Your Success Can’t Be Quantified

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Note from TG: Today’s blog comes to you from Seattle based personal trainer and strength coach, Brent Holm.

Brent and I have been corresponding back and forth via email on the topic of ThunderCats the TRUE role of a fitness professional.  

Contrary to traditional thought, in the fitness industry, success isn’t dependent on how much weight your clients lose collectively, or how many testimonials you have, or how much gluten you avoid.

We both agree that one of the best compliments you can receive as a fitness professional is when an athlete or client no longer needs you, because you’ve educated them, provided the tools, and empowered them to succeed on their own.  

That’s success!

Anyways, in conversing with Brent I really enjoyed what he had to say and LOVED the parallels he made between the fitness industry and public education.  Both industries are equally frustrating when it comes to how they measure success and progress.

With permission from him I’m re-posting this excellent commentary from his site.


You’ve seen it before. Weight loss ‘success’ stories plastered all over your local Globo Gym wall (i.e. Bob lost 40lbs in 3 months!), and sprinkled throughout bestselling weight loss books, advertisements and internet blogs. Numbers used to imply that success can be summed up by a simple number attached to a generic, overused and watered-down statement.

As a personal trainer, I see this all the time, and as an instructional assistant in an elementary school I get the joy (read: it sucks) of helping teach children early on in their lives that their success will inevitably have a number attached to it in some shape or form.

This past month I have been assisting students with their standardized tests in the school I work at. I get to watch students moan, groan and squirm through a 2-3 hour test. The other day I got to witness a teacher tell a third-grader that he couldn’t go to recess with his classmates because he had to finish his test first.

You can probably imagine how that turned out.

At first glance it doesn’t appear these two industries have a whole lot in common. When you look harder at it though, you realize that both industries do a fantastic job of quantifying success.

Should it really be that that surprising then that both industries are failing at doing their job?

ABC, 123, Numbers Don’t Mean @#$% to Me

Numbers fill the incessant desire to be able to immediately quantify and ultimately judge whether or not we are successful in whatever endeavor we are performing. Standardized tests quickly tell us how ‘smart’ a student is, and weight loss (among other things) tells us if our fancy little diet or trainer was the real deal.

It’s an easy, albeit completely bogus, way of judging whether something actually worked and was successful though, because a number and some cookie-cutter testimonial it is attached to doesn’t easily measure success.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why standardized testing in school is so popular. P.E. and recess don’t get the attention and resources it deserves because it’s hard to quantify success in these activities. For many, it’s hard to make the connection that recess, P.E. and physical health have on a student’s class work.

Never mind that there is tons of studies demonstrating that physical activity dramatically improves cognitive function in and out of the classroom.

Toss aside the research that shows free-play has a strong correlation to high self-esteem not only as a child but also as an adult.

Forget for a moment that the student I was working with was unruly while sitting down and taking the test for two straight hours, but when allowed to finally go to recess, came back and crushed his test. I’m sure the physical activity had nothing to do with his increased concentration while finishing the test.

While schools are unique in their own right, there are striking parallels you can draw to the fitness industry.

Trainers, gyms, Biggest Loser P90X style programs etc. have countless testimonials and ‘success’ stories about how many pounds and inches their clients have lost. In a way, the fitness industry has their own set of standardized tests that act more as unspoken rules, giving off the false impression that numbers on a scale, or pounds on a bar are what ultimately matter and are what clients ultimately want.

Imagine though for a moment if the fitness industry wasn’t built and sustained on generic, cookie-cutter testimonials that could fit in a Twitter feed; but rather, candid, well thought out testimonials. Maybe something like this?

“I just wanted to say how much of a positive impact you have made on my life. You may not remember me but it’s been 20 years since I last worked with you, but to this day I still remember and use many of the skills you have taught me. You empowered me, made me feel like I was worth something more than a number on a scale, and made me believe that I could actually do this by myself one day with proper guidance. You told me I wasn’t lacking willpower or was simply lazy, it was my lack of skillpower. I needed the skills, and you taught them to me. I finally feel like I’m in control and can do this thing myself. There were bumps in the road, but the skills you taught me helped lessen the impact these bumps had on my life.”

Instead of this:

“You have changed my life! I just finished your diet and program, and I am down 40lbs, feel awesome, and finally kicked that sugar addiction I have been battling.”

And because your worth is measured by how well you pass a test in life, obviously I have to include a test question.

Who in the fitness and health industry is more likely to receive the first testimonial above:

a.)     Jillian Michaels

b.)     Tracy Anderson

c.)      a and b

d.)     Paleo

e.)     Me, because I actually care about my client’s long-term success.

f.)       17

g.)     all of the above

As you can see, setting someone up for long-term success isn’t immediately quantifiable and is quite a bit harder because it requires skill.

It’s why any trainer or ‘expert’ can have many ‘success’ stories. The goal though is empowerment, and giving clients the skill power to manage their lives after they leave you.

Any idiot can run a client into the ground at the gym, get them to lose x amount of pounds and show off their ‘success’ by a number on a scale or cookie-cutter statement plastered on a gym wall or personal website.

Usually it’s pretty easy in the fitness industry because clients come to the trainer somewhat motivated and willing to do what the ‘expert’ tells them to. You find these success stories scattered throughout the industry and most prominently displayed on such shows as The Biggest Loser.

I’m not saying that numbers have no purpose in fitness or in how we evaluate students in the classroom. They absolutely are essential, but only if they are put into its proper context and attached to something far greater than the number itself.

The only way the fitness industry is going to progress as a whole, is by realizing that numbers don’t tell the whole story.

They may be part of the story, but many times they give the false impression that we can easily measure success with numbers and the testimonials they are attached to that are more often than not, simply a snapshot in time, written right after the client has been with the trainer.

If we continue down this road, it only means more celebrity fitness entertainers (Sorry, I can’t put them in the same category as an actual trainer) are going to be running the show and writing the rules for what success looks like.

I’ve always said I’m a teacher before I’m a trainer. If you are a trainer and identify with this statement, then put yourself in a teacher’s shoes. Realize that teachers don’t have fancy numbers and testimonials prominently displayed on their classroom walls (‘Bobby got an A last semester!’ or ‘my class’ avg. GPA is 3.7!’) but instead find a great deal of gratification when they have a student come back years later, and tell them the impact they made on their life.

The student intuitively understands and appreciates that their teacher impacted the rest of their life and it probably had little to do with the grade the student got in the class.  Put another way, it was a truly, authentically… ORGANICALLY!!!! a life-changing experience.  It is these ‘testimonials’ that the fitness and health industry need more of.

PS – the answer to the test question above is Paleo obviously. It’s always Paleo J

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Robert Aguero-Hoffman

    Great Post! I've had many co-workers ask me time and time again if they think I'm giving my clients too much, and do I worry that that will hurt my retention. My answer is always, no and if I'm doing a good job that will almost always turn into a referral anyways. My biggest focus should always be to help empower my clients!

    May 20, 2014 at 10:41 am | Reply to this comment

  • Shane Mclean

    Wow. This is the best thing I've read it a while and i totally agree. Has trainers we should be teaching them skills that they can take with them. Nothing make me happier than seeing an ex client/client crushing a routine i gave them. I received the following testimonial on my Facebook Fan page, a guy I've never meet "Just thought you should know, my fitness is greatly improving. I scored 274 out of a possible 300 on my PT test in the army. I don't have a six pack yet but it's showing up, little by little. Your advice has played a crucial impact in my physical health. Thank you." Making a impact is our success. You hit the nail on the head.

    May 20, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brent

    Tony - Thanks muchly for posting this. Means a lot coming from you! The pics really sexy it up too, which is a solid touch :)

    May 20, 2014 at 8:07 pm | Reply to this comment

  • chris

    This philosophy extends, I believe, to all 'expert' advisers. For example, I'm a lawyer and the road to success for me (in some ways) is 1. understand the goal the client is trying to achieve and help them achieve it (Tony's post from a few days ago plus this one) 2. whenever possible (believe this or not!) try to create a situation in which the client doesnt need a lawyer again (its no fun for anyone) A doctor or other health professional clearly will fall into the same position (and, I'm sure, many other similar experts) Not that it has anything to do with training, but you comments resonated with me from a completely difference angle.

    May 21, 2014 at 12:41 am | Reply to this comment

  • @fitcoachbrad

    LOL "d. Paleo" Awesome read!

    May 21, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Reply to this comment


    Great Post Robert...I believe, to all 'expert' advisers.thanks for post a nice article...

    May 27, 2014 at 5:49 am | Reply to this comment

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