Finding the Perfect Client
As a personal trainer or coach, how many times have you been instructed by fitness business gurus to identify and seek out your “perfect client,” the kind of client who’s always motivated, does exactly what you say, and has fantastic results? You hear it all the time.
You also hear that you’re supposed to “fire” your non-compliant clients, the ones who “aren’t willing to work hard for the results they want.” And while this advice sounds promising, even inspiring, the reality is bit harsher.
If you fired every client that wasn’t willing to drop all their bad habits and adopt (dozens of) new habits from day one, how many clients would you have left?
One client? Five clients? None?
Those “perfect clients” are pretty rare, aren’t they? After all, they might make up only 10–20% of the people looking for body transformation.
Yet, are they really perfect? Just because they can start strong? Sure, they may be a disciplined little soldier right out of the gate. But what about tomorrow? And the day after that? Many of the clients who take off quickly burn out quickly too, when other things in their life start screaming for attention.
Also, let’s not forget those other clients, the 80–90% of potential clients out there. What if “motivation” isn’t really their problem? What if their limiting factor is something else? And what if you were trained to find that limiting factor, effectively removing it and opening up a whole new world of potential?
By learning to help every type of client, not just the strong starters, I bet you’d become a better trainer. I also bet you’d have a richer experience as a fitness professional. And I can guarantee you’d have a lot more clients seeking your expertise.
So, in today’s article, I’d like to share some tips for succeeding with EVERY client that comes to you for advice. At Precision Nutrition, we break them down into three types. All of which have specific needs and the ability to make dramatic change.
Client #1: Low Compliance, Low Results
A Low Compliance, Low Results client is someone who struggles with following the program. Specifically in the context of our coaching system, a low compliance client does less than 80% of the habits and workouts we prescribe. As a result, they get poor results.
So, what’s the goal with this type of client? Well, first, it’s to boost them up to 80% compliance.
Of course, this is the type of client that many people suggest you fire. Unfortunately, this type also happens to be the vast majority of all personal training clients.
While most trainers automatically write the Low Compliance, Low Results client off as unmotivated, there is much more at play here. These clients have almost unlimited potential, but they need some help with changing their habits.
Specifically, we’ve found that the Low Compliance, Low Results client needs the following:
- a sense of importance;
- confidence in their ability to do what’s asked of them;
- clear operating instructions to avoid ambiguity;
- simple habits they can feel successful in doing
Here’s a simple way to hit all four and get the client involved and motivated. Give them a habit for two weeks — say, exercising 4 days per week. Then, frame it like this:
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that you can exercise 4 days per week for 1 hour each workout?”
Now let’s break it down.
First, you’re not saying, “work out 4 days per week.” That’s an order, and one that’s probably not going to be followed since there’s no room for the client to be involved.
Secondly, you’re putting the power in their hands. They have to think about the question, and base their answer on how confident they are that they can complete the task.
So, what happens if the client says, “9” or “10”? Well, they’re gonna start working out 4 days per week!
But if they say anything less than 9, it’s time to give them something they feel confident they can do. [Here’s a simple truth: small progressions are better than no progressions.]
In this situation you should “shrink the change.” So you might ask the following:
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that you can exercise 2 days per week for 1 hour each workout?”
The idea here is to keep making the goal smaller and smaller until your client gives you a 9 or 10 answer. Then, that’s the new habit they’re to follow.
Notice how this type of framing raises self-confidence and evokes a sense of self-importance. You’re giving your client options, but they’re making their own behavior goal. And that’s powerful.
Also, by simplifying and clarifying the habit you’re taking away any ambiguity and enabling your client to feel bigger than the challenge. They know exactly what they need to do, and they’re confident they can do it.
This will lead to a snowball effect, and as the client gets more and more confident, their compliance and rate of results will increase. Then you can challenge them with bigger habits. And the results build on themselves.
Client #2: High Compliance, Low Results
A High Compliance, Low Results client follows the program but isn’t getting optimal results. Specifically, in the context of our online coaching system, a high compliance client does more than 80% of the habits and workouts we prescribe. Yet, for fat loss clients, they are losing less than 0.6 percent of their body weight (for guys) or 0.5 percent of their body weight (for girls) per week.
[One caveat: fat loss isn’t always linear, and progress may be made in fits and starts. But on average, over time, the above numbers are what we aim for.]
Now, this type of client can be just as frustrating as the first group, but for a different reason. These clients can be frustrating because they feel like they’re doing all the “right things,” but the results just aren’t coming. But let’s not “fire” these clients yet either. They, too, can be helped.
The goal with this type of client is to have them lose weight at or above the target rate of weight loss, which will also increase confidence and motivation. And we use two approaches to help boost their progress.
First, we help them achieve a higher compliance rate. So, simply going from 80 to 90 percent compliance could make all the difference.
However, when that’s not enough, individualization is required. And this is where all your training as a fitness pro can really shine through! Here’s where you tweak the training program, introduce more advanced nutrition concepts, and start those fancy, body-type specific supplement protocols.
[If you’d like to see how we do individualization, I strongly recommend you check out the Precision Nutrition Certification. We offer all sorts of advanced troubleshooting and individualization ideas. However, we do spend equal time on the other types of clients; they need some love too.]
Client #3 – High Compliance, High Results
A High Compliance, High Results client is someone who follows the program with greater than 80% compliance and is also, in the case of fat loss, losing weight at the rate of 0.6 percent of their body weight (for guys) or 0.5 percent of their body weight (for girls) per week.
Of course, this type of client is about as close to the “perfect client” as you can get. However, they still need your cautious attention.
When the going is good with this client we recommend two things: congratulations and a new or “harder” challenge.
For the “congratulations” portion, a compliment may be enough. “It’s evident how much you want this, John. Your dedication and results have been amazing so far. Nice work. Let’s keep it up.”
You can also throw in a gift certificate to a healthy restaurant, or hook them up with a book you think they’d enjoy. You could also post their name up on a progress bulletin board at the gym. In the end, the method doesn’t usually matter — the fact that you recognize their hard work and progress, either privately or publicly, does.
As for the challenge, you may consider having your client attempt a higher compliance to see if the great results improve even more. Or perhaps you could give them a similar but new habit to follow.
[In keeping with the habit above, maybe you can increase their exercise to 5 days per week, assuming they’re a “9” or “10” on the confidence scale.]
We mention giving this type of person your “cautious” attention because sometimes the clients who start out strongest do so by throwing themselves completely at their goal. That’s OK; but only if they’re also developing strategies they can follow when they’re unable to devote 100% of their life to fitness. And, none of us can do the “all fitness, all the time” thing.
So, keep a close eye even on your superstars because there might be a fall coming. It’d be great if you could help prevent it in the first place. If not, it’s nice to be there to help them pick up the pieces.
Be Envied By Your Peers
I can’t tell you how many times other fitness pros have told me, “Man, I envy you. You have the best clients. If I could get clients like you have, I’d love my job.”
However, I start out with the same mix of clients that every other fitness pro starts with. The difference is this: I know that each type of client can climb the ladder and move up to High Compliance, High Results. I start with a belief that every client can become the “perfect client.”
All it takes is a little empathy. A little patience. And the ability to identity what type of client someone is right now, how I can help them, and what specific steps I can take to get them to that next level.