A Tale of Two Clients
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..
Even for those who aren’t avid readers, the words above are fairly recognizable. At some point in everyone’s life they’ve (probably) heard the phrase absent of whether or not they know the origin:
Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities.
Yeah, I haven’t read it either.
But the book reference serves as a nice introduction to today’s post as click bait. Because, you know, everyone goes bat-shit crazy over Dickens quotes.
I was asked two questions recently (from two different people) that I felt would be best served answering here as I know a lot of personal trainers and coaches read this site.
I’m curious what’s the longest amount of time you had the same non-athlete client and I’d love to see more articles on what makes a good lifting trainee/student!
Not sure if you have touched on this in a previous blog post but would love to hear your thoughts on how you go about motivating your general fitness clients vs. your baseball players. I imagine they come in with different experiences, expectations, etc. and I imagine they both pose unique challenges in getting them to engage and buy into the process.
Two different questions, albeit not altogether too dissimilar.
Before co-founding Cressey Sports Performance in 2007 I worked as a personal trainer in both the corporate setting and commercial setting….for five years. That’s five years of early mornings, late nights, working on weekends, working on Holidays, and working with every permutation of human being you can possibly think of save for a one-legged pirate and an Astronaut.
Repeating the borrowed prose from above, my life literally was “the best of times, and the worst of times.”
It was the best of times because I was doing something I loved. Right out of the gate I was making a living wearing sweatpants to work and hanging out in a gym helping people get stronger, lose fat, address an injury, and making people of the opposite sex want to hang out with them.
That didn’t suck.
Too, it was a point in my life where I was a sponge for knowledge ( I still am). Upon graduating from school I thought I knew what I was doing – I graduated Magna Cum Laude, I played four years of college baseball, I had been lifting weights since I was 13, I had six-pack, I got this! But once my first client was handed to me I experienced a hefty reality check.
I didn’t really know as much as I thought I did.
Luckily my first client survived, I didn’t set the gym on fire or anything, things were going to be okay.
It was that time where I found sites like T-Nation.com and other reputable publications that helped me peel back the onion and understand that what I learned in school wasn’t exactly how things are in the real world. I made it a point to read, and read a lot. And I got better.
It was the worst of times because life as a personal trainer isn’t shall we say……all that glamorous.
As mentioned above you work when others don’t, there’s a bit of “politics” involved – pressure to hit quotas and numbers at the expense of quality programming and coaching, and you learn quickly that life as a trainer is just as much about becoming a good “people person” as it is a coach.
Put another way: some (and I’d say most) clients are amazing, wonderful people; while others are life sucking, Debbie Downer/Johnny Raincloud, soul crushers that would give Godzilla a run for this money.
Given all that, however, I wouldn’t change anything from my past as a fitness professional. The one piece of advice I give all incoming personal trainers – especially to the entitled ones who think they’re going to train professional athletes their first day on the job1 – is that you should work in a commercial gym setting.
For 1-2 years.
You need to grind it out, work shitty hours, and learn to work with as wide of a variety of clientele as possible. You do this, and I GUARANTEE you’ll get better and learn to appreciate which niche – if any – you’d like to pursue to further your career.
In my 13 years as a personal trainer and coach I’ve had the opportunity and honor to work with so many different people. Everything from young athletes to professional athletes to CEOs, doctors, fat loss clients, powerlifters, post rehab, and anything you can think of in between. Still waiting for that Astronaut, though.
I’ve had clients who have worked with me for 5+ years – both in person and in a distance based format. Most often when I’ve been working with someone that long they’re someone I’d train for free. I’d be lying if I said you never build a rapport past the trainer-client dichotomy with some people. You absolutely do.
I’ve had clients become really good friends, and I even have one who’s going to be an attendant in my wedding this May.
I wouldn’t say this is normal or happens all the time.
But given that circumstance is more of an outlier scenario, here are some quick bullet point traits I find make for a good client(s).
1. They pay. You have bills, right? It sounds tacky and trite, I know, but if you have a client who pays, pays on time, and is willing to do it for months, and if you’re lucky, years on end….that’s grounds for a solid start.
2. They respect you as a professional. Admittedly, there are a number of examples across the country of inept personal trainers and coaches who give the industry a bad reputation. All you have to do is peruse YouTube for 30 minutes and a small portion of your soul dies.
So part of me understands why the industry as a whole is looked down upon by many people.
But nothing grinds my gears more than when someone hires me for whatever reason – fat loss, performance, dealing with an injury – and then proceed to question/bitch/whine every…single….thing I ask them to do.
When this happens I do this:
Me: “Say Al, what is it that you do for a living?
Al: “Well, Tony, as it happens, I’m an Astronaut.”
Me: “What the what. Finally! Can we be BFFs?
Al: “Only if we can practice karate in the garage.”
“Also, you know, Al, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea what the ideal ambient torsional velocity should be when ascertaining the longitudinal axis of a rocket during space docking.”
Al: “I would think not.”
Me: “Soooooo, shut up and do your freakin deadlifts.”
The point is: I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t question an accountant about their taxes or their lawyer about their lawyering. While being inquisitive is one thing (and should be expected), they shouldn’t constantly question your expertise with regards to differentiating flexion intolerant back pain from extension intolerant back pain.
Mind you, you should have a rationale and be able to explain everything written in a program. Conversely it’s not too much to ask that your client trust you. That is what they’re paying you for, right?
3. They show up on time. They schedule on time. They wear deodorant.
4. They do the work. Both in AND outside of the gym. I often give my clients homework. This may be something like asking them to keep a 3-day food diary, or maybe doing an extra active-recovery circuit on one of their “off” days from working with me. Are they compliant? The ideal one’s make an effort to be.
I’m sure I can easily keep going, and maybe I will at some point down the road. I’d encourage you to look up some of Alwyn Cosgrove’s stuff on the topic. He’s written several things on how to build an ideal client roster and how to fire clients if need be.
Eddie is a professional athlete (baseball). He works his ass off. I’d make a case that he’s one of the hardest working athletes I’ve ever coached.
Lets be honest: any professional athlete who chooses to spend his off-season in Massachusetts – we’re currently under 2+ feet of snow with more on the way – probably doesn’t need much motivation to train.
The thing about Eddie is sometimes he’s TOO motivated.
As much as it is for us coaches – as a team – to write effective, efficient, and safe programming, a large portion of our job is also to pull the reigns or pump the breaks when needed.
It’s not uncommon for me to tell Eddie to chill out and that it’s okay if he didn’t break his PR for the 16th consecutive week.
While Eddie is also an outlier, we’re very lucky to have so many hard-working and dedicated athletes (and not just baseball players) walk through our doors at Cressey Sports Performance.
Motivation, generally, isn’t too much of an issue when them. They’ll either put in the work or get released. Their choice.
Robin is not an athlete. In fact, she’s a working professional who started training with us three months ago. She came to us with a vague background in strength training, but was also dealing with a few nagging injuries.
One of the advantages I have is that most people who seek out my services KNOW what they’re getting into. They read my stuff, they read Eric’s (Cressey) stuff, they read Greg Robins, Tony Bonevechio, Miguel Aragoncillo, and the rest the CSP’s staff material.
People know they’re not going to be doing Zumba. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
So, in a way, most of the people I work with at CSP don’t need a whole lot of motivation to train. The brand sort of sells itself. What many of them do need – and especially in the case of Robin – is someone to help them gain their confidence back.
Some have been so “broken” for so long, and have worked with any number of other trainers, that it’s sometimes difficult to buy into what it is I have to say.
Showing them success is paramount.
They’re motivation is literally, training.
What can I do as their coach to get them to train pain free, or to do things that they thought they couldn’t do? It isn’t my objective to have everyone conventional deadlift on day one. Some people aren’t ready for that because it’s too aggressive or above their ability level. But I can have them perform some light glute bridges or some pull-throughs to get them to feel what turning on their glutes feels like in addition to grooving a hip hinge.
And then I can progress them from there.
If a female client can’t do a push-up, I’m NOT going to have her do “girl push-ups.” That’s lame and provides an initial connotation I’d prefer to avoid. Instead, she’s going to do push-ups – elevated on pins.
I’m going to show her success so that she gains some confidence. THAT’s oftentimes all the motivation anyone ever needs, and how I approach things with the bulk of my general fitness clients.
Prove to them that they CAN do “stuff.” Once that happens it’s pretty much a domino effect in terms of progress and compliance with their programs. It’s not a sexy answer, but it works.