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Getting Through to Your Clients on the Training Floor: Installment 1


In late summer of 2013, I began the process of looking for an internship that would finish my undergraduate degree as an Exercise and Sport Science Major at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. I stumbled upon the NSCA job board and found a position at a well-known university thats I was extremely interested in. After I clicked on the link, I was expecting to see a job description and long list of duties and responsibilities.

What I saw made my jaw drop.

The entire listing was just a few sentences long. The bulk of it said something along the lines of: “If you’re interested in the position, please read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and submit a one-page essay on how it has affected you.”


Then it hit me – I had seen this book referenced somewhere. I looked at the forum of Mike Boyle’s website, and it was mentioned everywhere. Checked Eric Cressey’s resources page. Yep. Headed over to the “Amazon Best Sellers” lists:


And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. “How much was this thing going to run me?” I thought. Well, about half as much as a Chipotle burrito. I thought I could do without the $4 it costs on Amazon to get my hands on a book so many successful people highly recommend, so I made the purchase and read it cover to cover.

As I worked my way through this fascinating book, I started to realize something: being a good trainer, at least in the eyes of your clients, is probably a heck of a lot more about how you understand and relate to them than it is about whether or not you have the fanciest equipment or use post-activation potentiation methods in their programming. It’s uncanny how applicable the principles discussed in the book are not only for trainers but also people in all other walks of life. If you read the book, you should be able to apply at least 10 principles immediately regardless of what business or fitness situation you’re in.

So let's get into it.

Here are a few relationship-boosting strategies to employ with clients and co-workers, with quotes from How to Win Friends and Influence People below for the first two.

Begin with praise if bringing up a fault

“It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise of our good points.”

Usually, if there are 10 things you have to get right on a certain exercise, the client is doing 8 or 9 of them correctly and 1 or 2 poorly. When you ask a client to fix a certain aspect of their form, be sure to emphasize what they’re doing right beforehand.

For example, on a single-arm cable row, you’ll often see a client moving too much through the glenohumeral joint and not enough at the scapulothoracic joint. Search for something they’re doing well before addressing the fault.

Consider saying something along of the lines of “Great job keeping a neutral lower back. You’re 95% of the way there. Now let’s work on what your shoulder blade is doing…”

Talk about your own mistakes first before someone else's

“It isn’t nearly so difficult to listen to a recital of your faults if the person criticizing begins by humbly admitting that he, too, is far from impeccable. “

Personally, I stunk at half-kneeling anti-rotation core exercises on the functional trainer when I first experimented with them. The movements feel awkward for many during their first few sets.

When I’m taking a new client through the exercise and they’re having a tough time with form, I make sure to point out that I could have written a short novel about my inability to do them when I started, and that they’ll get the hang of it in no time.

Show empathy and the client will keep trying until they get it right.

Talk in simple terms and utilize schemas

Newsflash: most of your clients won’t understand what lumbar extension, humeral anterior glide, or posterior pelvic tilt mean. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but really try to make it point of emphasis to show the client what you’re looking for instead of using big fancy words that will leave their head spinning.

Another fantastic method is tapping into the client’s existing “schemas,” a concept talked about in one of Chip and Dan Heath’s bestselling books, Made To Stick.

To illustrate an example, most clients have no issue posteriorly tilting the pelvis when you ask them to flatten out their lower back against the wall on a Back-to-wall Shoulder Flexion exercise. If you need to cue them into posterior pelvic tilt on an exercise without the benefit of wall feedback, say something along the lines of, “Remember how you flattened your lower back on the wall for the Back-to-wall Shoulder Flexion drill? Let’s get in that back-position again while engaging the core and glutes.”

This would be taking advantage of the client’s pre-existing "schema" of how to posteriorly tilt the pelvis to bring the lumbar spine into an ideal position.

Keep checking back for more articles on this topic, there will be plenty more to come!

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