Personal trainers rely heavily on their professional reputation to build trust with their existing clientele as well as generate valuable referrals for the future. As such, cultivating positive feelings and opinions from clients, friends, family, work colleagues, the general public and the medical community about you and your role in helping people achieve their health and fitness goals is paramount to ensuring your success as a trainer. So how do you effectively enhance your reputation in the evolving health and fitness industry? Here are some tips to help you improve your professional standing and guarantee a steady stream of new clients.
- Readers will learn how the personal training industry is rapidly changing
- Readers will learn how to focus their education and experience to meet the evolving needs of current/prospective clients
- Readers will learn how to network effectively with the medical community to develop more word-of-mouth referrals.
The Changing Face of Personal Training
Personal trainers have always been encouraged to obtain the general knowledge, skills and abilities needed to design safe and effective exercise and fitness programs and provide appropriate instruction/assistance where needed (NFPT, 2015). Historically, this universal approach to helping people achieve broad health and fitness goals has been the accepted role of an effective personal trainer. However, the demographics of the general population are rapidly changing and so too are the specific needs of clients seeking assistance from personal trainers. Recent research shows that people looking for a personal trainer are increasing in age, present with a variety of chronic or temporary injuries and/or disabilities, and are increasingly being diagnosed with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease (IDEA, 2013). In response to these changing client demographics, the education and experience level of many personal trainers has expanded in the last decade. Successful fitness professionals now appreciate that they must possess advanced qualifications and skills to help this new demographic achieve specific objectives.
Despite this clearly defined evolution in client needs, there are still many personal trainers who persist with marketing themselves as “jack of all trades” professionals with the ability to help people with any type of health or fitness goal. While they may ultimately see lots of clients come and go, their unspecified approach to training fails to enhance their professional reputation in the community. Their provision of services that are general in nature and insistence that they can effectively aid anyone who walks in their door may inadvertently make potential clients with specialized needs feel less confident in such a trainer’s claimed abilities/attributes. While healthy and active individuals with general fitness, weight loss and aesthetic goals may feel a non-specialized trainer is appropriate for their basic needs, the rise in popularity of low cost fitness options such as group classes, wearable fitness tracking devices, and online workout/exercise builder solutions makes this generic approach to fitness increasingly challenging for trainers trying to build professional credibility. What’s more, continuing to center your business strategy on attracting all-purpose clientele will almost guarantee that your business (and the rates you charge for each session) remains stagnant.
In order to continue building a successful business and become highly regarded as a fitness professional, trainers must now look to provide specialty services to distinct groups of people (The American Council on Exercise, 2010). The steady increase in disease and dysfunction occurring in today’s society offers trainers an unprecedented opportunity to step up and meet the needs of our aging and increasingly unhealthy population. Simply recognizing that the concept of what defines an effective personal trainer has changed is the first step in making business decisions that will give you an edge over your competition.
Education and Experience
So what is this new role of a personal trainer? The tasks and responsibilities of personal trainers in previous times can best be compared to those of a policeman. They would keep watch over their community of clients while providing general guidance, instruction and motivation with the goal of keeping people fit and healthy. However, as we now know, the physical and physiological state of affairs of personal training clients in recent times is less straightforward. Using the police metaphor, clients’ physical conditions are now more like crime scenes full of distinct circumstances and special considerations. As such, the job of a personal trainer has changed from basic policeman into that of a detective where each person must be personally investigated to ensure the workout programs being recommend are safe and effective for the specific considerations of that individual.
Therefore, the next step in building your reputation as an exceptional personal trainer is to learn and integrate a variety of screening procedures that take into account all of your client’s potential barriers to exercising successfully. These should include activity readiness tests, musculoskeletal dysfunction/postural assessments, movement preparedness checks and flexibility/range of movement assessments. These types of assessments take exercise program design and implementation beyond simple weights and measures to enable you to obtain the necessary baseline information required to safely introduce and progress exercise programs to clients with physical challenges or limitations. Furthermore, by mastering functional anatomy information, understanding how musculoskeletal dysfunction can affect real-life/daily activities, learning corrective exercise strategies, and utilizing muscle and joint pain prevention techniques, you will have the skills and professionalism necessary to develop a comprehensive network of referrals. Not only will this help you better meet the needs of the evolving training market, but it can also greatly enhance your reputation in the wider health and fitness industry (Price, 2010).
Scope of Practice
Personal trainers are experts in understanding how the body (and mind) is both positively and negatively affected by a program of regular exercise. This is why it is so important to grasp that the investigation of each client for musculoskeletal dysfunction (through screening and assessment) prior to exercise and the implementation of corrective strategies (as and when necessary) should be a fundamental part of your regular personal training services. However, it is vital to stress that it is not the job of a personal trainer to assess for, treat, or diagnose medical conditions.
Performing a thorough musculoskeletal assessment at the outset of a client’s program to uncover and highlight any habitual movement/structural limitations that might be exacerbated by a program of regular exercise should never be treated or regarded as a physical exam to establish medical conditions or physical maladies. Rather, it is an opportunity to determine whether or not a client has muscle imbalances that can be corrected through a program of exercise. The results of your assessments are not to be used to suggest medical diagnoses, but instead to guide you as to which types of corrective exercise strategies can be integrated into a client’s program to enable you to gradually progress their physical fitness capabilities.
While it is never appropriate for a personal trainer to diagnose any medical condition, clearly it is vital for you to ascertain from clients whether or not they have been diagnosed with any medical issues that may affect their participation in an exercise program. For example, if a client indicates during an assessment that they have Type II diabetes, then knowledge of this condition is important when designing an appropriate exercise program. On the other hand, if a client has been diagnosed with a medical condition that requires intervention from or consultation with a licensed professional, you should view this as an opportunity to network with like-minded professionals while also providing a more comprehensive service for personal training clients with requirements/conditions that fall outside your scope of practice. Respecting the boundaries of your role as a personal trainer is the third way to bolster your professional image. It will also further set the stage for your ability to develop a lucrative referral network.
Networks and Referrals
If you implement the strategies outlined above for enhancing your professional reputation, you will have prepared yourself well to achieve the ultimate business goal: referrals from sources your potential clients trust. Two of the top three reasons people seek out a doctor’s advice are related to muscle and joint pain (Huffington Post, 2013). However, because the medical community still believes, for the most part, that personal trainers lack the specialty skills required to help these types of patients they either suggest that patients swallow a pill or recommend yoga, Pilates or “walking more” as solutions to their problems. While these suggestions can be beneficial, they are very broad in nature. What’s more, they leave it up to the patient to work through their own physical limitations and dig deep to find the motivation required to integrate these new exercise activities. Providing specialty services as a personal trainer who delivers specific help in alleviating these types of physical limitations is your ticket to networking more effectively with the medical community/other health and fitness professionals.
The best way to develop a successful network and referral system with the medical community is to use your current clients as leads. For example, 90% of personal training clients have some sort of temporary or chronic injury (IDEA, 2013). In addition to working with you, these same people will also typically seek their doctor’s advice for help in overcoming their disability. Once you feel confident in your skills and knowledge in helping people with these types of conditions, you can approach current clients who are experiencing musculoskeletal pain and ask for permission to contact their doctor to ascertain how you can best help this shared client overcome their musculoskeletal limitations.
The effort you put into developing your assessment skills, corrective exercise qualifications and knowledge of the musculoskeletal system will enable you to communicate effectively with your client’s doctor/medical professional thereby increasing their trust in your abilities and area of expertise. Doctors made aware of your services in this manner can subsequently refer the majority of their clients to you with confidence. This can greatly increase your word-of-mouth referrals, boosting your revenue as well as your reputation.
As a provider of personal services, the success of your business relies heavily on your personal reputation. Performing your job as a personal trainer effectively in today’s market requires that you meet the needs of your current clients, continue to hone your specialty skills, elevate your experience/education levels, and stay firmly within the boundaries of your role when providing services to the ever-expanding population of clients with musculoskeletal pain-relief requirements.
American Council on Exercise. 2010. ACE Personal Trainer Manual (Fourth Edition). American Council on Exercise.
Huffington Post. 2013. Most Common Reasons For Seeing A Doctor Revealed In New Study. Posted: 01/17/2013. www.huffingtonpost.com.
IDEA. 2013. IDEA Fitness Programs and Equipment Trends Report. IDEA Health & Fitness Association.
National Federation of Personal Trainers. 2015. The Role of a Personal Trainer. www.nfpt.com.
Price, J. 2010. The BioMechanics Method Corrective Exercise Educational Program. The BioMechanics Press.