One Gym, Many Roles: Be A Better Trainer

Are you considering becoming a personal trainer, or just wanting to be a better one? In either case, you need to work on developing yourself before you set foot on the gym floor. Here's your skills checklist!

Chances are you or someone along the way thought you would be great at personal training. They're probably right. That's how it started for me, too. If so, it's likely that you already work out and are in better shape than most of your friends, you're good at getting people amped up, and you have a pleasant demeanor. It wouldn't surprise me if you've already helped one or two of your friends begin a workout program.

That is an excellent start. But there is far more to it than that. A personal trainer has many jobs. These are some of the most important ones.

Job 1 /// Workout Buddy

This is exactly what it sounds like. Before we start out as personal trainers, many of us have it in our minds that we will be working with athletes and fitness enthusiasts. That's what I thought, but it's generally not the case. Although every now and then a very fit person will hire a trainer, the vast majority of your clientele will be people who never worked out seriously or haven't worked out in 20 years, even if they lead you to believe otherwise.

When the prospective client who told you he runs marathons and usually works out four times per week shows up coughing and can barely walk up a flight of stairs, you'll see what I mean.

These people need someone to be there, meet them, greet them, and make the workout experience less foreign to them, almost like a friendly guide to working out. That's it. Be their gym buddy. Make it fun. We all perform better with a workout buddy.

Think of yourself as a "stand-in friend" because none of their real friends will ever join them for a workout. That's why they hired a trainer. Who knows? Maybe you'll even change their lives and give them a love for fitness they never thought was possible. But for now, show up on time, smile, and make sure your client moves. Try your best to help them enjoy the experience.

Job 2 /// Motivator

The role of motivator is near and dear to me. I believe it's my biggest strength as a trainer. Being a motivator is a little different than being a workout buddy. Whereas being a workout buddy means that you're providing companionship and guidance, being a motivator requires a little extra proverbial mustard. You need to bring out the best in them.

For some of your clients, being a motivator will mean that you—possibly literally—cheer them on as they get their first pull-up. For others it simply means that you provide accountability, making sure they show up to train instead of going to the nearest bar or fast food joint.

To provide the necessary level of motivation for your clients, it is necessary to feel them out. Just as we must step up our motivational game for some, we must recognize the possibility of being too overzealous with others. Read their signals and give them what they need. No matter the type of client, always hold them accountable. You're the trainer. It's usually harder for clients to disappoint you than it is to disappoint themselves.

Job 3 /// Psychiatrist

You knew this was coming. In most cases, you will have to at least occasionally listen to your clients' problems. You will hear about their jobs, deadlines, relationships, and personal politics. Sometimes, they will even vent about financial concerns. (This is always a tricky situation considering they are paying you, their trainer, which probably adds to their perceived monetary woes.)

I am aware that this is not what we had in mind when we signed on for a career in fitness, but I'd like to put a different spin on it: You are here as a health professional. Some say the body and mind are connected. I believe that's an understatement; they're actually the same thing. Like the ancient proverb says: "Sound body, sound mind."

It is likely that when your 6 a.m. client vents to you about her asshole boss, she is clearing her mind. Your client is purging her body of anxiety and negativity—essentially getting healthier. And you helped her do it. She will probably have that much more energy for the workout now that some stress has been alleviated. The workout will help to expel even more.

So be a psychiatrist. Accept it. Your client will still benefit, and ultimately that's your job.

Job 4 /// Consultant

Again, it comes back to accountability. But unlike the motivator role we play inside the gym, the consultant helps paying customers stay accountable outside of the gym. Let's be honest: it is impossible for a deconditioned individual to shape up if they train with you for only two hours each week and treat themselves like garbage for the other 166.

As a trainer, your job can perceivably end when the session is over, but as a consultant, you remind them not to eat those cupcakes at the party. Hell, have them text you from the party to let you know how they did. You want them to think of you when they order a salad instead of fries. Tell your clients to picture you like an angel on their shoulder at the restaurant when they order that salad.

This will help them get results and help you retain your client, and therefore you make more money. I encourage trainers to make consulting, however formal or informal, a part of every workout.

Job 5 /// Sales Person

Let's get this out of the way now. As professional trainers, we need to get over the notion that charging money for our services diminishes our integrity. Bullshit.

If you are not prepared to be a sales person then you are not prepared to be a personal trainer. The sooner you get over this, the better. Doctors charge money. So do plumbers, tattoo artists, hairstylists, and accountants. Even the Pope gets paid.

This is basic economics. You have to charge money if you need things like food and shoes.

Job 6 /// Personal Trainer

Your job is to make sure that your clients get a workout that they cannot get without you. Your other job is to build a relationship. That's it. Administering a workout they cannot get without you does not necessarily mean that you provide manual resistance for every single exercise. It doesn't even mean that you spot them on everything. It means that they train harder, better, when you are there.

Maybe it's the truth in your eyes that makes them lock out each of those 50 push-ups. Perhaps your words provide the nerve to pull their chin over that sweaty bar. Or maybe it's just the comfort of knowing that you're there for them which makes them go that extra inch deeper on every single squat. By contrast, for some folks, simply showing up late, stretching out for 20 minutes, and doing two sets of jumping jacks constitutes a workout they couldn't do on their own. It is always good to remember that you are there for your client. It's a broad spectrum.

That being said, one person who you are not there for is you. If your passion is bodybuilding and a potential client wants to hire a trainer to help him lose his gut or rehab an injury, then do not train him like a bodybuilder. If your possible client wants to lift weights, then your job is to teach him to lift weights with impeccable form, even if you'd rather do MMA-style conditioning drills. Not only is it good customer service to train your client in a way that is appropriate and desirable for them, but you must also accommodate them if you wish to put food on the table.

That's right, you've gotta eat, and that won't happen if you don't have clients. This is not to say that you can't incorporate exercises that you favor and enjoy. It simply means that you have to put your clients' needs before your own. Trust me, in time, a good trainer finds the balance.

Be Appropriate, Be Open, Be Humble ///

Because of my profile in the calisthenics community, people are often under the impression that my clients do human flags and muscle-ups all day. That is far from the truth. The overwhelming majority of my clients are working professionals. That's right: store managers, lawyers, teachers, and dentists.

Now only after several years, some of my trainees can slay the pull-up bar, but at the beginning, we worked on whatever was appropriate: proper form, posture, perfect push-ups, strengthening the posterior chain, etc. If lunges are more appropriate than pistol squats, then we do lunges. A classic push-up is a better exercise selection for 95% of my clientele than the one-arm variety.

Way more people want to train with me because I helped their friend look and feel better, than because they saw my YouTube channel. Young trainers who want to know how to get clients often approach me. When I ask them how they've gone about achieving this goal so far, they tell me they put a workout video on YouTube.

What they should be doing is spending lots of time in the gym talking with potential clients and watching professional trainers make money. They should be working on the most basic movements, learning to be comfortable on the gym floor, and training with other trainers.

Hard-earned experience will help you start your personal training career better than a thousand YouTube channels or Facebook fan pages. These websites are extraordinary in what they can potentially do, but they will seldom put you 1-on-1 in front of potential clients. And they will not make you a good trainer.

Be ready to work hard. When in doubt, consult this equation: Hours + Effort = $$$.

This is an adapted excerpt of Danny Kavadlo's new book Everybody Needs Training: How to Get More Clients, Make More Money, Change More Lives, with an introduction by contributor Al Kavadlo. Pick up your copy now!

Q & A With Danny Kavadlo

What does the title Everybody Needs Training mean?

The title was inspired by a trainer named Tony Hamoui, who worked for me from 2008-10. Tony built a client base faster than just about anyone I ever met. He often repeated the phrase "Everybody needs training!" as he walked the gym floor. He said it with so much authority and truth that it helped establish the need for training.

Sometimes, even when prospective clients know they'll benefit from personal training, they still require a push. All trainers should confidently walk the gym floor with the mindset that everybody needs training.

Furthermore, even trainers need training! Essentially, this book is a training manual for being a professional trainer. As fitness enthusiasts and practitioners of exercise, we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we know everything. We don't. The last sentence of the final chapter is "Everybody needs training ... even me!" There is always more to learn, and this book is a great start.

You were a strong, fit guy long before you were a trainer. What did you think about trainers back then?

I thought highly of trainers back then. Perhaps too highly! In fact, even though I was in superior shape to most of the training staff at the gym where I was a member, I still thought that these guys knew a lot more than I did. In many cases, I was wrong, but with some of the more successful trainers, I was spot-on.

What they knew was how to help others to do what's right for them. They knew how to be comfortable administering workouts for clients. They understood the subtleties of the job. Basically, they possessed the stuff you acquire when you spend between 1,000-10,000 hours doing something. Being in shape is not the same skill as being a professional personal trainer.

Everybody Needs Training reveals what it is that a personal trainer does beyond the workout. There has never been a book like this before.

What's the most egregious or common mistake you see trainers make?

Wow! I have an entire chapter dedicated to this subject called "Top Ten Personal Training Don'ts" but if I had to pick one I'd say a lack of attention. Attention extends way beyond showing up on time or maintaining eye contact. It also includes the ability to observe your client. One of the themes of Everybody Needs Training is being in the present moment.

Trainers need to use their power of observation and be able to improvise. All the best and most successful trainers understand that is great to have a game plan, but that game plan may need to be altered to fit an individual. Keep your eyes on the client, not the clipboard.