Fitness professionals must be knowledgeable in many areas of exercise science such as anatomy, kinesiology, and exercise physiology in order to implement safe and effective training programs. They must also be knowledgeable in nutritional science and exercise metabolism to accurately debunk common weight loss myths and fallacies. When this knowledge is combined with hands-on application of proper exercise technique, fitness professionals have everything necessary to help their clients reach their fitness and wellness goals; at least from a physiological perspective.
However, before any of those measures are taken, fitness professionals must first be able to build and maintain rapport with their clients. Without rapport, the likelihood of acquiring and retaining clients is negligible. It is also import to understand, rapport building and optimal communication is crucial to maximize profits and grow a fitness business. Without it, any service-oriented business, especially personal training, is likely to fail.
- Understand health and fitness professionals may have negative preconceptions concerning their clients’ weight loss efforts.
- Explain the difference between performing a fitness evaluation and building rapport with a client.
- Apply rapport building techniques to maximize client adherence and new referrals.
Helping clients toward their health and wellness goals may not be as simple as implementing a new exercise program and calorie-restricted diet. Oftentimes clients who are struggling to lose weight and change their lifestyle habits have accompanying concerns and fears such as low self-esteem, poor body image, or negative social influences. While it is out of the scope of practice for personal trainers to diagnose any psychological disorder, fitness professionals must be aware of their client’s struggles in order to build trust and cohesively work together towards a common goal.
|Rapport: “A close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.” (Oxford Dictionary)
Unfortunately, being overweight in western society can result in unfair preconceptions and stigmas. People with these negative preconceptions may describe an overweight person as lazy, bad, or incompetent. These stigmas can appear in a variety of places including, school, the workplace, in the media, and at home with relatives and loved ones. These preconceptions can be very hurtful and a source of emotional hardship for anyone who is overweight or obese.
In fact, research demonstrates the two main sources of stigmas for overweight individuals come from family members and their physicians (Puhl & Brownell, 2006; Sikorski et al., 2012). A negative preconception towards overweight people even exists among fitness professionals, as some fitness professionals have a hard time understanding and relating with their client’s weight loss efforts (Robertson, 2008). This information is incredibly alarming, as the people who should be trusted and respected the most are often the source of shame and embarrassment.
Fitness professionals who have this negative preconception must make a fundamental paradigm shift in their way of thinking. Rather than blaming or shaming a client, fitness professionals should strive to understand what their clients are going through. This will result in a better experience for the client and ultimately increased adherence to the exercise program.
Building a close and lasting relationship with a client cannot happen overnight, but it is essential in helping clients reach their fitness and wellness goals. In addition, establishing such a relationship is the secret ingredient needed to maximize client retention and referrals. After all, clients are not likely to stay with a fitness professional if they do not feel welcome, understood, or worthy.
The first step in establishing such a relationship involves building rapport. Rapport involves forming a close connection with a person. It is an authentic expression of acceptance without personal bias (Rogers, 1995). Fitness professionals who create rapport with their clients help shape a relationship of mutual respect and honesty. Conversely, judgment or blame (whether spoken or not) does not build rapport, mutual respect, or trust.
Rapport Building vs. Fitness Evaluation
Building rapport requires taking the appropriate amount of time to get to know someone and show them you genuinely care. Unfortunately, some fitness professionals confuse rapport building with the process of collecting information during a fitness evaluation.
During a fitness evaluation a client’s goals, health history, biometric measures (i.e., body fat, BMI), physiological measurements (i.e., resting heart rate, maximum heart rate) and other information is discussed and collected. This evaluation is crucial for determining the type and intensity of exercise appropriate for a client throughout their training program. However, collecting this information is not the same as building rapport.
For example, a fitness professional may briefly greet a potential client with a handshake, and then immediately proceed to asking personal questions about goals and health history. A better solution is to take the time required to understand and appreciate the person they are meeting. They should get to know the person and their values. As part of the rapport building process, fitness professionals should allocate enough time during the initial meeting to provide a dedicated level of attention. By doing so, a fitness professional builds a reputation as a caring individual who places the needs of their clients first. For most clients to see value in personal training that justifies the cost, time, and obligation, they want a deeper connection with their fitness professional, beyond basic pleasantries. A greater level of trust and understanding is necessary to maintain an ideal relationship and sustaining adherence to the program. This is an ideal situation for generating client loyalty and eventually word of mouth referrals.
To help build rapport, fitness professionals need to show empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand a client’s feelings, needs, desires, and pain. Empathy is often describes as walking a mile in another person’s shoes. In other words, empathy is experiencing another person’s world as if it were their own.
|Empathy: “The ability to understand a client’s feelings, needs, desires, and pain.” (Oxford Dictionary)
However, empathy is much different from sympathy and the two terms should not be interchanged. Sympathy is the act of feeling sorry for someone else. Sympathy often involves the feeling of pity and can be condescending to the other person. Empathy of the other hand, involves a deep understanding and appreciation of another person’s experiences without judgement.
To be empathic, fitness professionals must be an active listener. Active listening is a communication technique which requires the listener to be attentive to what is being said. In many cases people stop listening and begin to think about their own response before the entire message has been expressed. Active listening on the other hand requires the listener to clear their mind and only focus on the message. Once the message has been communicated, the listener will paraphrase what they heard to confirm full understanding.
Active listening on behalf of the fitness professional demonstrates sincerity and genuineness, and it is a necessary requirement to be empathetic. Clients appreciate being heard and a fitness professional who actively listens. This builds trust, understanding and an ideal first impression.
The origins of the old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is unclear, yet it still holds true today. A first impression needs to be positive in order to foster a relationship and it is the first step in the rapport building process. Unfortunately, failing to make a good first impression may sabotage a fitness professional’s chance to develop rapport with a potential client and subsequent sales opportunities.
For example, a fitness professional whom uses a directive or commanding style of communication may come across as judgmental if the client values support, empathy, and prefers to communicate in a collaborative sense. The potential client may sit through the entire appointment and initial fitness evaluation as a courtesy to the fitness professional, but he or she will unlikely sign up for any training sessions.
In order to make a good first impression and begin the rapport building process fitness professionals should:
- Make and keep consistent eye contact using a friendly social gaze. Avoid distractions and looking in various directions. However, it is important to be cognizant when eye contact is uncomfortable for the client, as some cultures do not use this form of nonverbal communication. During these times it is best to mirror the client’s body language and social gaze habits.
- Display friendly body language such as facing the client with an open and inviting posture.
- Use a positive and upbeat tone of voice while using the client’s name. This displays a genuine interest in the person.
- Maintain a clean and friendly appearance including proper attire and grooming.
Fitness professionals should also be aware of the environment and how it may influence a first impression. Potential clients are likely to feel uncomfortable discussing their personal goals and experiences in a high traffic area within earshot of others. In order to build rapport with a potential client, fitness professionals should make an effort to communicate with clients in an environment that fosters open and honest communication, such as an office or meeting room. These types of discussions should not occur at the front desk or other busy areas of the gym. Once a foundational level of rapport has been established, follow-up conversations will be much easier and can be had on the gym floor; as long as the topic is not too personal.
Developing a relationship and maintaining rapport is an ongoing process, and does not simply happen during the initial meeting. Fitness professionals should strive to strengthen the relationship with their clients during subsequent training sessions. This requires being an active listener and using all appropriate nonverbal communication strategies such as making eye contact and displaying friendly body language as previously discussed.
Lastly, fitness professionals should opt to include humor and appropriate levels of playfulness during training sessions. There are numerous research studies demonstrating that adherence increases when exercise sessions are fun and invigorating (Keats, Emery & Finch, 2012; Bartlett et al., 2011; Silva et al., 2008).
Most people nowadays have become desensitized to traditional forms of marketing such as print mailers and posters. Consequently these forms of traditional marketing are oftentimes ineffective, as most buying decisions are based on emotion. However, nearly all consumers, including personal training clients, trust and prefer recommendations from friends and loved ones above all other forms of marketing. As such, fitness professionals can maximize their earning potential through the use of referrals from existing clients. If a fitness professional has properly established rapport and trust from existing clients, the likelihood of gaining client referrals increases substantially. This is arguably the most powerful form of advertising to increase profits and a full book of business.
Fitness professionals should have a goal to obtain a loyal client-base who shares their positive experiences with colleagues, friends and family. To attain this effect, fitness professionals need to deliver experiences that generate positive outcomes. When done properly, clients will share their experiences with others even when unsolicited. In the eyes of the community, the fitness professional will have a reputation as a caring, empathic individual who gets results!
To be certain clients are having positive experiences, fitness professionals need to garner feedback from their clients. This can be accomplished through informal conversations at the end of a training session, or even having clients fill out online surveys. Fitness professionals should not automatically assume their clients are happy with the training program or their results. Instead fitness professionals need to hear it directly from their clients. A fitness professional who constantly strives to better themselves and their client’s experiences will be better equipped to make the necessary adjustments. Additionally, by asking clients their opinion, it facilitates a sense of belonging and community. This enhances rapport and strengthens the relationship between the client and the fitness professional.
Lastly, fitness professionals can even incentivize word-of-mouth referrals with discounts on future programs or early access to prototype workouts. The types of incentives are virtually limitless with a little imagination. Having a referral process in place indirectly allows the fitness professional to delegate a portion of their marketing efforts to their clients. While referrals should not constitute 100% of marketing efforts, it is an integral component to maximize profits and sustainability.
Fitness professionals who make the effort to develop rapport with their clients are better equipped to sustain a lasting career in the fitness industry. Building rapport requires having a deep concern about a person’s needs and desires without bias or judgement. It requires active listening and continual follow up to ensure expectations are being met. Once a certain level of rapport has been established, fitness professionals should continue to nurture the relationship to maximize client adherence to their program. These positive experiences will heighten the fitness professional’s reputation within the community and lead to more referrals and future business opportunities.
Bartlett, J. D., Close, G. L., MacLaren, D. P., Gregson, W., Drust, B., & Morton, J. P. (2011). High-intensity interval running is perceived to be more enjoyable than moderate-intensity continuous exercise: Implications for exercise adherence. Journal of Sports Sciences. doi:10.1080/02640414.2010.545427
Keats, M. R., Emery, C. A., & Finch, C. F. (2012). Are we having fun yet? Fostering adherence to injury preventive exercise recommendations in young athletes. Sports Medicine, 42(3), 175-184. doi:10.2165/11597050-000000000-00000
Puhl, R. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2006). Confronting and Coping with Weight Stigma: An Investigation of Overweight and Obese Adults. Obesity. doi:10.1038/oby.2006.208
Rapport - definition of rapport in English from the Oxford dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2015, from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/rapport
Robertson, N., & Vohora, R. (2008). Fitness vs. fatness: Implicit bias towards obesity among fitness professionals and regular exercisers. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2007.06.002
Rogers, C. R. (1995). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy. New York, NY: Mariner Books.
Sikorski, C. C., Riedel, M., Luppa, B., Schulze, P., Wener, H., König, H., & Riedel-Heller, S. G. (2012). Perception of overweight and obesity from different angles: a qualitative study. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 40(3), 271-277.
Silva, M. N., Markland, D., Minderico, C. S., Vieira, P. N., Castro, M. M., Coutinho, S. R., . . . Teixeira, P. J. (2008). A randomized controlled trial to evaluate self-determination theory for exercise adherence and weight control: rationale and intervention description. BMC Public Health. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-234