Q&A: Do you feel a personal trainer must look the part in order to be successful?

Tricks of the Trade:

Yes; it is extremely important for trainers to look the part. There is a reason why physicians, bankers, lawyers and other professionals dress well and possess good hygiene habits. There is a reason why we look down on the unkempt and slovenly and up to the well-dressed and fit. Being fit, well-dressed and clean indicates a level of self-respect, self- sufficiency and seriousness about the field in which the individual is engaged. There is no denying this. And it is the world view.

I am dubious when I see a dentist in flip-flops. I recoil from the scruffy financial advisor. And I would politely decline a training offer from an overweight and out-of-shape personal trainer whom I didn’t know. It’s like a cancer doctor who smokes or a dermatologist with blackheads.

If what a personal trainer has to offer a client is effective, why can’t he implement it himself? This thought will run through the head of any potential client who sets eyes on an out-of-shape trainer; in fact, it is the first thing the potential client will think after meeting [the trainer]. The hard sell of selling training is made a lot easier when would-be clients feel as if they are staring at the final product.

Now, are there personal trainers who have a good client base and are out of shape? Sure. Being mentally fit by being knowledgeable about your field can at times override a less-than-superfit figure. But these trainers are the exception to the rule.

Think how many more clients they might have if they were lean and fit. This is not to say trainers have to look like Greek gods or goddesses. But a trainer needs to put her best foot forward if she wants to maximize her income potential.

If you are an out-of-shape personal trainer, don’t be surprised by how busy you would be if you decided to become fit and transform yourself. You can use your transformation to boost sales. It’s one thing for clients to see you in great shape from the get-go; it’s entirely another thing for them to see you transform. So announce that you are undertaking a transformation, and do it! Take comparison photographs (good ones) and show people!

Fred Hahn

Owner, Serious Strength Inc.

Author, Strong Kids, Healthy Kids

New York, New York

Having trained at, owned and managed a Pilates and personal training studio for over 11 years, I have learned that the appearance of the trainer is one of the most important parts of selling one’s services as a trainer to a client. I have gone through periods when I just do not want to “put myself all together” that day. As a result, on the days when I am not at my best appearance, a sale has been lost or a client has not renewed. As an older trainer, I have to be especially meticulous with my appearance [in order] to sell my services to younger clients. Clients have even said, “You look tired,” on days I do not wear makeup of some sort. Clients pay for the trainer to be and to look the part, to be fit and to be charged up. When I am in my best workout clothes, with hair looking good and with appropriate makeup, I sell clients on my services 95% of the time. Fortunately, as a Pilates personal trainer, I am slim and petite. Clients walk in and say, “Can you make me look just like you?”

On the other side of the coin, our studio hires trainers based on exceptional certification and experience, not totally on appearance. Some [trainers] are overweight. Sometimes it has been difficult for me to sell clients the services of an exceptional trainer who is overweight. My clients have even commented to me, “How can you hire someone who does not look the part?” or “I would not have joined if you had assigned me to that overweight trainer.” After a client commented about the weight of one of our studio’s trainers, she later said, “Wow, I watched that overweight trainer work out another client, and she gave her a great, kick-butt workout. How is that possible?” These comments make me sad, but they reflect the true feelings of clients.

My experience has taught me that, fortunately or unfortunately, appearance in our business helps to sell our services. During these trying economic times, we find that appearance becomes an important factor in a client’s decision to use our services.

Patricia Massey Welter

Certified Personal Trainer and

Certified Pilates Instructor

Co-Owner and Manager, Suncoast

Pilates & Personal Training Studio

Palm Harbor, Florida

I feel that it is more important for a personal trainer to act the part, rather than look the part, in order to be successful. I am successful today because I was fortunate to have stood in “overweight, inactive shoes” before I went into the fitness field. Acting the part of a healthy individual and maintaining my health over the years not only led me to a new career, but inspired me with my passion and philosophy for helping other people overcome obstacles on their fitness journeys, as I did.

My fitness philosophy is “inside-out fitness”; I encourage clients to stop getting on the scale every day and start making one healthy change every week. Usually that [means] to start moving more by doing any activity they enjoy and by paying attention to how they are feeling. I encourage them to worry about how they feel more than how they look.

I have had huge success with this philosophy. It allows my clients to relax by letting go of unrealistic expectations, to feel accepted and to realize that a healthy lifestyle is something they can really practice day to day. Inside-out fitness is about focusing on the process of fitness, rather than on the end result, and developing patience, consistency and forgiveness if mistakes occur.

The best thing about my inside-out approach to fitness is that I never feel pressured to look a certain way in order to be a successful trainer. I am successful because I practice what I preach. Real fitness is not about looks—it is about making healthy habits a part of real life. The fringe benefit of this is that my clients and I both look and feel great!

Mary Miriani, ACSM

Reality Fitness Inc.

Naperville, Illinois

When you go to a professional for help to achieve a certain goal, you believe that professional has skills in that specialty area. For example, if you were seeking the help of a car mechanic, you wouldn’t expect to see him with his car broken down on the side of the road every morning. However, it would also be impractical to think that the mechanic’s car would never break down. We are all human, and things can go wrong.

Having said that, I believe that trainers should look and function in such a manner that implies they know what to do in their chosen specialty area. For example, I am a corrective exercise specialist who helps clients overcome pain and improve their functional capabilities. Therefore, if I injure myself my clients would expect me to recover quickly and fully. It’s not that I should never get hurt; it’s just that I should know the best strategies to use to alleviate the problem. (So it wouldn’t be good for me to be constantly walking around with a limp.)

The same goes for any trainer. I believe it is okay for a trainer to have a lot of muscle bulk if his specialty is working with bodybuilders. However if he works with “the average Joe,” then this muscle bulk might indicate that he might not know what regular diet and exercise feel like to the average person. This might not be true, but the client might get this impression, and it might affect the client’s commitment to, and success with, the program.

So trainers don’t need to look like cover models for a fitness magazine. If they train regular people who just want to learn how to get in shape, eat well and lead a healthy lifestyle, then the trainers should look like they fit that bill. If [trainers] look like they just stepped out of a modeling studio, clients might feel that the trainers [would not relate to them]. On the other hand, clients also want to see that trainers know what to do and employ those strategies with themselves, as well as with clients, on a regular basis. It is a constant balancing act. You want to look good, but not unrealistic.

Justin Price, MA

Corrective Exercise Specialist and 2006

IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year

Co-Owner, The BioMechanics

San Diego, California

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March 2009

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