Monday, July 19, 2010

How Dummying Down Info to Your Clients Hurts You

I was a huge 80's and 90's metal fan growing up. to this day, I still am....although,  Today I have branched my taste of music to include other genres now that I am older, but I still resort to good 'ol heavy metal when I'm in the gym or even on the drive to work every day. I remember a song by Motley Crue titled "Use it Or Lose It" when I was around 14 or 15 years of age. I never understood the phrase 'use it or lose it', because I was always stuck on the guitar riff and the bass line of the song. But as I grew older,  the phrase's meaning became more and more clearer to me . 

Have you ever had one of those clients (or two) that seem to not understand what you are telling them, and you have to break it down into terms so simple that it brings you back to your health class freshman year in college...or maybe highschool? Now, have you ever had to do that repeatedly for not one, not two, not three, but possibly four or five of your clients day in and day out? Well, it happens to us. For some of us,  it has happened quite often.

Lately,  I have been getting tons of emails regarding concerns like this by a wide range of fitness professionals. Most trainers are fearing  that they are losing their credibility and marketability by working with novice clients. What's wrong with working with novice clients? For starters, educating them is part of the job. And sometimes, when you want to educate someone that is not rehearsed in physical well-being or health, you must simplify certain information. It's a natural process and one that is very important in the development of any professional. If you can break down even the most complex ideas into its lowest common denominator and get someone to understand it....then you've done your job! I once had a nutrition expert simplify the Kreb's Cycle to me in a cartoon sketch. I learned more from that sketch,  than any college textbook I ever read on the Kreb's Cycle. Seriously...

How does dummying down info for your clients hurt you? Simple. The less you think about things the way you learned them, the less you remember them. You memory becomes blotted.  Your knowledge of a certain subject become spotted--filled with holes of key aspects that you missed because you left them out day in and day out to recite to your clients.

Years ago,  I recalled this phenomenon was occurring to me when I met a fellow strength coach who I had crossed paths earlier in my career. He was working with athletes in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts and I was working with the general population in Hartford. We both had the same schooling and same credentials, but we working with different types of clients. He was working with young athletes thirsty for knowledge to improve their game and reinforce their competitiveness; and I was working with baby-boomers looking to lose a few pounds. When we sat down to talk "shop", I couldn't help but realize who was 'driving' the conversation. My friend was reciting things that we had learned together, or read about from the same sources. And I was dumbfounded that he had acquired an outlet to use all this material daily. All that he had learned was reaffirmed on a daily basis. His audience listened, soaked it up, and acted on. My audience...well...they got the watered down versions.

I knew I was losing my competitive edge. I knew that I had to regain what I was endanger of losing. I knew that the more and more I simplified things to clients,  the more I would lose in the long run. So what did I do? Did I "fire" all my paying clients simply on  the merits that they were too ignorant to my profession? Or because they simply didn't care? This is what I did and maybe you can to if you find yourself in the same predicament:

1.) Online Network - Years ago, I joined many online forums simply to interact with like-minded individuals. Discussion boards have their pro's and con's; but for the most part if you find a good one, you can interact with many people that practice what they preach day in and day out. The first forum I had ever joined was You've probably never heard of that website, because now it is called

2.) Build a Network of Colleagues- I began to branch out of the fitness industry and build relationships with physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists. They offered me a different perspective on health that urged me to research and understand.

3.) Writing - I began to write articles for publication--either for websites or print. My clients would usually receive an article monthly. This enabled my clients to read thoroughly the material I had put together and then made it easier for us to talk about. The article served as "homework" which was followed by a discussion that didn't have to be dummied down excessively.

4.) Key Terms - For some clients,  I would give them key terms to investigate. For instance, I would challenge them to research a topic and them come back to me with what they found. If I asked them to "find out more information on spinal stenosis". They would return for their next session with paper clippings or printed text to show me. This would prompt discussion that didn't force me to overly-simply things. I was able to articulate the info in the manner that helped me retain it.

5.) Seminars and Continuing Education - Its extremely important that continuing education is not looked at as an inconvenience or financial burden. Continuing education in the form of attending seminars, workshops, or reading materials is vital to keeping all fitness professionals up to date on current information; but also keeps you competitive in the market pool.

6.) Join a Gym - I always hated training at the same gym I trained clients at. Most of the time,  I had to  keep my persona in check while members and clients walked around me. But when I got off of work and traveled 15 inutes to my gym, I let loose. This enabled me to clear my head and practice the things that I couldn't try on my clients.

I know there are plenty of other ways to help your growth as a fitness professional; and avoid losing what you know. What are some ways that you use?


  1. I agree with all this. Of course education is a gradual process, but I don't think we can go wrong by starting simple and building up. Starting out at two new gyms, I'm struck by how many trainers don't believe in this. Perhaps they've not found that happy middle ground between "just do another rep" and introducing people to the Krebs Cycle, I don't know.

    I don't have methods to add as I'm just new, but the second one I've found very valuable so far, having a physiotherapist and a remedial massage person I send clients to, and who sometimes talk to me about the clients. When speaking to clients they keep it simple, when they speak to me then the abduction, adduction and so on all come out, this keeps me sharp, and already I'm learning more.

    And there are so many unusual ways of training people out there, simply by going to a trainee's trainer and saying "Why?" I learn a lot. Though there's not always a clear answer... :(

  2. I believe it is the mark of a great teacher to be able to relate complex terms, ideas and theories in terms that his student can understand them.

    The steps you outline above are instrumental for staying on the cutting edge of new information and how to make it relevant to your client.

    Good post, John


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