“How do you answer awkward or hard-to-answer questions such as, ‘How do I get a six-pack?’ or ‘You’re a personal trainer; is that why you’re in such good shape?’”?

Sep 20, 2016

Tricks of the Trade

When I disclose that I'm a personal trainer, I fairly often get comments about my appearance. I am tall and slender and look athletic, and people ask whether they will look like me if they have me as a personal trainer.

I tend to look at comments like that as conversation starters, and I almost always give a humorous response such as, "Yes, you will look like me. We need to fix your height, but for that I can put you on a rack. We also need to get you different genes, and that will be a bit more complicated."

With this type of reply, I can make the point that much of my appearance is nothing but chance and that many factors contribute to a successful outcome. I want people to know that certain facts about them cannot be altered, and I accept those facts. I also say I recognize that my appearance is not the exclusive result of a model life with a Spartan diet plan and a grueling exercise routine.

   Karin Singleton,
   Owner, Fitness Personified Ltd.
   Raleigh, North Carolina


I find it a bit uncomfortable to be in a social situation where someone grabs a body part and says, "What exercise can I do to lose this?" However, I try to keep in mind that it took a lot of courage to do that in front of others.

I say something like, "Well, a blended exercise program that includes metabolic training, cardio and a smart nutrition program would definitely help, but we can't spot-reduce by exercising a certain area."

Another awkward comment we hear almost every day when we talk about nutrition with clients is, "I know what to eat, but I just don't do it." This one comes from a misunderstanding of the benefits of working with a registered dietitian. Most people think of RDs and nutrition coaching as only nutrition education. What they don't often consider is that an RD can make eating fun and interesting and provide motivation and accountability. So once we break that statement down a bit, people will usually reconsider and may even elect to work with the RD.

Questions like these used to aggravate me, but I've learned to let my passion for our industry shine through. I now happily tell people I don't exercise every day; we let our kids eat ice cream; we enjoy a cocktail as much as the next person; and we try to be candid about being healthy as well as being happy. A balance of healthy and happy has become our message to clients.

I don't think people in our profession have to answer any more questions than financial advisers, accountants, physicians or physical therapists do. Sometimes the timing of these questions can be frustrating, but at the same time there is never a bad time to meet a potential new client!

   Dale Huff, CSCS
   Co-owner, NutriFormance—Fitness, Therapy & Performance
   Co-owner, Athletic Republic–STL
   Frontenac, Missouri


We've been in the fitness field for a combined 50 years, and we've had many "interesting" questions posed to us. After we've recovered from the shock of the questions, our goal is to make answers light, educational and not condescending; we strive to establish a relationship (allowing people to save face), while motivating clients to establish their own realistic health and fitness goals.

Of course, one of the most common questions is related to body composition and how clients can achieve the "six-pack." We explain that the answer can be multifaceted. Some people have the propensity to be naturally lean, with more surface "definition," and can achieve the "pack" easily, while others may never achieve it, no matter what they do. Even when I was at 7% body fat, I still had a "gut"!

We try to get clients to understand that people are not very good judges of their own body image, because their brains have preconceived images. For older adults, we ask them to remember how they looked 30 years earlier. Many will reminisce about those days and the physical condition they were in; yet, at the time, they believed they were "fat." I suggest to clients that they do a monthly assessment of their progress by trying on that favorite pair of pants they've stashed in the back of their closet.

We also hear, "How long will it take to (fill in the blank)?" Another tricky question to answer! We often take this opportunity to say a bit about how the body works—from the inside out. We explain that our bodies will always benefit from exercise, but that our personal top priority—such as losing weight—might not be at the top of our bodies' internal priority list.

This is also a good time to talk about realistic changes. For example, if a client has been gaining several pounds every year while losing energy and sleeping poorly, I may point out that our first goals will be to stop gaining weight and to improve energy and quality of sleep. In this way, it is sometimes easier to visualize the "list" of changes that will take place and to know that losing weight may just be lower on the list.

Clients often assume it is easy for us to stay in shape because we like to exercise. I try to explain that while we have been working out for many years, we still experience many of the same ups and downs as they do regarding motivation, progress and goals. We like to say that we are a work in progress and every morning is an opportunity to take better care of ourselves than the day before!

   Barbi Jackson, PRCS
   Scott Jackson, CSCS, MES
   Scott Jackson's Real Life Fitness
   Nevada City, California


I've been teaching fitness classes for more than 32 years and have been a personal trainer for more than 25, so I get those comments often. I tell folks I'm just like them: If I eat too much, I gain weight; if I don't work out, I get out of shape; if I don't drink enough water, I get dehydrated. Just like them, I have to work at it every day to stay looking the way I do, at age 55.

   Linda Jassmond Lanfear
   Linda S. Jassmond LLC
   Greater Philadelphia Area, Pennsylvania


When a client says to me, "You're a personal trainer; is that why you're in such good shape?," it makes me uncomfortable. First, I feel awkward talking about my body, even though I know the person is probably trying to be complimentary. Second, my emphasis has always been to help my clients improve their health and feel great, so looking good is not a priority. Third, a comment like this seems to imply that I work out with my clients, which is certainly not true.

That is why I try to deflect the question and put the emphasis on my client. However, I don't want to imply that how my client looks is the most important thing. If it seems it will be a fleeting conversation, I will often reply either, "No, that is why I feel so good," or "No, that's why my clients are in such good shape." But if I have more time, I will try to engage the person in a conversation about how my clients' lives (and not just their looks) have improved by adopting a healthy lifestyle. I will also slip in some facts about the role of a personal trainer and try to defuse any conception that all that trainers do is exercise along with our clients.

We all know there is no quick answer to "How do I get a six-pack?" My quick reply might be, "Put down the fork." But if the person is really interested, I talk about the importance of nutrition and genetics in addition to exercise. Depending on the situation, it can certainly be an opportunity to educate someone about what really makes a healthy body.

   Janet Weller, RN, CES
   ACE Faculty and IDEA Master Personal Trainer
   Closter, New Jersey


I get asked these questions all the time, but I don't find them awkward. When I am asked questions about my body and my profession, I tell people that I work hard at staying fit because I need to be congruent with what I advise. It is also an opportunity to educate and offer a free session for them to come see me to further discuss how I can help them with their specific health and fitness goals.

   Kathy Benson Zetterberg
   Owner-Operator, Fitness At The Lake
   Lake Sherwood, California


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