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What’s Ahead for Personal Training?

Earlier this year, at the IDEA Personal Trainer Institute™ East, in Alexandria, Virginia, IDEA held a panel with some of the leading fitness professionals in the industry to ask them what the future of personal training looked like and how personal trainers could address the obesity epidemic and other issues. Len Kravitz, PhD, a contributing editor to IDEA Fitness Journal, moderated the debate among five leaders in the personal training industry. One issue that was touched on was what was ahead for personal training.

Kravitz: What do each of you see as the emerging trends in our industry? What’s next? Is there a next?

Hayley Hollander, personal trainer, educator and co-founder of Advanced Training Performance: First, if you’re not moving toward a technologically advanced way of reaching your clients—whether through apps, or through email, or through text, or through YouTube, or through social media—you’re missing the boat. [The second trend I see] is group training, and number three is personalization—making exercise match what the person likes.

Rodney Corn, MA, co-founder of PTA Global and an adjunct faculty member at the University of San Francisco and California University of Pennsylvania: If you don’t put as much time into business programming as you do into exercise programming, you will be obsolete. Business programming means understanding behavior as much as you do exercise science. If you don’t understand the people you’re working with, you’re never going to be successful in the future, because clients are too savvy now. Even people who sit at home and don’t do anything understand there’s something else out there.

Mitch Batkin, MA, senior vice president of fitness for Sport & Health Clubs in Maryland and Virginia: I am sure that nothing will ever replace the amazing experience that you guys can give. Videos are not going to replace it. People gravitate toward people and places where they feel better about themselves. A video’s not going to do that. An experience with you guys will be amazing if you want to make it amazing.

And the other part is, [it’s very important to] individualize it. Ask why your client wants to lose 10 pounds. Ask why his or her shoulder hurts. Ask a lot of “why” questions. Dig down, down, down until you get to the real emotional root of why people are standing in front of you. Because they need your help. We all know that. And then it’s your job to provide the solution. And if you individualize it to them, they will know you’re in business because you care, not because you make money. And people always gravitate toward companies or people that are in it for the right reason.

Fabio Comana, MA, MS, director of continuing education for the National Academy of Sports Medicine and a faculty member at both San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego: We’ve got to shift our focus away from the “two-tenant” diet-and-exercise approach. We’ve got to start looking at lifestyle coaching. We’ve got to stop being directive—and become more semidirective. If we want to motivate people to change, we’ve got to build autonomy, giving them the right to choose. For too long we’ve been telling people what to do—a directive approach. “You can’t have this; you’ve got to do that.” It doesn’t work. We must understand it’s really people’s thoughts and emotions that drive behaviors. So we’ve got to start connecting with people on that level—being personalized, and understanding what it is they want. Let’s provide that solution to them.

I think we’re going to get into an area where trainers have got to embrace technology, exergaming, edutainment, whatever the heck you want to call it. It’s here, and you’ve got to embrace it because it’s not going away. We know the lines between virtual training and real training are becoming muddled, and we have to find a way to take our business outside of the brick-and-mortar world and into a virtual world. I think we’ve got to look at where we start to see the changing landscape of the gyms.

Personal training studios are growing; the facility layout is growing. Big-box clubs are kind of losing popularity. Small-group training using open-space, open-floor approaches is becoming very popular. Why? It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s efficient, it’s cheap. Let’s get in; let’s get out. I think drop-in training is going to happen—where we can open up our doors [to more than] the members. I’m working on this idea where people can just drop in at a facility and work out there. Or a trainer can bring someone into a facility and just drop in.

Personalized menus online [is another trend]: You just choose the course where you want to go, you sign up for the course, and you drop in. And express workouts. We’re not seeing 60-minute workouts anymore. I believe in a 6, 8, 10 approach. I start people with 6 minutes. If we only have 25 minutes, we do four 6-minute workouts: 6 minutes of cardio, 6 minutes of weights,. . . you know, literally. You’ve got to make things convenient for people. If you want to get people in and you want to create an exercise experience, you’ve got to simplify the process.

Batkin: I’m going to keep it relatively simple: the three P’s. We need to play more with our clients and have fun with exercise.

Passion: I think we’re all here in this business because we have a passion. A passion for fitness, a passion to help people or a passion to wear tight clothes all day—we have a passion, and it’s important that we keep that passion ignited.

And finally, there’s practice. We need to practice our craft. As educators, I know we try to do that all the time by working with one another, by communicating with one another, but I know it’s true [that we need to keep practicing]. So play, passion and practice, and if we can keep those fired up, we’ll be doing well.

Kravitz: I’m just going to add to Mitch’s comments. My philosophy has always been, don’t follow your passion—I don’t know why people say that. Live your passion.” I had the greatest gymnastics coach in the world, and he said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Every day you go out and train, be the best you can be.

To read more of the discussion published in the July-August 2013 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal click here.

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