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An HFE personal trainer trainer holding an iPad and talking to a student
An HFE personal trainer trainer holding an iPad and talking to a student

Lessons For New Personal Trainers

6 minute read

1. Understand the real purpose of your session

Your clients have all sorts of explanations as to why they are seeing you, but 99% of the time it comes down to the fact that they want to feel better about themselves. Traditionally personal trainers have considered it their job to bully clients into into making changes, but what good is that if they get home feeling so worthless that they can’t cook for their family or get out of bed the next morning? We must always meet a client where they need to be met so they leave feeling better than when they arrived.

2. Realise that long-term clients are not achieved by quick fixes and unsustainable programmes

Many would argue that clients are paying for results and will not come back if they don’t achieve them. This is absolutely wrong. I’ve had clients come to me for years with the same goal of losing a certain amount of weight. Some never quite achieve it but they’re more confident, healthier, happier, develop a better posture and keep coming back because they love the experience.

Don’t get me wrong, understanding their desired goal is important, but the key is to dig deeper and discover the emotions that are triggering that desire. Once I know what is truly driving them I can then adjust the programme so that they experience those emotions throughout our time together.

Furthermore, if we’re hinging their satisfaction on one specific goal, what if they never achieve it? That will be an extremely frustrating experience and merely reinforce all the negative emotions that brought them to you in the first place. And even if they do achieve it, what next? If it was only ever about achieving that one goal, where do they go from there? This is why fad diets and short-term exercise plans don’t work. You need to understand the feelings behind the goal so that you can make this a long-term and sustainable change.

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3. Understand that motion=emotion

How a person is feeling has a huge bearing on how they will be able to perform in the gym. You can test this yourself; think about the worst possible thing that could happen, and then try and do five squats. How does it feel? Then think about the best possible thing and do five squats. Do you notice the difference?

The client’s body might be the same each time they see you but the person is always different. It depends on how their day has been at work, how much water they’ve been drinking, what their life is like at home, etc. The first thing I always do is ask a series of questions (around mental/emotional, physical and lifestyle factors, and then make a series of observations of their movement) that allow me to understand their frame of mind and how I need to adjust my approach accordingly. If the answers reveal that the person is unhappy, there is no point in diving right into heavy lifting. Instead, we may begin with a series of games and challenges, to uplift them and have fun, the intensity of which will be tied into their answers so that I never give them more stress than they can handle.

4. Never stop learning

When I hear personal trainers criticising a particular piece of kit, it’s usually a sign that they don’t really understand how to use it. If I’ve not had training in kettlebells and a client wants to use them then it’s easy for me to be dismissive, but ultimately I cannot make an informed decision for that client because I don’t have a sufficient foundation of knowledge.

The more tools you have in your tool belt, the more problems you are able to address and the more creative your solutions will become. For example, there are lots of different movements and loads that can cause hypertrophy so when people say you can’t use TRX equipment to achieve hypertrophy the reality is they just don’t have the knowledge to understand how. As a personal trainer your ultimate objective should be to not need to be told which pieces of kit relate to each goal, but to judge for yourself based on a robust understanding of the human body.

5. Communication solves all problems

Of all your tools the most powerful is communication. An example of this is Motivational Interviewing and Change Talk. The traditional approach to personal training is to decide on the client’s behalf what you want them to do and simply demand that they do it. Motivational Interviewing, on the other hand, provides the right information and environment but ultimately allows the client to make their own decisions. We are simply in the passenger seat providing guidance with a GPS, while they are driving the car. We facilitate this through something called Change Talk.

The basic premise behind Change Talk is that people are far more likely to implement an idea that they believe was their own and they have said themselves. For example, if I want someone to start doing more exercise outside the gym then rather than telling them to do it, I might ask…

“How much time are you able to commit outside the gym to exercise?”. They might respond with “Two hours a week”, but I know they won’t realistically do that so I say “Okay, very good, so what are some of the changes you could make to find this extra two hours a week?” And they might respond “Well I could get up 15 minutes earlier and go for a walk” So I then ask “What might the challenges to this be?” And they reply “Well, I’ll be tired and just hit the snooze button.”“So what can you do to feel less tired?” I ask, and they reply “I could put the kids to bed earlier…” .

They summarise by saying, “I will put the kids to bed earlier and get up 15 minutes earlier each day and go for a walk.”

And soon enough they have arrived at the solution themselves and stated it verbally. Not only are they now far more likely to put this into action, but when they do they will feel a greater sense of accomplishment and be far more inclined to solve the next challenge in a proactive and positive way.

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