When deciding upon a career path, somewhere between the ages of 17 and 22, we tend to gravitate toward one that reflects not only our knowledge but also our personality. It has been my experience, over the past 27 years in the fitness profession, to observe that personal trainers are a happy bunch. Anyone who chooses to help another individual attain goals, become healthier, and lead a different lifestyle has to be upbeat, encouraging, and positive.
Sometimes, though, outward appearances can be deceiving. In our quiet moments away from the gym, we face challenges like everyone else, but ones which may not be considered by the general public, and even less so by our clients. We may not even be aware of some of these hidden pitfalls of our jobs, yet they most assuredly will impact our work performance. Learning to recognize such obstacles, and developing strategies to overcome them, must become an integral part of our professionalism.
In doing our research we often come across a new twist on an old exercise, or a different mode of training a specific body part. In an effort to impress a client, some trainers are quick to insert such exercises into the client’s current workout program. PITFALL: unless you try out the exercise yourself, several times, you are not in an optimal position to describe the movement or to spot appropriately. By adding the move to your current workout, and trying it out at least 2 or 3 times, you can feel more confident as you demonstrate the exercise to your client.
When a trainer is starting out in the personal training arena, building a book of business is always a priority. In order to make the career financially feasible, you need clients…and fast! PITFALL: trying to be the ideal trainer for every potential client who enters the gym. It can be a humbling experience, but realizing your appropriate scope of practice will ultimately make you a better trainer. Rarely does one find a single trainer who is optimally equipped to train a 15-year-old budding gymnast seeking to increase strength and flexibility, a cyclist working on speed and agility, and a power -lifter training for the competitive stage. Somewhere along the line, you will not be able to provide adequate assistance to each and every one of these very diverse individuals. In the name of customer satisfaction, you will leave a more positive image in the client’s mind when you refer him/her to a more qualified trainer.
Clients almost always hire a trainer when they have an agenda. Whether their goal is weight loss, increased muscle mass, or a combination of both, they want their results as soon as possible. PITFALL: promising them the results will appear within a fixed amount of time. Is it possible to get a female client “slimmed down” in time to sport that hot little black dress at the high school reunion? Of course it is possible, but is it safe or in her best interests? Perhaps more important to consider is whether such a rapid loss is sustainable. Here the trainer may be faced with a dilemma: do you deliver what the client requests, or do you teach her a new lifestyle that will keep her slim over the course of her life? Your professional reputation is on the line, so consider carefully.
A closely linked corollary to this challenge comes when you, the trainer, seem more motivated than the client when it comes to attaining his/her self-proclaimed goals. PITFALL: pushing too hard. Yes, we must challenge our clients, and gently but firmly encourage them to believe in themselves enough to want to change. However, the problem develops when the trainer fails to adequately assess the daily lifestyle his/her client may face. Regardless of a client’s words, their action (or the lack thereof) may stem from limited time, a shortage of financial resources, and the habitual behavior of always putting himself last. If over a period of 6-8 weeks, you fail to see any progress in terms of strength gains, weight loss, or whatever the client hired you to help him change, the frustration that naturally builds up on your part may spill over. Getting angry, losing patience, or wanting the goal more than the client could lead to the inevitable attrition rate so often seen in fitness centers across the country. While losing a client to circumstances beyond your control, especially before goals have been attained, is quite possibly one of the more frustrating and challenging aspects of the job, it is by no means insurmountable. Learn from it.
New members and potential clients will often choose to hire a trainer who “looks the part,” in terms of a stereotype: lean, healthy, muscular, good posture, projects a positive attitude, and always full of energy. The truth of the matter is that trainers are regular people, with regular lives; this means that occasionally you may arrive at work with a lack of energy or a less-than-radiant appearance. Are you allowed to have down days? Of course you are; this is part of being human. PITFALL: viewing your client as your personal psychiatrist, or worse, displaying a clear lack of energy or interest in a client’s session. One of the biggest challenges I face in my career, as we all do, is overscheduling. The result is that the smile on your face for the 1:00 pm client has to match the level you are more easily able to offer your 7:00 am client, and some days this seems like a monumental task. While the desire to accommodate a client’s schedule, the need to see as many clients as is necessary to meet your financial goals, may be understandable, burnout on a trainer’s part may eventually erode at a positive state of mind.
I’ll admit to being an avid believer in supplementation — for myself, as recommended by my professional bodybuilding competition coach (who holds a PhD in the sciences, specifically having studied supplementation for the bodybuilder). Most trainers realize by now that these products are largely unregulated by the federal government. Supplements often tend to be marketed to those individuals seeking a quick fix. PITFALL: trying to appease a struggling client by recommending supplementation in the absence of diligent research. This can be a very dangerous practice. Not all of us have the pharmaceutical background to know what supplements might interact with a client’s daily medications. If you do happen to possess such knowledge, it is still wiser and safer to refer the client to either a registered dietitian, a pharmacist or his/her physician.
Since fitness is a passion of every trainer, you probably already take your own workouts very seriously. Frequency of performing an exercise leads to familiarity, of course, and you often feel quite confident in demonstrating such exercises to a client. PITFALL: Some clients would truly appreciate understanding what is happening to their body while they’re exercising; explaining is vastly different from demonstrating, and not every trainer feels comfortable with such discourse. Take some time to research the movement, and come up with a way to explain the biomechanics to a client. Teaching science, as it were, may not be your most comfortable arena, but mastering it can become of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
The list goes on, but this article provides an overview of the most common obstacle faced by our industry professionals. Each giant step we take to work past these barriers becomes a step toward a higher level of professionalism! If you’re not a personal fitness trainer, and you’re wondering if this is the career for you, download NFPT’s Trainer Career Guide and learn more from expert trainers who have taken this path and made it their livelihood. Can you do it too? Download the guide and find out.