Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks! For Personal Trainers.

You see, this fitness thing we all love can't be crammed down people's throats like you would medicine to a sick animal. Most of us were young dogs learning new tricks when we adopted the fitness lifestyle. Learn the 5 stages ISSA teaches thier trainer's.
I love Dr. Koop's "Shape up, America!" campaign! It's high time. But I have a few fundamental problems with the way in which the entire campaign itself is shaping up. Not that the campaign is ill-conceived, understand. Rather, it's whether the private sector is able or willing to make it all happen.

You see, this fitness thing we all love can't be crammed down people's throats like you would medicine to a sick animal. Most of us were young dogs learning new tricks when we adopted the fitness lifestyle. It was easy for us because, back then, our young minds and bodies were more susceptible to adopting the DISCIPLINE it takes to succeed. Your clients -- or most of them -- are old dogs with whom we've FAILED to teach new tricks.

Questions To Answer:

If you got to ask, you should consider a job with the French Foreign Legion. Folks, for precisely the same reason the answers to the above ridiculous questions are no, you shouldn't cram a training and nutrition program down your new client's throat just because you like it. It fits you, perhaps, and maybe others whom you've trained. But it may not fit your new client! If we can use statistics on the drop-out rate among fledgling fitness seekers (and I believe we MUST!), all too often, it doesn't!

The consequence of your trying to is almost always going to be that you will not succeed in drawing your client into a fitness lifestyle. Sure, you may succeed in the short run. You may succeed in fitting your client into a size five for the first time since college. You may even get her fit. But it's almost always going to be a temporary condition. Your client will surely backslide -- way back -- to their previous slovenly ways.

Everyone -- everyone -- wants to be fit. Except real young kids; they don't know the difference. Only us ironheads truly want to pay the price. The price is discipline. Even for kids. Don't believe it? Picture this: Guy and gal looking at a show marquee. Arnold Schwarzenegger is playing. Gal says, "You and Arnold look like you come from different planets!" Now picture this: Guy says, "He's on steroids! If he weren't, I'd be just as good as him!" This pencilneck is SERIOUS! His eyes say it. His look says it. The set of his jaw says it.

His gal instantly responds, "Bull!" She knows better. Arnold may have had a swift kick in his genes, but her beau needs one in his jeans. He wanted to believe it! Truth is, he knows what everyone on earth (intuitively, if not intellectually) knows. Including Arnold. It's tough getting to look that good. Not everyone wants to, and not everyone has the guts, discipline, genes or incentive to pay the price. Guy or gal!

Is there an easy way? No, but there is a best way (on a scale of good, better, best). If you'll indulge me one more minute, I'll explain it to you. First, let me paint you one more scenario. Guy (or gal) walks into a gym to sign up. The personal trainer (assuming there is one, and assuming that their command of the King's English allows it) queries, "What is it that you wish to accomplish? What are your training objectives?"

Another Question To Answer:

    What's wrong with that? All fitness trainers ask that question! It shows that they're concerned!

Neither they nor their client have the slightest clue as to what the client's options are, or what they will become! Just as importantly, you (their personal fitness trainer) do not know what their potentialities are. You do not know what their genetic capabilities are. What their ethnic tastes in food are. What their religious restrictions and requirements are. Their tolerance to exercise. Their familial relationships. Their time availability. Their lifestyle. Their medical problems. Their social, psychological, financial, business, spiritual or familial limitations or capabilities are.

"I believe that the MOST important consideration in training ANYONE for ANY REASON is their incalculable value as a UNIQUE human being."

Except for the fact that you can safely assume that your client has no discipline (why else would they have gotten to look and feel bad enough to come to you in the first place), you know NOTHING! And neither does your client! Aside from their very pedestrian response, "Why, I'd like to lose some weight," or, "I'd like to 'trim 'n' tone," they cannot be specific enough to direct you, as a "professional," in generating the appropriate training regimen specifically tailored for them.

Why is it, then, that everywhere I go, I hear trainers say, "I have to ask that question. I have an obligation to my client to help them achieve their goals"? Folks, there's a better way! I said it in one of my earlier columns. Said I:

    "I believe that there is no such thing as good enough. I do not believe that "simple" is better. I believe that BETTER is better! And I believe that the MOST important consideration in training ANYONE for ANY REASON is their incalculable value as a UNIQUE human being. This done, it will be easy for them to determine their OWN self-worth."

NOW do you understand the significance of the shoe size question I posed earlier? Before you can put shoes on a person that they'll obligingly and happily live in day in a day out, you have to know some basic information! Similarly, before you put a person on a training and nutrition program, you have to now a lot about that person. Then, you have 'em try it on for size. Walk in it, live in it for a short while. If the shoe fits, you have a sale. If the program fits, you have a sale too.

At that point, you will have succeeded in "drawing" you client into a fitness lifestyle. This is what the International Sports Sciences Association calls the "drawing in process." Over the years that the ISSA has taught this approach in their certification program for personal fitness trainers, it has proved to be highly successful and popular with their CFTs. It consists of five distinct (often overlapping) steps.

STAGE ONE: Establish Yourself As A PROFESSIONAL.

You are NOT merely a cheerleader, a motivator or a training partner, You may be all of these, but most importantly, you must establish yourself as a PROFESSIONAL. An expert in your chosen profession. Fitness science.

If your client has confidence in your abilities, compliance is more probable. There are many ways to do this. Personally, I like to break the barrier of personal space by pinching their triceps or subscapular area to check for bodyfat. Get your own bodyfat tester here! I've become so good at this that I can predict within a few percentage points what the person's bodyfat level is. But that's not the point of the pinch.

In the process of the pinch, I have put a lot of thoughts into the person's head. "Why did he pinch me? Does he know something about me? Maybe he's checking my muscle tone or my fat deposits." Something like that. At that point, the client is mine! You'll find your own technique. I can get away with invading personal space. Maybe you can't.

It's the time to establish your fee. Have it written down in your professionally prepared brochure that also lists your credentials (education, awards and accolades, references, etc.). NEVER negotiate fees with your client. The instant you succumb to being sucked into a negotiating situation, you become no more respected than a used car salesman.

If they can't afford you, perhaps they have a friend (or two) who would like to join them in a small group. Then you can charge less per client, thereby:

    1) Making it easier for the each client
    2) Making considerably more than your normal fee.

Most people, experience tells me, will go for this, and two or three people are neither unmanageable nor are they being cheated out of personal attention. Further, they act as incentive for one another to continue. Sort of a "support group." Also, you now have another spotter! That's good!

NEVER Ask Your Client What They Want To Aaccomplish! Everyone Does It, But It's Wrong Because:

    1) They don't have a clue as to what their immediate OPTIONS are or what they may become
    2) You don't either (re-read the opening of this article!)
    3) Your more naive clients will often assume that you know (because you're a "professional"), and your asking then becomes perceived as a weakness on your part.

Generally, all they really know is that they have to get rid of some fat and tone up. This is true even for your clients who are elite athletes or experienced fitness enthusiasts (who are perhaps lonely, bored, rich or in need of a motivator). Consider: Even these people want to trim 'n' tone, albeit for a more express purpose (like putting the shot further or getting ready for a bodybuilding competition).

While they are more sophisticated than your detrained, previously sedentary, totally out of shape clients, they recognize your professionality and track record (word gets around), and feel they'd benefit by your sage wisdom and superior expertise. FOSTER this belief of theirs, and live up to it! It's good business!

Even though they haven't the foggiest notion of what their options are, you have to have data to discern it for them. Usually they'll have a frame of reference because they're not stupid people! They read the mags, they watch TV, they (perhaps at one time in their youth) experienced the exhilaration of being in shape. They almost ALWAYS will have at least an abstract idea of what they'd like to accomplish, even though they almost always will have trouble expressing it to you beyond the "I'd like to trim 'n' tone" response. This you already know, so don't ask! They'll tell you whether you want to know it or not. In fact, TELL them this stuff! TELL them you didn't ask because both of you will soon "discover" what their options and (subsequently) what their objectives are.

STAGE TWO: Begin The Ongoing Task Of Data Collection And Data Analysis.

You have to know their "shoe size!" You have to know the style of shoe they like. You have to know the purpose for which they intend to wear their shoes -- running, walking, dress, work, etc...

The data you will continue collect for the rest of the time you are with your client (hopefully on and off for years) will be "quantitative" or "qualitative" in nature. Respectively, they refer to measurements (such as arm circumference, bodyfat, age, medical history, etc.) and uniqueness in personality, ethnicity or indiosynchratic behavior unique to your client.

STAGE THREE: Execute A "Guided Discovery" Tour.

The process of guided discovery refers to data analysis (as opposed to the ongoing task of data collection mentioned in Stage Two). "Guided Discovery" means just what it says. You are the guide, and both you and your client need to discover a lot of things about each other, the concept of fitness entails, and how to make it a permanent lifestyle commitment before you can begin. There are many paths toward discovery (you'll find your favorite), but all provide a far more "caring" approach to getting your client started. For example:

  • It's an excellent way to gently and gradually overcome the effects of detraining, disuse, misuse or abuse the years have inflicted on your client's body.
  • It provides an opportunity to learn which exercises and equipment the client "likes" (your client is more apt to do the exercise if they like the exercise).
  • It provides ample opportunity to guide your client toward proper nutrition by rearranging how many of the foods THEY like are incorporated (you cannot succeed at cramming your idea of a healthy diet down your client's throat!).
  • You will learn how to adjust your training approach because of your constant data collection and data analysis.
  • You and your client will discover many of the options open to your client as Guided Discovery progresses into its final stages. Both you and your client will know when it's time to move on to stage four at this time.

STAGE FOUR: Feel The Water Before Jumping In.

"Trying On" a small fitness program is principally as a check for compliance ability and discipline to carry on. Choose from the myriad training protocol for one that you and your client feel will provide the easiest route toward living a fitness (disciplined) lifestyle. This will ALWAYS incorporate the exercises, training schedule, foods and other factors that you both have "discovered" during the guided discovery process.

NEVER assume that your favorite training protocol, your favorite nutritional supplements or your personal fitness diet schedule is best for your client! All too often they will NOT be! Once your client has tested the waters of discipline, you can make fine adjustments to maximize compliance.

Remember That Your Client Will Comply For One Of Two Rreasons:

    1) Public compliance pressure
    2) PRIVATE acceptance of the regimen you both decide upon.

The second reason is the ONLY acceptable one. The other will SURELY lead to failure! Your client having achieved private acceptance, it's time for you to move your client into the final stage of the drawing in process.

STAGE FIVE: Establish An Integrated Lifestyle Fitness Regimen Based On Your Client's (Informed) Objectives.

Ask, "What is it you want to accomplish?" and then provide lifetime support and incentives. Now -- and ONLY now -- do both you and your client truly understand what your client's options are, and how best to accomplish them.

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