Making a Career Out of Personal Training – It’s About the Two “P’s”

You’ve read and heard it before: about the lack of professionalism in the personal training profession. I know, it makes your eyes roll because you view personal training as a career, not just a job, so, you’ve got your act together. But, we all know those who don’t (and give the rest of us a bad name among those who are on the outside lookin’ in). That’s why I want to talk about a cautionary — basically a “know-before-you-buy” article that appeared in the December 27, 2008 issue of Smart Money magazine. Quite a few of the points it makes were and still are on target but, since it wasn’t written by trainers, it’s missing some context, here and there.I’ll paraphrase some of the points and then break ’em down.1. “I’m an expert-at marketing myself as a health expert.” These are the trainers who get in the dangerous habit of trying to diagnose and/or treat medical conditions. The article goes a bit overboard on this. It contains a warning by John Buse, a representative of the American Diabetes Association that, people with diabetes who don’t exercise properly could make any vision and foot-based nerve damage they have worse-to the point of causing blindness or requiring amputation.Now, if you’re competent and responsible, you’re not going to act as though you have a medical degree. Yes, you need to specialize, but that doesn’t always mean you need to take on clients with tricky health conditions. In fact, having a specialty means you should focus on it and turn down the cases that you’re not qualified to handle. If you decide to train a client whose physical condition you don’t completely understand, get his/her doctor involved. But, you shouldn’t have to do that very often because, as a rule, what’s great about personal training is that we don’t have to confront the specifics of disease and disorder. Although you may feel you have to help everyone, don’t fall into that trap. The truth is, you don’t need to accept every new client; you can opt to work with only healthy ones and there’s nothing wrong with that.2. “I’ll train you ’til you crash.” Unfortunately, this is a common mistake. We’ve all seen trainers pushing seriously out-of-shape clients until they’re about to collapse; a lot of trainers even brag about it. And, some clients-who see this nonsense on reality TV and in the muscle gyms–think you’re supposed to drive them to the brink for them to see improvement. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re an independent trainer. When you’re working for yourself, keep in mind that you’ve got nothing to prove and that you’re in charge of your clients’ training. Let your clients know the plan and what part each workout session plays in it. That way you can teach them that there’s no need to torture them. Depending on the client’s health and goals, that may come later when they’re ready for it. I always push my clients at about 110% of what they can handle, but this is different for every different client and they’re not crawling out the door when they’re done. I’ll say it again: You’ve got nothing to prove.3. “Not Kid-Friendly.” Don’t work with children if you don’t know how to set up a training program for them; they’re not small adults. Granted, the mushrooming problem of child obesity indicates that a lot of kids may need one-on-one training and quite a few parents are all for it. But to provide the best service and cover yourself, it’d probably be a good idea for you to get some specific credentials or knowledge on how to train children. I did some reading on this recently and was surprised by some of the information I found about the different factors you need to consider in programming personal for children. It was pretty interesting, and, taking the time to understand some of these issues if you chose to train children is worthwhile.4. “Bring a few of your friends and I’ll train y’all for half-price.” This portion of the article wasn’t really a “diss”; the point is that the rates you charge for small-group personal training are different from one-on-one. Create a separate price structure for small group training and stick by it-no exceptions. Even though we all develop a real rapport with our clients, being consistent about how you deal with them-including how much you charge for your services-is important. You may even want to have your rates printed and in your training journal so that it’s always there in writing. But, making up prices on the fly is unprofessional-and can become unethical.5. “If you learn enough to work out without me, you will.” This contention– that trainers make their exercises unnecessarily complicated to hang on to clients-is patently ridiculous. For one thing, clients aren’t so clueless and they won’t be satisfied with a pointlessly Byzantine workout routine. What the article was really getting at here, is that the people running personal training conferences were teaching complicated functional training as a great way to create a ton of classes and ancillary products the conference organizers could sell. But, any competent trainer knows that training the general population isn’t rocket science and a lot of these specialized techniques are unnecessary.As far as equipment goes, just as is true of so much else about personal training, what you use and how is based on the client’s condition and goals. There are trainers who use only free weights and the clients’ body weight in their routines. Of course we want to teach clients to work out on their own, and effectively, or they won’t get results but we, as trainers bring something indispensable to the table, too. Make sure you focus on both in your practice.On this one, I’m gonna cut right to the chase: Don’t gossip about your clients to anyone-ever. For one thing, whoever you’re gossiping to will assume that you’ll talk behind anyone’s back. And, it’s far from uncommon for one’s clients to become friends with each other. Granted, they may talk behind your back but, if you’re effective, this is all to the good. If you want to be a highly-regarded, in-demand trainer who attracts high-end clients, keep everything professional and positive. That means no griping or gossiping about your clients.7. “I’m as qualified to train you as, say, that guy workin’ out over there.” The take-home message here is that credentials matter but there are a lot of certs out there and, they don’t tell the whole story. Qualifications are important and a clued-in client will be looking for them but it’s the other ways of how you market yourself that will help you make the sale and keep the clients re-signing. These include your appearance, your professionalism, whether and how your clients talk about you, your specialty and your credibility. In short, your certs don’t sell you-you do. The trainer who likes to make workouts but effective and fun and pay attention to the entire client is the one who’ll be in demand.8. “Just because you pay more doesn’t mean you’ll get more.” There are plenty of high-priced trainers out there who aren’t worth what they’re charging because they don’t or can’t relate to or motivate their clients. That’s a great way to rack up a lot of former clients. On the other hand, those who inspire and support their clients will get superior results, become increasingly valuable to those clients and, can charge progressively more for their services. This is as true for the kid who just got certified to the seasoned veteran trainer who commands top-dollar and is turning away prospects (s)he doesn’t have time to train.The Smart Money article suggests that clients do a few workouts with a trainer to get a taste of what they’re buying. I often offer a small no-commitment package to new clients, to introduce them to me and prove why I’m worth what I charge.9. “Once my ship comes in, I’m jumpin’ this one.” This goes back to the point I made in my intro about viewing personal training as just a job, not a career. And, no doubt about it: a lot of trainers do. They’re the ones who can’t figure out why clients balk when they raise their rates and decide not to renew and why they’re always broke. Yes, this career is easy and enjoyable but, it’s also serious business. Regardless of what else you’ve got goin’ on, your clients and the services you provide have got to be top-notch. Once you get that down, you won’t have to worry about attracting and retaining clients; it’ll happen automatically.10. “No, I’m not a nutritionist but, this is what you should eat.” This is a gray area. Most clients aren’t going to get fitter and healthier through exercise alone but unless (s)he’s got a degree in nutrition, a trainer shouldn’t be telling a client specifically what to eat. That doesn’t mean you can’t suggest general guidelines about the types of food to eat and avoid. But, trying to pass yourself off as a nutritional specialist or offering to craft diet plans without the proper training is misleading and could be dangerous-for your clients and for your career.If a client has preexisting conditions or is on medication, consider involving a dietician to counsel the client. Remember, this doesn’t mean you can’t discuss nutrition generally with your client-in fact, it’s a natural extension of your mentoring role. But, if you’re not credentialed in nutrition, you can’t charge for it.Bottom Line: Remember the two “Ps”Successful personal trainers are professional but the personal element is just as important. That’s what the writers of the Smart Money article missed. They view personal training, not as a service but a product — and that’s what the mediocre dilettantes among us, do-for as long as they last. Take care of the basics — both Ps — and you can do the rest your way.

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