Thoughts on my first week of client training

This past week marked the un-official beginning of my Personal Trainer career. Three brave volunteers agreed to have me train them for the next 5 months.  I met with each of them for the first time this week for an hour-and-a-half long Initial Screening session.  From now on, I will be meeting with each of them for one 1-hour session a week.

Having survived my first 3 Initial Screenings, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and impressions with all of you who may be thinking of personal training as a career.

Things I Did Well

  1. First point of order – get them talking. This was a lesson I learned the hard way from a “practice” client consult with my brilliant fiancée.  The first thing she cautioned me on was that I was so eager to explain my fitness philosophy that she didn’t get to talk about her own goals/experiences/ideas.  That is NOT ideal.  The first session, and every session after that, should be focused on the client.  They need to feel like they are the center of your attention – because that is what they are paying you to do.  No one wants to work with a trainer who isn’t prepared to put the emphasis on THEM.
  2. Preparation. In order to get an idea of my client’s exercise/injury/medical background, I had each client fill out a “Getting Started Questionnaire” that I created. (I’ll attach it below.)  Not only did this give me a sense of how I could help each individual, but I immediately had talking points that I could use to engage the client.  (Highlighting important/interesting points was helpful.)  Finally, I had a detailed plan of what I wanted to accomplish during the first meeting with each client.
  3. Adapting on the fly. Because I am working with clients at playgrounds near their homes, we have to make do with whatever form of “equipment” (monkey bars, park benches, etc.) that are available in order to scale the workout appropriately.  I felt that it was important for me to quickly assess each client’s ability level and adapt the activity to what they had available.
  4. Keeping things light, positive, and fun. As the trainer, I need to be full of positive energy THE ENTIRE SESSION.  I was enthusiastic, joked around a little bit, and finished each session feeling refreshed and energetic – which is what I want my client to be feeling too.  In order to motivate your client to make changes and educate them on how, you much demonstrate those qualities yourself.  Do your best to set a positive tone.  Make your sessions a place outside of other stresses where the client can focus on themselves and improvement.
  5. Hands-on coaching. I was a little worried about how this would go, since two of my clients are female.  But I asked if it was okay if I touched them each time I needed to, and it went off without a hitch!  I felt like giving them physical cues on how to move was much more effective that verbal cues on their own.

Things To Improve Upon

  1. Stick to the basics. I covered a TON of material during the first session – introducing functional movements, training schedules, and also teaching 5 new moves (squat, push-up, pull-up, press, plank) – when explaining each of these, it is easy to go into ENORMOUS (and extraneous) detail.  And during my first session, I was still feeling out how much my client needed/wanted to know.  While I know that I geek out on fitness, throwing a ton of information superfluous to DOING the exercises is at best confusing.  I think this is something you learn how to do the more you interact with clients, which is why experience is so important. By the end of my 3rd session, I was much better   at filtering out what they needed to know right now to workout safely on their own.
  2. Take your time. If I had the chance to change anything about my first sessions, it would be to split the material into 2 separate ones.  Covering only one of the movements in a single session is plenty enough, and five might be pushing the limit of what a person can absorb.  Plus, it will give you the time to teach proper form without making sacrifices due to time constraints (#neveragoodidea)
  3. Take notes – it will help later. I struggled to take notes fast enough while my client was talking – but what notes I did manage to get down were immensely helpful as I reflected on each session and planned the following week’s session.  I recommend typing all notes afterwards for backup.
  4. Nutrition and tracking – I wasn’t well prepared to deal with either of these on the first session.  I told my clients that I would be tracking performance, but that if they wanted body composition tracking that I could instruct them on what measurements to take.  Not only did I underestimate how important this was to my clients (they ALL wanted it), but I expected them to want to do it alone – not true.  They wanted me to go ahead and track the measurements for them, and were eager to get started.  Also, I wish that I had included some general nutrition questions on my “Getting Started Questionnaire” so that I had some base to start analyzing their nutrition. As it was, I asked each of them to keep a food log journaling what they ate and when, but not how much (#quality/quantity).
  5. Tracking their reps/sets in real time. I’m sure I’ll get better at this with practice, but I was so focused on checking my clients form that I started to lose track of rep counts.  Getting a good stopwatch would be helpful too.

Other Observations

  1. People are genuinely excited about their first meeting. They see this as a turning point in their health/fitness and can’t wait to start seeing results.  This energy is great, but it can lead to early disappointment/burnout if clients have unrealistic expectations about when they will see results.  Harness this energy and use it to motivate your clients, but be sure to lay out realistic goals and reward them for their successes, however small.
  2. I love doing this stuff. Everyday, I am more and more sure that this is what I want to do with my life.  Here’s hoping that I can make it work.

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That’s it for now.  Hopefully I’ll start getting some direct feedback from my clients that I can also share.  Here’s to becoming better trainers.

-Cheers, and stay healthy everybody.