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Friday, April 11, 2014

7 Hard-Won Lessons Every Personal Trainer Should Embrace

This can apply to anyone!
“I went into the bathroom to have that conversation,” a friend told me recently. Mind you, this was a very good friend; otherwise I don’t think she’d have the courage to tell me she went into the ladies’ room to converse with herself in the mirror.

My friend got the idea from a ‘90s celebrity who recently wrote a book describing how, as a 40-something who had been through numerous struggles over the past few decades, imparted wisdom to her “younger self” in the bathroom mirror, thereby forgiving herself for many past mistakes.

“It’s almost as good as therapy,” my friend insisted. “I’ve come to terms with some heavy stuff I encountered in my early 30s with those bathroom-mirror conversations.”

I initially found the idea silly, but driving home that evening,

I pondered what I would tell my former self. I began thinking about mistakes I’d made as a newbie personal trainer in my 20s. Decades later, what hard-earned lessons would I tell my younger self and better still, personal trainers breaking into the field today?

Ideas immediately began to flow, and when I got home I wrote down these seven hard-won lessons I’ve learned along the way as a personal trainer.

“You can’t want it more than they do.”
He started with noble intentions: Recently diagnosed with prediabetes, my determined client wanted to lose 20 pounds and get a ripped body by summer. Aesthetic goals typically inspire people to consult personal trainers; better health becomes an “added bonus.”

I wanted to help this client, but he derailed progress in numerous ways. Never mind that he lived on In-N-Out Burger and wanted to tell me about his latest hook-up rather than master sumo deadlifts. My client didn’t want to do the work, and eventually became a no-show for our scheduled workouts.

Initially I felt discouraged. If I had been a more inspiring trainer, I reasoned, this guy would still be around and meet his goal.

Then I came to my senses. I acknowledged I was doing my part. Hell, I was going way beyond the call of duty to help him. Despite my best efforts, he wasn’t pulling his weight, and nothing I did could change that.

Lesson learned: You’re a personal trainer, not a magician. You can’t do a client’s work, and you can’t want results more than they do.

It’s very easy to become the plumber with the leaky faucet.”
I had finally made it, or so I thought as I looked at my booked schedule one Wednesday afternoon. Four clients back-to-back: How lucky was I?

Not very, it turns out. You see, with my ultra-packed schedule I started blowing off my own workout. Oh sure, I would do a few reps during the 10-minute break I had between clients, but my workout (and my physique) eventually suffered.

I fell ill with two colds over three weeks and frequently felt stressed. My cortisol levels were through the roof and I snapped at anyone I thought was getting in my way. I was pulling in the money even as I was pulling down my health and happiness.

One morning I frustratingly looked in the mirror, had a brutal reality check, and knew I needed to stop pretending to be Hot-Shit-Super-Trainer and focus on my own needs.

“Life happens, but you still need to be paid.”
My phone rang at 3:45. Just as I imagined, my 4 p.m. client called to cancel. (Mind you, these were pre-texting days.) He canceled a lot, which meant I didn’t get paid for these sessions.

Then I wised up and created package deals rather than pay-per-session.

Listen, shit happens. People get stuck in traffic or their child suddenly becomes ill and they have to cancel. That shouldn’t mean you’re penalized. Either charge their full session or a no-show fee. People commit with their wallets, and having to pay for a missed session will make them think twice about canceling in the future. You’re transforming lives, but you’re also running a business that supports your livelihood, not a charity.

“The paperwork sucks. Deal with it.”
When you’re starting out as a personal trainer, you love your job. You leave no detail unturned. Then one day you get sloppy. Mind you, it doesn’t happen overnight. Maybe you blow off writing down a few clients’ stats one day and suddenly it becomes a bad habit.

Then they ask to see their progress, and you’ve got some major gaps in their records because you neglected to write things down one crucial day.

Don’t think you can rely on memory either. Try to convince a client she progressed from 10-pound dumbbells to 25-pound dumbbells and she probably won’t believe it. But pull out the paperwork and – bam! – you’ve got proof.

Much more than just physical work, becoming a personal trainer demands more paperwork than you ever imagined. Nobody loves it: Not your client, and certainly not you.

Yet if you’re not documenting every detail – initial intake forms, informed consent, periodic assessments, things like that and during every single workout – you’ll develop a reputation quickly as a slacker. At worst, you’re asking for a lawsuit.

You’ve also got to track your own progress. Keep your continuing education units (CEUs), liability insurance, business license, current CPR card, and any other requirements and qualifications in a well-organized, easily accessible location. Taking a few moments to organize important things can save you major time and hassle down the road.

“Stay current or fall behind big-time.”
Speaking of things trainers despise:  Continuing Education Units (CEUs) often feel like nonsensical hoops to jump through, but they’re absolutely necessary to keep your credentials current.

“Another seminar?” you’ll probably eventually think. I get it: You’d rather have a Saturday out with the girls than sit through some stodgy lecture. But attending these events makes you a better expert in your field and gives you an edge over others.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually those CEUs allowed me to increase my rates, and I met some amazing people along the way.

If you’re not networking, you stagnate. Put it this way: I didn’t end up at Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach by watching Seinfeld reruns every weekend.

“Respect your time and theirs.”
I’m not just talking about being on time. That’s a given. If you have a 3 p.m. client, you don’t idly gossip with coworkers and call them to the back at 3:07.
Beyond promptness, go the extra mile for your clients. Pay attention when they talk, offer positive feedback, and make them feel like an A-lister.
The flipside is that occasionally you’ll have someone who takes advantage of your kindness. That’s when you need to say “No” politely but firmly. Reciprocity means respecting each other’s time but also boundaries.
When you’re not working with clients, fully utilize that time rather than gossip with your coworkers or mindlessly surf online. Keeping your mind in “work mode” ultimately makes you a better, more productive trainer.
 Nothing will prepare you for the day a client succeeds at their goals and credits you for helping them get there.”
All that hard work, tedious paperwork, weekends attending dull lectures, and figuring out how to juggle your own goals while helping clients reach theirs: The pay-off is those serendipitous moments when you discover you’ve changed someone’s life.

I remember the first time I trained a 20-something female client. A little timid, definitely a novice with weights, but she had a can-do attitude and over time you came to respect her even if she occasionally whined, wimped out, or once totally BS’ed an excuse for not showing up.

Eight months later, she was lean and toned. Her measurements improved more than even I thought possible, and she was 23 pounds lighter with more muscle tone.

I ran into her one night while having drinks with a girlfriend. “Honey,” she said, grabbing her boyfriend’s arm, “this is the person who helped me feel better about myself.” She went on to describe how I had boosted her confidence and self-esteem during a particular low in her life.

Her boyfriend smiled and replied, “Thanks for making my girlfriend hot!”

I wanted to say she had done the work; I simply guided her. But at that moment, I felt like a rock star. Reveling in the glory for a second, I smiled and just replied, “You did it. I’m just 10 percent.”

Did I feel every little bit of hard work had paid off that evening? Hell yeah, I did.

Here’s where I want to hear from you. To my personal trainer readers: What bit of wisdom would you tell your younger self? And for those getting started, what question would you ask your mentor or someone with decades’ experience as a personal trainer? Share your comments and questions below or on my Facebook fan page.
You have permission to do so, free of charge, as long as the byline and
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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  1. To my younger fitness self, I wish I new more about smaller support muscles and where I was really weak. Back in the day, it was about running, Step Reebok, Nautilus equipment and looking cute in your bike shorts and leotard (seriously?). Little did I know that I was, in fact, NOT improving my back, my posture or having my muscles work together properly. I focused heavily on cardio and only large muscle workouts. Don't even get me started on proper nutrition!

    So, to my younger 20-something self, you may have looked good in your size 4 Guess jeans, but you were an idiot. Use free-weights; eat more protein; supplement properly. Your 30-something self would've thanked you and probably avoided that awful back injury.

    1. Smart, Theresa. So glad to hear you have a great understanding of the importance of muscles that are REALLY doing "the heavy lifting." I'm kidding but your stabilizers are THAT important-and training them specifically is often ignored. I will often tell people: If you can see the muscles, they’re meant to move you, if you can’t see them, they’re meant to stabilize you.

      Thanks for your input!