stop to listen to what they watched on TV last night.

If you didn’t start out with this philosophy and are now working with clients who want to talk too much, for example, you can gently tell them that they can talk to you as long as they are working and doing everything correctly. You can also tell them that they can talk to you as soon as you are done with the set they’re on—and then work them hard so they really do need an active rest for a minute or so!

When clients get distracted by the phone, you can suggest that they let the answering machine pick it up and then determine the urgency of the call. You can also suggest that they tell their family or pertinent people that they are in training at this specific time and to please call another time.

If clients are distracted by chores, tell them to write a quick note to themselves for later. You need to be proactive and tell them honestly and clearly that they are taking time away from the training and that you could help them get better results if they kept the training time as an entity of its own, with nothing getting in the way.

Annette Lang, MS

Certified Personal Trainer, Continuing Education Provider, Annette Lang Education Systems

New York City


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