And why it’s so important to make room for general health and fitness enthusiasts.
Most fitness professionals tailor their programming to five kinds of clients, who have five distinct training goals.
Reviewing the client types and their specific workout needs is helpful because it illustrates a divergence between what most trainers like to do and what most clients actually want. If we’re honest with ourselves as an industry, it’s probably true that we most readily identify with athletes, bodybuilders and people trying to lose weight, while our clients are most likely regular folks who want to be more fit and healthy.
To become more successful, we have to focus more on what the majority of our clients want. To help you sharpen your focus, this article describes
- the five main types of clients and their key characteristics;
- why fitness professionals have to wear three hats to address the diverse expectations of these clients; and
- practical programming strategies for each type of client (see the sidebar “Training Strategies for the Five Kinds of Clients”).
Five Categories of Training Clients
Most fitness professionals’ clients fit into one of five categories based on why they’re exercising: physique, performance, physique + performance hybrid, fat loss, and general fitness and health. (This, of course, leaves out special populations such as people struggling with obesity or those going through postrehabilitation training.)
These are the primary characteristics of each type of client:
- They’re focused on aesthetics and want to maximize muscular development (they want bigger muscles).
- They usually enjoy bodybuilding and prioritize their workouts and eating habits.
- They tend to gauge success by how they look in the mirror (flexing) and by circumference measurements.
- They’re focused on athletics and are looking to maximize their physical ability (power, strength, conditioning, etc.) to succeed in/on a given field, court or combat sport.
- They usually prioritize training and take it seriously, but they don’t always prioritize nutrition and lifestyle.
- They tend to rate success by improvements from their baseline performance in strength-and-conditioning tests.
Physique + Performance Hybrid Clients
- They’re usually recreational athletes or exercise enthusiasts who want to improve their physique and general athleticism without training to either extreme.
- They usually prioritize training and take it seriously, but not all of them prioritize nutrition and lifestyle.
- They tend to gauge success by changes in their physical appearance and/or by improvements from their baseline performance in strength-and-conditioning tests and fitness challenges.
Fat Loss Clients
General Fitness and Health Clients
- They’re usually recreational exercisers who are looking for overall health and fitness without specifically focusing on physique, performance or fat loss.
- Many enjoy exercise but say they “don’t want to think” when they’re working out. They just want a great workout experience that challenges them but doesn’t hurt them.
- Although they often assert that they want to lose some fat, they may not be interested in modifying their eating habits. Some may say they have no interest in changing their eating habits and are exercising as a weight management strategy to offset all the foods they love to eat.
- They often gauge success by how much they enjoy each workout, how they feel at the end of the workout, and the fact that they have completed a certain number of workouts per week.
The Fitness Professional’s Three Hats
Clients’ multiple motivations for seeking out fitness professionals oblige us to wear three hats:
- The coach. Physique and performance clients view the fitness professional as a coach who guides them through each aspect of their training and competition preparation.
- The trainer. Physique + performance hybrid and fat loss clients view the fitness pro as someone who designs a training program for their specific needs and helps them adapt to it.
- The adult “PE teacher.” General fitness and health clients view the fitness professional as a physical education teacher for adults. They want to be told what to do for a workout each time they visit.
Reaching the Largest Fitness AudienceIt’s interesting to note that while general health and fitness clients are the least serious about the way they exercise, they are the most common type of exercisers and the ones most likely to be working with fitness professionals.
The “three-hats” analogy explains why general fitness and health clients are so different from the other client types—they want a fitness pro who reminds them of their PE teacher from their school days. They don’t want a coach to help them win a championship, and they’re not seeking a training and diet regimen for losing 25 pounds. If we pretend they are just like all the rest of our clients, we’ll end up with an unhappy majority who won’t stick around because they’ll keep looking until they find someone who better understands them.
Many fitness professionals refuse to acknowledge this reality. Some have adopted a training philosophy (that is, bias) and treat all clients alike, based on this perspective. They’re the fitness professionals who remain frustrated, wondering why their clients “don’t get it” or “don’t care” as much as they do.
It’s usually not that these clients don’t care; it’s that they don’t care about what the fitness professionals want them to care about. These fitness pros just “don’t get it.”
Bringing General Fitness Training Back to Fitness Professionals
It’s essential to take a realistic, client-centered approach to programming versus an elitist, biased approach where every client has to fit into the fitness professional’s favored training philosophy.
While it’s true that fitness pros often help general health and fitness clients morph into fat loss, physique, performance or hybrid clients, it’s important for fitness professionals to understand that regular exercise is very productive in and of itself. Too many fitness professionals seem to feel they’re wasting their time unless they’re training people for specific goals like physique or performance.
There is much documented evidence supporting the physical and mental health benefits of regular physical activity. For the sake of general health and fitness clients, it’s worthwhile to remember these benefits:
Simply looking to stay active and improve one’s overall fitness and health while also enjoying exercise is a perfectly worthwhile goal. The client-centered fitness professional is happy to help facilitate this by wearing the PE-teacher-for-adults hat.