Keeping Clients Satisfied Makes Them Weak

And trainer "etiquette" is being blown out of proportion.

1416169073_9801I’m going to keep this short and sweet.

I log on to social media on any given day, and left, right, and centre are coaches trying to help the industry with their own contributions in the form of blog posts, Facebook updates, and Twitter tweets – usually to the tune of sage proverbial words of wisdom to help trainers get better at their jobs.

That’s commendable.

This industry (and many like it) thrives through the sharing of information passed along by those more experienced to those less experienced.  It’s what makes things change for the better on a broader scale.  The grey area makes its presence felt when advice on “proper customer service” – which we all need reminders on – begins to become confused with hiding the things that our clients need to hear.

Now, I can’t control the actions of people who are just plain stupid. The people who simply don’t care about their jobs, have chips on their shoulder, are rough around the edges, may be in a transitory phase of their work and decided to grab a weekend cert to validate fabricated credentials for a quick 1 year cash grab. This article isn’t for them.  We expect bad service from a surface level from them.

Nor is this article for the misinformed, because that’s something that education can play a large role in fixing.

Habitually not having the “basics” down pat when it comes to customer service – you know, not sleeping in on your first client every morning, showing personal interest during workouts, and rinsing with Listerine – goes without saying. These are the things that will make a client decide whether or not they’re going to stick around with you within the first week, whether or not you can get them results as an aside from your slipshot behavior.

It goes beyond these things.  I’d like to zero in to the way trainers treat “satisfied” clients. It’s great to go above and beyond to ensure that your clients are being taken care of. Until you start challenging your ethics and morale as a fitness professional.  I’m not splitting hairs by saying this, either.

It’s always going to be an area of conflict when a client who has severe postural issues, complains of joint pains, and could stand to drop 10% body fat to achieve better health hires a trainer in search of nothing more than bigger biceps. The age old dilemma of giving a client what they want versus giving them what they need will probably affect all of us through our journey.  And that dilemma can be extended beyond such an extreme circumstance.

Long story short, are the things we’re saying, permitting, or encouraging keeping clients in the dark as to what “true” health and fitness is?

Before I continue, I’ve seen the other side of the coin, where clients hire trainers as “rent – a – friends”. basically for a social retreat from the tribulations of their secular or personal lives. For those who belong to this group, hiring a trainer for the sole purpose of having someone to commiserate with when times get hard is a matter of personal choice. But it’s still beneficial to know that a trainer’s job is to get (and keep) you in shape.


Back to “true” health and fitness.  First of all, minus a few very general statements, I think that the definition of being “in good shape” is too broad a topic to specify. But there are definitely different measures that can be taken depending on the goals of the person in question. For instance, a cardio junkie would benefit from significantly reducing the amount of mileage he does if his goals are to optimize muscle hypertrophy or fat loss.  It’s something that an unsuspecting trainer may not even realize he’s encouraging since those things are being done outside of the gym, and apart from the 2 or 3 times per week that they meet one another.

Or how about an older female client who’s in great condition to train and build progress, less the fact that mentally she’s daunted by the numbers on the side of the dumbbells she lifts, making her workouts never exceed lifting over 10lbs at a time?  It’s easy for a coach to follow suit, maybe make a meaningless 2.5lb increase in the weights being lifted to save from a nervous breakdown, and adjusting her form where necessary.

What about a guy after better core strength, athletic capability and muscle development, who’s got an undying affinity for the BOSU ball? Keep him happy and do some BOSU back squats?

In all of these cases, my opinion is that the trainer isn’t doing his or her job as effectively as they could be, since what the client wants and needs are two different things, and the methods being used to achieve those things aren’t effective.  It’s worth it to stop playing the nice guy for a second, and explain things without any masks to the truth.

  • Telling a client they are weak in certain areas is one of the best services you can provide them.
  • Explaining that they’re accountable for their own results much more so than you are needs to be driven home.
  • Explaining the consequences for a lifestyle that doesn’t support the client’s goals should be done in the first encounters, and throughout.


And now I sound like one of those dastardly trainers with no customer service skills that I made mention of at the beginning of this piece. Before you hang me, I believe that it comes down to a question of someone’s people skills. I’m a firm believer that all of the above points should be mentioned, as long as a trainer’s knowledge base can support it. What matters is how it’s delivered.  For some reason, having proper fitness knowledge and good cues has been viewed as paramount when compared with having good communication skills, and being personable – which is shocking since the one limiting factor that presents itself in applying that fitness knowledge and using those cues is the presence of other people. Your clients.  This is a service industry, and you need to know how to deal with people in a diplomatic but non patronizing way to succeed in it.

Most clients will be able to detect when they’re being patronized or falsely motivated.  In most cases, they’re paying us to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s part of our job to deliver all of the above. And if they’re paying you to hear how great they are and nothing more, they should reconsider their goals.

The bottom line is that we as trainers shouldn’t put in our efforts to falsely motivate someone, while withholding the cold hard facts they absolutely need to hear. It only contributes to the problem. If a client’s too weak to do something, don’t avoid it.  If a client wants to spend 15 hours a week on the treadmill, make sure they know what they’re doing to themselves as a result. The difference between a good trainer and a bad trainer doesn’t come from saying these things, but rather howthey’re said.

It really makes you wonder. Is the fear of a negative reaction the stopping force that prevents you from telling a client the whole truth about training?  Maybe you’re afraid they’ll leave you. Maybe you just  need the money – really badly.

We’ve all been there, but I think there’s no price value for your integrity as a coach. Compromising it could begin a downward spiral into the path of a “fitness sellout”. Don’t do it.

Instead, put your foot down and diplomatically say, “No more Mr. Nice guy”.

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