Every fitness and wellness professional wants to build a consistent clientele, and the best pros retain clients for several years. Why do clients keep coming back? How is it that some trainers keep clients only a few months, on average, while others retain the same clients for years?
When you ask clients who are fitness-savvy, have trained for years, understand good form and know basic program design why they stay loyal to one trainer, you’ll often hear something along these lines: “The workouts are really different from what I do on my own.” With this in mind, what can you do to make your sessions measurably different and sustainable for a long period of time? Important factors include how hard you push your clients, the new and unique exercises you introduce and the continuing education you bring to each session. However, the one thing that all great trainers bring to each session is a high level of psychological intensity that stays keenly focused on the workout.
Think about it: If there’s a tremendous amount of mental focus on every set, workouts “just feel different.” It takes a high level of energy and intensity from you to make this happen. Use the right coaching cues before, during and after each set to bring the right vibe into every session.
The Focused Difference
Training sessions give you many opportunities to improve your coaching skills. You have the power to make a lasting psychological impact on every client. Use your time wisely and influence your client’s thought process during each exercise. The goal: To stimulate your client’s level of intensity and focus from within!
Before each exercise. Establish a high level of focus before you hand over the dumbbell or initiate a move. Explain the reason for the exercise, as well as where the client should feel it. Most important, give the client a specific focus when you demonstrate an exercise. This places attention on the exercise itself, rather than the number of repetitions.
For example: “Bob, we’re going to perform a few sets of squats. This is going to be a great exercise for helping you gain strength in your legs, and it may help with your knee issues. We’re doing 12 reps, and on this first set I want you to focus on keeping your back flat.”
Now the client has an understanding of where to feel the exercise, why it’s important and what to watch out for as a potential compensation. And crucially, Bob is going to be fully conscious and focused as he squats.
During each set. Do more than just count! If all you’re doing is counting each rep, your client’s focus will also only be on the number of reps. A better habit is to keep count with your fingers. This allows you to use coaching cues, provide constructive feedback and maintain focus. Good midset cues include correcting form and reminding the client to breathe. Give plenty of feedback on the quality of each rep performed, ranging from “Not bad” to “Great!” When each rep is being “graded,” form rarely suffers.
Proper body language and spotting techniques are just as important as verbal cues. Be fully locked in and engaged with your client at all times, but especially during the exercise. It’s never okay to talk to others or walk away from a client during a set. Instead, be sure that your body language complements the exercise being performed. For example, take a knee while the client is doing pushups, mirror the client during biceps curls, or spot him or her during a bench press.
Be aware and conscious about your body language. You want to be engaging, not intimidating. A client who feels uncomfortable during an exercise will lose focus. Don’t tower over a client during floor exercises or stand behind him or her during dead lifts.
Before starting a new set. Before you start a new set, be sure your client feels confident and has a clear focus that isn’t number-oriented. Use cues that build confidence and continue to challenge performance.
For example: “The last set looked pretty good, Bob. This time I want you to focus on planting your heels as you come down and driving through the floor when you stand up. At the bottom of the exercise this time, you should feel it a lot more in the glutes, which will give you more power. Are you ready? Let’s do it!”
After each set. The goal after each set is to get as much feedback as possible. Make sure the client feels the correct muscles engage and is achieving the right difficulty level; check that confidence level is high. This will all help build the best possible program. You’ll also learn which types of exercises each client enjoys the most. Use this feedback for future program design and include exercises you know a client will feel good about.
Once you’ve gathered feedback, assure the client that he or she is on the right track. Maybe Bob didn’t feel his glutes engage, or a certain balance exercise worries him. This is your opportunity to redirect form or apply proper progressions/regressions for optimal performance.
Between exercises. Here’s your opportunity to talk about things going on outside of the gym! But again, keep it relevant to your client’s health. Ask questions about nutrition, sleeping habits or stress levels. Check that homework is getting done and ask how the overall program is going. Make every minute count! You are on the client’s clock.
It’s perfectly okay to talk about sports, weather and other topics that help build the relationship. However, too much of this talk will quickly cause your sessions to suffer, and will compromise your client’s results. Before you know it, the client will catch on that you are not adding value, and off he or she will go to train solo again.
Ending the session. When the session wraps up, send your client off with a recap of the day and a goal to focus on until the next meeting. Most clients are only with their trainer for a couple hours during each week. It’s important that those 2 hours have a lasting impact. Inspire each client to maintain a high level of focus throughout the week; this approach fosters loyalty.
Clients stick with a program long-term because they can’t recreate on their own what you offer them—measurable results. You bring value, intensity, passion and focus to each session. Boost your clients’ confidence and witness their amazement at what they accomplish by working with you.