Gini Grimsley, the director of fitness product for VASA Fitness, shares why you need to start empowering your personal trainers.
As the popularity of personal training continues to rise post-pandemic, and with 83% of consumers who exercise in-person with a personal trainer indicating they are on track to meet their fitness goals — according to IHRSA: The Next Fitness Consumer Report August 2021 — gym owners and operators must help their personal training staff evolve to meet the changing needs of clients.
Personal trainers can no longer be experts in exercise only. Clients need help with lifestyle adjustments, stress management, nutrition guidance and mindset coaching. Therefore, the success of the client is dependent upon the continued education of personal trainers so they become generalists, not specialists. It’s vital for the trainer to know how to implement the correct tools with the correct clients at the appropriate time, while also collaborating with the rest of the client’s health care team to take a holistic approach to health.
The Modern Client
Generally, the first and easiest step to improving the health of a client is by adding physical activity into their normal routine — which works for a while. But when clients plateau and stop seeing improvements, they quit. While fitness and physical activity are a piece of the puzzle, there are many other variables to address so the client continues to experience positive change and sees value in their personal training sessions.
The average American spends over seven hours in front of a screen working, streaming, or scrolling — usually in a seated or supine position. This can have adverse effects on hunger signaling and cause over-indulgence. Particularly of highly palatable foods like chips, sweet beverages, and other sugary or salty snacks.
Clients can feel overwhelmed as they attempt to make exercise, weight and lifestyle changes. It’s imperative for personal trainers to not only provide motivational techniques, but also build in small, achievable goals so clients feel accomplished week after week, even when the number on the scale doesn’t move or the weight on the bar doesn’t increase. Helping clients create healthy and sustainable habits around food choices, stress and non-exercise activity is the key to keep clients progressing.
Knowledge and Continuing Education
Often personal trainers pursue continuing education that meets their own interests rather than the needs of their clients. Having multiple certifications that support kettlebell training may interest the fitness professional but may not be applicable to their clients’ needs. While personal trainers still should spend time studying the science of exercise and its techniques, there should also be an emphasis on the art of coaching. Communication, empathy and accountability are just a few of the traits that make up this art but are enhanced by a strong foundation of fitness and wellness knowledge.
Having knowledge in a variety of subjects creates a well-rounded professional who can adequately address the needs of the client. While specialties add value, mastering the basics first is a must. On top of a nationally-accredited personal trainer certification, personal trainers should focus on building out their holistic knowledge to best meet the needs of their clients, including these areas of focus:
Movement. The human body adapts to the stresses applied to it. Since many clients are sedentary, their posture has adapted to those positions. Having a system of screening movement and postures helps the personal trainer create truly individualized programming for their clients. Too often personal trainers randomly select exercise variations that are too complex or aggressive for the client’s current level of fitness and movement competency. Certifications like Functional Movement Screens (FMS), Pain-Free Performance Specialist (PPSC), and NASM Corrective Exercise (NASM CES) all help systemize the intake and screen process to provide better starting points for each client’s journey.
Toolbox. Having a toolbox rather than a tool helps the personal trainer match the exercise variation to the person. Clients tend to have biases and aversions to certain pieces of equipment and specific movements, so choosing the appropriate tool for the client to achieve the intended stimulus is important to get client buy-in and continue progress. TRX offers courses on many of the functional training tools that are popular now like kettlebells, medicine balls, and suspension trainers and provide immediate application for personal trainers with their clients.
Lifestyle Guidance. Because we live in a world that praises quick fixes and instant gratification, creating slow but lasting change can be challenging. Personal trainers should have proper certification to guide clients in nutrition, stress management and other lifestyle habits. Precision Nutrition’s Level 1 certification and NASM’s Nutrition Coach certification are grounded in up-to-date nutrition science and focus on building sustainable habits through time and stress management to help clients create necessary changes over time.
Recovery. When mental stress is high, adding physical stress can lead to burnout and sometimes injury. The idea of “more is better” isn’t always true and leaves out an important part of a sustainable, healthy lifestyle: rest. Providing clients with recovery techniques like parasympathetic breathing practice, massage, meditation, stretching and mobility work will remove a layer of stress and enhance clients’ lives outside the gym.
Part of the Healthcare Team
Personal trainers are not considered healthcare providers, but they play a key role in influencing their clients’ health. Consistent communication during and outside of regularly-scheduled training sessions over many months — and often years — provides the personal trainer with a good picture of clients’ overall health and well-being. This allows them to have a collaborative relationship with primary care physicians, physical therapists, registered dieticians, chiropractors, and other healthcare providers when issues arise that are outside of their scope.
Modern problems require modern solutions. Encouraging personal trainers to address the entire human rather than just the body’s fitness needs can provide lifelong, positive impacts to the client. Additional learnings in lifestyle management, fitness and movement, mindset, and recovery will be needed to successfully help clients achieve their goals. Personal trainers with a holistic view of health are imperative to create a healthier America.
Photo courtesy of VASA Fitness.