You see, this fitness thing we all love can't be crammed down people's throats like you would medicine to a sick animal. Most of us were young dogs learning new tricks when we adopted the fitness lifestyle. It was easy for us because, back then, our young minds and bodies were more susceptible to adopting the DISCIPLINE it takes to succeed. Your clients -- or most of them -- are old dogs, and we "professionals" have FAILED at teaching them new tricks.
Let's say you are a shoe salesman, would you even dare ASK your customer the following questions:
Folks, for precisely the same reason the answers to the above ridiculous questions are no, you shouldn't cram a training and nutrition program down your new client's throat just because you like it. It fits you, perhaps, and maybe others whom you've trained. But it may not fit your new client! We MUST use statistics on the drop-out rate among fledgling fitness seekers but unfortunately, we DON'T!
The consequence of your trying to is almost always going to be that you will not succeed in drawing your client into a fitness lifestyle. Sure, you may succeed in the short run. You may succeed in fitting your client into a size five for the first time since college. You may even get him or her fit. But it's almost always going to be a temporary condition. Your client will surely backslide -- way back -- to their previous slovenly ways.
Everyone wants to be fit. Except real young kids; they don't know the difference. Only us iron heads -- and a few aerobic buffs (very few) -- truly want to pay the price. The price is discipline. Even for kids.
Don't believe it? Picture this: Guy and gal looking at a movie marquee. Arnold Schwarzenegger is playing. Gal says, "You and Arnold look like you come from different planets!" Now picture this: Guy says, "He's on steroids! If he weren't, I'd be just as good as him!" This screwball is SERIOUS! His eyes say it. His look says it. The set of his jaw says it.
His gal instantly responds, "Bull!" She knows better. Arnold may have had a swift kick in his genes, but her beau needs one in his jeans.
He wanted to believe it! Truth is, he knows what everyone on earth (intuitively, if not intellectually) knows. Including Arnold. It's tough getting to look that good. Not everyone wants to, and not everyone has the guts, discipline, genes or incentive to pay the price. Guy or gal!
No, but there is a best way (on a scale of good, better, best). If you'll indulge me one more minute, I'll explain it to you. First, let me paint you one more scenario:
Guy (or gal) walks into a gym to sign up. The personal trainer (assuming there is one, and assuming that their command of the Queen's English allows it) queries, "What is it that you wish to accomplish? What are your training objectives?"
So what's wrong with that? All fitness trainers ask that question! It shows that they're concerned!
Just as importantly, you (their personal fitness trainer) do not know what their potentialities are. You do not know what their genetic capabilities are. What their ethnic tastes in food are. What their religious restrictions and requirements are. Their tolerance to exercise. Their familial relationships. Their time availability. Their lifestyle. Their medical problems. Their social, psychological, financial, business, spiritual or familial limitations or capabilities are.
Except for the fact that you can safely assume that your client has no discipline (why else would they have gotten to look and feel bad enough to come to you in the first place), you know NOTHING! And neither does your client! Aside from their very pedestrian response, "Why, I'd like to lose some weight," or, "I'd like to ‘trim ‘n' tone," they cannot be specific enough to direct you, as a "professional," in generating the appropriate training regimen specifically tailored for them.
Why is it, then, that everywhere I go, I hear trainers say, "I have to ask that question. I have an obligation to my client to help them achieve their goals"? Folks, there's a better way! Said I:
NOW do you understand the significance of the shoe size question I posed earlier? Before you can put shoes on a person that they'll obligingly and happily live in day in a day out, you have to know some basic information! Similarly, before you put a person on a training and nutrition program, you have to now a lot about that person. Then, you have ‘em try it on for size. Walk in it, live in it for a short while. If the shoe fits, you have a sale. If the program fits, you have a sale too.
At that point, you will have succeeded in the first phase of "drawing" your client into a fitness lifestyle. This is what the International Sports Sciences Association calls the "drawing in process." Over the years that the ISSA has taught this approach in their certification program for personal fitness trainers, it has proved to be highly successful and popular with their CFTs. A summary of the drawing in stage is as:
1 - Establish yourself as a PROFESSIONAL
You are NOT merely a cheerleader, a motivator or a training partner. You may be all of these, but most importantly, you must establish yourself as a PROFESSIONAL.
2 - Begin the ongoing task of data collection and data analysis
You have to know their "shoe size!" You have to know the style of shoe they like. You have to know the purpose for which they intend to wear their shoes -- running, walking, dress, work, etc. The data you will continue collect for the rest of the time you are with your client (hopefully on and off for years) will be "quantitative" or "qualitative" in nature. Respectively, they refer to measurements (such as arm circumference, body fat, age, medical history, etc.) and uniqueness in personality, ethnicity or idiosyncrasies unique to your client.
3 - Execute a "guided discovery" tour
The process of guided discovery refers to data analysis (as opposed to the ongoing task of data collection mentioned in Stage Two). "Guided Discovery" means just what it says. You are the guide, and both you and your client need to discover a lot of things about each other, what the concept of personalized fitness entails, and how to make it a permanent lifestyle commitment before you can begin.
4 - Feel the Water Before Jumping In
Trying On" a small fitness program is just a check for compliance ability and discipline to carry on. Then choose from the myriad training protocol for one that you and your client feel will provide the easiest route toward living a fitness (disciplined) lifestyle. This will ALWAYS incorporate the exercises, training schedule, foods and other factors that you both have "discovered" during the Guided Discovery process. NEVER assume that your favorite training protocol, your favorite nutritional supplements or your personal fitness diet schedule is best for your client! All too often they will NOT be! Once your client has tested the waters of discipline, you can make fine adjustments to maximize compliance.
5 - Establish an Integrated Lifestyle Fitness Regimen Based On Your Client's (Informed) Objectives
Ask, "What is it you want to accomplish?" and then provide lifetime support and incentives.
6 - Do NOT leave them on their own!
Even if they drop out of their client role, you must not leave them on their own. You must stay in touch with them regularly, if only by telephone! Check on them! Encourage them and praise them for progress, small or great! Then maybe, just MAYBE, you can improve that abysmal 10 percent success rate I'd call it a 90 percent FAILURE rate!
May this inspire you to begin the new year with a renewed commitment to being a better personal trainer and to helping others.
Anshel, Mark H., 2007. "Conceptualizing Applied Exercise Psychology" The Journal of the American Board of Sport Psychology. Volume 1-2007; Article # 2A
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