Understanding motives, helping everyone and responsible business (for trainers)

I address most of this to the trainers. 

Here is a simplified model of behaviour change. In my experience most trainers don’t know about it, let alone use it.


Failing to fully realise just how far someone has come before even deciding to join a class & start some walking, let alone take on 1-1 sessions, is a real knowledge valley I feel many professionals get stuck in when they moan about the behaviour, choices, and ‘motivations' their clients exhibit.

Starting someone into a strength training phase, solely aimed at achieving arbitrary measures of human performance like; The Big Three, press ups and chin ups, so as to make the job of recording these arbitrary measures of progress easier and show it to Instagram as proof of coaching competency, doesn’t necessarily translate to the clients goals, needs, wants & ambitions. Nothing wrong with them as exercises, they are great movements, validated with research and countless anecdotes of long venerated coaches, but that doesn't mean clients care for them from the get go. Exercises are never intrinsically bad (when cued correctly) like food, and only exist, in my view, on a continuum of appropriate to inappropriate. When and why you use them is key to getting the right outcome from them. 

There is no need for vilification of any movement, even kipping chins have their place, to argue against that is ridiculous. They are as valid as a hyper arched spine to ensure a shortened ‘legal’ range of movement in the bench press, or cheating biceps curls. Let go of your dogma and see the reality.

Pigeonholing clients by forcing them to train only within your narrow system, and you will see this if you care to look closely enough and reflect on it, is irresponsible. These people have entrusted you their primary healthcare, their self image, their self esteem, their general well being and you choose to respond by fucking them into your meat grinder workouts and dog shit diets, often I’ve heard of fat shaming as a day to day practise in two Southside Dublin gyms which is essentially tantamount to bullying and yet they claim to be places to go to get healthy? Can professionals be that deluded?

This questionable behaviour in the long run can contribute to creating a demotivated and unenthused client where once there was healthful eagerness and sound mind. Now they are left with difficult relationship with the gym, working out, trying to be healthy and eat well. So much so that is engenders perpetual stress in their daily life, stress from worry about not being healthy and eating ‘clean’, and stressed when they start to eat ‘clean’ and exercise heavily because they do not enjoy the process but see it as the only way.

Who else has experienced singular bloody minded focus turn to lackadaisical indifference in a matter of months as clients sessions start to become hallow and lacklustre. Industry jargon suggests there are two types of clientele, soul suckers and energisers. Those who come to the gym to offload and then leave you with the weight of all their problems are the soul suckers They take your energy and enthusiasm and cover your day with a cloud of misery and self pity. The energisers come in full of beans, smiling, interested and determined to succeed. 

Surprisingly (not really surprisingly), but I tend to disagree with that myopic classification system.

What if, rather than an either or proposition, clients are on a continuum always teetering between one and the other. A ‘soul sucker’ can become energised by communicating effectively with them and finding their motivation, understanding their attributes and limitations and planning to their strengths rather then a trainers arbitrary measures of strength.

Truly helping someone find their way to health and fitness is not about making your client a powerlifter because that's where your interest lies, a crossfitter because that's what you like, a bodybuilder etc. 

That's not to say training systems shouldn't exist. If you don't have a system you're likely new here, or a shit trainer. If you have a very rigid system you are likely to be very inflexible when it comes to different populations. If you have a low skill set, do this, it's easier to master one way of doing things, people will buy into it, just be ethical and tell them flat out, this may not be for everyone, if it is, stay & pay, succeed. Sometimes helping people most effectively is saying “I can’t help you, but let me offer some aid in finding someone I trust who can help you.” 

Who comes out of an exchange like that looking like a real professional in the long run? The trainer who takes someone on that they know will not work well with them, or isn’t ready from the system they use and is shoehorned into the work the trainer wants them to do rather than the work they need. Or, the second trainer who admits after some carefully measured effort that this won’t work, and instead of flogging the client to hell and leaving them hating fitness, and afraid of eating anything other than paleo, thinking that unless they are sweating profusely a workout was useless, scared that if their form isn't absolutely perfect then they may as well be playing with Barbie dolls (heard that before).

Any and every marketing guru will tell you, communicate to your ideal audience. I LOL when I read trainers who ‘specialise' in; hypertrophy, weight loss, injury rehab, post natal training, transformations, CV fitness, healthy eating, IIFYM, strength training, lifestyle management and an endless list of other buzzwords (I used to do it myself, I’ll dig out some old business cards). They will actively seek to ‘help everyone get fit’. Oh what a noble goal, but in truth it is an awful one. A visionary ideal sure, its one of my eventual aims out of my time in the industry, but as an active selling strategy, woeful. 

In my experience these are also the trainers who don’t have solid businesses, solid income, regular long term clientele. They’ll attract transient clients, folk who move around banking on the initial burst of variety, something different from the training of the previous few months then they fade away. Then, for you the trainer, its back to panicking about where next months income is coming from. 

Attempting to please everyone usually means pleasing no one.

It someone isn't likely to do well with you, offer them an alternative, be an ethical person and really try help them by admitting you can't help them professionally. Refer them to someone you know & like in fitness who does it differently. Own your niche and don't be afraid to say, you now what, I don't do that job that well, here is a person who does. If you don't know anyone with a different approach to you, I’d strongly advise you need to network more outside of your clique. Small networks in fitness mean limited critical thinking & over zealous attribution of self knowledge, I’ve been there.

Help people get through stages of change rather than inhibiting them out of fear you will lose some short term money. Bad money in fact, business that wasn’t right for you in the first place business that won't grow your business, only prop up a leaky cashflow. Having principles is a sure fire way to cost you money, as if it doesn't cost you its not a real principle.

People are generally good natured, that goes for your local powerlifter or crossfitter, even your local Herbal-life sales rep. Sometimes their good intentions are misled and someone ends up injured or with no results and loose stools but that can be mended. When lack of understanding people borders on psychological torture and manipulation, thats where you draw the line.

The fitness industry is full of little islands. Trainers operating off on their own, with no one to help them, advise them or reel them in from doing some silly shit here and there. Some suggest regulation is on the way or that it would benefit the industry. Personally I could not be more opposed to the idea. Sure regulating the provision of teaching courses would help thus standardising with regards quality control for career entry may work, but then regulation would inevitably get bigger and probably more complex.

Humans seeking physical fitness should stay a free enterprise. Free to innovate and cater to the needs and wants of the changing public. Make it fun, make it interesting, make it work. Be led by empirical evidence but not bound to it, be open to anecdotes of life changing methods but not swayed from reality. Be truly client centred, be aware sometimes not training with you is the right course of action, maybe they are too advanced, maybe they are not nearly advanced enough. In cases of emotional stress and crazy life issues maybe they are not in the right psychological place to engage with your challenging offering at the moment so don't hurt them, but don't sacrifice the integrity of you want to offer either. Help people to find their fitness, bend the rules because lets face it they don't exist really to begin with. Movement is exercise, more is usually better, let people find their level and communicate effectively, you will be a better coach and just a good human being.

Thanks for reading.