For those of you that are unaware, I recently have been training clients out of a college recreation center, specifically Indiana State University. I completed my Master’s at ISU, and when I saw they had a job position open for a personal trainer, I opted to apply. Upon receiving an interview, I was offered the job. My job duties are not only training clients, but to pass on some of my knowledge and wisdom to the younger personal trainers, many of which are undergrads or students that are getting their first personal training job.
While this job certainly isn’t a full time position, I felt that the opportunity for me to pass on knowledge that I wish I had known when I was training clients at Purdue University was better than the job itself. I love training clients and helping people meet their health, fitness, and lifestyle goals, but essentially teaching a “younger me” was just as attractive.
Along the way though, I’ve picked up some amazing insight myself while at this position for a few months.
1) Time is Money
We’ve all heard this saying, but usually we think of it as a regard for the money and time being ours…not our clients. In the college recreation setting, many clients are looking to split their packages up to last a good deal of time, and most will opt to only have 30 minute sessions. While I personally think hour sessions are about the sweet spot, you’ve also got to hear out and take your clients’ need into account. With 30 minute sessions, the training has to be very streamlined. Utilizing supersets, mobility exercises, ample rest, and big compound movements become even more important. We also need to try and promote our clients to come in on their own to get in a little bit of cardiovascular work on their own to keep the progress coming. Assuming that a client is showing up for two, 30 minute sessions a week, we are only getting one hour out of 168 total hours in a week. THAT’S LESS THAN ONE PERCENT! On top of that, we also need to be checking with our clients to see how their nutrition is. Are they eating for their goals? Getting in quality foods? Fueling their training sessions the proper way? These are all topics that can be discussed during minor rest intervals.
The take home point: Keep things simple, big, efficient, and stress how important things are outside of the training session.
2) Make Your Sessions Flexible
Like many trainers that train out of other facilities, you never really know what is going to be taken up in the facility that day. There are hundreds of college students in the facility, so what might be free one day, isn’t the next when you need to revisit it. At ISU, there is only one platform, three squat racks, two benches, limited kettlebells, and other issues.
The biggest adjustment I have made in my program design is making things movement based, not exercise based. By this, I mean I write down what movement I am looking to train at that given time. Below would be an example for one of my hour sessions:
A1) Squat Pattern
B1) Vertical Press Pattern
C1) Single Leg Variation
D1) Horizontal Pull Variation
E1) Hamstring Variation
F1) Trunk Work
G1) Metabolic Work
As you can see, no specific exercise is selected, and I will base what we do from what I can quickly see is available on the floor. While some may see this as a pain in the butt, I like it because it also provides great variety for the client. They are still training the main musculature but with different angles and options. Not only that, they learn how to utilize different things in the facility so if they come in by themselves (which we want to encourage) they can get in a solid workout and feel comfortable doing so.
The take home point: Have some wiggle room in your program design.
3) Teach Mobility and Correctives
I’ve been known to kind of get on the corrective enthusiasts, but hear me out, I still think they have their place. From many of my clients, I have noticed MANY of the same movement issues. Most have anterior pelvic tilt, tight/rounded shoulders, poor thoracic spine extension, weak hamstrings/glutes, and poor movement patterns.
I take the time on the first session to teach my warm up, some minor correctives, and foam rolling. We also get in some training, but I want my clients to know that this is stuff they need to be doing on their own and nearly every day. While I know many don’t do it, it at least gives them something to take home and work on and shows I care not only about their health, but how their body moves and keeping them pain free. They also can knock their warm ups out much quicker and allows for much more actual training. I try to encourage my clients to show up five to ten minutes early to get this done on their own (especially if I’m with another client before them). Once they realize they get more of their money going towards training and not warming up, they buy in pretty quick.
The take home point: Make your warm ups simple, quick, but possible for your clients to do them on their own.
4) Coach, Don’t Train
Many people see trainers as people standing with a clipboard and counting reps and sets. While this might be true at some facilities, I actually take the time to coach my clients through things. I want them to understand what we are trying to accomplish, why we selected this exercise or pattern, how to perform it correctly, cue certain characteristics, and ensure the client can master it. My goal when I work with clients, is to teach them how to train. I want them to be able to come in and do things by themselves and be some of the best in the facility doing it. It doesn’t mean they will be using the most weight or have the most impressive lifts, but they will be using excellent technique and look like a vet in the gym. Some may think this is bad for client retention, but honestly, I’ve found that it helps. Since I’ve joined the staff at ISU, I’ve had the best client retention rate and have almost all the clients I started with. The clients take note in the fact that you are teaching them, and then enjoy the push and guidance once they get the swing of things.
The take home point: Be a teacher, and your clients will see faster results and stick around much longer.
5) Be Patient
It could be said that being patient is a great deal of the process of being a great trainer or coach, but at a college recreation center I’ve learned this is even more valuable. All of the clients are somehow tied to the university, and with that said many of them are not aware with general rules and proper gym etiquette and also just general training. Most of my clients have very little resistance training, or what they do have they picked up from a friend that really isn’t the best suited to give advice. You’re going to have to clear up misconceptions, fallacies, and “bro science” that is passed on. It’s our duty as a professional to be knowledgeable what is happening in the field, and be able to discuss and inform our clients of these. I have one specific client that could stick around for an hour after each session asking questions because he’s so new to training. I take the time every day to educate him on something, and always reinforce that training is a process, and many goals take time. It’s hard to hear, but it’s brutally honest and upfront. As the client buys in and begins to see progress, this will get better, but be ready to talk about all the odd topics the field has to offer.
The take home point: Explain the process, but be very optimistic in doing so.
While I’m sure over time I will be able to add to this list, these are five important things I wish I had known in my undergrad days when I first started training clients. I want students and people that are able to help clients reach their goals to get started off on the right foot so that they can build up great experience and hours training people. While it can be valuable to make mistakes, some mistakes can hinder progress, and the last thing I want to see is a passionate, young trainer, lose clients and credibility from simple mistakes that can easily be avoided.