Monday, March 5, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Clients You Like

This post is more or less a writing for me. But I am posting it because I know many of my readers [that are personal trainers, coaches, etc] can relate to it.

This is Brian.

Brian contacted me one day in effort to spice up his life with some exercise. He was a twenty-something-year-old accountant that sat in a cubicle gaining more and more weight with each passing day. Brian was from Kentucky. He had recently moved up to Connecticut and was looking for an exercise program that would help him shed some pounds, get stronger, and feel more energetic.

One day, the phone rang.

I met Brian on a hot June afternoon and we hit it off pretty well. He was the type of guy that, as a coach, you want to push because he is accepting of challenges. He was tired of not being stimulated or challenged in his daily life and wanted to "test" himself. Well, I brought the test.

Brian was about 40 pounds. Standing 6 feet tall, he was a typical guy that thought "running" was the answer to his weight issues. He had competed in some low-level community marathons back in Kentucky, but he hardly ever touched free weights. That changed when I introduced Brian to my training programs. The assessment I conducted with Brian showed he had very short hip flexors and a massive anterior pelvic tilt. His knees bowed outwards (from the hip) during our squat assessment and his hamstrings were rather tight. Not only was Brian overweight, but he also liked to run outdoors wearing his Vibrahms minimalist shoes. That was a recipe for disaster---especially from the pelvis down. Running was out. Brian hit the Airdyne and the Versaclimber most days.

We trained twice weekly and he rarely cancelled a session. Every Monday and Friday, I met Brian at 5:30pm. What I liked about Brian was that he made my facility part of his day. He walked in and was ready to go every time. 

Every trainer has one of those clients that you know you can push. When you are working with a full schedule of clients that you know you have to curtail alot of the training because of limitations or lower fitness levels; getting a guy like Brian made your day. Those of you that know what I am talking about are surely nodding your heads!

The essence of Brian's program was about pushing him beyond his comfort level. Watching him get closer and closer to that "line" was a tedious task. There were times I knew he wanted to quit---but he didn't. His first few workouts consisted of learning new movements, and then learning those movement loaded. Each workout allowed him to learn his body more and more. Sure I added some complex exercises into the mix because Brian was healthy, willing, and hungry for more. The mental transformation was evident and, at times, shined more than the physical changes he was undergoing. 

Each day, Brian became stronger and more in-tune with his body. His body was transforming into a machine. He tackled the sled, TRX suspension trainer and sandbag with ease. Previously, his idea of  a personal trainer was a guy that walked him over to each exercises and "supervised" him. No, no, no...not here. Brian received instruction, demonstration and then practice. Sure,  there were times that his form lacked---but his thirst for trying out was the defining change in him. Brian was busting out of his former self. He was accepting of challenges and wanted to collect his conquests after every session.

What I love most about my job is not necessarily the changes I help create in body composition. I believe those are a by-product of the changes I am able to elicit in my clients' mental toughness. They are put through a process of accepting accountability, responsibility, and looking at themselves in a different light. That is the essence of coaching.  If you only seek the physical transformation, then you will miss the mental transformation that impacts your client's life more. 

After 60 sessions with me, Brian and his fiancee decided to move back to Kentucky for work-related reasons and to be closer to family.  I said my goodbye to Brian and let him know how much I enjoyed training him. It happens to every coach. Personally, I will miss training Brian and watching him tackle each challenge I set before him. Business-wise, I knew that I had to replace Brian because he was a steady income provider for my business. However, I know that his tenacity and willfulness to be pushed will be hard to replaced.

So how can you ease the "pain" of seeing your favorite clients go? In my case, Brian was moving back to his hometown---which just happened to be in another state. I have had many clients leave me over the last 12 years, and some of which I still communicate with--but I have adjusted to the inevitable separation by using these 2 principles:

1.) Professional distance - This is taught in every ethics chapter  in many business management or personal training courses. I maintain a professional distance with all my clients. Sure, I like to joke around with them, make them laugh, and greet them outside of my facility...but I am careful how much emotion I invest. Sounds cold...but that is what professional distance is: Being capable of not getting too emotionally attached to a person that will allow you to lose a professional composure and compromise customer service or the product.

2.) Setting the bar - I am confident enough that when clients move on to another gym, another trainer, or another town...the exercise and training "bar" has been set quite high for the next guy. It may sound cocky, but one of my personal goals with each client is to educate them, coach them effectively, and open their eyes to the type of training (that I believe) is most effective. I have had countless messages from old clients that reminisce with me and tell me stories of trainers that have hired after me, and they are displeased with their service. I have become the "measuring" stick for all their future hires. And it feels good to know that they continue to seek a trainer that demonstrates characteristics similar to mine. That is what you call leaving an impact!

My training is no different than what many other coaches or trainers already conduct in their own facilities. But I like to think I bring an experience to every session. Clients are not paying me for training...they are paying me for an experience. And that is why, when the good ones go---you know that a good experience has to be replicated. Thanks Brian for an awesome experience that last 7 months!


  1. Excellent blog John, I love that they are paying for "an experience". It's so true, you make them accountable - and give them a part of your "love" for fitness - that they can't conjure themselves (hey, they have to learn to love fitness, they love other things).


  2. Good insights. I love ruining it for the next trainer too. I've even had clients write down our program to continue with the next guy. I wonder how that turns out sometimes.

  3. I like this article. One comment I'd make is that you speak of "professional distance", but made a video a while back showing some of your old clients saying that they'd become your friends. This is not to say, "hypocrite!" but simply to point out... It's a very difficult balance.

    Yes, you do need professional distance. But you also need to care about them as individuals. Both are necessary to do a good job.

    Most clients we'll see 2-3 times a week. We usually don't see our friends that often. So we're bound to become close to some of our clients. A difficult balance.

  4. Hey Kyle,
    I agree with is a difficult balance. But when I say they are "friends"...I am implying that I am "friendly" with clients after they leave me. Where most bad business-practice will be to ignore old clients or turn away from them because there is a sense of insult (for leaving the trainer), I like to keep accessibility open to me all the time. Does it mean I go out for beers or go fishing with my clients...? No. That is stuff I do with my friends. It just simply means that I am always in a position to accept them back as clients if they leave. It is a mis-interpretation of the word friends.

  5. ffajkus@sbcglobal.netMarch 6, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    Re: "The assessment I conducted with Brian showed he had very short hip flexors and a massive anterior pelvic tilt. His knees bowed outwards (from the hip) during our squat assessment and his hamstrings were rather tight. Not only was Brian overweight, but he also liked to run outdoors wearing his Vibrahms minimalist shoes."
    Very impressive evaluation - if I could find someone like you - I would hire that personal trainer.


Thanks for checking out the blog and commenting!