Personal training fosters dependence
I know there are many great trainers out there and I suspect that most of what is written here doesn’t apply to them, but looking at the traditional big-box fitness model, these are definitely the minority. In the traditional personal training model, the trainer is the ‘expert’ while the client seeks their expertise in order to achieve their goal. The client, in my mind, is often a passive observer who shows up on time (hopefully) and is put through the usual paces. The trainer is the drill sergeant, there to push the client through a pointless circuit of burpees, bicep curls and the standard machine circuit that infests most commercial gyms. If there is any kind of a long term plan to achieving goals, I consider the client lucky, but more often than not the plan for the day is made up on the fly, or in the five minutes before the session starts.
Is this lack of planning simply an oversight or disorganization on the trainer’s part? Sure life happens, maybe they have too many clients, are getting divorced, there’s a litany of explanations that are just lame excuses for such a fundamental oversight. But what if this lack of transparency is actually the business model, a system that intentionally keeps the client in the dark so they grow dependent on the trainer, so not a single weight can be lifted while not in the presence of their all-knowing weight-trianing guru? Seems a bit over the top? Maybe, but in a world where gyms keep candy at the front desk and have free pizza and bagel days, I don’t think I’m that wrong to be a bit jaded when questioning whether the fitness industry actually has our best interests at heart.
Nobody wins when you withhold information
After seeing the book recommended everywhere, I finally caved and read ‘What got you here won’t get you there’ by Marshall Goldsmith (1). Goldsmith makes the excellent point that while successful people may view their successes as a consequence of their habits, they are often successful IN SPITE of these behaviours. In his list of twenty habits that usually hinder people’s success in the work place, one that stood out for its relevance to the personal training world was withholding information. Regardless of business, I’m sure we’ve all worked with a guy/gal that has some type of political agenda that they always feel is advanced by having information others don’t.
I view the typical trainer/client relationship as much the same. The trainer has the information (training program), and often as a consequence, all the power. They use their client’s lack of knowledge to foster a sense of dependence in the hopes that the constant return of their client will provide a steady income stream. And for the most part, they probably aren’t wrong. I see the same trainers work with their usual clients, and for the most part, neither one looks any different as time goes by. But what if you could have more business and help more people achieve their goals by giving them all the information they need to succeed on their own?
Great trainers are great teachers
What if instead of trying to to turn clients into consistent income streams (the big-box model), the trainer’s role was to teach their clients to achieve the goal themselves. There was a quote that I saw in the book ‘The Talent Code’ by Thomas Caruthers (2) that goes something like this – “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary”.
A trainer should no longer be someone that simply takes you through the exercises in a gym, gets your weights for you, and pats you on the back at the end of a session. They are there to teach you HOW to get yourself to your goals, show you the WORK you need to do to achieve your goals, help you MASTER the skills required to regain control of your body. A great trainer doesn’t treat you as a passive observer wandering down a path to your goals, they teach you how to forge the path. They are the machete in your hand that helps you cut down the jungle of obstacles that lie between you and your ideal physique. Remember though, no matter how sharp the machete, you still have to swing it to cut through the jungle. It’s time for the days of the cheerleading, hand-holding model of training to end; the day of the golf-shirt wearing, clipboard toting personal trainer has passed.
Class is in session
So if you’re a trainer, ask yourself if your coaching is where it should be. Are clients in complete awareness of the long term plan? If you disappear today, could they keep making progress towards their goals in your absence? If the answer is ‘no’, maybe it’s time to re-evalulate your business model and coaching strategies, your referral business might just reward the changes you make!
Turning the tables, if you’re a client, how forthcoming has your trainer been with you? Do they involve you in the planning process and actually give you the materials you need so that you could complete the plan on your own if you need to? If they don’t, I suspect it’s time for you to take control of your training and start shopping for a new trainer!
- Goldsith, Marshall. What got you here won’t get you there. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2007.
- Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 2009.