(This article is adapted from THE SIX-FIGURE TRAINER MANUAL and originally appeared in Personal Fitness Professional Magazine.)
If you need a sudden jolt of credibility and need to add value to your training sessions so you can charge the highest rates in training, either for your solo or group sessions, progress tracking is it.
And that’s not just me saying that. I remember when I sent this article to PFP Magazine for a feature last year, they changed the title to what you’ll see below. I originally just called it a post about session design, but their editors understood the value this has in charging more for your training sessions.
(This article may turn off a few personal training purists – good thing none of them read this blog.)
PFP June-July 2008
Title: Raising Rates through Better Session Design
Subtitle: Part 1 — Pre-planning your appointments and taking notes for next time By Kaiser Serajuddin
Since your training session is the actual product you’re selling as a personal trainer, paying attention to how it’s designed is one of your most important tasks. The goal of any trainer that wants to retain a consistent client base is to understand and learn how to design extraordinary sessions. Once you’ve done this, you can refine the process and eventually have your sessions be some of the best on the market. When you can spit out high-quality sessions effortlessly, you’ll see your earnings unleashed, and your practice will start to grow rapidly.
Just like any job, this one can become repetitive, but in personal training, that’s a good thing. It is at this point that you can gain mastery, which should be the goal of any professional. When you understand every nuance of how to do your job, you can begin to improve its quality and eventually move up to a leadership role.
Training follows a different learning curve than other fields — the job gets remarkably easier as time goes on. But as the job gets easier, your salary will also increase. Unlike most other professions where an increase in pay is usually accompanied by more work and responsibility, it’s the opposite with personal training: An increase in salary will actually occur when the job is at its easiest.
The Illusion of Change
If you use common sense, you may think that results are what’s most important to the client and that’s what they’re paying for — after all, it’s the reason they called you in the first place, isn’t it? But believe it or not, this is actually a far secondary concern; the higher priority is the feeling that they’re achieving results. This idea was explained well by consulting guru Jeffrey Lant: “Advisors provide the illusion of change without the reality.”
What does that mean? The session must feel good — the actual experience of the session itself must be worth the money, irrespective of any end result the client is going for. If they don’t like it while they’re doing it, they’re unlikely to wait it out for any particular result. This also means we can implement some techniques to increase this illusion of change:
• Pre-planning sessions
• Taking notes during the session
• Changing locations during the session
• Providing outstanding service
While these techniques will make a positive impact on how much progress is achieved, they have a more immediate effect. They create the appearance of a higher value session. It’s this image that must be maintained at all times in order to charge premium rates.
The Pre-planned Session
The key to delivering best-in-field quality workouts to your clients every time comes down to one simple secret: Plan your workouts beforehand. All you need to do is play the workout out in your head before the session, taking into account your clients’ previous workouts and the bigger picture of their goals and future progress. If I had to point to one thing that has led to the quality of my training sessions more than any other, it’s the fact that I plan my sessions in advance. The training session is too valuable and too costly to have to worry about what you’re doing while you’re with the client; you need all of this figured out beforehand so that when you meet your client, your mind is clear to focus on other things.
I know what some of you are thinking, “I don’t want to spend any extra time on my clients than I already do.” Do you think it takes too long to plan a session in advance? Well then, find me a better use of your time toward getting and keeping clients. Finding new clients? Now that takes a long time; even with the best marketing practices, acquiring new high-level clients that you actually like to train is time-consuming. Once you have one such client, you have to bind them to you with “hoops of steel.” You have to make personal training an indispensable part of their lives — something they can’t live without. They could lose their job, have a child on the way or just have experienced $30,000 in water damage to their house, but the last thing they should ever want to give up is their training sessions. Delivering a top-notch session every time will ensure that. When you can do this consistently, you’ll never have to go looking for clients — they’ll find you.
When you have a client locked in to a 60-session package, or you’re making $15-20 per training session, pre-planning a session may seem unnecessary. But when you’ve positioned yourself as a premier expert in the field and you’re charging top-dollar, it becomes essential.
When you’re actually in your training session with your client, you’ve got a lot of things to think about. You’re in charge of the client’s entire training experience, and that’s where the value of the session comes from. Minute by minute, you need to be tuned in to what they’re doing and feeling; that doesn’t leave you any time to wing the session.
Most booked trainers have at least 10 clients; this creates the potential for losing the personal edge from your sessions. Remembering what your client did last time and what body parts they’re hitting today and creating an interesting, challenging workout are not things you can figure out after they arrive. If you do, the quality of your sessions will naturally drop, and what you can charge for the session will drop too. If you want to get to the level of $100+ training sessions, this is a base you need to cover.
After you’ve pre-planned your session, the next step is to take follow-up notes during the actual session. This will go on the same standardized sheet you used to plan the workout. Some of the information that will go on this sheet is:
1. The weights and reps the client was performing
2. Any important new milestones that were achieved
3. Exercises that weren’t performed that need to be covered next time
4. Notes on exercises that work well for the client or they seem to respond well to
5. Plans for the next session
6. Any problems the client is having when performing a particular exercise
7. Any other sudden notes or realizations you have that can help your client
If you’ve been a trainer for a while, you know that taking notes during sessions is nothing new. It’s one of the modern practices in personal training that has become almost universal. The key word here is almost. There are still some trainers (you know who you are) that don’t take notes during their clients’ sessions. They either have a photographic memory or don’t really care what was performed that session. Whatever the case, they’re really undermining their ability to add value to their sessions.
I remember when I first started as a personal trainer at a Bally Total Fitness; my training manager at the time didn’t think it was necessary for me to keep notes. He questioned why I did it and why I couldn’t just keep all the pre-planning and progress tracking in my head. Despite his advice, I kept doing it, and in a few short years, I was earning a six-figure income. Last I heard about him, he was still bouncing around the chain gyms and still earning inadequate pay with a huge workload and tons of stress.
The difference I realized at that time was the importance of adding value to my training sessions. Because of this added value, I was slowly able to train a higher level of client, charge more and work fewer hours.
Bouncing is term I introduced into personal training because of the effect it has on contributing added value to training sessions and increasing client satisfaction. The concept is very simple: moving your client to multiple locations. What this does is create the impression that more was achieved and more activity was performed during the session. They’ll also feel like they did more things and trained for longer period of time than they actually did. Keeping multiple bounces in mind is how I’ve been able to “hook” clients on my services for such a long time.
The essence of bouncing is going to at least three locations during the session. If you don’t think this makes a difference, try it in your next few sessions, and notice whether your client has a different feeling about the workout. Changing locations is almost like hitting the reset button on the workout; it creates a subconscious feeling of starting over. This will alleviate boredom and monotony in your own mind and have your client feel a renewed burst of energy every time you start a new group of activities after a venue change.
By venue change, I’m referring to a very simple change. Some locations in a gym to execute a bounce are:
• Cardio and treadmill area — performing intervals, exercises involving cardio equipment or mixing cardio and weight training
• Aerobics area — performing mat-based, boxing or dynamic training
• Outside — sprinting or dynamic exercises
• Staircase — performing lunges or stair climbing
While it may seem simple to just move around, keeping this consciously in mind and building it into every session will definitely add value. If you can charge $10 more per session just because you’re the trainer that moves people around more, isn’t it worth it?
The bounce is actually built into my training sheet; I have three locations always set up and firmly in mind as to where to take the client during the training session. These areas shouldn’t require too much set-up; remember that your priority is to create client enjoyment during the training session, so the workout should always flow.
Providing outstanding service is a vital part of what we do as personal trainers. Although we’re leaders and multi-skilled professionals, we still need to keep the service we provide to our clients in mind. When you put that into the mix, you’ll have a product so powerful that the sustainability of your practice will be guaranteed.
What does it mean to give good service? It’s just extra attention to the needs of your client. Within the session, this means:
• Helping them rack weights at times
• Handing them weights at times
• Keeping your hands close to them whenever they need spotting
• Keeping your attention on them every minute of the session
• Never answering your phone during a training session, under any circumstances
• Never having a conversation with anyone else in the gym on your clients’ time.
Outside of the session, here are a couple of things you can do:
• Respond quickly to their voicemails
• Stay in frequent touch with them through email
• Show up on time to every training session
• Rarely, if ever, cancel or reschedule a session
• Give them holiday and birthday cards and even small presents
The bottom line to delivering better training sessions is just being more present for the sessions. You have to be train your client for an hour anyways, so why not just pay a little extra attention to the details? It’s how tuned in you are to your client that separates the $150 session from the $15 session. Which would you rather earn? Well, it all starts with you — how much of yourself you’re willing to invest. Since it’s not a tangible product we sell, everything comes down to ways you can add more value. If you want to raise your rates, half the battle is improving your session design.