“What are the top three lessons you’ve learned as a personal trainer?”
Here is what I’ve discovered:
Meet clients where they are.
As trainers, we want our clients to succeed. When we first meet them, they usually state that their goals are to lose weight, get stronger and be more flexible. We do an assessment and usually find quite a gap between where clients are and where they want to be. So we get to work and develop those wonderful programs that will help them reach their goals. We are all pumped up and ready to begin. However, clients aren’t always on the same path.
It is important to meet clients where they are and to correspond to their state of readiness for change. What clients say and what they are ready to commit to are not always the same. Recognizing this helps prevent frustration for both the client and the trainer.
Don’t jump on every bandwagon.
New fitness ideas seem to emerge monthly, and they all have their place. But they may not have a place in your business plan or be suitable for your clients or even your personality. That does not mean you cannot adopt popular trends and modify them so that they fit with your style and philosophy. Look carefully at each new idea. Stay true to yourself and play to your own strengths.
Remember that you are always in the public eye.
People use different criteria for choosing a personal trainer. Sometimes they may be looking for specialty training, but most often they hear about you through word of mouth, based on your reputation. It’s important to remember that you are always in the public eye—not just when you train or teach a class. This public eye extends to Facebook and other social media that everybody can access. It is important to present yourself professionally at all times.
Owner, Fitness Personified Ltd.
Raleigh, North Carolina
I start with the belief that I am not a personal trainer as much as a
Even for those clients we meet with three times a week (1 hour each session), we are with them for less than 3% of their waking hours per week; therefore our ability to influence them is critical to achieving effective outcomes. This belief connects with my top three lessons:
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Care about your clients and be sure they know it.
Don’t buy into the “fake it until you make it” trap. People can sense if you are being the real you. Anything else will not create a trusting relationship. No trust equals no influence; no influence means no successful outcomes for clients, which leaves you chasing clients instead of developing a waiting list for your services.
Sustain-ability (consistency) is perhaps the most critical element to becoming healthy and fit, and it is the fruit of the collaborative relationship.
ACE Personal Trainer and Health Coach, Fullest Living Inc.
Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Here are the most important lessons that I have learned as a personal trainer:
Put clients first.
When I first started as a personal trainer, I was so passionate about my job that I felt I had to prove myself during sessions by using technical language and talking about my passion for fitness. I quickly found out how boring this approach was when I failed to retain one or two of my clients.
I had no choice but to switch my approach. I stopped thinking I had to show my clients how educated I was by using technical terms. Instead, I worked on how I could communicate proper exercise techniques and health habits in ways that they could understand and that did not make them feel “small.” I started listening to my clients to discern how I could best help them, and I made sure to start sessions by asking clients something about them and their lives. I still do that today. Most important, I realized that for the time they are working with me, clients deserve the best of my skills and knowledge, my undivided attention and my respect and gratitude for their business. I really try to make my clients feel they are important to me. In this way, I have been able to retain my clientele for many years.
As trainers, we try to make clients our priority, but some clients might take advantage of the fact that they are paying for our time; if this happens, we might not want to retain them. As a new trainer, I was lenient with scheduling appointments and cancellations. I sometimes took appointments 7 days a week, early and late, and tolerated last-minute cancellations and no-shows. This left me feeling overwhelmed and resentful. I learned that I needed to set limits for my clients and for myself. How could I do a good job if I was tired and resentful, and how could they be successful if they did not show up for their appointments?
I put in place some restrictions on my schedule and consequences for late cancellations and no-shows. Although I am flexible about reschedules, I no longer take appointments before 7:00 am or after 7:00 pm. I work only 5 days a week. I charge clients for canceling with less than 24 hours’ notice except for emergencies.
Also, I established a “three strikes and you’re out” rule for no-shows. That means if clients miss an appointment and do not call to cancel first, they are charged for the appointment. After the third time, I will no longer train them. I would rather spend my time training someone who wants to be there. I learned that setting these limits made me a happier and more effective trainer.
Don’t judge people based on appearances.
Thin people are not necessarily fit and might not be able to go right into an intermediate or advanced program, and overweight people are not necessarily unfit. When you judge abilities based on appearance, you run the risk of training people too hard or not enough, or you might find yourself talking down to them (especially obese clients) because they “appear” not to have control over their bodies. It is important to treat each client as an individual and really listen to his or her needs.
ACSM Health/Fitness Specialist, TRANSFIRMATIONS: A Health and Wellness Institute
Here are the top 3 lessons I’ve learned:
Add nutrition to your tool belt.
We can’t expect that clients will lose weight just by working out. After I added nutrition to our roster of services, we cranked up the number of members who were busting through plateaus, which boosted retention. We also developed fat loss programs that we could market consistently and that built up our front-end cash and referrals. When you combine fitness and nutrition in a multipronged approach, you can offer a better fat loss program and develop more revenue streams. Nutrition programs bring in revenue but don’t necessarily require more time on the floor, which is a good thing.
Be willing to evolve.
In 2010 when the economy was in trouble, many fitness professionals were taking hits when clients canceled training packages because they couldn’t afford to train two to three times a week in 60-minute sessions. Luckily, about that same time we added online fitness coaching, switched to 30-minute training, shifted to group and semiprivate training, and increased our network marketing efforts to buffer the changing needs of society and the fitness industry.
These decisions explain how a struggling business catapulted to a seven-figure one. Being stuck in old ways and having a mind closed to the possibilities of reinventing yourself and your business—without the willingness to look to the future—can cost you income and, ultimately, your livelihood. How people do fitness is quickly changing, and some clients are more willing to go mobile and online. The key is to figure out what your market is looking for and then “skate to where the puck is.”
Embrace sales and marketing.
When I opened my own studio and found myself with more overhead, I quickly got serious about learning how to market and sell better. When you have a big message and big dreams and want to create a successful lifestyle, you make the mental shift from learning only about training and programming to learning more about business, marketing, sales and communication.
If you want a lot of clients for your growing business, then you have to learn how to market effectively so you can scale your business to pay off debt, pay staff, build reserve cash and invest in growth. Otherwise, you’re stuck trading dollars for hours and are at the mercy of canceling clients. That’s not a fun way to live as a personal trainer. Embrace marketing and sales and watch your income and business take off.
Vito La Fata
Fitness Profit Systems and The Fitnesspreneur’s Life