Personal Trainer With A Dilemma

Advance notice: long post. Hey, I’ve been reading articles from this site since it was, and I finally decided to become a personal trainer about 4 months ago. I’ve built up a decent client base, and my clients have been getting really good results. The problem is, despite having a good rapport with my clients, I have trouble keeping clients long term. I believe it’s mainly because of my lack of sales skills, and my exercise selections. I’m working on the sales skills and learning progressively, but the workout programs that I put clients on are what they need… just not necessarily fun exercises (because they’re hard).

The main reason I’m writing this is because of something that happened recently with a (former) client. She hit a plateau when working out on her own, and saw no results for over a month before signing up to train with me. Her goal was to lose 25 lbs. in 4 months. She trained with me for the first 6 weeks and lost 13 lbs., then stopped for a month because she said financially she couldn’t afford to keep going. When she was on her own, she went against my advice and did too much cardio, lost 5 lbs., then gained most of it back. Then she did 2 more sessions with me, and out of nowhere, she signs up for over 3 months worth of sessions with another trainer at my gym. I’m not even mad at the other trainer, because the client came to her… but it’s been really messing with my head. We had a really good rapport, and nothing weird ever happened, so it really came out of nowhere. I also answered a bunch of questions for her when she would come in to work out on her own, and I referred her to some great articles to read. So why would she act broke then spend over 3 times as much money on somebody else when I got her more than halfway to her goal in less than half the time? I feel a bit used. The other trainer is very good at sales, and to her credit, she is also a good trainer, so that’s definitely a factor, but I’m thinking my former client didn’t like the difficulty of the new exercises or something like that.

So should I give my clients what they really need, or what they think they need? I print out articles about the spot reducing myth and about how metabolically demanding lifts and interval training etc. is best for fat loss, I write up a detailed list of fat loss diet suggestions based on the things I’ve learned over the years, but some seem to only think I’m doing a good job when their abs are sore. At my gym, we mostly do half hour training sessions, and most clients only do 2 per week, so I don’t have time to add in extra stuff to make them sore in the right places unless I replace something important. I try to give as much help as I can with the other 167 hours of the week that they aren’t with me.

For the most part, I currently design programs to have 8 main exercises: 1 squat variation, 1 deadlift variation or other hip-dominant 2 legged exercise, 2 unilateral leg exercises (lunges, step-ups, 1 legged RDLs, split squats, etc.), 1 vertical push, 1 vertical pull, 1 horizontal push, 1 horizontal pull. Within that, I alter based on injury issues and imbalances, and try to get a good ab exercise in at the end (which is hard with some people). My clients alternate between two different workouts, 4-5 exercises per workout, and I usually keep them on a plan for 6 weeks before changing up the main exercises. This way, they get really good at the form and progress a lot in each exercise. For abs, I have them do exercises like planks, pallof press variations, medicine ball throws, etc. They definitely work for my clients, but they don’t cause a ton of soreness in the abs, so despite my saying (with confidence) that soreness is not the best indicator of the effectiveness of a workout, it’s tough to convince people. Should I just have them do ab exercises with 4 second negatives all the time to increase soreness?

Also, the trainers who I’ve seen make the most money seem to try to make their clients really dependent on them, and give them a ton of isolation exercises, use mostly machines, and spot excessively. On The Biggest Loser, I noticed a strategy that the trainers use to make clients more dependent; actually BEING a part of the exercise. I do that with the medicine ball throws, but not much else… maybe I should do that more.

So anyway, I know this post is kind of all over the place, but I’m considering changing up my program design and focusing on less compound lifts, then adding more exercises that I know clients would like. It feels wrong, but I think clients would enjoy the workouts more and buy more sessions, and I’m barely making it right now financially. However, those compound lifts are a big reason for the quality results I’m getting with them. Have any of you been in a similar situation? I could use some suggestions.

This is one of the reasons I wouldn’t make it as a trainer. If you do the right thing and teach them what they need to know, you won’t be able to keep a steady client base. They’ll be able to continue on by themselves. You might be able to build the reputation of being a great trainer and get clients that way, but it’s harder and less consistent.

I know this is a pretty shitty situation to be in, but in the end, if it’s going to keep you up at night doing something that feels wrong, then you know your answer. Good luck in which ever choice you make.

I think you sound like a WONDERFUL trainer!! You pretty much do the EXACT same thing my trainer had me doing and he helped me to lose over 40lbs and gain a completely new body!!

Your progression routine sounds great. It’s exactly what I did and in a year a progressed from doing deadlifts with 12lb dumbbells to being able to lift 155 for reps and 215 1RM! So…I know it works!

I think what you are doing is great and I wouldn’t let this one client get to you. Who knows why she left…maybe she developed a crush on you! :wink: I just wouldn’t think too much of it. Your clients are going to see results from your programs. There are too many trainers out there that have their clients doing isolation exercises/machines/being a rep counter with a clip board. It’s nice to know there are trainers like you that are going to get their clients results. And I love that you print articles for them!

Stick with what you’re doing! You’ll do great things for people! :slight_smile:

And I disagree that they will be able to do it on their own ( some will I guess)…I loved having my trainer there to push me…I was really sad when he moved away. I stayed with him for a year and it was quite an adjustment going on my own. I know there are days that I could push through some reps if I had him there. Having a great trainer is invaluable!

I feel like in a recent article, I forget which one unfortunately, one of the major authors on the site mentioned how, as you noted, there are two parts to being a trainer: the training and selling. They noted how although the program you make may actually be the best for the client, you have to keep them interested and feeling like they’re getting what they’d traditionally consider a workout, with all indicators. He even went so far as to say something of the effect of “I know this sounds sexist, which I assure you I am not, but if you can get a female client’s abs and glutes sore, you’ve got her for as long as you want”. They then went on to say how you start from the hook and slowly wean them onto the program they should be on.

It’s far from ideal but it just seems to be the way it is. I’ve definitely noticed it in those that I’ve helped with training or diet.

EDIT: Found the article: Strength Training, Bodybuilding & Online Supplement Store - T NATION

You’ve got to find a balance between designing a program that actually gets results and one that keeps the clients coming back. Most people who have trainers have them because they don’t know shit about training and they need someone to help motivate them. Because they don’t know shit, all of your info about proper training methodology goes right over their head. They want to do stuff they understand, which means doing the same crap everyone else does. Because they lack motivation, they don’t want to work too hard on exercises that require a lot of practice just to execute proper form and they don’t want to put out a ton of effort. They want the most gains possible with the least amount of effort.

It sounds like you are definitely a good trainer, but all your knowledge won’t mean shit without clients to impart it to. Keep your approach simple. Get before and after pictures of previous clients that did YOUR workouts, not the standard pink dumbbells bullshit. If your approach works, the proof will be in the pudding. Seeing for themselves that your approach works will go further than any other selling techniques. Tell them point blank right from the start that your approach works and that the other approaches will not, bottom line.

If this doesn’t work, well, you’re in a Catch-22. You have to have clients

Thank you for the responses. I’m thinking of just telling clients straight up that what I normally do is what will be best for them, but that if they would prefer to have more variety and feel certain specific areas more, then I can do it that way too.

It’s weird being in a field where half or more of the workers do a less than satisfactory job. The craziest part is that the average person who needs training would rarely be able to tell a horrible trainer from a great one because in order to make that distinction they would need to know something about training. Anyone who appears very confident and charismatic would seem to be a good trainer to most people.

Also, the before and after pic suggestion is a good idea. I’ve been wanting to do that, but I need a camera. I’ll try to get my new clients to take one of themselves. I have one client that took a before picture, but she only has 1 session remaining and I’m not sure if she’ll be able to renew financially. She’s lost 15 lbs. in almost 2 months, but her progress has slowed lately and she hasn’t kept up with her food log for the past 2 weeks (which coincidentally are the weeks where progress has stalled). She has potential to make a complete transformation if she commits herself to it for a few more months.

Oh, and I read that article about the personal training business when it came out. That was a great one. I should probably go back and read it again. Anyway, I need to get over that one situation and try to learn something from it. I know that it’s just the nature of the business. I do think I’ll be able to make a solid living out of personal training if I can keep building at the same rate. Eventually I’d like to progress to performance training for athletes.

One obvious thing you don’t seem to be considering is your female client went to a female trainer(maybe it was mentioned, I just skimmed parts but it could be nothing you did, maybe she thinks a female will relate better to her? Not sure there is anything to it, I just wouldn’t take it personal, do what you do and you’ll be ok.

I guess it depends on what being a PT means to you.

If it would be as easy as simply implementing a strict diet and training program everyone could and would do it.

Your job is to get them from where they are to where they should be and if that involves some bells and whistles so be it.

I know that financially it may seem like a good idea, but please don’t “sell out”. There are too few trainers that are actually doing anyone any good as it is, it would be shameful to lose one who knows how to train effectively and doesn’t on purpose.

that being said, I have been in the same situation. Had a client who wanted to get better at his tennis game, I spent 4 months with him drilling quick feet and change of direction drills as warm ups to hit the wieghts afterwards. On a Tuesday he sees me and recounts how well he did in a tennis tournament over the weekend, was getting to balls he normally wouldn’t be able to get to; stronger and faster on the court. On thursday my manager tells me he’s switching to a new trainer… Lesson learned. Give them what they need, but you gotta slide a little of what they want in there as well, otherwise they might not stick around for what they need.

I’m not a trainer so I don’t have any personal experience to advise you with…

But, the first person I thought of when I read your post was Alwyn Cosgrove. He talks about these problems a lot. So maybe do some searches for his articles…or if you’ve got the dough, and the time, attend one of his seminars…

[quote]dday wrote:
One obvious thing you don’t seem to be considering is your female client went to a female trainer(maybe it was mentioned, I just skimmed parts but it could be nothing you did, maybe she thinks a female will relate better to her? Not sure there is anything to it, I just wouldn’t take it personal, do what you do and you’ll be ok.[/quote]

You’re right. My supervisor mentioned that she wanted to train with a female trainer, but she hadn’t said anything to me about that. I think it just took me by surprise since I hadn’t had that happen before, and because she was talking about how she couldn’t afford it anymore (then spent way more on somebody else.) I definitely was taking it personally, but I’m getting over it.

I really don’t think I could sell out and give people crappy workouts if I tried. What I’m thinking of doing is just keeping about 4-6 exercises consistent in most programs instead of 8, then adding a little more variety. I would still prioritize what the clients need, but also try to give more of what they want. I’m still not going to put them on machines though.

And for my clients who understand the value of progressing on compound lifts over time, I’ll continue just like I have been. I do have some clients who trust that I know what I’m doing because of their results, but my workouts are just so much different than the other trainers at my gym. We have a trainer who dedicates a full workout with some clients to inner/outer thighs (she actually uses pretty good exercises though: side lunges, side step-ups, etc.). Anyway, some clients do wonder why I do things so much differently, and I try to answer in a way that won’t throw all the other trainers under the bus.

[quote]JPCleary wrote:
I’m not a trainer so I don’t have any personal experience to advise you with…

But, the first person I thought of when I read your post was Alwyn Cosgrove. He talks about these problems a lot. So maybe do some searches for his articles…or if you’ve got the dough, and the time, attend one of his seminars…[/quote]

Yeah, he’s one of my favorite writers on here. His articles are a big reason why I design my programs the way I do. I’ve been on that site before, but I think there are some good articles that I haven’t read yet, so I’ll check it out again. Thanks. I would like to attend one of his seminars once I can afford to. I’m sure it would be a big wake up call and make me realize how much I still need to learn. Right now I have about $0 left after I pay for food, gas, and bills, so it might be a while.

Being a PT myself I know its hard. You just have to stick to YOUR gameplan and what YOU know works. Too many trainers out there are “Trendy” trainers and only go with whats cool with the client at the time. Use as many visual aids as possible (before and after photos) and keep educating your clients. Giving super educated responses to their questions and backing it up with your training and results should be enough to keep clients.

And if they decide to go somewhere else screw em. Don’t take it personal cause choosing a good trainer is a very individual choice. If that person just doesn’t click with you they might choose someone else. Its nothing against you and they might get along with you just fine they just rather train with someone else. And as mentioned earlier alotta women relate to other women. Some women seek out women trainers specifically. SO…just take your knowledge elsewhere and make everyone jealous with your other clients fantastic results.

Don’t let the client choose you. YOU choose the client.

I’ve dropped a couple clients because they had issues with what I wanted them to do.

Most trainers are fucking morons and their clients, who are also fucking morons, will love doing 60 minutes of cardio a day plus exercises on the BOSU, etc. Oh I’m sure they’ll lose weight, but will they actually increase fitness? Probably not.

Be your own trainer. Know what works. Your job as a trainer isn’t so much to train the client, but to inform the client. You will then keep a client not because you are training them well, but because they respect the knowledge you have given them. You only have them for an hour a few times a week. Is the physical one-on-one for 60 minutes really going to make a difference? Nope. It’s all about their diet and what they do when they are away from you. That is where you become valuable.

Fuck variety for variety sake. My two a day clients have a upper push/lower day and an upper pull/lower day. There are a few variations of very simple lifts. They get stronger. We do about 45 minutes of strength and then about 15 minutes of metabolic hell…:slight_smile:

People get PT for various reasons. Either they are afraid they won’t push themselves hard enough (“You want me to lift that?” I hear everytime from a new female client) or they just want company while they workout. Every now and then you get a good client you’ll keep for years. These are the clients you want. Some clients you know you won’t keep for very long, these are filler. They just don’t have “it”.


I agree that you should continue to give them what they need, but slide in the sessions that really smoke them so they feel they are getting their money’s worth. Think about it, if you are paying for something you have a certain expectation. If you get your product/service and it is not what you expected then you may be disappointed. I see it being no different with exercise.

As said before, a lot of these people are morons and already have it in their mind that when they hire a trainer they are going to be going to work the next day telling war stories of how sore they are etc. We all know that it may be that way the first week or so and the “moron” client may see the lack of soreness ass not getting their money’s worth. Results be damned.

Another thing that most “morons” are believers in is the more is better philosophy. since I was sore this week I should be doing more and more to really lose the weight or what ever. That is the same stupid thinking that 90% of gym goers seem to have. Think about it. Car manufacturers have to put warning stickers and labels all over the vehicle and in the manual. They have to explain absolutely everything to cover themselves. Why? Because the most complete moron is going to buy one of their cars.

I work in an Army hospital here in Iraq. The gym here is small and I know almost all the people that go in there. I see Surgeons and other Doctors and nurses trying to do simple exercises and they cant even do them correctly. Now these are educated people, Docs that have 7 plus years of schooling under their belts. Yet I see them strut around the gym making a mockery of these exercises. I see them watching me do my rock bottom full squats with over 300 lbs and I know that they are curious to ask me how to do them like me…or want to run over and tell me that I am doing them wrong and that I shouldn’t go that low. lol Anyway you get what I am saying, and you already know the quality of the canvas you have to work with.

Stop thinking about keeping clients forever. Give them the results they want, teach them so they can do it on their own if they want or can’t afford it.

You can also go the route of meeting less frequently. I don’t have may clients that can afford more than once per week, even som only meet once every 4-6 weeks because that fits their budget. As long as they can do it on their own, no biggie.

You can design the best programs in the world, but if you don’t make the client enjoy working with you than they wont stay. This sounds very obvious but having a POSITIVE attitude, even when they don’t follow your advice to the letter will stick out in there mind. Keep in contact with them throughout the week through phone calls, texts or even emails. Make them feel connected to you without resorting to gimmicks such as choosing exercises that require you to be a part of it.

Basically, show them that you do truly care about their progress. I treat my clients professionally during training sessions, but most of them will invite me to events and other outings because we get along.

Most of my client based as stuck with me for months and years. If they run into money issues, they just cut back on training frequency, not stopping training.

Keep in mind that you wont get along with everyone and thats OK.