That’s got to be the most ridiculous picture I’ve ever had on here!!! (I hope Wilmer’s appreciates getting his picture on Super-Trainer!) This pic has got nothing to do with Personal Training, only the theme of this post …
Here’s my rebuttal to a recent article in Smart Money Magazine talking about the lack of professionalism in Personal Training. I don’t normally get into this kind of back and forth, but I thought this time it would be a good thing because this article points out where we as trainers can go wrong with our professionalism, and we’ll talk about how to fix it.
By the way, here’s the article in question. Unlike some of the media out there trashing our industry, this article was well written and made some good points. The truth is a lot of trainers are unprofessional, but that just helps us trainers that know what we’re doing.
The reality is if you get a few important things right, this is one of the easiest professions out there.
So let’s do it – the points from the article appear in bold – the rest is my breakdown.
1. “I’m a specialist — in marketing myself as a health expert.”
The point they were trying to make here is that a lot of trainers over-step their boundaries, trying to diagnose disease or treat medical conditions. They even put in a blatant “scare tactic” quote from a suit in there: “That worries John Buse, president of medicine and science at the American Diabetes Association, because when exercise isn’t done properly, any vision problems and nerve damage in the feet that some diabetics develop could worsen, he says, in extreme cases to the point of blindness or amputation.”
If you’re competent and responsible, I’m sure you understand your professional responsibilities, and you know treating disease isn’t one of them! It’s true you need to specialize, but that doesn’t always mean you need to take on difficult client cases. In fact it’s the opposite – a specialty means you should turn down the cases that you’re not qualified for or have little experience in.
If you do chose to train a client case that you don’t fully understand, include their doctor in creating a plan. But in general, Personal Training is great because we don’t have to get into the specifics of disease and disorder. Even though you might feel you have an obligation to help everyone, the reality is you don’t need to accept every new client. You have the option to work with only the healthy population – no one will kill you for that decision.
2. “I’ll push you till you collapse.”
Pushing completely out-of-shape clients overboard is a mistake you see a lot of trainers making. You see it on reality TV, and hear so many health-club trainers brag about it that it’s become a cliche. Intensity is important, but if you’re looking to break a client a down just for the sake of it, you’re an idiot!
This doesn’t need to be an issue if you’re an independent trainer. When you’re on your own, realize you’ve got nothing to prove. Let your clients know the plan and what part each workout plays in it – that way in the beginning, the purpose doesn’t have to be to kill them. Depending on the client, that can come later when they’re ready for it. I always push my clients at about 110% of what they can handle, but this is different for every different client. You’ve got nothing to prove.
3. “Caution: Might not work well with kids.”
If you chose to accept kids in your training practice (I for one don’t), you’ve got to realize the programming is different. With the child obesity statistics today, training children may be a good specialty to for you to develop. Parents are willing to spend much more money and pay more attention to the health of their children than even themselves. And in general they are an easy population to deal with. But to provide the best service and cover your back you might want to get some specific credentials or knowledge on how to train children. Even though I don’t accept children in my training practice, I did some reading on this recently and was surprised by some of the information I found about the difference in the programming for children. It was pretty interesting, and taking the time to understand some of these particular issues if you chose to train children is worthwhile.
4. “Bring a few pals and I’ll charge you half price.”
They weren’t really knocking trainers on this point, just pointing out that rates are different with small group training. Just like with your normal pricing structure, create rules on small group training too and stick by them. And with all your pricing, avoid making exceptions. Even though we all become friends with our clients, being consistent with your rates and not making exceptions is important. You may even want to have your rates printed and in your training journal so that it’s always there in writing.
5. “If I let you use the equipment, you’ll realize you don’t need me.”
This one was ridiculous, saying that trainers make their exercises unnecessarily complicated to improve client retention. The truth is that if a trainer was employing tricks like this, their retention rates and client satisfaction wouldn’t be consistent enough to sustain a thriving training practice – clients aren’t that stupid. What they were really pointing out was that the functional training fad is a little out of control, which I agree. The culprit was the training conferences that saw the teaching of complicated functional training as a great way to create a ton of classes and ancillary products. But training the general population isn’t rocket science and a lot of these specialized techniques are unnecessary.
About the use of equipment, just like a lot of things it depends on the client. And it’s true we want to teach our clients to work out on their own and be competent when it comes to exercise, but there’s also an element that as a trainer we bring to our clients workouts and lives that’s indispensable. Pay attention to both in your practice.
6. “I love to gossip — about you.”
There’s no middle ground on this one – you simply can’t gossip about your clients under any circumstances! To anyone you’re talking to, the automatic assumption they’ll make is that you talk about them behind their back too. That’ll instantly lose you all trust with that person. Another funny thing I’ve found is that a lot of my clients become good friends with each other. Having the same trainer and a love for exercise is enough common ground for a friendship to develop. Yeah, they talk about you behind your back, but if you’re good all of this dialog is positive. But if you talk about one, the others will surely find out. In general, if you want to be a top trainer with top rates and high level clients, you’ve got to keep every aspect of what you do positive – that goes for all the conversation as well. No bitching, moaning, complaining, and especially, no gossip!
7. “I’m just as qualified to train you as, um, that guy lifting over there.”
This one is just the qualifications and credentials debate revisited. They point out in the article that credentials are different and not a complete indicator of what a trainer’s about. Keep that in mind. If you’re looking to set yourself apart just because of the cert you have, it’s not enough. There are a lot of factors that go into making a great trainer. Qualifications are important and clients are getting more savvy in this area, but it’s going to be all the other aspects of how you market yourself – your image, professionalism, how clients talk about you, your specialty, your credibility – that they’ll judge you on. That’s why you’ll see the atypical, fun-loving and lifestyle orientated trainer often times getting outstanding results.
8. “Just because I’m more expensive doesn’t mean you’ll get a better workout.”
In some ways I liked this one – what they said basically is that price isn’t important if the trainer can get the job done. I couldn’t agree more. The ability to relate to and motivate the client is most important. What that also means is that if you can motivate your client and produce results, you’re a more valuable trainer and can of course charge more for. That goes for the top-dollar seasoned veteran trainers to the kid that just got certified.
In the article they encourage clients to take a few trial sessions with a trainer first to know what they’re paying for. The way I handle this in my business is to offer a small no commitment training package to new clients. This allows me to prove my differentiating qualities, and demonstrate why I cost more.
9. “Once I get my big break, I’m outta here.”
Haha – I love this one – harsh, but in a lot of cases it’s true. A lot of trainers are fly-by-night – they’re not serious about training, and then wonder why it gives them nothing back. They wonder why clients aren’t willing to pay their rates, why they won’t re-sign their training packages, and why they’re always broke. It’s because even though this career is fun and easy, you’ve got to be serious about it. No matter what, your priority has got to be your clients and the quality of the training you give them. Once you do, you’ll find out attracting and keeping clients becomes natural.
10. “I’m no nutritionist, but that won’t stop me from telling you what to eat.”
This is a fuzzy area in training. So much of results come down to what our clients eat, yet trainers aren’t the ideal people to provide this information. It’s a subject with a lot of gray area, but in general, giving eating guidelines to clients is ok. But selling your services as a nutritional specialist or saying you give diet plans in your marketing without the necessary qualifications to do this is crossing the line into quackery.
If you think you’re dealing with a real problem case, for example a client that has pre-existing conditions or is on medication, you may want to bring a dietitian on board to help. But in the role of mentor to your clients, eating will naturally be discussed – just remember that unless you’ve got any additional nutritional credentials, you can’t charge for this info, only the training.
Parting Note …
Even though professionalism is a real important part of what we do, there’s of course a huge personal element to this profession too. Even though it was good to address these issues, what they’re really doing here is treating Personal Training as a commodity. As independent trainers, this is exactly the mind-set we’re looking to avoid. Just take care of the basics, and you can do things your way.
Hey Kaiser – this was real good – I think I’ve been making a few of these mistakes myself! Like you said, it’s just that you get pressured from the gym manager a lot of times. Can’t wait until I get my own training practice going – hope you have more info on that!
I have seen all of these in the various gyms I have trained at and have been guilty of some myself.
I would say that being “un-professional” sometimes in some aspects of being a personal trainer is just as important as being professional.
Most of our clients are stuck in a professional world where they don’t make the rules and boundaries.
Just like you said on Super-Trainer at one point, the client looks to the personal trainer as somebody cool, an escape from reality of some sorts.
While “professional,” a by-the-book trainer won’t be as interesting to clients and probably wouldn’t have great retention rates of certain clients compared to a trainer who isn’t afraid to go outside the boundaries of “professionalism” to create a better, funner service for the client.
It goes along with the type of people who become personal trainers. I would say the majority of personal trainers are usually 1. People persons, 2. Who love to exercise, and 3. Personal trainers/lifestyle coaches in that order.
If somebody wanted a robot personal trainer, they would get a Nintendo Wii Fit.
As far as serious things like overworking clients, and prescribing diets like a dietitian personal trainers should do everything in their knowledge and power that won’t deter the client from achieving their goals.
I take on very difficult clients, but it’s a lot of work to do it properly. Consulting with doctors and physical therapists is a must. I have to explain to a lot of new clients that I do POST-REHAB, not rehab, and they will have to do the full course of physical therapy before I can work with them. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a huge liability issue. Know when to refer back! You’re absolutely right-if you’re not comfortable with this area, don’t do it!
Working with kids? After dealing with the kids in my DC neighborhood (aka Stephen King’s Children of the Corn), I think I’ll pass!
I have to agree with you on the Functional Training. It definitely has its place in a program, but it has to be appropriate to the client’s abilities and what they want to accomplish. I saw a trainer once doing something with a client that involved a leg on a swiss ball, a weighted bodybar, and possibly some juggling-it was hard to tell what they hell he was trying to accomplish! The poor client was tripping and stumbling all over the place. It made the trainer look like an idiot, and I’m sure that client didn’t stick around too long.
I think it’s necessity to cover diet with clients. They can be doing all their workouts religiously, but if every meal involves a drive-through and the terms “mega” “supersized” or “Family pack,” they will never reach their goals. To stay within the law in most states, you can talk about diet in general terms, suggesting better food choices, reviewing a meal diary, etc. You cannot give out detailed meal plans and menus, unless you are a registered dietitian or certified nutritionist. The one exception-if you are using a software program written by a a dietitian or nutritionist, you can generally give out this information. Still, you have so much leeway that you can work with the client effectively on this issue.
I think you can be professional, while being unconventional.
There’s no reason you can’t make the session an entertaining experience. I’ve raised quite a few eyebrows in gyms over the years with some of the things I’ve done with clients, but it was all proper for the client and they got great results. Life’s too short to not have a good time!
Laughing so hard over the “waiting for my big break” trainer! In Miami, there were a lot of crappy trainers just waiting for their big modeling/acting break. I have to admit, they never met a mirror they didn’t like!
Yeah Mike – I agree with you on trainers needing to be loose – hmmm… reminds me of a blog I know ….
Haha – Doug – good input as always – I give you a lot of credit man – rather than avoiding difficult client cases as I tend to do, you tackle them head on as part of your specialty – kudos for providing that service –
In general, the special role we play as trainers gives us a lot of leeway – but I liked this article because it makes you understand that in a few important areas, you’ve got handle yourself like a pro –
interesting article and comments, here is few of my own.
group discounts? what the Hell ! who ever said group training was easier and worthy of a discount? I DO NOT do groups and certainly wouldnt discount because it is alot more work for the trainer !!
Kids, simple, I dont train them either but I have a female trainer who is really good with kids and knows all their is know about working with kids.
I am certainly guilty of training clients for that NEVER exercise on their own, 2 words JOB security !!!
Why would they leave? how could they possible know what I know?