approximate reading time: 8 minutes

It’s the inferiority complex that makes my industry what it is, and I’m sure I’m speaking for many in the industry who quietly wish it was addressed. It’s 2021, but personal training is still largely considered a career path that isn’t much of a “career” at all; its transient nature at the fore of its identity, many personal trainers have a certification to enable them to work with clients as a job that plays second fiddle to their I.T. or sales career.

Side hustle or not, the fitness industry is only just beginning to get some respect. But the amount of people who look down their nose at the industry from outside in, in ways represent the root problem that can make many fitness myths spread.

Out of the Sandbox and Into Ignorance

I won’t forget this one: I was 24 or 25, and worked at a medical clinic in the downtown core. One of my coworkers arrived very late for a training session with his client, and understandably, that simply didn’t jive with that client. The client gave him an earful, reminding him of the value of his time and the importance of staying true to the appointments. Then came the line of the century: “…seriously – what do you think you’re going to do when you have a real job? Do you think you’ll be able to get away with being late for appointments?”.

A real job.

To be fair, we can’t point too many fingers when it comes to saying things out of turn when upset. That’s something we’re all guilty of. Regardless, the blow this likely would have had on an experienced passionate, and (at the time) 37 year-old personal trainer, would be something that in my books, a retroactive apology couldn’t fix.  As harsh and bigoted as such words are, they’re still indicative of an attitude that permeates the outside culture – especially among the one-percenters. And that could stand to change.

Personal training is a service-based industry, and probably now more than ever in the western world, we’re beginning to see just how essential that service tends to be for the maintenance of physical and mental health. The dichotomy that exists between the 1 percent crowd and the personal training crowd, despite their growing reliance on our expertise is something I find fascinating. As mentioned, the incident I related above isn’t isolated. Time and again, fitness can be treated as a bit of a ‘sandbox’ job – I’d construe because of the nature of the work, the look of the office, and the dress code.

Whether that changes anytime soon is one thing. But quite another is that of losing the reality that the trainer-client relationship is meant to be an exchange. Not a transaction.

We aren’t accountants you see twice per year. We build relationships that are real. And although we work for you, we don’t work for you.

There’s a fine line between being viewed an expert, and being viewed simply as “the help”.  When those lines get blurred in the eyes of a client, the undeniable eventuality is that of a fractious relationship where at least one of you won’t want to be there for your training sessions. A good relationship thrives on mutual respect, which covers a couple of things worth considering here.

Stop Questioning your Trainer’s Methods

Most trainers can very plainly tell the difference between a client asking his trainer for an explanation of their methods or programming (for the purpose of self education and better understanding), compared to asking out of an underlying doubt for those methods with the intent to debate them. To be clear, I’m not talking about the former.

If you’re taking your hard-earned money to invest in the expertise of a coach to help your progress, let the coach take hold of the steering wheel, and listen. It’s very common for this “power shift” to be a difficult adjustment when a client is used to being in control and possibly giving orders at the office or workplace. You may not even realize the resistance you may have to being told what to do until stepping back to take a cool, objective look at the nature of your dynamic.

There’s nothing a trainer likes less than a client who, by actions or words, shows unwillingness to be taught. Your coach is your coach for a reason, and you pay him for the same reason. It says very interesting things about your personality and attitude if you can’t let go of the control.

Stop Devaluing your Trainer’s Time

We’re all busy, and one-percenter clients probably have a laundry list of responsibilities to take care of. But if you’ve committed to appointments with a personal trainer, they should be no different from appointments with your accountant, dentist, or doctor.

Habitually showing up late for your training session can’t only be viewed in the glass-half-full, “better late than never” vein, every single time it happens. It begins to reflect the value and importance of your training appointments, and ultimately your trainer – and his time.  Similarly, constantly cancelling sessions (especially on short notice) is equally unacceptable. Sure, your trainer may still get paid for the session if he has a proper late cancel policy is in effect, but that’s not the point. A coach and his client have made a commitment to one another to put their effort into the client’s goals. When a situation like this continues to repeat itself, it means only one person is fulfilling his obligation: the coach, who shows up on time, and is stood up like clockwork. You’d hate for your time to be disrespected. Don’t do it to others.

Another Thing: We Don’t ‘Work for You’. We Show you how to Work for Yourself.

The ‘master/slave’ effect that can come along with labelling the dynamic is never a good thing for a relationship between a trainer and a client. It’s an odd one: The trainer gets paid for his work, but the client paying isn’t the one who gets to give the orders.  Sounds kind of backward.

This is a concept that can really go over the heads of many people who hear it, and I think I can speak for many who are likely to have a similar demographic: I don’t help a bunch of rich folks with their training. A bunch of rich folks pay me to help them with their training. That subtle shift in emphasis and perspective can completely transform the way the job is viewed.

Analogies aside, eliminating the debate of who needs who more in the relationship is the best thing to do in order to make that relationship a sustainable one that both parties enjoy.  A tough workout is often what it takes to bring a superinflated ego back down to earth and humility. But I’m not recommending to beat clients to the ground with the barbells. Rather, the real take-home point should be that the trainer gets paid to show you the right ways to help yourself.  You’re the one doing the sets and reps, and doing the hard physical labor to see results.  We trainers kind of act like ‘behind the scenes’ producers, who program the fundamentals and navigate the path to gains.  Without us, there’s a good chance you’d get hurt.

A friend of a friend of mine had a very  famous actress client in his roster, whom he trained in her home. One day she was running late and upon finishing up her personal training session, asked him if he could stick around to clean up her house after she’d left.  No disrespect on cleaners or maid services, but the association between these professions cannot fly. To me, it would be like asking my barber to take my car for an oil change, or do my groceries. Not surprisingly, the trainer refused.

The Truth

This all comes down to the respect you have for every kind of work – whether it’s that of a custodian, a window washer, or a heart surgeon. When you start thinking about one being more “important” than the other, or about  opportunity costs being greater with time spent away from one versus the other, we run into problems. Ignorance, narcissism, and blatant disrespect usually go hand in hand with not treating every job with the same level of appreciation.

This, clients, is the attitude that holds you back from making true gains.  Not only does it prevent you from showing up on time for workouts (and taking them more seriously), but it’s also what’s developed a bit of a rift between you and your coach, and what’s silently built a mild resistance in you when it comes to truly committing to what’s being asked of you in the weight room. Before playing the blame game, it may be ideal to first take a look at your behavior.

Where Trainers are at Fault

Put simply, sometimes we can play into this without realizing.

A client who is doing most of the wrong things inside and out of the gym, approaching things with the bad attitudes listed above, and complaining about the inevitable lack of results that can come along with it, can sometimes place pressure on the trainer for not delivering the results due to poor workouts.

Let me let you in on a little secret.

With all things equal, you’ll never become less fit from working out more than you used to.  If you hired a coach to depart from your sedentary ways – even if that coach isn’t great at what he does – the coach’s workouts will not move you away from goals of improving fitness. You’re working out more frequently than you have before. Period.

Any results you don’t receive, are on your hands.  As much as that sounds like a responsibility shirk, it’s true. Two or three hours of guidance per week is nothing compared to the responsibility you have to keep moving toward those goals on your own. That means minding your rest and recovery, nutrition, any “homework” your trainer may prescribe for you by way of solo programming or preventative maintenance, and even some lifestyle choices.  If a trainer worked for you, that trainer would be capable of handing you a finished product of your results. And that’s not how things go. Trainers would do well to remember not to feed into this, and remember that that they work WITH their clientele. It’s our personal responsibility to do our best to keep clients accountable for their own motivation, but that motivation is still their own, and we can’t control what happens outside our watch.  Fitness results all depend on how much the client is willing to put into it.

In truth, we may be enabling such an attitude to perpetuate itself, depending on how upfront we are in sharing this truth. Motivating some clients may be easier than others, but in every case, it’s ultimately the clients’ ball to run with. And their rate of change is what depends on our expertise and skill sets.

Trainers Unite!

Hopefully this represents a voice the industry needs to hear. It may be a bit of a clunky read, but the message is clear: Beratement of one’s line of work isn’t cool. And actions speak.

Though I used to endure this when I was more junior in my career, I’ve gotten to a place where I wouldn’t take it today. A client who thinks they’d last more than a few sessions with me having the kind of attitude I’ve detailed in the last 1900 words would be dreaming in technicolor.  With that said, both trainers and clients would do well to be reminded that discontinuing workout sessions together isn’t only something that happens per the client’s decision. Trainers can let clients go too, if things aren’t working out.  If it means standing up for yourself (and for the integrity of your career), then do what you have to.

This line of work is as fun, open-ended, and unregulated as it is academic, theoretical, scientific, and demanding of very unique people skills.  And it’s definitely not something just anyone can pull off. So if you’re really intent on transforming your body and taking a step into better long term fitness, start by transforming your attitude, and putting some respect on our craft.

Believe me when I say it: Good things will happen.

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