20 Tips For the Rookie Trainer: Part 1

So, you just recently graduated from college with an awesome degree in Exercise Science, Kinesiology or some other related major that makes you “better” than almost every other trainer out there. If you’re anything like me, you aspire to own your own facility one day, help thousands of people reach their goals and maybe make enough money to live somewhat comfortably. Am I close?

Back when I graduated, I believed that what I had to offer was so much better than what the typical trainer had to offer that I was above working in a commercial setting. While I still believe the former, the latter was something I, and you, will most likely have to rethink at least in the beginning. When I first started coaching after college I wanted to give training independently a solid effort. After a year of training just enough to feed myself I realized it just wasn’t possible to get in front of enough people.

Just over a year ago, I decided to kick my ego to the curb and start coaching at a commercial facility in the area. As a new coach I cannot stress enough how beneficial some time in a big box gym can be to your business as well as your development as a coach. I learned a lot during my first year and since 99% of you will be in the same exact boat as I figured I would put together a list of some things that I picked up along the way. I’m sure you’ve heard some of these before as most of us learn from the same people but I hope my own interpretation helps. This will be a 4 part series as I wanted to expand on each tip with personal experience and really help you understand my meaning. Without further ado, in no particular order.

Part I:

1) Simplify

-If there is one master tip, this would be it. As new, vibrant young fitness professionals we are all in a rush to use all of the knowledge we have accumulated over the years but I’m here to tell you that you’ll use about 10% of it on a daily basis. When I first started, I thought that because everyone was different and had different goals that they should all have vastly different programs. That is all well and good when you have 5 clients to look after but wait till you have 25. Create 3-5 basic templates for similar populations and plug in variations as you see fit. Make sure you have a list of movement progressions that you can pull from while programming as well. This doesn’t have to be crazy long, 4-5 variations of each pattern will do. Remember that Individual coaching is not about coaching different things but coaching the same things differently.

-Create Systems. Every aspect of your business and life can be, and will have to be, streamlined from client consultation to when/how you cook meals for yourself. If a process can be simplified to require less will power and energy, do it!

-Simplify how you talk to people. Your worth as a coach is how well you can take a complex concept, movement etc. conceptualize it and break it down so everyone can understand it. A little Jargon here and there is necessary to let people know your not an idiot but don’t beat them into the ground with your Essentials of Strength and Conditioning textbook (looking at you C-state students!). Unless, of course, you’re speaking to another trainer who is trying to beat you with his/her ACSM textbook. Only then may you unleash knowledge bombs all over their face. In all seriousness though, you may be able to impress some people and get them to commit early on but your ability to simplify and teach will keep them around.

2)Screw Periodization

-This really goes for alot of the awesome information you learned from that great study or from Tnation. The fact of the matter is that every single one of your clients is going to be so far down the rabbit hole (that’s how I put it) that their progress will have little to do with your programming and much more on how you actually coach them to move. Furthermore, 9 out of 10 people cancel, get sick, and are overall not as committed to their own success as you are to yours, or theirs for that matter (hopefully). This will inevitably drag a 4 week mesocycle to 5-6 weeks and ruin any plans you have of being the next Verkoshansky. Rest easy, as all you really need to do is pick some stuff, get people to do it better than they did last time on a consistent basis and they will see more progress than they have in their entire lives (not kidding).

3)Address attendance right off the bat.

-Speaking of cancellations, you need to clear the air in terms of what you expect before they commit to anything long term. Even if they say they will never cancel, wait till the second week. For example, I make my clients sign a cancellation policy along with the normal Par-Q, medical history, etc. As soon as the session begins, whether my client is there or not, the session counts. Late or no show, doesn’t matter. I require that every client give me 24 hours notice, barring emergencies. Furthermore, I expect that when they do cancel that they reschedule as close as possible to the original appointment. As other trainers tell me, this is rather stern but it keeps me from sitting around for an unpaid hour between clients like I see everyday. You can be as stern or as nonchalant as you wish but just make sure to let your client know that it is mainly for their own good as too many missed sessions will get them nowhere. If you’re like me you can also be blatantly obvious with them and ask them to understand that this is still, at its roots, a business and if they don’t show you don’t get paid. Even more importantly, if they don’t get results due to inconsistencies it reflects badly on you as a trainer/coach. Play this one cautiously as it may rub people the wrong way but then again I’m all about rubbing people the wrong way.

4)Stick to your guns

-Playing off rubbing people the wrong way. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT, change your philosophy, pace of progression etc. due to pressure from a client. Many commercial gym goers are used to being crushed into the ground by bullshit classes and bootcamps and just want a “workout”. Inevitably these people will scorn you for trying to correct their horrendous squat technique because they aren’t sweating yet. They think they know what it takes to get results and are only coming to you because they’re “bored and need some new variations”. This is your opportunity to change the fucked up view of fitness one corrupt spin soul at a time. You are not, an exercise variation guide, you are a coach. If they want variation they can pick up a MuscleMag. Take it seriously, or they will get hurt and will inevitably blame it on you. I know this because I let it happen, once. A stressed out fit mom breathing like a deflated party baloon refused to let me correct her breathing patterns on a regular basis and I finally gave in. She wanted to squat heavier and despite what looked like a good position, she was unable to brace and “tweeked” her back. Her trust in me was broken. I finally broke my silence and scolded her for how she approached our sessions and vowed never to let another client do to me what she had. She doesn’t train with me anymore, and I’m sure she is still in pain as she was before she came to me. There is no worse feeling than to know that you let someone silence your beliefs, knowing the inevitable, only to be blamed for the inevitable. But alas, it was in fact my fault. No pay check is worth the compromise of your values as a coach. If they are unable to cope, send them walking.

-Be bold. Stick to who you are as a person and a coach. I know that I am different from what most people are used to. I embrace it, I help my clients embrace it, and I use it as a selling point. If you want to use buzz words like “tone” and “functional” then be my guest because people respond to them as they are meant to. I would advise you not to take the easy way out and play into what modern fitness media perpetuates as valuable. Use the tiny bit of extra energy it takes to shoot down the notion of buzz words and change that persons whole view on things right there. I attempt to distance myself from the norm as much as possible when trying to sell to a potential client. Tread carefully though, weekend trainers are starting to catch wind of this “trend” and are beginning to break away as well. Make no doubt about it though this is not just a marketing ploy, most potential clients will know the difference. If you actually believe it and provide a better practice, you will have sold them right then and there.

5)Some people, you just cannot help.

-Playing off of #4 here. Seems like they’re going in order don’t they? Oh well! This is something you are going to have to come to terms with right away. If you are in any way a competent coach you probably care about helping your clients. Even so, you will inevitably work with that 1 in 50 client that is just impossible. At some point you will work with someone who’s physical disabilities or level of deconditioning is just perplexing to you. If you are a good coach you’ll figure it out. I’m not talking about these individuals. I’m talking about the people who have certain limitations mentally and emotionally. Some people genuinely couldn’t care less about your plan for them and will not listen to a thing you say. Keep them safe and hang on for the boring ride, or send them packing (I lean toward the latter). The most difficult however, are the individuals who want to work hard and are dedicated to their results but have deeply ingrained personal issues that are nearly impossible to change within the span of the time you will have with them before they get frustrated and leave. This is typically seen in women who have extreme body image issues, poor support systems and have stressful jobs. If you gain their trust and dig deep enough you may be able to find and help them change how they view themselves now, their ideal self, and those around them. This, in my opinion, is where true progress is made. If you have the chance to help someone remodel how they feel about themselves after years of abuse from themselves or others and they succeed, it will be one of the ultimate victories in your career. Remember, though, that some people, despite your best efforts, are just beyond your reach.

Stay tuned for Part II…

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