2020 has brought some incredibly radical changes to the fitness industry. Clients are trying to get used to new routines, and coaches are trying to adjust to the world that is drastically changing around them. One aspect, whether virtual or in person, that has remained unchanged is the necessity of trust in a coach-to-client relationship. Cultivating professional trust between a coach and client is a slow, progressive and necessary process. Why would a client pay money to train with you if they don’t trust you? Developing trust takes time and active energy. When interacting with a new client, it is incredibly important to develop this trust early on and to actively maintain trust throughout your professional relationship. You have the training, education, and experience to help your client. Now all you need is a couple of tips and tricks to demonstrate to your client that you are worth trusting. Here are 5 easy tips that can help you implement strategies to build and maintain trust with your clients.
1. Explain Why
You do not have to be excessive with your explanation, but let your client know why you are having them do certain exercises, and not just how to do them. Whether your client is coming to you for weight loss, strength gain, sport-specific training, or just maintenance, they came to you with a purpose. Instead of simply walking your client through their program, explain to them why you are doing a particular exercise or number of sets and how it relates to their goal. A short 1-2 sentence explanation is enough to help establish a baseline rapport. Stay away from long explanations, as they can take away from the workout itself. When introducing an initial program to a new client, I strategically pick a few exercises per workout and explain why I am having them complete that exercise. Your explanation can be as simple as making your client aware that romanian deadlifts (RDLs) strengthen the hamstring muscles, which contribute to improved deceleration mechanics, change of direction, and ACL injury prevention. Simple tips like this allow your clients to attach a deeper meaning to the exercise instead of having a mindless routine. The next time your client is out on the soccer field and able to quickly maneuver around a defender, they will be able to see the direct, positive implications of the workout. With an increased ability to recognize their own progress, their trust in you will soon begin to flourish.
2. Cite Your Sources
Let’s face it; there is always one client that seems like they just don’t want to trust you. Regardless of these feelings and previous experiences, it is still your job as a trainer to develop a trusting relationship. So, cite your sources; then they don’t have to trust you, they only have to trust the research and science behind your programs and philosophy. With clients that are more skeptical, citing your sources can be one of the best ways to win them over. Send your client a research study on hamstring strength, or explain that the reason you would like to meet 3x per week for 1 hour is to meet the American Heart Association guidelines for 150 minutes of exercise per week. By citing your sources, you have demonstrated to your client that you are experienced, implementing your education background, and trustworthy. Evidence-based practice is a combination of patient experience, trainer experience, and research. By sharing your experience and unbiased research, you are able to complete the evidence-based practice triangle for your client, which builds a solid foundation for a trusting relationship.
3. Progression & Evolution
Let’s talk about the clients that you’ve been working with for a year. They initially saw incredibly quick progress in strength but are having a low-energy day and are now starting to doubt your methods. Pay attention to your client, and address this! Sometimes the day-to-day can make you hyper focused on short-term. So how do you address this topic when doubt starts to creep into your client’s mind? Remind them of their overall progression and evolution. Get back to the big picture. For example, your client may be upset that they were not able to make their last repetition on a set. Instead of wallowing in doubt, remind them that the weight that they have on the bar is still far more than when they initially started working with you. Fitness progression is not always a positively trending linear line. It looks much more like a mountain range. Although you may experience times of incredible progression, you will also have regressions, and that plays into the very essence of periodization. Even bodybuilders, competitive powerlifters, and high-level athletes have tapers and cuts in their programs. Just because you have one bad day does not mean that your overall progression and evolution isn’t getting you to where you want to be. I may even argue that regression is necessary for proper progression. If you keep your client’s eye on the big picture of evolution and progress, the small regressions won’t regress their trust in you.
Documentation. Most personal trainers and coaches groan when they hear this word, but let’s talk about it. Documentation can be one of the best and most versatile tools in your pocket if you use it correctly. Aside from the obvious legal reasons, documentation can also help build and maintain trust with your clients, refresh you (and your client’s) memory, create visual progress, and improve communication. Proper documentation can create a professional appearance. Your clients are smart. They may or may not know what a proper exercise progression looks like, but they will be able to tell if you have a documented plan for their session, or are just making it up as you go. When you document your session with a client you are creating a professional visual. You can additionally use your documentation to support Tip 3, Progression & Evolution. If you are documenting all of your sessions, weights, and progressions, it should be easy to show your client how far they have come since day one.
5. Pay Attention, Listen, and Respond
This is the most important of all 5 tips. If you don’t pay attention to the feedback your clients give you, truly listen, and address their concerns, you cannot have a genuine, trusting relationship. If you don’t value and address your clients’ concerns, why should they trust you? Let me be clear though, just because you address your clients’ concerns does not mean you do everything your client says so they will like you. Part of being a coach and personal trainer is helping people become more comfortable with the uncomfortable. If a client complains about a particular exercise, that does not mean you change it immediately. What it does mean is you need to open a discussion on the topic. Get to the source of the issue, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be sure to explain your response to your client. For example, if your client says, “I don’t like doing hamstring curls,” do not just brush this comment away. Figure out why they do not like them. It could be as simple as, they don’t find it enjoyable, but it could also be because they don’t find value in strengthening hamstrings, or even that the exercise is causing them pain. You would be surprised by how many people are introduced to training and assuming that they need to be in excruciating pain in order to make progress. Any experienced trainer knows that research proves this theory wrong. Once you have asked questions and found out why your client is concerned, address the concern with a professional and informed response. To address the concern, use all 5 tips now. You could simply document the comment and address it when you are writing the next phase of the client’s program, but an active response will involve a little more effort. Try explaining why you are having them do the exercise or even cite a reliable source that goes into the topic more in depth. Communicate and respond professionally to your client, and I promise that this action on your part will do wonders to help you cultivate a trusting relationship with your clients.
Though the way we communicate has changed dramatically, the necessity of trust has not. All 5 of these tips apply to both virtual and in person coaching, so be sure to implement these strategies with your online clients too.