Being a personal trainer is a tough job. I’ve never done it, but I’ve been in the business long enough to see how challenging it is. You have to be energetic but chill. You have to be demanding yet compassionate. You have to be informed but remain curious.
Clients want you to be their sexual fantasy, their therapist, their best friend, and their drill sergeant in varying levels depending on the day. All of that while you juggle working in an environment that is competitive and demanding. Many of you have to manage your own schedules, design your own programs, attract and sell new clients, and meet the performance expectations of your boss or parent company.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Y’all work hard.
As I’ve watched the trainers at MFF and gotten to know countless other trainers throughout the industry, I’ve noticed a common challenge that I think is holding many of you back.
This problem reveals itself in your ability to attract and retain clients. You’re not sure how to be yourself and speak to your clients in a way that meets them where they’re at. Many of you feel this problem as a pain point when you say things like, “Client X just doesn’t want to be here.” Or “Client Y is such a pain in the ass, nothing I do seems to please them.” Or “Client Z doesn’t remember anything we do from week to week.”
Any of that sound familiar?
For most of you, your biggest problem isn’t a lack of fitness knowledge or not having six-pack abs. The biggest hurdle in building your career isn’t that you need more certifications or don’t have enough fitness equipment.
Your biggest problem is that you like fitness too much.
That’s a weird thing to say, huh? Let me explain.
Sure, it’s your job to be knowledgeable about fitness and nutrition and ideally you walk the talk by living the behaviors you preach to your clients. No doubt some of you have been in love with fitness for many years, growing up playing sports and being active. Others have learned to love fitness over time, perhaps becoming a personal trainer after battling with your own health and fitness for many years. Your commonality is that every trainer I’ve ever met has a deep passion for fitness.
That’s all well and good. In fact, having a genuine love of fitness is totally necessary to do your job. The problem is that the vast majority of your clients don’t love fitness. Actually, many of them downright hate it.
That creates a gap with you on one side of a vast, deep canyon, and your clients on the other side. Let’s call it the passion gap. You were born with, or have grown to love and appreciate, all things fitness and nutrition, and many of your clients only workout begrudgingly. They are told they have to work out by their doctors, or feel social pressure to look a certain way, or they genuinely want to live a healthy lifestyle but don’t authentically enjoy the physical act of exercise. Regardless of the reason, you and a large percentage of your clients are on vastly different planets when it comes to your relationship with fitness.
One may say that trainers are from Mars and clients are from Venus.
I recently heard John Berardi from Precision Nutrition explain the passion gap this way:
“Clients don’t want to know how to be fit and healthy, they just want to be fit and healthy.”
I couldn’t agree more. Well said, Mr. Berardi! As fitness professionals many of you have understandably fallen in love with the process of becoming fit, filling your brains full of countless knowledge bombs and using yourself as a human guinea pig to learn what strategies work and what’s bullshit. That’s fantastic, and this article isn’t suggesting you stop being an avid student of fitness and nutrition.
What I am suggesting is that you have to acknowledge that many of your clients are coming from a very different perspective. They don’t care about the process, they just want the results. When you can fully understand and acknowledge this difference in perspective you can start to close the passion gap to attract new clients and build stronger relationships with the clients you already have.
Here are three things every personal trainer can do to better navigate the passion gap.
1. Get to know your ideal client.
If you don’t already have a keen understanding of your ideal client avatar, drop everything and do this exercise. Your ideal client avatar is a character that you create to describe your ideal prospect. Once you’ve created this character you will better understand what motivates and inspires them, helping you better attract the kind of clients you want to work with.
Start by grabbing a blank piece of paper or opening a fresh document on your computer. Then take a few minutes to think about your ideal client. Begin by jotting down the basics. Is it a male or female? How old are they? What do they do for work? Write down as much detail as you can about their life.
There is no way to mess this up. It’s fictional, so have fun with it.
Then get a little deeper. Ask yourself, why they are looking for a trainer? What is your avatar’s goals? What do they fear? What has their fitness journey been like over the course of their life? This is the good stuff, often referred to as the psychographics of your clients.
Having a fully realized client avatar will help you instantly find greater empathy and connection to the kind of clients you want to attract, and build stronger connections with those whom you already work. Which brings us to our next action step.
2. Make sure your marketing reflects your ideal client.
Now take all the demographic and psychographic information and make sure your marketing materials and branding speak to your ideal client’s goals, needs, and fears. If your ideal client came to your website would they think you really “get” them? If your ideal client saw your storefront window would they think “I belong here”? If your ideal client watched one of your classes or training sessions would they think “I can do that”?
All too often, personal trainers take the all-about-me approach to marketing and branding. Their websites are pictures of them, their social media accounts are filled with videos of them lifting and looking hot. The copy on their website is all about how many certifications they have and how passionate they are about fitness. That may work for some of the clients some of the time, but if you want to work with 80% of Americans who aren’t currently getting enough exercise, chances are you’re just scaring them away.
Instead, balance your branding and marketing with a combination of your passion for fitness and your potential client’s real-life pain points. If you want to bridge the gap between you and your non-fitness-loving clients, it starts with speaking their language and appealing to what is important to them. This is perhaps the most important work we do as fitness professionals and as an industry we have a shit-ton of room for improvement.
3. Get deep with your existing clients.
Once your outward brand and appearance is attracting your ideal client, it’s time to focus on our existing clients. How do you bridge the passion gap with them? It’s pretty simple actually. Ask your clients what’s important to them. Move beyond your passion for fitness, and find out what your client’s agenda is. What motivates them? How do they feel about their progress? What makes them uncomfortable? What exercises make them feel like the biggest bad-ass?
The deeper you dive into your client’s dreams and desires, the better you’ll be able to leverage your passion for fitness in a way that is appropriate for them. If you have a client who clearly doesn’t like working out, you might want to find out what parts of sessions they actually enjoy. If you have a client who is not getting results, they might not need a new workout or nutrition strategy.
When your relationship with clients starts by you getting curious and diving deep into their agenda, then your passion for fitness can be wielded like a surgeon’s scalpel, sharing the right content in the right amount for each client.
At the end of the day, being a personal trainer is all about being in service to your clients. You serve them best when you truly understand what is important to them. Sometimes this requires setting aside your agenda and ego, and sometimes this requires the full force of your passion for fitness. Your job is to know when to use each in service of getting your clients the best results possible.
What do you think? What has been your experience with trying to balance your interests and passions with those of your clients? Tell me about it in the comments below.
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