PT Education: The First Month with a New Client

A New Direction

Hi Team, as I promised in my first post for the year, 2010 at me-dot-com will see the introduction of some different types of articles. Today’s post is the first ever article (published on this site) written specifically for Personal Trainers (PTs), PT students, PT managers, centre managers and health club owners. My guess is that it will also be of interest to PT clients and potential clients.

Having personally completed over 40,000 PT sessions since 1987, I consider myself to have reasonable insight into what does and doesn’t work (on a range of levels) when it comes to the product and service of Personal Training. Even today (in 2010), the PTs working in my centre (Harper’s Personal Training Brighton) still deliver somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 training sessions every week. Although I train very few private clients these days, I am still involved in trainer education, I’m still in the gym every day and of course, I still oversee the running of my business.

My centre in Brighton is a 10,000 square foot dedicated Personal Training Brighton facility: no members, no general training, no casual workouts, no contracts, no pressure sales and no queues for machines. Ever. It’s a nice environment to work in. And to work-out in.

When I began my PT career there was no blueprint to follow, no other PTs to learn from and no ‘How-to-PT’ guide. As a consequence, the vast majority of my PT education has been hands-on and experiential. Learning by doing. I have made many mistakes along the way and my clients and staff have taught me much.

For our first instalment of ‘Trainer Ed 101’ in 2010, I thought we would explore the first month of the Trainer-Client relationship as it’s the most important month you’ll ever spend with your client. Do it right and you’ll set you and your client up for a long-term, win-win relationship. Do it wrong and they won’t even make the third week. And you’ll dent your confidence, your brand and your earning potential.

Back in the day (when I lived on the gym floor) my clients trained with me for an average of about three years. One client (Pauline) trained with me (four or five days per week) for sixteen years (1993-2008 inclusive). In an industry where many clients only hang around for three to six weeks, it is crucial that we (PTs) understand the needs and expectations (emotional, physical, sociological and professional) of our clients, and it’s even more crucial for us to consistently deliver an incredible level of service, a high quality training experience and of course, a little fun. Even when the novelty wears off. And it will.

The following list is a brief overview of the areas that I consider to be the most important in terms of where you (the trainer) should focus your time, energy and attention in the first month with any new client.

1. Create connection and rapport. If you have all the technical skills, qualifications and academic understanding but you fall drastically short in the relationship-building, communication and connection departments, you might want to either develop those skills quickly or look for another career. Believe it or not, in this industry a PhD is often less valuable than a personality and great interpersonal skills. I’ve seen many educated and intelligent trainers fail simply because of their inability to create real connection with their clients. While academic intelligence and technical knowledge are good things, sometimes emotional and social intelligence are more valuable. If your clients (or potential clients) perceive you (the trainer) to be (1) all about the money, (2) lacking integrity, (3) not genuinely interested in them and their goals, (4) untrustworthy or unreliable, or (5) arrogant or egotistical, then you have some serious work to do. And by the way, don’t assume you know how other people perceive you.

We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.

2. Don’t kill them.
I’m amazed at the number of PTs who train (relatively unfit) new clients way harder – in terms of program design, exercise selection, training frequency, workout duration, overall training volume, training intensity and recovery – than is appropriate for a newbie. From a training perspective, the first month with a new client should be less about major adaptation and physical transformation and more about safety, education, skill development (exercise technique), forming new training habits and establishing a fitness, strength and flexibility base – via low to moderate intensity exercise. Our primary goal should be to help them create life-long behavioural change, not to turn them into Olympians by next Thursday. If they’re after rapid transformation and extreme results, then (1) educate them to know better or (2) tell them you’re not the guy/girl for the job.

3. Collect some baseline data (via testing). And my suggestion is to do it on day one and to re-test on day twenty-eight (if not earlier). If we don’t collect some pre-program measures and relevant data then how can we accurately, honestly and scientifically evaluate the effectiveness of the program we’ve designed and implemented? Blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, hydration levels, resting heart rate, post-exercise heart rate (recovery), skin-fold measurements (at least 8 sites), overall body-fat percentage, muscle mass weight, girth measurements, body weight, strength, flexibility, aerobic endurance, muscular endurance, power, speed and reaction time are just some of the variables I have tested over the years. Lack of regular testing indicates laziness, ignorance and a lack of professionalism on behalf on the trainer.

4. Have fun. I’ve seen many PTs on the gym floor who seriously look like they’d rather be some place else. Some of you know exactly what I mean. Hardly inspirational stuff. Hardly a recipe for success either. Professionalism and fun don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Neither do results and fun. Surprisingly, they can go hand-in-hand. It doesn’t matter how technically brilliant a program is, if the client finds you and the whole PT experience to be an unpleasant affair, your PT career will be shorter than a Paris Hilton skirt.

5. Get some results. While the first month is not all about major transformation (see point two), from a motivational and customer-satisfaction perspective, it is important that our client sees (and feels) some level of change. Even training at low to moderate intensity (coupled with dietary and lifestyle changes) a month is certainly long enough to see measurable changes in body-fat, blood pressure, weight, girth measurements, energy levels and all the fitness variables.

6. Be professional. Without doubt, the biggest criticism of (some) trainers is their lack of professionalism. In an industry which has long struggled for respect, credibility and mainstream acceptance, it is paramount that we PTs do everything in our power to consistently deliver a professional and polished product. Why would anybody refer a potential client to a person who is lacking in professionalism and why would anyone want to work out with such an individual? Professionalism covers such things as: punctuality, language, confidentiality, teaching skills, appearance, personal hygiene, attentiveness, concentration levels, training skills, assessment skills, reliability, administration skills… and much more.

7. The away-from-the-gym hours. What your client does when he or she is away from the gym (or wherever your training environment happens to be) will have more of an impact on the overall result than the time they spend with you. Even if someone trains with you three days per week, they’re still spending the vast majority of their time away from you and the gym. For this reason, it’s important (especially in the first month) that you have some awareness of, and input into, what transpires – in terms of diet, lifestyle, social habits, sleep, decision-making and additional exercise – when he or she is left to their own devices. So to speak. If you’re training Sally perfectly but she’s throwing down two litres of Cookies and Cream every night after the kids have gone to bed, then there’s a big chance that the second assessment ain’t gonna be a joyous occasion! Which is bad for you, your brand (your reputation as a PT) and of course, Sally.

So there you have it; a quick look at the first month of the client-trainer relationship. Of course there’s more to explore but I think that’s enough for us to chew on for the moment. I hope you PTs find this information relevant and valuable as you develop your career (or business) and I wish you every success as you learn and grow in fitness.

Love to hear your thoughts, questions and feedback on (1) this article specifically and (2) this type of article in general.

Ciao :)

* If you’re a health club or studio owner or manager and you’d like to explore the possibility of me doing some professional development work with your team, you can email Johnnie here or call him for an informal chat on (03) 9553 8857 during business hours (Melbourne time). Easy Peasy.

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