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1448917036_6267I Cringe Every Time I Think Of Run-Of-The-Mill Gyms And Their Protocols For Quality Control Amongst Their Staff Members.

I think part of this is because I once belonged to a commercial gym that literally hired fit-looking people off the street to become trainers on staff, but the other part is because it distorts reality for those looking on, and misleads them about our industry.

I’ve skimmed over this in past articles. But I want to be clear. Most businesses don’t regard the client once they become large enough. They like to present themselves like they do, but it’s clear that volume has taken throne as the name of the game. That’s just how things work. Large companies have huge overheads, and subsequently, huge targets that must be met every month just to keep the lights on. But in order to put greenbacks in the wallets of the fatheads on top, those huge targets must be beaten. Because of this, the smoldering cattle prods are neatly lodged into the hindquarters of an overworked, underpaid staff of 20-somethings, and the truth is, there’s no way to control quality that doesn’t involve having a trainer simply “go through the motions”.

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The usual…

Those motions include acting professional, wearing a nametag, and following every client around with a fully updated program card, folder and pencil in order to record the client’s progress and ultimately provide leverage ammo for a pending renewal.  If you don’t do those things, management is on you before you can blink.

Getting into the habit of properly tracking a client’s progress, setting goals, and preparing a structure for a client to follow is a good thing, overall. It’s something I advocate in general. The problem is that the industry doesn’t make it quite as easy to make this realistic in all cases. At the end of the day, we could be doing more harm than good to our clients, and be giving them a false sense of accomplishment.  Let me explain why.

The Reality

I’d really like to say that most clients who hire personal trainers do it because it’s the perfect supplement to the new corner they’ve turned in changing their lifestyle to that of a healthy adult – but I’d be lying through my teeth. Most people – especially over the age of 30 – hire a personal training in the hopes that they can somehow pay a professional to assume responsibility for something they don’t want to be responsible for themselves.

Sound Grim? I’m Just Getting Started. Sorry.

For the people who dropped Phys. Ed after grade 9 and have lived their lives reveling in the indulgence of bad food, doing any form of physically extolling activity is much likely more chore than it is pleasure. They don’t like the idea of working out because, well, it’s hard. Maybe their doctor recommended it as a health precaution. Maybe they’re sick and tired of not looking the way they used to in youth, and have no other way around it. The fact of the matter is, these are the types of people who will go for the bare minimum – the generic two-day-per-week “requirement” as recommended by their local box chain gym’s hired consultant. The problem is, working out twice per week isn’t enough to render results, and we as professionals can be instrumental in either setting the record straight, or further deceiving our clients by our actions.

Back to the mandatory program files gym trainers are often graded on: it may impress a client who doesn’t know any better that all of their lifts are being recorded for future reference and progress tracking. But any coach who hasn’t gotten drunk off the same Kool-Aid knows that it’s a useless endeavor.

It’s one out of every 15 or so adult professional clients who shows up “ready to take their training to the next level” – who have a training history worth speaking about, a good watch on their diet, and a lifestyle that properly includes health and fitness.  It’s a trainer’s “dream client”, so to speak, and finding one is like finding a diamond in the rough. In truth, for whatever reason – work demands, a busy family life, laziness, or a combination of all of the above – the majority of adult clients we meet as trainers won’t fit this mould.

And This Is Where My Title Comes In

It begins to become expected that no matter what your frequency and dedication level, getting a full scale program and tracking is ‘part of the package’, and it shouldn’t be. I always say this – your results depend on what you put into it. If your efforts in health and fitness only start and finish during the hour you’re in front of your trainer, twice per week, I don’t believe a trainer should go the extra mile to prepare “homework” that both of you know won’t be completed, or a program structure that will have virtually no effect on one’s strength or health due to sheer infrequency, coupled with the lack of other lifestyle discretion.  

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You have my full attention and I appreciate your hard work, but that doesn’t have to end when our time is up.

When you’re a coach who prioritizes improving strength of at least 6 different movements, workout sessions become sheer “exercise” for clients who aren’t around enough to practice them with you regularly, and aren’t disciplined or motivated enough to do on their own what you miss in person.Why should a trainer program for a client whose physical activity occurs a grand total of eight times per month? The pat on the back that comes along with seeing a minor strength improvement for a given lift due to some anatomical adaptation shouldn’t be mistaken for progressions from a solid training system.

Before I Go On

To those reading this, we all need to be clear. I do realize that what I’m detailing is the nature of the business, and I’m not trying to come down on people whose lives match up with the above. What I am trying to do is let these folks know there’s not much you can expect of a trainer – or your results – if this is the lifestyle you’re either confined to leading, or have chosen to lead. If I had it my way, I’d have fully tailored programs prepared for each and every one of the hundreds of clients I’ve met and worked with over the span of my 9 year career.  But, those clients would have had to evidence to me that my doing so would be worthwhile.

The world seems to think that personal trainers also double as life coaches and inspirational figures who can control the psychology of every client they train. That their pristine example should take someone from zero to hero by inculcating amazing training habits and a newfound passion for exercise and living healthy. That happens, sometimes. It’s happened with me. But it doesn’t happen nearly as much as the opposite outcome.

This isn’t me shirking my responsibilities. It’s me bringing to light the fact that this business is a two way street, and we’re the professionals who can navigate the route. In my opinion, I’d be shirking my responsibility by leading clients into believing they’re getting somewhere closer to their desired goals by doing 90 workouts in a 365 day year. I’d be in better light by telling them where they’re going wrong, and encouraging them to increase their training frequency in order to graduate to the point where we can indeed follow a legitimate structured program.

That’s basically it. Really.

You’d be surprised at how difficult these simple directives can be to practice simultaneously. And by the way, the amount I see my clients personally has very little to do with this. It’s about self discipline. I have advanced clients that I see less than once per week who have full scale programs, and have made good gains.

The issue comes when you fall victim to the thinking that the only times you’re to work out are the times you meet with your trainer. Gains are allergic to that thinking. Show willingness to train more often than that on your own time, and any trainer should be happy to program safe solo workouts.That’s his job.

But Hey…

Let’s be real. There’s a group we haven’t yet addressed. There’ll always be those people who train for the relaxation or “release” aspect of it. Because it feels good to take an hour to hit it hard in the gym, and let a professional take the wheel to give you a good sweat. For these folks, the desire to “lose the last ten pounds” will always be there, hand in hand with a complete self acknowledgement of the areas of their lives that need improvement for those goals to be finally met. Other than offering continued encouragement, there’s not much else we as professionals can do until they decide to take the next step – if they do.

The personal training industry is about relationships – and in my books, preserving any relationship requires honesty. It’s bad news if you try to use any other measure to achieve the same outcome. Letting clients know what they’re in for is as much our responsibility as delivering a workout that keeps them safe.  Having a client ‘earn’ his programming sounds harsh at first, but in truth, it’s one of the most direct ways of telling them you’re in their corner.

We’re pulling for you. 

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