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  • Writer's pictureKevin Mullins

Individualizing a Standardized Industry: Part 1- Be a Friend

Hey guys,


Fitness is an interesting industry when you really break it down to its nuts and bolts. It is a massive collection of individuals working under standardized protocols and ways of thinking to arrive at individual successes based upon sociological, psychological, and physiological standards set by individuals that preceded them in the system.

Sounds confusing right? It is. Especially if you are a personal training, strength and conditioning coach, or nutritionist who actively trains clients on a daily basis. Regardless of your field of work you are held to a standard by your employer to generate revenue, create results, or some combination of both. The challenge is...we work with individuals in the industry. Athletes, lawyers, parents, and college students populate my schedule. Lean, heavy, obese, skinny, athletic and unathletic all fill my time slots. Each individual requires a different approach, a different road, and sometimes a different end goal.

Many trainers, such as myself, work in commerical setting in which we as individuals are a part of a standardized system for selling, signing, training, and maintaining clients. This creates Manziel taking the Browns to the Superbowl in the next 3 years pressure. There are going to be so many things outside of your control (client's budgets, personal stressors, dedication to programs, eating habits, etc.), and yet, you are expected to deliver cash and sessions each and every month. How do you ensure every individual gets what they need out of the session, achieves results, and enjoys themselves all while helping you consistently perform your duties?


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If you are a strength and conditioning expert it can be even tougher. If you work for a school or team directly, then your priority is to generate high levels of performance from all of your athletes all the time. Keep them healthy, fix their flaws, and make sure they are at their best every gameday. How do you generate programs for each individual athlete, their position, their goals, their bodies, and their expectations all while handling hundreds of other athletes?

If you run your own facility like Eric Cressey, Mike Boyle, or Joe DeFranco, then you will have athletes coming to you with their hopes and dreams. They need to get better to meet the standards of their sport, and you are their guy (or gal). How do you as a trainer make sure each individual is properly cared for when considering their backgrounds, injury history, team mandates, motivations, and work ethic all while making sure you continually to improve your people so that you develop a quality reputation?

All of this can be really tough when you consider that training is your job and you have bills to pay too. You are a person too! If you don't do enough sessions (especially in a commerical setting), then you might come up short at the end of the month. I've been there more often than I haven't. It is your job, and you often work so many hours you have nothing left at the end of the day, week, or month. You lose friends because of your hours, interests, and nutritional habits. It can be tough...

But YOU have to have a code!

In this standardized industry full of individuals you must accept your fate and develop YOUR OWN standards to ensure that your people are properly taken care of and developed the right way!

I personally believe that my responsibilities require me to be a friend first, coach second, and an tough trainer last. In this post I am going to explain exactly what I mean by being a friend first. In subsequent posts I will explain what I believe defines a great coach, and a tough trainer.

Being A Friend First:

I firmly believe that any successful training partnership requires a basal level of friendship for it to be successful. Now, I am not advocating going out for a beer with your client after your session, or trying to take them on a date. I am also not saying it is ok to spend most of your session shooting the breeze, talking sports, and actually wasting everyone's time.

Here is what I am saying...

Build a partnership with your clients by breaching some basic walls early in the training experience so that they feel more comfortable with you.

No one, even elite athletes, wants to shake your hand and hear, "Great to meet you, I'm Kevin, now push those hips back, chest up, eyes forward, grab the bar and squeeze tight...sing backstreet boys, yell "yea buddy" and lift that weight!"

I like to take extra time during the intake portion of my sessions to get to know people and ask questions that are meaningful to the session, the task of training, and completely irrelevant things; such as where are you from, and how did you like growing up around all that Cajun food?

As the session progresses and we are working through basic coaching and exercise technique I'll make little jokes, ask simple questions and tell short stories from my own life to make small conversation. My goal is simple:

Build a rapport with this person. Become a part of this person's life.

I truly do not believe that we in the industry spend enough time viewing our clientele as individuals. They are moms and dads, guys and gals, young and old. They have family and friends, have favorite TV shows, and a mind full of memories. They laugh and they cry, feel sexy and feel ugly, and most of all...WANT TO BE ACCEPTED.


Let's paint a picture:

A young woman, 24, about twenty pounds overweight, walks into your facility to work with you. Let's call her Erin. Erin was a college athlete at a small school and knows what it is like to be coached and worked to exhuastion, but also knows the feeling of giving up after the pressure of sport was removed.

Erin is excited and scared for her first session with you. She rolled around in the bed last night a little nervous because she hasn't worked out in so long. She woke up and tried on four different outfits to see which she liked best. She lost track of time and barely ate a banana before she came to see you.

Here you stand; all decked out in your trainer gear. Fed, caffeinated, and by most people's standards...extremely fit. She sees you, your biceps, or your tone legs..and immediately feels inadequate. You either look like her dream body, or you look like her dream man. You sit down to discuss the health history form, goals, and all other typical intake....

Now, are you smart enough to sense her trepidation? Or, are you going to blindly massacre with burpees and squats? Do you want to help this girl develop healthy habits that help her rediscover a fitter version of herself? Do you become that person she needs in her life for the next six months to a year? Or, do you stone-face her and coach her deadlift form to perfection, fill her LuLu lemon shirt with sweat, and tell her to eat less carbohydrates?

The point of this little story was to paint a vivid image in your head of what our responsibility is as fitness professionals. I befriend my clients and let them know very early on that they will be pushed, they will be coached, but they are not alone. I am their Teammate. I will get down in the trenches with them when needed, and stick out the friendly hand when they fall down. I am not the Terminator who is pre-programmed with a mission to train everyone.


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I, as a fitness professional for a commerical facility, will build a better, stronger client base if I show genuine care for my clients. This base will stay with me, because we are a team. I will hit my goals, pay my bills, and succeed in all aspects of being a trainer, because I did my job honestly, earnestly, and thoughtfully.

A key word in this statement is "earnestly". Do yourself a favor and don't fake it. You'll look like a dick and make your clients feel like paychecks when they see through your phoniness.

Furthermore, don't overdo it. I don't text my clients all day, or send them motivational memes or emails. However, I will answer any question from any client at any hour if they so need it. I will always take the time to provide thoughtful, professional answers to their questions. I will nix a training session if it looks like they need a hug and a chat more than they need another set of deadlifts. I will let them finish their story that they are enjoying sharing with me instead of tapping my watch and giving them the "let's go" face.

Don't treat your clients like paychecks. They are people. Build a relationship with each person that is as unique as the programs you write for them. Some people laugh a lot and still get work done, and other people need your stone-face Russian assasin style. Figure that out early, and coaching/training become a much easier process!


P.S. Part 2- Becoming a better Coach is coming later this week, followed by Part 3- the tough trainer early next week.

photo credit: <a href="">Erik Daniel Drost</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

photo credit: <a href="">San Diego Shooter</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>


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