Who Needs a Personal Trainer?
By Guy M. Massi, SSC, SCS, CFSC, CTBS, CSSN
For however long you’ve been in this game, I’m sure we’ve all at least once personally contemplated and/or heard questions like: Why in the world would somebody really need the services of a personal trainer, strength coach or athletic performance coach? What would be the reason(s) for someone to actually pay another person just to tell them what to do? What are the title differences anyway? What if people are “on the bubble”, and considering going it on their own?
Well, in this article we are going to examine just a few of these poignant questions, and hopefully construct viable answers. First, let’s take a look at some broad spectrum “intelligence”. There exists a demographic of well-meaning persons who feel that they can just go to a gym (Or their basement) in the absence of professional guidance, and gain the same results. Normally this mindset results from a lack of knowledge, finances, time, commitment or even fear of the unknown. People’s idea of what our professional intervention may or may not do for them literally begins with their learned perception. My buddy Alwyn Cosgrove once said (and I paraphrase), “Most people’s conclusion about personal trainers usually comes from TV or movies. In most TV shows or movies, the personal trainer is either a juice-head, criminal or complete idiot.” (Or just a seedy character in general with no real career path) Henceforth; that is why it is supremely important to remain cognizant as to how we both carry ourselves, and connect with people. (That includes not falling off of barstools with your clients and athletes. – But more on that later) How we present both physically and professionally will either be a direct business driver, or detractor. Example - Imagine you are just beginning your career. So, you didn’t get that team internship you desired, rather landed an eclectic position at a given big-box gym. You are allowed to roam the floor in hopes of obtaining some clients, or maybe get a few “scraps” thrown at you from new member sign-up packages. Either way, just starting out is uncomfortable to say the least. Herein lies certain variables of which we must remain keenly aware. This is where one begins (and should never cease) developing the tangible and intangible client acquisition “aura”. How do we look? What do we say? Do we exude a spirit of advancement? Or do we persistently look miserable? Quite simply put; Do people want to be around us in the first place? Aspire to be like us? Hunger to learn from us?
“How we present both physically and professionally will either be a direct business driver, or detractor.”
I’m at the forefront admitting that; at first (and maybe even second encounter) I can appear to be rather arrogant and abrasive if you don’t know what I’m about. Honestly, it’s taken me a long time to work out that first impression, and it continues to be a work in progress at times. (#honesty) However, there has never been a truer statement than; “People really don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” See, that’s where it begins – Care and Trust. Everything else will just sort of fall into place - IF you stick to a plan. A plan for continually raising the bar on both the client and yourself. In an industry where there are training services available all around us in the form of career professionals, part- timers, hobbyists and casual trainers; we should continually remain cognizant of where we stand within the marketplace skill sets. Never-the-less, back to the first contemplation as to why in the world would people need guys/girls like us anyway?
Why in the world would somebody really need the services of a personal trainer, strength coach or athletic performance coach?
Well let's start at the top of the food chain, with probably the shortest, most concise answer. Even the most accomplished, elite-level athletes have performance coaches. In fact; each one recognizes the importance of retaining a highly skilled strength and conditioning professional to guide them through their quest for heightened levels of development and performance, as well as longevity. Just as an athlete has a skills coach that works on developing proficiency of a given game-play skill related to their position; they also have a strength and performance coach that is equally invested in elevating their levels of overall athletic performance, functionality, speed, power, balance, agility, injury reduction and the likes. Good enough for the elite level athlete - good enough for the rest of us.
What would be the reason(s) for someone to actually pay another person just to tell them what to do?
Well there may be a lot of reasons. Let let’s look at just a few. Closely related in context to the previous question, I've heard it said; “I'm never going to pay for someone to stand over me, and bark at me in an effort to get me through a workout. It seems silly that I would pay someone to tell me what to do.” I suppose that the notion of paying someone to merely “bark” would truly be silly in most respects. However, when you examine it a bit more closely, some people may in fact desire only that – pure motivation. (I’m not a big fan of purely motivational tactics however, as I believe that motivation in the complete absence of education is merely fluff, and provides the client with no true use value.) Trainers who employ more so, or exclusively motivational methods; should at least provide opportunity for the client to learn something about themselves during each encounter. (Hey, I’ve been known to yell a lot too! I just attempt to intertwine my rants with enlightening statements or opportunity for self-realization) So, if one is already and mostly a good motivator, consider adding to your “bag of tricks” by becoming an equally good educator. (As previously stated; you can even infuse it into some “scream-time”) Whether screaming or whispering; the ability to accurately convey valuable information, helps us to become better coaches and leaders to our clients and athletes.
“Whether screaming or whispering; the ability to accurately convey valuable information, helps us to become better coaches and leaders to our clients and athletes.”
Continuing in that vein, I’ve found that despite someone’s social, educational, physical, spiritual or emotional status; we all just simply possess the innate desire to be lead, guided and directed. Basically and eventually; we all appreciate being taught if we are convinced that it will make us better. Super athletes aside, the rest of us may require just a little more assistance and motivation in getting there - even if we are mostly committed to the idea of physical training. We will find that people train for different reasons. Thus, given reasons may initially dictate the perceived importance (or lack thereof) to pay for the services of one of us. Fact is, some folks train as a way of carving out some “me-time”. Others may step out half-heartedly on a fitness journey merely looking for the presence of a compassionate individual that will affirm, encourage and listen to them. (Often times regarding issues completely unrelated to fitness, and maybe resultant to some sort of underlying component from their past or present) Either way, when you have developed your overall professional capability to convert any of these types into the full-blown, fully committed clients and athletes; you know you’re doing something right! (For both them, and you.) No matter what the rhyme or reason, training should always provide for a sense of accomplishment, progress, belonging and healthy accountability.
Related Reflection: Think back to when you were a small child. You were pretty well attached to your parents, and probably followed them around like a duckling, hinging on their every word. (Until you became a teenager that is.) As we continue on in life, through our educational, social, professional and athletic journeys – there will always exist a guide or leader. (Hopefully challenging yet, encouraging types) Someone to teach, guide, direct and even discipline us. Parents give way to teachers, teachers give way to coaches, coaches give way to peers, and eventually everyone gives way to bosses. In ethically capitalizing upon one’s innate desire to be lead, guided, nurtured and exposed to positive thoughts and methods; begin to feed and cultivate your clients in order to bring them all to a place of healthy, compliant, motivated, committed participants in your mutual journey. In any instance, it perpetually remains our obligation to place our clients and athletes in positions of advantage, and always set them up for success.
What are the title differences anyway?
Now there exists many a term utilized to designate persons we find within our market, who engage in the responsibility of directing the development and performance of both athletes and fitness clients alike. Most commonly referred to as; Personal Trainer, Trainer or Strength Coach. Yet, what does it all mean to the masses? Unfortunately, I don’t think there exists a particular distinction. A day one trainer can pretty much represent themselves by a title similar to that of an accomplished, multi-decade industry professional. In content and context, I guess that could be both good and bad. Now, we must acknowledge that just as with any other vocation, skill levels will vary greatly and some will be better at one thing than the other. (As niches further develop in our industry, new titles continue to emerge) Some of the most accomplished professionals seem rather comfortable with referring to themselves within the broad spectrum term of “personal trainer” or “trainer”. Others prefer “strength coach” or “performance coach”. Yet, however you slice it; there will be particular differences and/or disparities in competency and skill levels across the board. (Do we need to impose a reference scale from the most novice to the most accomplished?) Now, there's nothing wrong with being a newbie. I’ve been there. (In fact, the more I learn on a daily basis that I didn’t know previously; makes me feel like a perpetual newbie anyway.) We’ve all been there. Paid the dues. Grueling hours. Late nights. Weekends full of programming. (Honestly, somethings may never change to a degree) Yet, I think it is fair for us to revisit our titles as we spend more time-in-tenure, and become more accomplished. (Then impart to others) In a landscape chock full of fitness options and titles, we even have dance-based systems departing from the common term of “instructor” and now utilizing terms like “trainer” and “coach” also. In the end, what does it really mean to the fitness market consumer-at-large? To the general population; probably nothing. Yet, positioning and representing yourself within a particular designation, may in fact steer a particular demographic your way. One thing I’ve learned however, yet oftentimes not observed is – be realistic and work within you current limitations. It will come! Now, I’m not saying to refrain from challenging yourself. Rather, be intelligent in taking on challenges that will only stretch you to the degree in which you can learn and grow, as opposed to crash and burn. (We are dealing with people. Not making Popsicle stick houses) Whatever we decide to label ourselves; we’ve got to believe in our abilities and take stock. We are the ones who spent the countless hours in practicum, reading, writing, researching and testing in order to get the next certification or designation. Equip yourself to believe in your designation!
"Equip yourself to believe in your designation!”
What if people are “on the bubble”, and considering going it on their own?
Look! Extracting money from even the most willing can be challenging. Let alone from someone who is reluctant or undecided. Regardless of their wealth; it is one of the most difficult things in the world. Let’s face it; there is a particular degree of salesmanship involved within our vocation. No matter who you are, or how accomplished one may become, you will still have to “make the sale”. Each time you encounter a brand new potential customer, a particular degree of affordance will have to be provided (while attempting to connect) that makes someone feel comfortable……..no confident in their committing funds to your services. (Which is why word-of-mouth is a WAY better set-up) So as the conversation (sale) develops, and the potential customer is yet to be convinced, here is one of the more prevalent and competitive issues that now exists within the fitness stratosphere that we need to be prepared to contend with; Apps. Now, you never want to fully discourage someone from working out. (Even if that means on their own. Because 9 out of 10 times – they’ll be back once they’ve wander aimlessly around the gym starring at their app and yelling at their wrist, while getting ZERO results. - Insert hilarious visual here!) So in addition to the countless reasons to encourage someone to train with you, it should also be noted that; No matter what App they’ve just purchased, it’s not going to help them interpret the data (IF, it is even closely accurate), make individual biomechanical correction, or design a viable personalized program. Technology may develop in the umpteenth degree, yet should never replace the agility of a good industry professional here. Literally…….a watch or smartphone cannot replace the services provided from an industry professional, yet you will have to accept that some people are in fact initially satisfied with the notion. AND that my friend – has just become another form of competition. (So don’t compete! – Create instead!) Look, I utilize technology also. Force and pressure plates, video analyzation, cardiac output, etc. Yet, you know what? There is still a professional behind it! AND that’s a selling point that no App or amount of on-line support can provide. Really, we must recognize that in addition to given technologies, our professional, hands-on element is an absolute necessity to process and interpret the intangible human nuances that are not perceived by any degree of technology. Our professional human perception remains effective through seeing, interpreting and implementing a stepwise approach, progressions and protocols to promote long-term training efficacy. These people need you! They might just not know it yet. Be prepared to field the road blocks and let them know!
Often times, we also encounter the notion that; “doing something is better than doing nothing”. So people will feel that they are ahead of the game merely by making the decision to get up off of the couch. (Which of course will stand accurate when they are already in disastrous shape) So, I do agree that getting up and moving is certainly better than doing nothing. However, I also submit that; “Getting the most out of something by doing it correctly, is way better than wasting valuable time. Doing the correct thing is better than doing the wrong thing over, and over again.” That my friends, is where we all come in! So, don’t be discouraged if someone walks out saying that, “Me and my app will be just fine”. Don’t tell them to stick their app up their nose. Be kind, be courteous, be professional and encourage them. Leave the door open! People will remember that you didn’t jump all over them. I can’t tell you how many people have come back after having not initially enrolled, merely because; we didn’t make them feel stupid upon first contact. The supply is endless my friend.
"I can’t tell you how many people have come back after having not initially enrolled, merely because; we didn’t make them feel stupid upon first contact”
Just Some Ways that We Professionals Can Support Our Own Cause:
Learn, Learn, Learn….how it translates to our clients:
Believe it or not; we LOVE to learn. Believe it or not again; the presence of the willingness to learn and yield to direction is an essential element necessary to compliment a successful training strategy. It avoids a “going through the motions mentality”. We all start life off with a highly inquisitive nature. It is only via negative experiences, lack of time, closing of our minds or other related emotions that we become guarded and critical of learning new things. Quite honestly; we can just become comfortable in our own bubble. As we become adults, we may feel threatened, inferior, or out-of-control when discovering that there is so much more to learn that lies just, or way out of our comfort zone. (Especially when we don’t fully and initially understand it) Lack of pertinent knowledge oftentimes challenges us to question our satisfaction with our position in life. However and despite our own emotions, we need to become conditioned to operate in the clients’ best interests – and that begins with persistent, productive learning. It is our obligation to continually learn, be mentored, practice, and modify in an effort to bring the most effective methods and presentations to our clients and athletes. (No matter how uncomfortable or time- consuming it may become. Hey, I question myself at least a dozen times a day. It makes me remain unsatisfied and feeds my hunger for better things). Within our learning, we will begin to exude a spirit of advancement to our clients, and the learning process becomes contagious. It is a paramount mission objective to strategically break down the walls that have been holding our clients back from their fullest potential. Believe it or not; this usually begins with the components related to the education process. We should all focus on fostering an emotional trust that allows us to freely tap into our clients most effective learning channels. What do we have to offer? What makes us different? What do we have to teach, and by which means to we convey it best to each of our differing clients? Albeit our industry function seems to begin with the translation of physical movement, it is equally “peppered” in the emotional and educational nexus necessary to develop the client’s trust. As they become more accepting of your guidance and the coaching process; an emotional level “gate” necessary to compliment higher levels of physical training and overall development will eventually swing wide open. It is within this perfect storm that your clients will become accepting of re-learning the learning process - AND love it! Pursuing the eventual, mutual and fully vested connection between the trainer and client is one of the greatest retention tools available. Albeit intangible to the client, the well-meaning professionals within our field recognize and fully appreciate the value of this process, as it serves as a vital pathway to greater developmental results. Learn to be good, no great at what you’re doing – and do it well! Understanding that you don’t necessarily have to be the greatest of all time, just great at what you do at your particular career juncture; will foster advancement in both yourselves and your clients. A fresh spirit of a mission oriented mindset will emerge, and both you and your clients will fell revitalized each and every time you bring something new and exciting to the training floor.
"Pursuing the eventual, mutual and fully vested connection between the trainer and client is one of the greatest retention tools available.”
Get a mentor, colleague, peer group, other professionals in the field to bounce stuff off of. I seek accountability and input into my own training practices. I may not always like or agree with the input, yet always appreciate and consider it. I make every effort to surround myself with partners of this, or a related profession in order to provide “peer consideration” as to how I might better serve my clients, myself, my business, and our industry as a whole. So in essence, I believe in having a series of resourceful people around us in order to keep us in check, while productively weighing in on the “potentially whacky”. Don’t be afraid to ask a few respected colleagues to mentor or guide you. You may be surprised, as they will most probably and gladly accept. Additionally, remain accountable to your own professional character. Once you’ve captured a client or athlete, retaining them remains directly related to their perception of your overall level of professionalism. This is where an interesting paradox can occur. Of course you want to develop close relationships with your clients and athletes, yet I caution you to do so only within a reasonable degree. Want to have appreciation lunches or get togethers for your clients and athletes – GOOD! Share a few personal stories – GREAT! Talk sports, life and family – FANTASTIC! However, I strongly advise against going out socially and “falling off barstools” with your clientele. Really, no matter what they might say; they will forever perceive you in a different light, and feel that much more comfortable in making a departure should they ever find themselves schedule or financially challenged in continuing your services. Be like a Barber/Stylist or Doctor/Gynecologist. People never want to leave theirs! Very close, yet professional relationships with their clientele. Think about it!
Bonus – What About Video & Online Training "Competition"?:
Just my opinions on how you might address the phenomena of video and online training “competition”. First, you must consider that you are technically not “competing” against this phenomena, more so dealing with the business obstacle of it. Most people toying with the notion of video, on-line or “interactive training” as a way of being lead, have most probably already accepted that mindset for whatever reason; yet perhaps not fully embraced it. Resultant to being social creatures, most of us (including these potential clients) will in the deepest recesses of the mind, process that the absence of a live, personal connection with a trainer may in fact present a considerable degree of difficulty and only serve to retard the process. This realization that the personal, “human void” may present a considerable conveyance, translation and connection issue; still leaves a majority of this demographic of potential clients on the fence and ripe for convincing. (This is where we might capitalize) Now, I’m not saying to commit exorbitant effort towards convincing these folks rather; it is our obligation to at least fully present the industry case in providing the information necessary for one to arrive at an informed decision. (This includes assisting them in briefly examining the contributing factors that bear upon their decision. I.e. finances, time, past experiences, fears, or concerns.) So, let’s be creative in both securing the client, and then resoundingly delivering - by proving our services value.
I have found that clients who had previously gone the video and/or on-line training route, quickly came to appreciate the realities and limitations presented by said platforms. Most notably that; it is incredibly difficult for one to convey in a manner that fosters full understanding in the absence of personal, hands- on interaction. (Maybe, this is where we need to focus) Part of the reason that we as professionals get paid to do what we do in-person, is because of the degree of personal attention not found in videos or on-line. It takes more than a “motivational person” to provide effective video or on-line coaching. Limited interactivity cannot account for the numerous tangible and intangible factors that we professionals will encounter, and navigate during our personally guided training sessions. (I.e. Physical, educational, learning or emotional limitations) On line presentation requires a proven and industry accepted system or methodology that is administered by highly skilled, eloquent presenters with a GIFT for conveying information. Even at that, the support of systematized and effective demonstration, graphics, productive verbal cuing, participant translation, etc. become roadblocks to the video and on-line administered programs’ efficacy. Now, I’m not saying that a good set of video presentations and video demonstrations aren’t good to set the stage, or provide information necessary to participate in a practical certification or forum thereafter; but that’s the exception, not the rule. It is just my opinion that video or on-line training does not replace the physical presence of an industry professional. Now, there are a lot of trainers that make bank via video and on-line platforms. I do apologize if I have offended trainers who supplement their business lines with videos or on-line exposure (as it is never my intention to offend), yet I’m sure it is just that - Supplement. (Otherwise and obviously, everyone is posting brief videos on-line for public consumption in order to spark their exposure and brick-and-mortar interests) However, I do not apologize for my opinion concerning my commitment to the human connection factor that remains vital to our industry’s further advancement. Perhaps one should only focus upon the video and on-line platform, if they have reserved themselves to that venue only, and “roll the dice”. (Because there will be plenty of “one-size-fits all competition waiting for you out there) Until such a day that I might examine the notion of a highly and technologically advanced “virtual trainer” that you can see, smell, taste (well maybe not taste) and touch; I stand where I stand – on our side! Either way, you should not feel compelled to compete, rather create.
What Do We All Get Out of This Anyway?
Continual learning, development, adjustment, modification and perfecting of our skills. Akin to medical professionals; this is a practice. In a relatively new industry, we need to observe certain foundational truths, while continually practicing and honing our skills. We all need to evolve to a level of providing means for advancement to our clients and athletes, while providing a true use-value. (Worth more than the price of admission) Give yourself some credit, and impart to others the best way that you can. It takes Persistent Diligent Effort (a.k.a. Hard Work) and eventually good will grow into great. Be patient, learn and stay the course while remembering that: “Greatness is forged, not fabricated.”
About the author:
Guy Massi is the Director of Operations, Athletic & Curricular Development for Massi-Machado Strength & Conditioning, LLC (with two locations in New York), and has been developing clients and athletes for over twenty years. He is also on the Tsunami Bar © Board of Advisors in a programming and application oversight capacity, as well as serves in a network affiliate advisory capacity to Haven Physical Therapy, PLLC & Sofos Chiropractic, PC also of New York. Coach Massi is available for speaking engagements, training, education and workshops by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For a complete bio, list of projects and services please visit www.mmscny.com