Certified Personal Trainer American Fitness Magazine

Is Losing Touch with the Why in Program Design Costing You Money?

Ryan Halvorson
Ryan Halvorson

Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of American Fitness Magazine.

When I first became a personal trainer some 14 years ago, I was obsessed with corrective exercise and movement perfection. Prospective clients watched as I geeked out on every nuance of the impeccable squat. Once they became clients, they’d undergo extreme scrutiny while performing a squat as I lectured them—oblivious to their glazed-over eyes—on the dangers of knee valgus and ankle pronation.  

Despite my enthusiasm, I struggled to convert
prospects into clients. Many who did hire me would disappear into the ether,
often long before their package was finished. While my desire to help others
move well was commendable, my early experience taught me two valuable lessons
about coaching, program design and client retention:

1. I had failed to adequately relay to clients my why for the program and how my choices would help them reach their goals.

2. I had failed to create programs that balanced the client’s interests with what I thought was best for them.

In the end, my failure to focus on the why of
training cost me clients and sales. Had I paid better attention to my clients’
expressions and body cues, I might have clued into the fact that they weren’t
getting from the sessions what I wanted them to get.

something similar happened to you? Have you lost clients or struggled to turn
consults into sales? Your programming may have something to do with it.

Programs That Cost You Clients

There are many reasons program choices drive
clients away. Perhaps your sessions or classes are too complicated, too boring
(as mine were) or too generic. Maybe your clients can’t stand jumping jacks,
mountain climbers or burpees and would rather fire you or take a different
class than do another rep.

New Mexico–based Chris Frankel, PhD(c), head of human performance for Fitness
Anywhere, recalls a time when he put a client through a workout that was too
intense. “I remember one person who was so sore the following 3 days after the
workout that [this person was] tapped out,” he says. “That was all on me.”

Wheeler, founder and CEO of 360 Fitness in Red Deer, Alberta, says that a
specific session probably hasn’t caused a client to quit, but that information
overload could have led to some attrition over the long term. “Maybe the client
should have stuck to the basic movements or was overwhelmed with apps and
homework,” Wheeler says. “In the end, they probably should’ve just eaten more
veggies and worked out more.”

Wheeler and Frankel say that these mistakes could have been avoided by focusing
more on what the clients wanted to achieve—and how to help them succeed.
Essentially, programming is about making sure that every choice has a clear and
direct reason behind it and that your clients understand those reasons.

is a critical part of every fitness professional’s business,” Frankel says. “It
is where science, craft and brand intersect to help create the
member/client/athlete experience. People are coming to you with their most
prized possessions: mind and body. If you’re not practicing your craft with a
why in mind, it’s probably time to look for a new career.”

adds: “Just like all things in business where your projects and tasks need to
align with your mission or you just spin your tires, each program should have a
goal and objective attached to it.” Read on to learn what our experts do to
make sure they stay laser-focused on the why behind the what.

How to Stay Focused on the Why

Avoid “Conference Syndrome”

It’s happened to many of us. We head to a
workshop or conference; get excited about new training methodologies, exercises
and tools; and then unload everything onto clients when we get back to the gym.

conference syndrome—how we have all fallen victim to the bells, whistles and
flash that come with it,” admits Matt Wright, MS, head of community and
education at Aktiv®. “Conferences/events/workshops are all great, but just
sitting in a 60-minute lecture by no means qualifies you as an expert or prepares
you to translate what you learned to clients.”

loves attending educational events and learning about what’s new and cutting
edge, but he doesn’t always apply the information.

says, “I hear a lot of good ideas that I may never use—not because I don’t
think they work, but because they don’t fit in with my approach or I am not
experienced enough to use them properly. The best advice I can give to a
fitness pro is to have a training philosophy that you constantly refine and to
filter new ideas and topics through that lens.”

On the other side of the coin, Wheeler suggests selecting
educational events with your clients in mind. “Many coaches perceive more value
in learning the 99th way to do a squat than they do in solving real-life
problems for [a] client,” he says. “Pros need to figure out what their clients
actually need and get better at that, [rather] than just padding the stats on
their business cards.”

Get Clear on Your Client’s Why

Rose Calucchia, NASM-certified personal trainer and business coach in Santa Cruz, California, creates programs after doing a deep dive on the client’s motivation.

reason someone wants to hire a trainer can sometimes be tricky to figure out,”
she says. “It might sound obvious when someone says, ‘I want to lose some
weight.’ But if you ask why they want to lose weight, you’ll probably
get more insight into what the person is really looking for.”

you uncover the underlying driver for weight loss, you can refine your approach
to help clients get to where they want to be. “It’s important to find out what
the motivator is, because that will inform how you program for that person and
also how to make recommendations for other lifestyle changes,” Calucchia says.

adds that your programs should also strike a balance between what you know your
clients need and what they want to get out of the session. “Let’s say a client
comes in and wants to lose weight but may have tight shoulders or limited hip
range of motion. If I then tell this client we have to spend 30 minutes doing
correctives, it will become a deterrent. They want to sweat; they want to be
challenged and get all of the positive effects of exercise.”

Read the Cues

So, how do you tell if
your sessions are turning people off? Watch for signs, say experts.

says common indicators that clients are displeased include showing up late
and/or leaving early, appearing unmotivated, not interacting with you or others
in the group, or asking questions about why they aren’t seeing results.

attention to them during breaks,” adds Wright. “What’s their body language?
What’s the tone? Think of being a coach on a timeout in a game or match. You
have to look at your team and the other team to see who’s ready for the next
quarter and who’s ready for their after-match shower.”

Ask Questions

When all is said and done, the best way to
understand if your programs hit or miss the mark is to ask.

always overthink things and think we know what’s best for our clients all
the time,
” Wheeler says. “In reality, we didn’t ask them what they need
help with in the first place.”

agrees and adds, “Too often we try to ‘figure them out’ when we can simply ask
for their feedback. No, you can’t please everyone, but you can take their
feedback to enhance the experience you provide.”

has found that one of the most successful tools for understanding client wants
and needs is a survey that includes questions about their experiences at the
gym, what they tell others about those experiences, their goals and more. He
also asks respondents about their hobbies, physical activity outside of
sessions and shopping habits. In these surveys, respondents have the option to
either remain anonymous or submit a name and receive a
participation reward.

Improve Your Communication

Every coach has his or her unique way of
communicating with others. However, in the same way that you choose specific
exercises to meet the unique needs of each individual client, so, too, should
you individualize the words you use, says Calucchia.

You may
be capable of going on and on about anatomy and structural function, but if
telling your client to engage his lats elicits a blank stare, you could be
negatively affecting his experience. “One of the mistakes I see trainers make
when it comes to programming is overcomplicating things and not explaining
their programming in terms the client can understand,” she says. “Most of us
love to geek out on the newest techniques and use terms that are over most
gym-goers’ heads. Not only can this be super-intimidating for clients, but it
can also be a turnoff to working with you.”

all is said and done, each movement, sequence and tempo in your program should
have a purpose or you run the risk of decreasing your clients’ or participants’
success potential, reducing retention and weakening your bottom line.

Calucchia summarizes the best advice she was given on this topic: “A previous boss of mine said, ‘If you can’t tell a client why you’ve chosen each and every exercise in their program, then chances are slim they’ll see you for more than a complimentary session.’ After that insight, I was able to sell a lot of personal training quite quickly and retain clients long-term simply by explaining the why behind each exercise and how it related back to the client’s goals.”

Did you know? You can create your own custom workouts and assign them to your clients with the NASM Edge app. If you don’t want to create one, choose from ready-to-go workout sessions that were designed by NASM experts. You can add your own notes, and easily view workouts that you’ve assigned with the client dashboard.

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The Author

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer, editor and content consultant based in San Diego.