Many personal trainers have a background in competitive sports and can remember a particular coach that brought out the best in them. These special coaches might not have been able to sprint faster than the runners they coached, or even perform the tumbling pass of the gymnasts they guided, but they knew exactly how to empower these athletes to reach their personal bests.

What makes one coach better than another? It’s the art of language.

Lifestyle coaching employs several principles from sport coaching such as teamwork, goal setting and attainment, and performance enhancement. Unlike sport coaching, however, lifestyle coaching is not based on competition or a winning and losing scenario. Lifestyle coaching is a win-win solution for both the client and the trainer.

Why Lifestyle Coaching?

Since you’re a personal trainer, you may wonder why you should care about lifestyle coaching. For one thing, it’s gaining momentum among personal trainers because it enriches regular services. And it’s grown into much more than a blip on the personal training industry’s radar screen. One year ago I might have received five phone calls per month from personal trainers wanting to know more about how to enhance their personal training practices with lifestyle coaching. This year I’m getting five to 10 calls per week!

Many of today’s industry leaders are predicting that lifestyle or wellness coaching will have a big impact on our industry, and personal trainers who
are prepared will flourish both personally and financially. Michael Youssouf, manager of trainer education at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in New York City and the 2000 IDEA/Life Fitness Personal Trainer of the Year, anticipates that lifestyle coaching is the next level of progression for the experienced
personal trainer. ‘

It’s all about meeting our clients’ needs or as many of them as we can. While people need the expertise of personal trainers to engage in safe and effective exercise programs, to prepare them to run a 10K or to meet a similar goal, many people still have problems organizing their lives to support the wellness goals they have set. In other words, though they may be exercising, many people do not change the lifestyle that contributed to their current health and fitness level.

Impact on Clients

Personal training is to the body as a lifestyle coach is to one’s life. What a client does outside personal training sessions has a direct impact on the results they will see from working with a trainer. It stands to reason that if a person makes the effort to exercise regularly, then they also should eat properly, create opportunities in their daily lives to be more active, seek stress reduction techniques and brainstorm ways to create more balance in their lives. That sounds like the perfect client!

But, very rarely do we get the perfect client. More likely, a client enlists our services in order to lose some weight and have more energy. If they don’t have a plan in place to change the way they eat or to make personal training sessions a priority in their lives, chances are that it’s just a matter of time before they slip away from your influence. The client is not creating a life that supports physical activity, good health, well-being and personal growth.

I have never met a personal trainer who only wants to change a client’s body. Most of us want to impact a client’s life so that exercise and healthy eating are life-long, ingrained habits.

The Language
of Coaching

Coaching utilizes a specific crafting
of language, which usually takes the form of asking questions. This technique facilitates a deepened awareness,
understanding, and/or shift in the
way a client thinks about a particular obstacle or goal, which can open the door to new possibilities and new choices. Try to remember a sport
coach who influenced you. Did the coach tell you specifically how to improve your performance? Or did the coach ask you questions about your performance or challenge your beliefs? The most effective coaches use the latter technique.

This crafting of language empowers our clients to take responsibility for their own health. Remember the old saying, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for life.” The same is true with our clients. They know what they should eat, and they know that taking a walk is probably a better idea than digging into a bag of chips while watching television. But since they haven’t taken ownership of their own health, they can justify their actions. Lifestyle coaching is a partnership between the coach and client. The client is responsible for his or her own actions and coaching supports the process of accountability.

Lifestyle coaching can be done in person or over the phone. A typical coaching session is 30 minutes once per week or two hours per month. A professional coach can charge anywhere between $250 to $500 per month, depending on the market, level of training and reputation. Many of my personal training clients, whom I already train three or more days per week, prefer to use the phone for their lifestyle coaching sessions. They call from their offices or from home and even can maintain their coaching sessions when traveling. In fact, most coaching is done on the phone. This removes geographic boundaries and increases your market reach.

That being said, coaching does have a direct impact on how you communicate with clients during personal training sessions. Once you are trained to be a professional lifestyle coach, it’s difficult, if not impossible, not to bring these new skills into your sessions. Many of my clients remarked that although they couldn’t put their finger on what I was doing differently, they thought I had altered the training program somehow. They felt more empowered and energized after our personal training sessions. ‘


Problem Solving for Trainers

What problems does lifestyle coaching solve for personal trainers? Monique Rider, a personal trainer from Grand Rapids, Michigan, added lifestyle coaching to her personal training practice several years ago. She was frustrated with clients’ inability to maintain healthy lifestyles and wanted to be able to help them understand that exercise was only one of several components to accomplishing this.

“I wanted to be able to take my clients further in their understanding
of what is required to live a healthy lifestyle,” she recalled. So, Rider enrolled in a coach-training program. “Lifestyle coaching has given me the framework to help my clients produce more results and they love that,” she said.

Rider coaches both personal training clients and non-personal training clients. She is not alone in seeing the benefits she offers through her coaching skills. In fact, many trainers who are interested in lifestyle coaching are personal trainer veterans. Because they understand the type of guidance their clients need, they are willing to acquire new skills to answer the demand.

Clients Take Responsibility

Coaching enables clients to take responsibility for their actions outside of personal training sessions. One of the most profound benefits clients get from lifestyle coaching is realizing clarity in what they ultimately want and what they are willing to do to get it.

Many clients know where they are when they start training (overweight, tired, frustrated) and they can see where they want to be (slim, healthy, energetic), but they get distracted by obstacles on the goal path. A major concern of trainers is that even though clients don’t eat properly, they still expect to see results from their training. The client may try to adhere to suggestions that you make, but, oops!, something always seems to happen that knocks them off track.

Diane Johnson was one such client who became frustrated when her weight did not come off as quickly as she wanted. Following is a conversation I recall having with her.

Diane: “What am I doing this for?” she grumbled as she stepped off the treadmill.

Trainer: “How has your eating been? I know you saw the nutritionist because I followed up with her.”

Diane: “I went and I got some really good advice as well as a sample seven-day eating plan.”

Trainer: “Have you implemented any of the suggestions that you and the nutritionist talked about?”

You can probably guess what came next. She recounted that she had started the plan; then things got busy; there was a party she had to attend; then she cooked her family’s favorite supper; she couldn’t drag her family into her new healthy eating habits—they weren’t trying to lose weight. . . .

The next question led to a series of answers and questions that sparked Diane to take a look at her choices. “What would it take for you to eat in
a way that would bring you closer to your goal?” I asked her. The conversation flowed from there. Diane came up with her own plan that would enable her to get started, and I asked for a specific commitment for the next week.

Diane became a regular coaching client while she continued to train with me. She did reach her weight loss goal. I think the coaching process gave her the impetus to set new goals for herself that she wouldn’t even have contemplated in the past. She is still a regular client.

Consistency
in Training

It’s beyond rewarding to train clients that have put their sessions with you at the top of their priority list. They rarely try to reschedule their appointments and almost never cancel. So many people feel that they cannot set boundaries in their work life or with other people. Most of the time they have just fallen into a way of life that leaves them little time to take care of themselves.

One of the most common issues raised by clients during coaching is lack of time and inability to set personal boundaries in order to first fulfill personal needs. It’s not that they can’t. It’s more likely that they have never been asked how they could set boundaries so that they have the time, energy and commitment to make exercise a priority in their lives. When people start setting boundaries, they feel more in control and empowered. My personal training rescheduling request and cancellation rates have dropped dramatically since I began coaching.

Coaching as a Revenue Stream

Because lifestyle coaches deal with issues surrounding exercise and proper eating habits, many people who will be attracted to you as a coach will want to begin exercising. Many of my local coaching clients need proper exercise programs and instruction. For an additional fee, I have provided many coaching clients with training programs, and they come back once a month to train with me. Because it’s such a natural fit, a lot of coaching clients become regular personal training clients.

Coaching adds value to your services as a personal trainer. The core competencies and skills of coaching are valuable tools for moving your clients closer to their goals. Adding separate lifestyle coaching services to your business will increase your revenue and add variety to your schedule. Coaching also can provide you with a mobile practice. Since most coaching is done on the phone, you do not have to be in the same geographic area as your clients to coach them.

If you want to grow and develop your practice while leveraging your skills and education as a trainer, lifestyle coaching is the perfect fit for you and your clients. l

IDEA PERSONAL Trainer February 2002 Lifestyle