Our 85-year-old client Ernie doesn’t come to the gym by choice.
Instead of following our instructions, he goes around and asks people if they come to the gym of their own free will. He finds it hard to believe that he’s the only one training without a choice.
However, when I show fitness coaches our onboarding process, they are just as shocked as Ernie:
“How do you make your clients agree to that?”
“I could never get my clients to do that!”
In the fitness industry, coaches are always trying to balance what the client wants versus what they need. Sadly, misinformation and novelty rarely align wants and needs.
Something that must always be kept in mind is that coaches aren’t just in the fitness-training business. We’re also in the customer service industry.
That means that clients’ wants really matter, or had better matter, or they’ll leave—especially since there are many other coaches willing to give them what they want, which is usually a hard, crushing workout from Day One.
When you look at our onboarding process, however, it seems as if what most clients want to do gets thrown out the window. Our clients barely get off the floor for the first two days.
Yet, we’re able to get prospective clients to essentially run through a 50-minute warm-up.
After those first two days of onboarding, clients then run through a one-day program a few times a week for two to three weeks—doing pretty much the same thing, over and over again.
I know what you’re thinking …
What about variety? What about novelty? Won’t people get bored?
Before I talk about how we get clients to believe in the process, let’s first talk about how our onboarding process makes the coach’s job easier.
Onboarding Makes the Coach’s Job Easier
When a client dedicates a morsel of time to developing body awareness and proper form, weightlifting competency skyrockets.
First, they nail down strength-training basics. They develop a strong quadruped position, a solid squat, a good lunge, and all the other moves you can think of that more complicated exercises are built on.
The result is clients who have little to no programming constraints in the future. They progress easily and catch on quickly to all the new exercises they’re shown.
The best part: Clients end up building high levels of independence, which makes our semi-private and group sessions run more smoothly. Clients could basically train on their own without a coach … uh, for the most part. 😉
Seems like a lot of perks, right? It’s like a fitness utopia, IMO. But it wouldn’t be possible if we hadn’t taken things slowly at first.
Slow may seem unsexy and boring to some, and most coaches think it decreases the chances of a client’s training with you. After all, they want fast. They want variety.
But what if …
We could redefine what it means to hire a personal trainer?
We could shift someone’s perception of what the first 10 sessions should look like?
Lucky for you, I’ll show you an onboarding process that does just that! And don’t worry—you can always modify it to fit your personal training style.
Five Keys to Successfully Onboarding New Clients
1. Build purpose into your service.
Building purpose into your service makes clients feel that their training was crafted specifically for them.
That is the first step in getting clients to trust the process. If you’ve gained their trust, the following steps will guarantee an onboarding process that produces amazing clients and makes your job more fun!
2. Describe training as a skill.
When you describe training as a skill, it makes it OK to be a beginner. If someone has never cooked a day in their life, it would be common sense to take the Cooking 101 class before advanced sushi rolling.
That mentality is the centerpiece of our training. If your clients have never trained before, then be ready to enroll them in “Movement 101.”
We compare our training to rock climbing.
“Think of strength training like rock climbing. You usually start rock climbing by first taking a few classes on foot and hand positioning. It’s the foundation of what you need to be a good rock climber.
“Our onboarding does the same thing. It teaches you the basis of everything you need to be successful gymgoer.”
We compare it to salsa dancing.
“Have you ever taken a salsa class? There’s this eight-step move that’s considered the foundation of salsa dancing. Once you nail down the eight-step move, you then move on to the more complicated and fun moves built on top of that.
“That’s what our onboarding program does: It begins by building the foundation of all the more complicated and fun moves you’ll learn while training with me.”
We also compare it to cooking.
“Strength training is a skill, and like any skill, there are fundamentals to be learned.
“It’s just like cooking. If you want to become a master chef, you first learn how to chop, sauté, brine, brown … all the basics necessary to becoming a good, even a great, cook.
“That’s basically what our onboarding does. You’ll learn all the basic positions, exercises, cues, lingo … etc. We find that when clients go through that initiation, they are way more successful in the long run. You’ll be a Master of Exercise in no time!”
Get the point? By comparing our onboarding to building the foundation of other recognizable skill sets, you can sell the values of the so-called boring stuff people usually complain about doing. If a client has the picture of becoming a master rock climber, or dancer, or chef in mind when they start, they’ll be much better motivated to follow through than if they begin by thinking, “So this onboarding is basically two 50-minute warm-ups and then one program where you go through the same exercises over and over? Seriously? And I’m paying for this?”
These analogies and descriptions will go a long way to convincing clients that you have a systematic plan to get them to where they want to be. People love a well-thought-out plan that make sense, especially if they feel it’s been tailored to their specific needs and goals.
Which brings me to …
3. Show them the end result.
Where does the plan finally take them? What’s the end game? Is it always going to be a 50-minute warm-up? Because if they think they’ll just be rolling on the floor forever, they might not sign up. They probably won’t sign up.
But if they’re convinced that the onboarding is part of a process that gets them to the results they dream of, like the beginner cooking classes eventually take you to the advanced ones and then to preparing amazing feasts, they’ll have few objections and be more open to the process.
For example, they’ll see that a supported squat leads to all types of fun squats.
They’ll see that a 90/90 position leads to all the ab exercises they’ve seen in the fitness magazines.
They’ll see that a solid quadruped position is the basis of those planks where they feel all abs and no lower back.
They’ll see that a half-kneeling position leads eventually to all the cool lunges.
If you’re an in-person personal trainer, you can physically show clients the movements, just as they’re done in the pictures above. Or you can point to a “veteran client” doing something more advanced, while reminding your newbie client that the veteran started in the same place they’re starting in.
If you’re online, providing graphics like the pictures above are always helpful for illustration purposes.
4. Build novelty, and advance the exercise they’re already doing.
I know I said clients do the same thing over and over again in onboarding, but I want you to start thinking about the process from their perspective.
From our perspective, it’s the same thing over and over. Things we already know. But for new, untrained clients? Everything is foreign to them. We might think that doing armbars eight sessions in a row is tedious.
But your client’s probably just getting the hang of the exercise by session eight, while those earlier sessions were a struggle to grasp the cues and get a feel for the move.
Because everything is so new to the client, you can add novelty to the exercises they’re already doing by getting detailed on the technique, changing part of the exercise, or simply adding weight. For someone who has never lifted weights, going from a 10-pound dumbbell to a 15-pounder is cool. It feels great to go from the orange kettlebell to the blue one, almost like going from one karate belt to the next.
Take advantage of those novel newbie gains, because it allows you to keep the onboarding simple while simultaneously giving people a growth experience as they learn the basics.
If, however, they don’t think it’s that big a deal to go from 12.5 to 15 pounds, make them feel like it’s a significant gain, which brings me to my last step.
5. If you get excited, they’ll get excited.
If you get excited and become convinced that clients are doing a good job, they’ll think that, too.
Five years ago, I was practicing rock climbing with a bunch of folks at my friend’s garage. We were all brand new to it. Out of all of us, that friend complimented only me—told me I was natural.
Guess who bought a membership at a rock-climbing place the next week?
We all want to impress the teacher. People like being the teacher’s pet. So will your clients. If you compliment their ability to squat the way you want them to squat, they’ll consider even something that basic and simple a win, and be eager to move on to the next accomplishment, big or small.
Give our onboarding a try and see if it doesn’t make your job easier while giving your clients a solid foundation on which to build a lifetime of fitness.