Monday, September 24, 2012

Should a Client's Personality Affect Your Program Design?

Does the type of personality a client or athlete possess influence the way you design their program or a workout? How so?

Personally, I  always take the client's personality into account when I design a program. Everyone is different and they should be treated differently. We live in a society that really loses its color when it comes to people sharing their personalities--or sometimes--sharing too much! Jump on any means of public transportation and watch people buried into their smart-phones. Walk into any coffee shop and observe over half the patrons on their laptops or iPads. Interestingly enough...stumble upon any political, fitness, or medical internet forum and read the many colorful comments by visitors having no trouble sharing their "personality" online. Part of personal training is building a rapport with your client. We spend time building a trusting, comfortable bond with a paying client in order to help them achieve their goals. I wouldn't train a soccer player the same as a golfer, or a male the same as a female, so why wouldn't I let personality influence my program design? 

If a client has a hard time with motivation or becomes intimidated by the scene of iron, they need to be progressed a little slower with exercises that will encourage success. Successful execution of the program always builds "gym" self esteem and will keep clients coming back. In the past, I have been very direct to challenge and motivate my clients - both females and males. Over time, I have learned that you cannot always make your mark going through the "front door". Sometimes, you can make your mark going around the back.

It is not uncommon for me to spend some time with a client talking about things unrelated to fitness. During this time, it is  a chance for me to understand them and learn more about their personality. The connection we make will greatly influence how my coaching is executed during a training session. This is a time to build empathy and understand the struggles they have been through. This is a time to gauge "mental toughness" and tolerance to hard-work. I have found that most times when general population clients are scared, they "hold-back" in their training. This inhibition controls their fate. If they cannot give me 100% effort during training, we are working on only three good tires. So, I have to break down any hesitation, doubts, and apprehension that they may have. This is accomplished at the first meeting and may carry over into the first couple of sessions.

This is also a "trust" issue, or what I call an Expectation Trigger. An expectation trigger is when you meet with a new client for the first workout and they are reluctant to give their all because they fear they may not be able to deliver what is expected. It is a simple tale of not-knowing what to expect and being prepared to fail. I compare it to entering a haunted house. You can't see what is ahead of you around the corner; but you know you are going to get scared---you just don't know how bad. As the trainer, if you are able to sense this (and you should be), progressing clients through exercises (easy to hard), and progressing through gym space (smaller space to larger space) should make them more comfortable. 

Here are some other ways to optimize your client's comfort level and let their personality shine: 

1.) Start with consults that are not so serious. If you sense they are uncomfortable or apprehensive, try having a consult sitting side by side to minimize eye-contact. Giving a client considerable distance when you speak may be enough to make them feel better about the choice they have made. This is the best time to break the ice talking about things not related to their weight, fitness, or diet. 

2.) Avoid scanning their body. Keep your eyes up. Most overweight individuals do not appreciate being scanned like a bar-code by others' eyes. Keep eye-contact and take their goals seriously. You can observe their body once a "comfort level" is sensed. 

3.) Use small space. If you own a studio or work in a facility, try using a small corner or area of the floor. Do this a couple of times and this will increase their spatial comfort. 

4.) Perform exercises that do not draw attention. Progressing exercises from easy to difficult is simple to understand. But what if your new client is an athlete with incredible ability, but is sensitive to attention? Believe it or not, there are shy athletes. So you don't want to have them swing the battling ropes or jump onto plyo boxes just yet--especially in front of others. Those exercises draw attention and may be loud. Try to maximize their comfort level with other progressions using complexity and time.
Now what if your client is a dry, egoistical CEO or attorney?

1.) Start with a serious consult and then ease up. Projecting professionalism is important with these guys (or gals). However, stick to your guns until you have their attention. Once you have established your objectives, break the consultation up with a mention of the past weekend's football game or weather.

2.) Scan the body. Stay in control of the consult. Don't be judgmental, but be the embodiment of fitness. Remember, they want to achieve what you have attained--a strong physique with rippling muscles and overly-developed traps. Keep them hungry and you will be in control.

3.) Demonstrate and perform exercise flawlessly. A common comment I get from my clients is "you make it look so easy". The day I don't hear that comment anymore, is the way I need to hang it up. Clients with attitude need to be shown that they do not rule the iron jungle. If you have a client show you up, you need more training yourself.

4.) End every meeting with a firm handshake and eye contact. Just like the gazelle in the wilderness, do not show any signs of weakness. Your CEO client will pounce on your like the lion that he or she is. There is a reason why they are where they are: they are strong-willed and willing to work hard. If they witness anything less than that,  they will consider you a subordinate. That will be the time to punch your clock out.


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