Tricks of the Trade: Q&A

Apr 01, 2008

How do you help clients to be “whole people” rather than simply physical beings?

Many clients walk through our doors hoping to be touched by the “personal training fairy” and walk out with a perfect body 6 weeks later. The reason this happens is that the popular media sets an impossible standard of physical appearance and convinces people that with the right help they can achieve it. The real problem here, as I see it, is not as much the impossible standards as the fact that fitness popularly has been about physical good looks and not much else.

Simply put, people exercise to look good.

This is backward thinking. To deal with it, I use an approach I call “inside-out fitness.” Inside-out fitness is all about remembering the real person inside the body, valuing that person and teaching him or her to value himself or herself enough to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. This method has been an effective tool in getting my clients to understand what fitness really is so they not only become active but also learn to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

Most of my clients have health issues, and many are ashamed of what they look like. The first and most important thing that I do when I meet new clients is to simply accept them for who they are without any preconceived ideas. In other words, I try to “see them from the inside out.”

In our first phone call or meeting, I strive to find out something about them I can compliment. I want to reassure them that they are not the sum total of their looks. I want them to know that if they view exercise as a way to become healthy instead of just a strategy to look better, weight loss and good looks will often be by-products of exercise. I do what I can to make them feel comfortable with me. I am genuinely interested when I talk to them about their issues and goals. I then address any misconceptions that they may have about fitness. I use the professional resources available to me to dispel any myths they may have and try to interpret these resources in a way they can understand. (This can be different for each individual.)

I want my clients to understand what they need to do to meet their goals and to think about redefining those goals if necessary, based on what they are actually willing to do. I believe that honesty goes a long way in developing relationships with clients. Most people appreciate this honesty.

Another thing my clients appreciate is my attention to their preferences. During our initial exercise sessions I carefully observe and ask questions to determine their “exercise personality.” Do they like vigorous work or are they more low-key? What philosophy do they live by, and how will it affect their exercise and eating habits? How busy is their life? What are their favorite activities and music? With this information, I can design a program that will be not only as safe and effective as possible but also interesting enough for them to want to follow.

An exercise program is only successful if the client adheres to it. For example, I have a client who only likes to work out in natural light. When she comes in, I turn off the lights in the room and open the blinds. I have another client who loves jazz, so I record some jazz music and bring it with me for his appointments. I used to bring in my portable speakers and invite my clients to bring in their own music until we got speakers for all of our training rooms. For some clients, I ask what kind of day they’ve had and make sure the program I have created is flexible enough to accommodate bad ones. I may offer a choice of two or three different exercises or programs a client can do that day. For other clients, I always have a set program, so the only thing they need to think about is performing each exercise correctly. Personalizing the program and approach helps people enjoy working out and, more importantly, feel valued. Valuing clients keeps clients, and we all know how important that is in this business.

Mary E. Miriani, ACSM HFI
Reality Fitness Inc.
Naperville, Illinois

When clients walk through the studio doors, I immediately assess how they are feeling. Even though I do plan workouts in advance, it is more important to go with how my clients are feeling rather than rigidly sticking to a concrete workout. Maybe they worked their upper body hard the day before, so the chest/tri set I had planned is going to go down the drain. Often clients are tired or depressed and, as a trainer, I have to be quick on my feet to make sure they get a solid workout appropriate for them at that moment. I wouldn’t go “army trainer” on them if they are having an off day. But if I had a recovery session planned and a client has taken a few days off unexpectedly, I will make sure that person is trained hard according to his goals.

A quick initial conversation is enough to assess the physical and mental state of my clients—and to decide what the workout of the day will be. By being aware of the mental state of a client, I am training the whole person—body, mind and spirit.

Outside of the studio, I always remember birthdays or conversations I had with clients in their previous sessions. It only takes a second to ask, “How is your mom doing this week?” and it lets that client know I’m thinking of him or her. Establishing a relationship not only brings in long-term business, but it encourages the client to work harder for me and to possibly become a friend.

Kerrie Ann Frey
Pilates Instructor/ACE Personal Trainer
Body Center Studio
Mandeville, Louisiana

A personal trainer is more than just an exercise coach. Personal training has many dimensions, and trainers are teachers.

When clients start to follow the philosophy of healthy living, they learn to make better food choices, integrate more activity into their day and appreciate more aspects of life. A good trainer teaches clients about the importance of a nutritious diet and encourages clients to choose wisely when they are out in the real world. When clients start to do these things on their own, they are on the right track. Personal trainers talk about ways to get more exercise throughout the day. When clients take the stairs on their own, go to the park for a walk instead of watching TV and acknowledge feeling better after exercise, then they have learned to enjoy physical activity.

When people feel healthy and strong, they are more likely to have higher self-esteem and look at their world in a more positive light. I teach my clients the importance of strength and cardio training in the gym, but I add more. I also integrate mindful movement into their workout programs; I take time at the end of the workout to do some breathing exercises. Steady breathing exercises calm the mind and the spirit, and clients can use that in their personal and professional lives. I find that the flexibility portion of the workout is a great time to add some calming breathing techniques (called “pranayama” in yoga).

Healthy living goes beyond just the physical body. There is the mental aspect as well. Making the right choices throughout the day takes an enormous amount of awareness and self-discipline. Praise your clients for making these types of changes and keep encouraging them to do so. Once clients start to have respect for their bodies and what they can do physically, they will be open to nurturing the inside by eating properly and taking care of their emotional well-being. Teach them to take a few minutes out of their day to journal and reflect on how they are feeling. Talk to them about sitting back and taking some deep breaths. Instruct them on how to use some easy, soothing stretches when they are feeling stressed. All of these tools will help your clients to feel more balanced and whole in their daily lives.

Jennifer Tipton, MA, RYT
ACE-Certified Personal Trainer
San Diego, California

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