What Most People Want When They Hire a Personal Trainer

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I’m not an asshole.

But I had a real asshole moment recently, and I think it can serve as a teachable moment for many coaches and trainers out there who may be reading.

My abject assholiness affected me so much that it prompted me to go stand out on the ledge of a mountain, look out at nature, pontificate on my life, and ask someone to snap a picture of it.

Copyright: rdonar

Hahahaha. Just kidding.

I didn’t do that shit.

That’s just a random picture I was hoping would add a sense of scope and grandeur to this post; some deeper meaning that would make all of you be like “whoa, Tony’s got something important and salient to write about today, I have to keep reading.”

NOTE: I was gonna photoshop an eagle on the shoulder or maybe a massive spaceship out in the horizon, but felt it would have been a bit of overkill.

Anyway, did it work?

You’re still reading so I’ve hooked you somehow…;o)

Fuck This Intro, Tony. How Were You An Asshole? For the Love of God Get to the Point.

I receive emails each week from people asking me random training questions or maybe to inquire about my services.

Here’s an email I opened a few days ago:

“I’m a 37 year old man looking to transform my body. I’ve done CrossFit, Orangetheory, paleo, Atkins, fat burners and had personal trainers throughout the years……….”

There was more to the email, but the rest of isn’t pertinent to what I want to talk about.

I read the first sentence and I have to be honest: I didn’t have enough eyes to roll.


I immediately became judgmental and couldn’t help but have the theme music from Jaws reverberate in my head.

Not because I wanted to eat him or anything. But because I’m always a bit leery and skeptical when the following scenario plays out:

  • Random person reaches out.
  • They ask for my help (which is always welcome and a massive compliment).
  • But not before detailing (s)he’s done everything – every diet, every workout program, every trainer at the local gym1, every supplement – with little to nothing to show for it.

In this particular instance I couldn’t help but wonder “why has this person been through so many trainers and has tried so many different things, yet is still stymied as to why they’re not getting results?”

What are they hoping I’ll do (or say) differently?

Generally when I see a laundry list of workout programs and diets staring me in the face I tend to question one’s ability to commit and stay consistent with something for longer than a week.

“I’ve been working out for a week and still don’t look like Henry Cavill. Pfffft, whatever. I’m out.”


Moreover, and this a comment from one of my followers on Twitter:

“I wonder what these people, deep down, really want. Are they genuinely searching, still hoping that you could provide the approach that will (finally) work, or they just want to add you to the long list of what did not work?”

It’s a legitimate question.

Half of me would like to sit here and say “yeah, I’m the shit. I’m a good coach and feel I can offer a bit more in way of experience and guidance. BICEPS!!!”

The other half of me is a bit more humble.

There are a plethora of other coaches and trainers who are equally as (if not more) qualified, and I doubt I’d say or do anything that drastically different than anyone else this person has worked with prior.

  • Many coaches can break down deadlift technique.
  • Many coaches can discuss simple nutritional strategies.
  • Many coaches are program writing ninjas.
  • Many coaches are equally as obsessed with 80’s cartoons.

It behooves any fitness professional to be competent in any of the above, and I do feel what separates the great ones from the subpar ones are their ability to deliver quality programing and coaching.

Maybe the gentlemen who sent me that email was cursed with a lineage of incompetent and lame trainers?

Maybe he’s the problem and is a serial program hopper and lacks discipline?

As it happens he and I came to the conclusion I wasn’t going to be a good fit anyway due to scheduling conflicts and availability.

But the interaction gave me pause.

I’m sure many of you reading have had a similar experience, a similar inner dialogue, and similar initial (irrational?) snap judgement of a potential client.

Here’s Something to Consider

Most people don’t really care if you’re able to write world class training programs, or if you’ve worked with numerous professional athletes and celebrities, or if you place a premium on continuing education, or that, I don’t know, you can make a killer Creme Brulee.

It’s great if or when they have access to a trainer/coach who can do all of the above and knows their ass from their acetabulum.

But do you want to know, above all else, what people REALLY want when they hire a personal trainer or coach?



No, not that kind of connection you weirdo.

The difference maker for most is the connection that’s cultivated with their coach. Knowing the x’s and o’s of program design and improving scapular upward rotation are grand skills to have. But can you find other ways, other than the nerdy fitness stuff, to tether a more meaningful connection with your clients?

  • Can you have a regular conversation with them?
  • Are you able to talk about things other than fitness? Books? Movies? Who’s gonna win Charity’s heart in the latest season of The Bachelorette?2
  • Do you know the name of their pet(s), or children, or spouse, or favorite He-Man character?
  • Do you take the time to stress simple gestures – greeting them by name when they walk in the door, sending out thank you notes for being awesome clients, sending a text to say “good job” after a killer workout – as a way to demonstrate you appreciate them and their support?
  • Do you have the skills necessary to build autonomy (give them more choice in their programming), competence (avoid making them feel inferior or like a failure when they train), and relatedness (helping them feel as if their part of a community)…all of which help foster increased compliance and motivation with exercise
  • Do you play sick 90’s hip hop beats when they workout?

There are a thousand other examples to consider here.

The point being: Rather than think the worst out of the gate and assume the person standing in front of me or at the end of an email is lazy, the better approach will always be to re-frame things and figure out how I can differentiate myself from the masses.

How can I help them gain traction?

The answer is rarely centered around my ability to write a training program that would be Mel Siff’s wet dream, or my ability to regale them with big words like reciprocal inhibition, gluconeogenesis, or vastus laterialis.


Rather, it comes down to building a connection.

Sometimes I need a swift reminder of that.

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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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not referring to that “done.”

  2. Come on, it’s obviously going to be the guy willing to sacrifice his integrity to go on national television to find his wife.

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