A career in personal training is no doubt far more challenging than most ever expect it to be, and one of the biggest reasons for that is fielding and filtering the energy of our clients on a daily basis. If you are lucky, every person you work with is lovely, focused, respectful, and enthusiastic. You’d have to be really lucky for that to be the case 100% of the time. The truth is, clients are human and so are we; we are messy, imperfect, often neurotic beings that don’t always know the impact we have on those around us. Since burn-out in the fitness industry is a legitimate problem for a host of reasons, managing your client’s personalities and energy is just as important as managing their programs. Here are some common energy vampires and how you, as a fitness coach, can effectively handle these personalities.
Energy Vampire #1: Talks too much, listens not at all
Some folks have a nervous tic—the words come out of their mouth with nary a moment’s processing in the brain prior to the expulsion of the verbiage. And then some folks are just born talkers. There is a key difference between someone who likes to converse using lots of words to get their story out and one who does that, but also never pauses for a breath much less to allow someone else to speak. This is exhausting and frequently too obnoxious for the average person to handle. Add this personality flaw to the personal training relationship and you have a recipe for certain failure. If your client never hears a word you say, how are you to teach them effectively? How will they know what to do?
How to handle it: You have to become a skilled and confident conversationalist. If you think this is not possible for you, either pass this client to someone else or expect to be constantly zapped during these sessions. Start by setting ground rules. After your initial meeting and you’ve determined you likely won’t get a word in edgewise, start by using touch (with permission). This is a good time to gauge your client’s comfort level with touch.
While they’re off on a tangent, gently touch their arm to snap them out of it with the look of, “I need to speak now” in your eyes. When they pause say, “I first have to ask if it’s okay that I can touch you from time to time with a clear ‘heads-up’ first.” If they give you the ok, say, “Thank you! I have gotten a lot of good information from you! Now I’d like to lay out what you can expect from our sessions. Your thoughts and feedback are so important. And so is my ability to convey certain concepts I’d like you to learn. I love our sessions to be engaging and relaxed, allowing for conversation, but from time to time I will have to interrupt you to guide you or refocus. Is that all right?”
And then hold yourself to that. When they get ranting mid-session, touch their arm and say, “I’m sorry to interrupt but your form is starting to falter so I’d like you to really focus on your body for a moment.” Don’t feel bad about doing this. You’re not being rude, you’re doing your job!
Energy Vampire #2: Lies through their little vampire teeth
What to do when a client isn’t always truthful? Or ever? This is a tough one because you can’t call your client a liar even when you know they aren’t being honest. First, bear in mind that they are likely being dishonest with themselves first and then you, so don’t take it personally. If they’re not truthful about their diet and exercise, they are lying so as to not disappoint you.
For a pathological liar that has a hard time telling the truth about anything at all, you first will have to accept this has likely been a lifelong issue for this client and it’s probably not going to change.
How to handle it: No matter how ridiculous the lie, smile and nod and say, “How nice!” but try not to feed into the positive feedback they may expect with a lie-to-impress. For those who are lying to you about their habits, suggest photo logging meals and fitness trackers to log steps and movement. Perhaps they fib about the reasons they have for not eating right or exercising when they say. This is a problem with motivation and where they are in their stage of change. You can address this through goal exploration and reflective listening without calling them out on their mistruths.
Energy Vampire #3: Unloads emotional baggage constantly.
Every so often you may have a total basketcase of a client, no disrespect intended. This may not only interfere with training sessions, but will mentally and emotionally tax you in a way that detracts from your ability to focus on their fitness. They may have untreated mental illness or legitimate stressors beyond their control that interfere with their lives to a significant degree. If they walk into every session crying, you will have to acknowledge that this is beyond you and they need additional help. If they simply wear their heart on their sleeve and tell you every little personal detail, consider it a compliment that they trust you enough to be vulnerable.
How to handle it: Have a heart-t0-heart emphasizing how much you care about their well-being in every way. It’s important to you that your clients get everything they can out of their time with you, and if there are life circumstances that are detracting from that, either they can take a pause on training until life settles down for them, or they can think of this time with you as a much-needed break from the difficulties in life to focus on their health and fitness exclusively for that time with you.
Energy Vampire #4: Complains about everything, including you.
There are few qualities more off-putting than constantly spewing gripes and complaints at someone. If someone walks into the gym grumpy that they couldn’t find a parking spot or that there were no clean towels, there’s no question this can be a downer for most people. Even worse is someone gossiping or judging others clothing, body types, etc. It’s only a matter of time before they have something to complain about with regards to your training or even your personal life.
How to handle it: Prepare yourself with this client with the expectation that they are going to be unhappy about something and be ready with a witty response or let it dissolve into the air. “No clean towels today? Dammit! Well, you know what would be. a great arm workout? Scrubbing laundry old-school style. Should we do that today?” Or, ” BUUUUUT, you got out of bed with your health and are lucky enough to be spending the next hour with me! Maybe we should do slow-tempo work so you don’t sweat too hard and don’t need a towel?”
Know when to part ways with energy vampires
One thing I think all personal trainers should honor themselves with is the ability to say “no” when a relationship is not a good fit. You don’t have to train every client who solicits you. If the interpersonal dynamic is too difficult for you, it’s okay to pass on this client. It really is. If you find that you’re ditching a client every month, however, acknowledge that the problem may be more in your ability to communicate and handle different personalities than with the client. Versatility and adaptability are invaluable qualities in any service career. Constantly work on honing those skills, but always honor your own boundaries and recognize your limitations to reduce burnout and energy depletion in a job you otherwise love.