I train a husband and wife duo that I absolutely adore. For the purposes of anonymity, I’ll call them Beth and David. Sometimes they train together, sometimes separate and sometimes they team up with their friends. The other day the wife was asking me questions about her body: why she has certain limitations, how she can improve her function, why does she get occasional SI pain. She is one of those clients you can totally geek out with because she loves learning about the body and she wants to absorb as much as she can so her session is as effective as possible. If you like talking about the body as much as me, its super fun! On the flip side, her husband, (likely one of the most interesting, well-informed people I know), wants to focus on things like balance, strength, and just generally feeling fit, but he couldn’t care less about why his right glute is not activating as much as his left or why he can’t reach his left arm as high as is right. He jokes with me often, telling me that I make up words like piriformis and subscapularis. Every time I give him an exercise that we only do on one side he says, “oh, I know what this is… this is one of those PRI exercises.” Their 1 on 1 sessions couldn’t be more different. Beth likes to break it down and understand “why” and David would be super annoyed if I spent the whole time telling him about a Left – AIC or shoulder instability.
Regardless of their differences in personality, when it comes to training they actually have a lot in common and it’s my job to figure out the balance in personalities. With a bit of knowledge and connection, it is entirely possible to train them together without driving either one of them to boredom or hysteria. Training is so much more than the physical. It is always important to understand the body and work to truly help your client move as well as possible but you have to talk so they will listen and hear you. We all need to figure out how to speak just enough so our clients can hear us and not too much so they can still really enjoy the session. Learning this skill advances you as a trainer and gives your client a better session.
Here are 5 ways you can better connect with your clients while still keeping focused
on their physical needs and health goals.
- Ask them how their body is feeling before you start every session. I can’t tell you how much I learn before I even start a session with a simple five word question. HOW IS YOUR BODY FEELING? This seems like a no brainer, but I can’t tell you how often this point is overlooked by trainers. Sometimes we jump right in without giving them a chance to do a mental scan of what is going on. Many of your clients won’t just volunteer this information. You NEED to ask. Sometimes they might not correlate things they did that weekend or the day before that could have had an impact on what they are feeling while they are with you. Most people are not hyper-focused on their bodies the way trainers are. If they have chronic injuries, this is your time to delve a little deeper and ask them how their specific area of concern (back, hip, neck, etc.) felt after the last session. Or better yet, send them a text the day after their session to follow-up and see how they are feeling. Asking your client how they feel may seem so simple but it is indispensable to your ability to connect with each client each time you see them. The information you gain can greatly impact their session and allow you to alter your plan to better accommodate for their needs in that moment.
- Learn to read your client’s personality and know the ideal amount of instruction to give. I would like to think that professional, passionate, trainers are good at reading others and connecting. After all, I doubt someone would go into the business of helping others if they didn’t like to connect. But the best of the best trainers possess an ability to go beyond just connecting with their client. Exceptional trainers can sense that the information and instruction they are giving is being received and not just tolerated. It is important that we are aware of the amount of instruction and chit-chat a person can handle. Some of my clients love to just relax and enjoy their one free hour and don’t want to spend the whole session focusing on every single detail of every movement. Their tolerance for this may change day-to-day depending on their mood. If they just need a “chill” session that gets them sweating then I will give them a few more simple exercises or “no brainer” exercises I know they have already mastered. I can still coach them to have good form but I don’t have to go over every intricate detail. Some of my clients want constant feedback and ask a lot of questions. (i.e., “Where should I be feeling this? What muscle am I using? Why does my hip feel funny?”). I LOVE these moments with clients because it is a free pass for me to offer information that I know they will hear and learn from. In addition, I get the added fun of nerding out about biomechanics. If I were to overload those clients who just need an hour to “chill” (aka: David) or not offer solid well thought out explanations to those who want to learn (aka: Beth) I would be doing a disservice to my client. Furthermore, I may just annoy them and ruin their general experience. Remember, we want them to love to exercise with us, not feel like it is a chore we are forcing them to do.
- Ask them about their lives and don’t just talk about yours. I am sure this has been said many times but still I see trainers doing it all of the time. Of course your clients and you are close but they ARE paying you so it is important that they stay your focus and you don’t dump your entire life on them. Now having said that, they definitely do want to know about your life, just not every single detail. There is definitely a gray line between personal and professional in the training world. Just make sure you are a little further over to the professional side and don’t assume it is okay to talk to them like you are having a night out with your friends in a bar. I actually left a few of my clients with another trainer while I was out on maternity leave and he actually called and cancelled on them one time and told them he couldn’t make it in because he was out too late the night before trying to hook up with girls. Bottom line, ask about their lives and keep your diarrhea of the mouth to a minimum.
- Don’t act like a marine instructing a cadet. If your clients signed up for a one on one session and asked for a boot camp style workout where you literally scream at them non stop for an hour and you feel you are capable of this, then, by all means give them what they want. But, if you actually want to connect and have them benefit from exercise that can help their body, this type of training is beneficial to almost no one. And, by chance, someone asks you for this, direct them to the closest group boot camp classes which only cost $5 a session so they can save $65 / hour. Now, I am by no means saying your shouldn’t motivate and push your clients. You definitely should! But there are many ways to do this without yelling and running them into the ground so exhausted they can’t walk out the door. Exercise should not be punishment and making gains doesn’t mean being so sore you can’t sit on the toilet. Check out my article on finding balance in your workouts. Furthermore, it is very hard to connect and figure out what your client actually needs if they can’t breathe and you never stop yelling. Truth nugget from Maya Angelou right here…
5. Make your clients goals your priority and don’t forget about them. This is one that I am always working on. I have to admit, after training some clients for over 10 years it can be tough to always stay focused on their long-term goals and to keep them focused on these goals. I can definitely make improvements in this area. Maybe my client originally came to me to gain strength, feel better, and lose 20 pounds. We’ve definitely made some progress and they feel so much healthier and they have gotten super strong but they are still carrying around an extra 15 lbs and they just can’t see to get it off. While I may be focusing on their needs each session, I am dropping the ball in terms of motivation while they are away from me. I find this particularly difficult when it comes to weight loss. Obviously you can’t walk around with them 24 hours a day and make choices for them, but you can give them opportunities and motivation to make changes and progress. Most recently I’ve provided my clients that want to lose weight with a goal worksheet challenge. Healthy Goal Weekly Checklist They simply write 3 goals down and take a 7 week challenge to master those goals. They check each day they accomplish their goal so they can see their progress. Often times I will do weight loss challenges or nutrition challenges. I’m not sure that there is a sure-fire way to meet every single goal all of the time but it is possible to keep bringing them up, talking about them, and offering small incentives to get them refocused. Just don’t forget their goals never existed, because at one time they were important and it was part of the reason they saw you in the first place.
Put effort into whatever your choice of work is in life and you will become more passionate about it. Make your clients your priority and learn to communicate with them so they can have a better session and I guarantee you will enjoy your time working with them even more.