Clients come to you to solve a problem they have; to lose weight, gain muscle, get stronger, etc.
How you go about this doesn’t really matter a great deal to the client. If they get the results they desire, they are happy. If they don’t, they’re not.
A trap that I see many personal trainers fall in to is one of over-education. I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past as well. Sometimes we do things to show off our superior knowledge, or impress other trainers, that really is not serving the client any useful purpose.
Sometimes we get so caught up in what we think we need to fix, based on the latest things we’ve learnt or what this guru and that guru have said, that we lose sight of what the client actually wants and needs from you.
Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about. I don’t want to single anyone out, so I will talk about mistakes that I know I have made in the past.
The Dietary Dictator
Early in my career, pretty much anything that a client did in their diet would not satisfy me. I was a complete fascist and know that I totally overwhelmed my clients.
I would take someone from eating a donut and frappucino for breakfast and McDonalds lunch, to having natural yoghurt with banana and honey for breakfast and a stir fry for lunch...
Then I would get on at them that the honey is predominantly sugar and they shouldn’t have it for breakfast and that cooking their stir fry in sunflower oil was unhealthy and they need to use coconut oil instead.
Seriously! Look at where they have come from and how much better off they are. This was very much a case of perfectionism taken to the nth degree, completely overwhelming my clients and losing sight of what was important – a healthier diet that would lead to weight loss.
I wasn’t satisfied and felt that I had to somehow find a problem to show off my knowledge or play my role of getting on at them as their trainer.
The Movement Muppet
When I first studied and understood movement at a deep level I would be constantly assessing my clients’ movement patterns and looking at their deficiencies.
If someone’s hips sat half an inch to the right on a backsquat, I would have to correct their mobility and motor patterning to ensure they sat straight down.
If they ran with more arm swing on one side, I had to fix it.
“It makes you more efficient”, “You’ll be stronger and less likely to get injured”.
The client literally could not care less. Neither should I.
The fact they are in the gym doing a squat safely and are going out running is the point. The client wants to lose weight and tone up a bit; I want to spend 20 minutes fixing the missing 2 degrees of femoral internal rotation in the right hip so they squat ‘better’. We’re not quite on the same page here, and it is my fault.
I’d lost sight of why the client was here and was trying to assert my own values and geek out on my passions, rather than trying to actually help them achieve the results they were paying me for! How selfish.
Behavioral Change Bonehead
I thought I had it all figured out at this point. I have more than enough diet and exercise knowledge to get my clients great results, and most of them did just that. They followed my advice and were extremely pleased with what they saw.
What holds back the few who don’t get results? It’s not a lack of knowledge, it’s that they don’t implement my advice. It’s all about behavior change.
I still believe this is the case, but…
I started doing as much coaching and psychological exercises as I did physical exercises with my clients. You know what, it really turned it around for the ‘tough clients’. Those who previously wouldn’t adhere to my program started to see results. People who had tried various things in the past and never stuck with it, started to stick with it.
Eureka! The missing formula.
So, I went overboard and made ALL of my clients do this stuff. Even the ones who didn’t need to do it and would follow my advice anyway. I became obsessed with working on their mindset when I didn’t need to work on it.
It was just pointless and wasting time that would be better spent just training. I thought I was being clever and knew something that would make their results better, when it reality it was making it worse.
When Knowledge is Good
I think you get the picture by now.
Of course, you should use your knowledge to improve your clients’ diet, movement and adherence. The key is to not let your knowledge and what you think you should be teaching people get in the way of what those people most need to achieve their goals.
More knowledge adds the opportunity for more complexity. However, most people need more simplicity. They need to do the basics right. Geek out on the complex stuff when you’re training a body builder or elite athlete – the general population just need to do the basic stuff. The stuff that you probably knew on day 1 as a personal trainer.
The additional knowledge and experience just gives you the insight of when and how to bring it in, the most effective of the many things that they could do.
We are often keen to overcomplicate things to get an edge on the competition. In reality, the greatest edge comes from superior results and that comes from talking to the client at their level and not overwhelming them.
It is not an inherent problem of knowledge itself, of course not. Knowledge is power when used effectively. It is a problem with the implementation of the knowledge and letting ourselves be blinded by our own superiority complex.
Sometimes we need to forget a lot of the stuff we know and just focus on the biggest most blindingly obvious things. There is time to bring more knowledge and complexity in down the road as the client progresses.
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