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Increasing Professionalism In and Out of the Studio, Part 2

As the second installment in our new series on leadership development for fitness professionals, this article will show you the value of truly living the life of a fitness professional—and share some ways to ensure that you send the right message both in and out of the workplace.

Whether you are a personal trainer with two clients per week or the director of personal training for your health club, you are a fitness professional. Obtaining a fitness certification and calling yourself a fitness pro is not the same as living the life of a true professional. Professional status begins with an acute awareness of your actions and how they impact others’ perceptions of you. By improving yourself and taking responsibility for your behavior inside and outside your fitness facility, you’ll grow personally and raise your financial standing.

The word professional implies that you are an expert. Is it possible to be an unprofessional expert? Absolutely. Earlier this year, I received an impressive resume from a personal trainer applying for a position at my studio. When she arrived for her interview, I immediately noticed a cigarette smell on her breath, hair and clothing. I couldn’t get past this during her interview, and consequently I didn’t consider her for the job, despite her skills as a personal trainer. Negative impressions are hard to shake. But what exactly does it mean to be a professional, and how do you measure up?

Be Proactive

Your life doesn’t just happen; you design it with the choices you make (Covey 2004). Being proactive means taking responsibility for your life and the messages you send. If you are late for a session with a client, take responsibility and apologize instead of offering excuses. Then, be proactive and plan ahead to prevent this situation from occurring again. For example, leave your current location earlier so that you arrive at your destination ahead of time.

When HALO Rehab & Fitness Education Director Bryce Taylor needs help to stay on track, he seeks out a personal trainer who is “attentive and prompt; I wouldn’t want to waste my time.” When you arrive at a training session prepared and ready to execute effectively, you exude professionalism—and your client will appreciate it. Use extra time wisely by preparing future workouts for your client or reading a fitness article to further your knowledge base. With this in mind, your IDEA Health & Fitness Association membership offers fitness videos, articles and client handouts as well as online CECs/CEUs at www.ideafit.com.

Become an Expert

No matter what your experience level is, your clients are likely to have certain expectations: “I expect a personal trainer to have a current, nationally recognized fitness certification,” says Amy Lubas, Technology Strategist for Ned Davis Research in Venice, Florida.

“I’m looking for a personal trainer who tailors each session to my needs and doesn’t use blanket programming for every client,” says Amanda Vogel, owner of Active Voice Writing Service.

Additional expectations may include specialty certifications—for example, if you work with special populations like pre- and post-natal women or seniors.

To become an expert and perform to the best of your abilities, attend continuing education workshops annually. Don’t rely on your employer to provide you with these opportunities. Taking the initiative to further your education shows your clients, colleagues and employer that you take your profession seriously. Continuing education can also help with job security, pay raises and promotions.

Practice What You Preach

It may be impossible to practice what you preach in every aspect of your life. But consider the expectations you have of your clients, and set a higher standard for yourself. What you wear, what you eat or drink and how you speak all reflect your professionalism. Whether you like it or not, you are watched by your clients (and by potential clients) inside and outside the gym.

I keep my socializing with personal training clients to a minimum, if I do it at all. However, I am still aware of my actions outside my fitness facility and the health club where I teach fitness classes. If your clients were to run into you on Friday night, out at a bar, smoking and drinking heavily, you may leave them with a feeling of uncomfortable tension that comes from two conflicting ideas. At the gym, you tell them to exercise, eat right and live a healthy lifestyle. Yet they’ve just seen that, outside the gym, you’re not following your own advice. The biggest cut to your credibility is hypocrisy. True professionals say what they mean and do what they say.

We all have room to grow and improve ourselves. What are your lifestyle contradictions? The first step to narrowing the gap between behavior and truth is to “own” those gaps, instead of rationalizing them away. Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great and Great by Choice, refers to fanatic discipline (Collins 2011) as consistency of action. While discipline can be applied to many things—following the rules, working hard and so on—fanatic discipline involves rejecting hype and staying true to your values and long-term goals. Find Collins’ books on Amazon.com, or listen to the audio versions on Audible.com.

Just Smile

Successful group fitness instructors know how to motivate their students. They don’t do it by playing loud music or screaming out reps. Their secret motivational tactic is smiling, and you can use it too. Studies show that smiling is contagious (Zhivotovskaya 2008). If you help your clients through the last few reps of an exercise with supportive words and a genuine smile, they will likely mimic your behavior and smile back, even if it’s forced. If clients are grunting or whining about how difficult an exercise is, smiling won’t necessarily make it easier for them. But it can release endorphins, which are natural painkillers, potentially improving the experience. Smiling really helps.

This coincides with “embodied cognition”—a theory that suggests that we think not only with our minds but also with our bodies (Psyblog 2011). Smiling, even when we don’t truly feel like it, lifts the mood slightly. But how does this help you? True professionals understand the importance of consistently presenting a positive demeanor, even when they’re feeling their worst. They know how to check their baggage at the door. For more tips on resilience, refer to the first article in this series, Maintaining Professionalism While Weathering Life’s Storms,” in the August 2012 issue of IDEA Trainer Success.

Be Grateful

It’s vitally important to say thank you (Whitbourne 2010). Often. Most of us are complainers, but your mindset surrounding the things in your life can have a positive (or negative) impact on your career. Your clients may thank you for their personal training session, but how often do you express your gratitude to your clients? Make an effort this week to thank each of your clients for allowing you to help them toward their health and fitness goals.

Don’t stop there. Compile a list of 20 things in your life that you are grateful for. Your health, your car, your job and your employees are just a start. Even if you would like thinner thighs or a nicer car or a better-paying job, focus on what you have in your life, not on what you lack. Expressing gratitude does wonders for your outlook. It boosts emotional balance, and it increases the likelihood that others will want to be around you and follow your lead.

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