Thursday, January 19, 2012

Are You Making Your Clients Weaker?

I train adults. Adults of the general population, that is. I'd like to say that I train elite athletes that go on to make millions and give me props to news reporters and the sports media; but that is the furthest from the truth. My job is difficult... challenging at times. My job is draining day to day. Truth is, I wish I could train young athletes because I find them easier to work with. In an old article I wrote for EliteFTS, I managed to find 10 reasons why athletes are easier to train than the general population.

Most personal trainers work with the sedentary population at large. There are some members of our clientele that like challenges and inhibit higher pain tolerance levels than most. But for the most part, your average Joe or Jane walks into the gym needing direction and is willing to pay good money for it. 

Yes, our job is to make people stronger. However,  there is a problem among many personal trainers today that are forgetting to accomplish that one facet of our job. Helping your clients get stronger is not only restricted to physical prowess, but mental as well. You see, most trainers today lack the ability to coach their clients to higher levels of mental toughness using exercise as the vehicle. There is an inept attempt to coach clients through mental barriers without properly understanding the psychology behind such constructed mental barriers. For instance, some trainers generally yell or scream at clients (or group class participants) to force them to practice mental toughness "to get through the class or task at hand". Surely,  this is a great attempt at building mental toughness, but it is short term. There are many other factors that are neglected in helping your clients change their behavior and mental outlook. 

Fight or Flight. This inborn reaction prepares the body to "fight" or "flee" from a perceived attack. However, today's society and negative mundane makes it very easy to "flee" from problems. Technology and medical advancements have turned most people into a reactive society. We look for ways to "cover up", "speed up", or "justify" the things in life that are against our will. Instead of being proactive to look for ways to better, solve, or change something in life; we tend to modify or accept things that are perceived "out of our control" and look for ways to find acceptance by others. Many decide to take pills, undergo risky surgeries, and pay alot of money for unnecessary gadgets or services. 

How does this translate to the gym floor with your client? How many times has a client approached you and could not stop mentioning the horrendous traffic jam while on the drive to the gym? Or how their child could not break away from the video game console and do their homework? Or how their elbow hurts constantly even after numerous suggestions to tailor their sitting habits? How many times have you caught a client making an excuse, complaining, or simply sounding weak, defeated, and victimized? 

And what do most trainers do upon hearing these negative epitomes?

The typical reaction from the listener is to nod the head and affirm.

Big mistake.

Affirmation. Listening is a skill...because we can all hear. But listening requires a thought process. Many trainers make the mistake and nod their head in affirmation when hearing what their clients say. Surely,  there is a "supposed sense of understanding", by the trainer but your reactive actions dictate the behavior of your client. Affirmation can come in the form of a simple head nod gesture, or come in verbal forms such as:

 "I know.."
"Oh my gosh, is that so...?"
"I can't believe that...!"

It is important for the trainer to LISTEN to the client, and pay close attention to their response. the best thing to do is distract a client when expressing negativity. You can allow them to express themselves, but try not to justify their negativity with a sign of affirmation. Building mental toughness begins with instilling an attitude that the client must feel they are in control of their life. When a client complains, they are expressing themselves. To allow them to simmer in their feelings with the aid of affirmation does nothing but reinforce this behavior. I don't care how you distract them, but you should find  away:

Validity. You'd be surprised at the power you have as a trainer. You are in a position of knowledge and authority--depending on how strong you are in that department. When clients come to you with complaints, excuses or reasons why they are overweight; the trainer has the power to make their thought-process valid. Many trainers reinforce poor behavior simply by power of validity.  One of the reasons why trainers unintentionally validate weak client behavior is to avoid confrontation or disagreement. This fear stems from losing business or making sessions awkward. For instance, if your client tells you that "using pain killers excessively is a great way to make it through the day"; and the trainer responds , "Oh you're so right. After my shoulder injury, I had to keep taking them to be able to function!" 

Sounds innocent, right? But there is alot of power at work in that response. If you are nodding your head right now, you understand that the trainer just told the client that it is OK to take pain killers excessively. Mental toughness is not about working through pain, but revolves around finding ways to minimize pain through pure positive solutions that benefit the individual long term. 

Acknowledge. I teach a group strength class on a weekly basis. Every class is made up of 6 ladies that have been regulars for over a year. Every class is challenging, and at times, difficult to finish. But every lady finishes class and feels exuberant afterwards. During the class, many of the ladies voice out their opinions aloud about the certain circuits. I hear such things as:

"Oh,  this sucks..!"
"This is too hard..."
"Are you crazy...?" (to me)
"I can't do this..."

These comments are enabling a negative mindset that programs the individual to "flee"; or in most cases, not dedicate their best efforts to escape the pain or discomfort. I won't lie to you., I strive on making every participant uncomfortable. And if I were to respond to their comments with a,  "Yes, I know its tough!",  I would be acknowledging their weakness. Every trainer must accept the responsibility of changing the mindset of their client. Transforming their body begins with transforming their mind. 

So do you simply ignore such comments? Nope. The trainer must simply not hold any weight to anything that resembles weak-minded behavior. Do not let it enter the session; nor allow self-defeating thoughts mesh with the training. the training session must become the best part of the day for your client because it is a step forward in the direction they are meant to be in. 


  1. Get your clients to read the book "Do the Work" by Steven Pressfield. I strongly recommend this book to anyone on a personal transformational "journey". The book is ostensibly about writing (creating art) but is also complete relevant to other challenging endeavors like becoming fit.

  2. This is a tough one. I read a couple of books on the process of becoming a Navy SEAL to hone training the mental aspect. But they were adamant that they don't train SEALS, they simply provide the atmosphere for people with the potential to become what they already are. The men just don't know that they are SEALS inside already. They were of the opinion obviously that not everyone is cut out to be a SEAL. I do my best to do what you say in this post but I've also realized that some folks aren't capable of mental toughness beyond watching TV while they do the elliptical, though it breaks my heart to say it. I save my energy for folks who have the potential.

  3. And there are those that simply cannot accept stretching their self-perception beyond what they are accustomed to being. Sometimes you have to walk away...


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