Whether you’re a new trainer to a gym, or a gym goer who has just hired a trainer.
The main things – empowerment and accountability.
One of the first pieces of advice I was given as a personal trainer was to “never give a client something they can do without you.” I hated this idea. If they see me once a week but need to train by themselves 2-3x a week then how could I expect them to get results if they could only train optimally with me breathing down their neck? God help them if they were online clients! To answer this I decided to go a different path. I wanted to offer every client the confidence and the accountability to train efficiently.
I always went into a session, whether that be with a new client or an old one, with the idea of giving them the power and the confidence to continue in the gym with or without me.
Some people in my position would assume that the more sessions they can have a client do with them per week the better, however, the majority of people can’t afford this. The way around this is to train them, either in how to do the movement, increase their confidence in the gym, or both, to a level where they can walk into a gym and be comfortable enough to workout with the same efficiency as if you were there with them. What we offer then, is more than just our knowledge, it is the double edged sword of empowerment and accountability.
I believe that there is almost of a scale of how much accountability a client needs as opposed to empowerment. A confident gym goer might just need someone to keep them in check, a shy gym goer might need someone to really raise their self-esteem to the point that they feel that they belong in a gym.
Imagine doing your first powerlifting competition and really enjoying it. You can’t wait for your second. Then it happens, and it’s the worst one you’ve ever done. The build-up was terrible, you barely slept or trained. You felt weak and unfocused on the day. Worst of all, you failed four out of the nine lifts and did not beat any of your own gym personal bests. Something had to change.
Embarking upon a new plan, or trying to incorporate a new habit into your life is a difficult venture. To do it alone you will need a great amount of determination and commitment. To be fair, many people do just fine by going it alone.
However, a lot of people benefit from an external source of accountability. A good coach can offer various sources of accountability, and they can be one in themselves. Having someone else look after your training means there is someone else there to keep you in check, they may also introduce you to other clients who will provide you with a sense of community. In some cases they may use a variety of systems or apps to keep on top of you.
My own uses of Accountability –
You might know most of this already if you follow my site and social media but I’ll go over it again. I have been training people since 2013 and I’ve been competing in powerlifting since late 2014.
I’d always managed my own training myself but in the space of time between September 2014 and June 2015 I was working two jobs, going to college and training for competitions. I got to a point where I knew something had to give.
In 2015 I was training towards a competition in May, and this coincided with exams and coursework deadlines in college. Time was low and my energy levels were lower. About a month away from the competition my training was going really well in the gym as I had hit a squat personal best of 190kg, a bench press best of 130kg and a deadlift personal best of 240kg. All appeared to be going well, I had gotten stronger and still had a month of work left to get a little bit stronger and work on a few technical issues here and there.
However, in the weeks leading up to the competition my workload had gotten to the point where I could only train two, at best three, times a week. As opposed to the five times a week previously. The increasing workload also led to me losing sleep and getting migraines. So when it got to the competition I was burnt out.
The Competition Itself –
I don’t like talking about this competition as it was the worst one I’ve experienced, and it was only my second. I failed my first squat (twice, don’t ask) on depth and then by the time I had gotten to my second my head was gone and I lost all concentration and stepped forward before the judge said “rack.” On the third I took a risk and went up 12.5kg and got it as I knew I was my own worst enemy there.
On bench, I realised how different the warmup bar was to the competition one and failed my opener. Then adjusted my grip and the second flew so I added a conservative 5kg to it and failed it completely.
Deadlifts went well, but I still got less than my gym personal best (I hit 237.5kg) just to make sure I got the qualifying total for the British Championships.
In hindsight, I got a competition squat, deadlift and total personal best at the time but my preparation and management of the day was horrendous.
What had to give -
This experience made me realise that maybe I could get some help with some elements of my training. As well as this I quit one of my jobs, which was a massive risk as it left me purely self-employed while paying an extortionate rent in a commercial gym.
I realised that one of the main reasons for me allowing the build-up get so out of hand was that I was letting myself get in my own way. I decided to contact a coach and let them deal with me. I remember my first message to him being – “I’ve qualified for British and do not want to embarrass myself.”
My results –
The benefits were shown when I next competed 5 months later with a total increase of 35kgs. As well as this, I also managed to be more confident in all of my lifts to the point where I could open on a squat personal best. As well as the obvious strength and confidence increases, having someone tell me exactly what to do and not allowing myself to mess around with the training was a major difference in my training. It gave me less to worry about as any concerns in my training were just passed off to him in trust. This allowed for me to use training as a break again, I could just switch off and follow the plan.
In terms of empowerment, my own case is a little different. I was already confident in a gym setting, I just found that I could not be objective over my own training and any adjustments I’d need to make. The majority of clients that a coach will deal with would not have my background.
I take this into account when dealing with a new client, in that I assess what their confidence level within a gym setting is and take it from there. A client who feels under-confident in the gym would need more empowerment and less accountability and vice versa for a confident client.
I feel that this emotional aspect of training is one that is hard to teach, easy to miss and often underappreciated in the fitness industry. We can read e-books on anatomy, nutrition and aspects of business but this skill is rare. Coaches and trainers who connect with their clients on an emotional level like this will find that they form long and prosperous relationships to the point that its common to have clients stay with them for years at a time.
How to do it –
You can tell a lot by how confident the client is in general, such as by how comfortable they are with you or when the gym is crowded. Granted, the better you are at reading people, the better. We can’t all be a Derren Brown or a Sherlock Holmes, but learning to pick up on certain cues will work wonders here.
You will need to be receptive, and maybe even a bit manipulative. Not quite Machiavellian, but knowing how and when to push buttons will help you encourage your client and their gym bravado. Treating every client the same won’t work. Of course, they’ll all get the same level of treatment but the finer points will vary.
The gym goer who has just started with a trainer should be with a trainer they trust to make these decisions. A lot of this will be trial and error too, so in regards to this relationship of client/trainer, make sure you give each other a break occasionally. You’re only after the best for the other.
Author - Danny Lee
Owner/Coach/Writer of Daniel Lee Fitness and Daniel Lee Media.