Friday, August 31, 2012

A Minimum Skill Requirement for All Personal Trainers

I have been getting alot of inquires from people wanting to become a personal trainer in their "later years". For whatever that means, I think society today doesn't need ONLY 21-year old buff, beach seeking hardbodies with rolled up sleeves and short shorts to be personal trainers. Gym goers of all ages--baby boomers especially-- are potential clients. Some would rather choose trainers and fitness professionals that can relate to their clients' needs and outlook on life.

A 21-year old client that works only 20 hours per week cannot relate to the 43 year old father of four that is trying to make payments on the house and vehicle, and still save money to take the family on vacation. Sure, the 21 year-old trainer can smile and nod at some of the concerns of a client; but empathy has to be genuine for it to to establish a client/trainer relationship.

So here is an article taken from my book Secret Skills of Personal Training. Some questions I get asked focus on where one should get started in pursuing a career in personal training. What characteristics are needed to break into the field? In order for me to answer some of these questions, I need to ask some probing questions myself...

Are you sick and tired of your “normal” 9 to 5 job in a cubicle in front of the computer without any human contact? Is the company cafeteria worker or janitor your only means of social activity in the workplace? Is your boss the only one in the conference room that has the ability to make you feel good about your accomplishments? Well, if you answered “yes” to any of those questions AND you have a passion for fitness, you may be ready for another career endeavor. But wait…the personal training field is a little more intricate than designing intricate exercise programs and selling Mrs. Jones supplements she doesn’t need. It is about opening yourself up to strangers and developing a trust between you and client.

So how do you go about starting a career as a personal trainer if all your experience lies with computer programming, or sitting in that office chair, or tucked under the hood of a car? If there is one piece of advice I can give you to start your laundry list of BASIC qualifications, its honing your observation skills. Pretty intricate, huh?

Let’s get your feet wet in the fitness field. If you already belong to a gym, GREAT! If not, and you are really sure you want to get into the business that you need to gain some ‘observational experience’. I call it observational experience because you need to become a “people watcher”. That is the first and foremost important aspect to achieve a sensory skill of reading people. You need to observe people in action. Go to your local mall or shopping plaza. Sit down on a park bench or be seated in your favorite restaurant. Take a few minutes and look around. Spend a good 10-15 minutes observing the following:
1.) Who is around you?

2.) Who is around the people that are around you?

3.) What is the ambiance in the setting?

4.) How is the lighting?

5.) What actions are people engaged in? (sitting, talking, walking, eating, lifting, etc)

6.) What is the stature or demeanor of people around you? (Laughing, straining, anger, frustration, happiness, intuitiveness, slouching, etc.)

7.) What position are you in that you can react if the situation dramatically changes? (fire, emergency, choking, etc)

8.) Account for the position your partner is in. (Remember, in your company, a second or third person become an extension of you.)

9.) What do you hear? Listen closely to sounds made around you.

10.) Keep your eyes moving. Don’t stare…observe the environment collectively. (Make glances everywhere and piece them together in your head.)
Okay, I know what you are thinking: “What does this have to do with being a personal trainer?” My answer: “A LOT”. If you are going to be recognized as the “Information Booth of Fitness”, then you need to know every aspect of what you are talking about and anticipate concerns.

If you presently workout in a gym, in between sets take a look around and observe people on machines, cardio, free weight, and socializing. Notably, if they are talking constantly they must not take their fitness goals seriously. They workout to say: “I workout”.

Watch the ones that grimace and groan.There is a reason they are straining and using a lot of weight. They “want” to be better themselves badly. Maybe the biggest or strongest guy in the gym, at work, or home? Watch the girl on the elliptical in her tight workout gear. She wants to be noticed for a reason. Watch the heavy-set girl who looks out of place…and probably feels it.

Observational skills require one to create some presumptions about others--a form of profiling. When you position yourself in a environment where you can observe different societal behaviors, you begin to look at the commonalities of a person's actions and outcomes.

Let me go on a limb here ( simply because I can because it's my blog)...

Read each scenario and create an assumption for yourself about the person in each scenario.

  • Woman enters the gym everyday and ALWAYS grabs the elliptical with a bottle of water and 2-3 magazines. She looks frail and never does anything other than the elliptical.

  • Man walks around aimlessly in the weight-room, watching others workout and copies them when they leave the area. 

  • Man continuously watches you train a client, but never greets you.

There are a host of scenarios that can be applied to each observation. Again, it takes time and takes uncovering common needs within each gym-goer. Once you can assume certain things about people, you can prepare a more effective introduction to yourself or a better sales script. Want to know what observation skills will also enhance? Listening skills.

If you dig this unconventional advice and want to know more--you can find it and more like it in my popular, short read of  a book, Secret Skills of Personal Training. Also available on

1 comment:

  1. Good point here, John. Your listening and observation skills are right up there with knowing human anatomy, as far as importance goes, when it comes to being a personal trainer.


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