There are a lot of unknowns right now in the fitness world. Not only do we not know when our gyms will reopen, but it’s difficult to know how the industry will change after quarantine is over. No need to stress over the future, though. The best you can do as a trainer, coach or gym owner is to keep building your business the best you can and stay positive about the future.
To give you some perspective, Sam Pogue, Vice President of Brand at TrueCoach, had a conversation with James Fitzgerald, the founder of OPEX and Big Dawgs. James was the winner of the very first CrossFit games and “is just an incredibly great person that loves education and helping people,” according to Sam. Here are some highlights of the conversation that will certainly be useful nuggets of advice.
Remote Coaching Is In—But It’s Not the End of In-Person Fitness
“The current scale and speed in technology is faster than what we can cognitively think about,” James pointed out. “Remote is a real thing right now.” Because of the access everyone has to the internet, mobile devices, laptops, etc., it’s easier than ever to reach multiple clients from across the country.
However, James also noted that the majority of fitness customers are “unconscious users.” In other words, the majority of people aren’t going to magically transform into faithful online clients during the COVID-19 shutdown. So what does the future look like? “Not a hell of a lot different,” he said. And the folks who have been exclusively training online won’t want to stay remote for very long. “In six months they’re going to need to come to your micro gym to get some instruction because their Peloton has turned into a clothes hanger,” he said. “I think that over time people are going to need to come back to [a physical gym].”
James highlighted a time during the late 1990s when everyone was getting an at-home treadmill. So many fitness professionals thought the industry would completely change. But the trend didn’t last too long and people still found their way back to the gyms.
Treat Your Clients Like Real Humans
“React to people personally like you always did,” James advised. “Treat them as a human.” It’s easy to forget that there’s a multi-faceted person on the other end of the phone or laptop when you don’t see them in person every day. But don’t let yourself lose sight of this.
You have to put in the extra effort to be “more empathetic, more compassionate, and more personalized.” Think about how you can help them move forward with their lives and improve their health. That means you’ll have to be up to date with what’s going on in their personal life and stress levels. Have the conversations with them that allows you to really understand what they want from life.
Are they struggling to raise three kids at home? Are they trying to develop healthy everyday habits? Are they having a hard time saying no to junk food every night? Understanding where they’re coming from will help you be the kind of coach that they’ll want to stick with in the long run.
Systems Don’t Equal Personalization and Professionalism
Having a great system is a must, but it’s not the end all be all. “Because there’s no system set up that’s going to support personalization,” James said. “There’s been a number of people that virtue signal that they’ve fixed that problem. All they’ve done is duct tape the group system with multiple service offerings, they do this personal training, they end up getting people in a group. That’s all good and admirable, but that doesn’t fix the answer of how you professionalize the coach.”
The systems implemented in many gyms or online training communities can actually stunt a coach’s ability to personalize and professionalize the client’s experience. Don’t let the systems turn you into a robot and turn your clients into just another number. Take the time to be personable and make remote training a professional, unique experience for your clients.
Create Your Own Path
Too often do people look at successful trainers online and think they got there overnight. Their job and career path seems so easy, right? Not so fast. “There’s actually a step by step approach,” James explained. “We dictate success. Create it for yourself. Meaning—you’re two years in. Good, you got 25 years left.”
Instead of adopting the common mindset “Oh, that’s just what you do right now,” learn from successful people who have been there before you. Study the path they took, learn what worked for them, and then process it all in your mind to create your own way to success.
Prescribe What You Know and Keep Learning
“Only prescribe what you know” is a basic principle all trainers should live by. “Principles and knowing the story arc journey for both client and coach is the answer,” James said. Yet at the same time, you should always be expanding your knowledge so you have even more to offer to your clients.
“You don’t have one person who finished eight years of university who was like, ‘I got this shit,’” he said. “The smart person at the end of the academic journey was like, ‘We know this to be true but we’re still learning stuff.’” While you’re prescribing what you already know to your clients, you have to set aside time to continue learning. Read constantly, take online courses, adopt a new mentor, etc. The more you know, the more you can offer clients and grow your business.
Educate Your Clients
“You got to be educating your clients,” James suggested. If a client asks you why they’re doing something, you better have an answer for them. Because a true coach doesn’t just assign things willy nilly in the hopes that they work; they have a reason for everything they do. “You need to be teaching them,” he said.
You want your clients to be able to teach their friends and kids about the things they’ve learned over the course of a year or two with you. “The spider webs you’ve created in education with your client is unconsciously teaching other people about those principles now,” he said. “That should feel good to coaches; that’s what you should be doing for contribution.”
Just regurgitating reps and sets to your clients won’t go very far in the long run. Explain to them why you assign certain things, what the benefits are, and how it will help them in their health and lifestyle.