The average lifespan of a personal trainer is six months. I’m not great with math, but that isn’t very long. Is our industry leaving personal trainers unprepared to handle an overworked, stressed-out, traumatized, malnourished, and under slept population?
If we examine how we typically attract people to our industry, a lot of marketing looks like this:
“Do you have a passion for fitness? Become a personal trainer!”
Like most certifications, students are taught to take all that personal motivation and discipline and instill it into their clients’ lives. They are given a noncomplex approach that highlights only a few factors that influence someone’s health.
But is there more to health than a handful of “fitness” factors?
When you look at the majority of the people who become personal trainers, they usually have a passion for working out and/or were athletes in the past. That means working out and enhancing their fitness has been a card they’ve been playing consistently.
This leads to getting people “fit” as the greatest or sometimes only tool in a personal trainer’s skillset.
The bad news is, you can only play the fitness card so many times if you’re trying to achieve results. Sometimes the fitness (the training) isn’t even an option, because the client is barely able to make it through 15 minutes of exercise. Then what?
What if the skillset personal trainers are typically given is missing a lot of the tools they need to be successful with their clients?
I wonder if there’s a connection between sticking to fitness only and the average (short) lifespan of personal trainers? How much more successful would personal trainers be if they took a multipronged approach and not the noncomplex approach they’re usually taught.
When all the other aspects of clients’ lives are not addressed (see diagram above), stresses in those areas accumulate and result in negative health outcomes. For example: five hours of sleep a night, poor diet, sleep apnea, anxiety, and struggling financially = recipe for disaster.
The negative outcomes will manifest differently from one person to another. Some will develop an autoimmune disease, while others may suffer severe depression.
This accumulation of stress, whether or not it concludes in full-blown disease, will almost certainly result in your client’s being unable to handle high amounts of exercise. Even a little activity can be too taxing on their body and could mean their suffering a flare-up of whatever condition they’re trying to manage.
This makes an emphasis solely on “fitness” difficult if not impossible to maintain. But if personal trainers learn how to take a multipronged approach to the overall well-being of their clients, “fitness” will follow nicely.
Looking at the other factors in your client’s life also means a deeper understanding and sympathy with his or her struggles. Plus, you’ll soon seen that your clients don’t need much motivation; they just need a body that’s physically up to the task of working out. What looked like low motivation and lack of discipline was just sleep deprivation and lack of coping skills.
If you want to equip your clients to better handle exercise, here are two aspects of your client’s life you can focus on that have a huge return in investment in their health and ability to train:
1) The Basics of Sleep Hygiene
Better sleep is more than just striving for seven or eight hours a night; it’s about regulating your internal clock through proven foundational sleep habits. Plants, animals, and humans all run on a circadian rhythm that makes us sleepy when the sun sets and wakes us up when it rises.
It controls when and where certain hormones are released throughout the body. If that clock is out of sync, there are about a dozen different hormones that will also get out of balance, increasing the risk of chronic disease, weight gain, depression, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and even cancer.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that has an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality and that makes it a low personal priority. Moreover, there are many things that can disrupt someone’s sleep that are out of the trainer’s scope, like apnea, blood sugar problems, acid reflux, and mental health crises.
However, there are a lot daily habits that lead to sleep disruption that you can address with your clients. These include not getting sunlight first thing in the morning, drinking caffeine after noon, not getting enough exercise, getting too much exercise too late in the day, sleeping in a really hot room, eating too late, sleeping in a room with too much light and/or not blocking artificial light two hours before going to bed.
These are the basics of sleep hygiene, which can have a major impact on someone’s sleep quality and health. These are also habits a sleep specialist would want their patients to address to maximize their treatment, if they were receiving any.
There are many ways you can have your clients work on these things. You can incrementally introduce positive changes into any lifestyle coaching program, if that’s something you’re currently offering. You could also hold a sleep challenge and have all your clients participate, with a prize at the end for the person who most successfully increases the quality of their sleep (adding an extra hour or two, sleeping without interruption, waking refreshed when before they were waking up tired, etc.). A client’s chances of success are much higher if he or she is doing it as part of a group.
2) Support Mental Health and Normalize Talking About It
I need to make this clear: Personal trainers don’t treat mental illness, but it would be a counselor’s dream come true if they heard about a gym or trainer that promoted meditation and other activities that promoted mental wellness.
It’s also not uncommon for people to see a counselor and a personal trainer at the same time. Being able to support your clients through their struggles as they see a therapist or psychologist for treatment can have a major positive impact in their life.
Mental wellness isn’t just for clients who struggle with particular conditions! Busy schedules and technology-filled environments mean virtually everyone is struggling to focus and be in the present moment.
Reduced mindfulness and stress intolerance are among the biggest challenges people run into when trying to change their habits and consistently exercise. The appearance of low motivation and lack of willpower are often symptoms of poor stress management that is fatiguing and slowing down both mind and body.
If you think getting someone to work on their sleep is hard, just wait until you try to get someone to meditate consistently. This is where the power of a group challenge comes in. When clients have to do something they normally would not do, it’s a lot easier to get them to at least try it when part of a big group.
The other thing you want to do is normalize talking about mental illness. This can be done through educational blog posts, workshops, books, and private, confidential conversations. Mental struggles are often fought in silence and isolation, and if you’re working with someone two to three times a week for months, even years, you want that client to feel safe telling you about what they’re struggling with, no matter what it is or whether a highly competitive society says that strong people (especially men) should just tough everything out themselves.
How will you introduce sleep and mental wellness into your clients’ regimens?
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