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Raising the Bar Part 2

What is the responsibility of a personal trainer? The knee-jerk answer is, “to take people through safe and effective workouts.” I believe that’s a very short sighted and limiting answer. In fact, if “taking people through safe and effective workouts” is the entirety of your professional focus, you’re not likely to find yourself among the industry leaders. Ever.

Before we delve further into responsibility . . . or what in this article I’ll refer to as “Response – Ability,” let’s look at some of the underlying issues that might hinder our ability to command, as a group, professional respect. I find too many struggling trainers caught up under a self-imposed ceiling, purely as a result of “The Four C’s.”

Professionals and leaders learn to overcome crisis, avoid complaint, limit criticism, and welcome competition, but we all know professionals are few and far between. In the hope of providing a perspective that opens doors for multitudes to act as professionals and rise to the ranks of leaders, I’ll address “The Four C’s” and then we’ll move on to reframe the true “Response – Abilities.”

Crisis and Complaint

Listen to typical trainer-to-trainer dialogue for any extended period of time and you’ll find yourself subjected to a crisis mentality. Crisis and complaint limp along hand-in-hand and together they act as shackles that hold trainers back and destroy the opportunities for long term career growth. The following statements are representative of those muttered by disgruntled trainers finding blame with the clubs that employ them or the industry they’ve come to work in:

“While the club makes money, I don’t have enough time for any new clients, and I don’t make enough to pay my bills!”

“The problem is the lack of regulation in this industry. Most trainers give us a bad name so nobody wants to spend money on training.”

The above statements are representative of “Crisis Thinking.” Crisis Thinking destroys training careers.

Given any set of circumstances, we have two options for our actions and residual thought processes. We can react, or we can respond, and if you are going to be perceived as a professional, you have to master the ability to respond (response-ability).

When we “react,” our actions are triggered by emotion with little or no rational thought and little concern for affecting outcome. Reactions can be destructive. If a doctor puts you on a medication, and explains that you are having a “reaction,” that’s a negative and warrants concern. Conversely, if you’re told that you are “responding” to the medication, you know you’re headed toward a cure.

Crisis thinking is habit forming, as it perpetuates continued reaction.

If, for example, a client cancels a session with little notice, the reaction would be, “Oh, no! I needed that money. I’m screwed.” That reaction leads to a residual anger with the client, perhaps a tense interaction with the client scheduled for the next session, and in the long run, a guarantee that cancels and no-shows will become a recurring issue, and with that a recurring complaint.

How can a professional respond to an unexpected cancellation? “Hmm. I now have an hour of free time, and a financial concern. I’m losing money because I don’t have a policy in place to protect myself in times of last minute cancellations. I’ll spend the next 30 minutes creating a definitive policy, implementing a system where I am paid a retainer that is forfeited in the event of no-shows, and I’ll spend the next 30 minutes making phone calls to prospective clients, the goal being two extra sessions for later this week.”

As a professional, as someone who walks the talk and maintains a positive outlook that proves to be contagious among clients, your “response-ability” can be defined in part by your knack for resolving crisis. Crisis resolution can be broken into a simple strategy, one that too few trainers have learned to implement. I’ll share the simple and very powerful two-step strategy here:

Step #1 - Force a Mindset Adjustment – turn paralysis into possibility.

Step #2 - Reframe the situation and view the possibility for a positive outcome.

When you fall victim to the crisis mentality, you simply relay the expression of paralysis, giving up your power, blaming the world at large for whatever challenges you may face. It’s the equivalent of a client telling you, “I can’t get fit. My job and my family consume all my time.” You know the client is capable of improving fitness, but you also know the negative mindset will become a self-fulfilling prophesy unless it’s changed. When “job” and “family” are to blame, the sense of helplessness leads to the abandonment of effort. Only when the client takes responsibility for his schedule, and reframes his daily habits and practices, will he see the opening for a fitness commitment. Similarly, when in a trainer’s life, the club, the industry, or the world is to blame, there’s not a thing you can do to fix matters.

Reframing asks you to rationally consider a new perspective and choose to adopt the perspective that feels best. Reframing allows you to control attitude and perspective. Your own. Forget about blame. Take “response-ability,” if not for the problem, for the outcome.

Revisiting “Crisis"

The Chinese symbol for “crisis” is the combination of two independent symbols, each representative of a different word:

Danger + Opportunity

Crisis can aptly be redefined (or reframed) as “where danger and opportunity meet.” Sure, we’ll face challenges, and with each challenge comes an inherent risk (danger), but response-ability allows you to see the opportunity. As William Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Learn to reframe issues, learn to search for and locate your power to respond, and you’ll be amazed to find that some of your best opportunities show up disguised as problems.

If we are going to separate ourselves from “crisis mode” trainers, we must adapt a different mindset and reframe the parameters of “what we do.”

Rather than expressing, “While the club makes money, I don’t have enough time for any new clients, and I don’t make enough to pay my bills!” the professional trainer sees potential and opportunity. Sure, there’s danger of financial loss, but if the trainer doesn’t have time for any more clients, that means . . . he or she is a busy trainer! A busy trainer has opportunity, either to negotiate for a larger fee, or to see the club as a stepping stone toward independent success. If enough people want to train with this particular trainer to amount to “a busy schedule,” the potential is astounding.

Rather than, “The problem is the lack of regulation in this industry. Most trainers give us a bad name so nobody wants to spend money on training,” the professional trainer sees potential and opportunity. If the rest of the industry is unregulated, and the standard is poor or non-existent, that gives any decent trainer the opportunity to rise above, to self regulate, and to position him or herself as an industry leader.

The Conscious Mindset Shift

Remember, the first step in breaking out of crisis thinking is the forcing of a mindset adjustment. It’s easy to get caught up in blame and abandonment of responsibility. Professionals, however, rarely opt for that which is easy. Consciously learn to respond, and your response-ability will allow you reframe even the most perilous circumstance into the promise of great reward.


I am amazed by the intensity of the criticism doled out by Personal Trainers. The following statements are actual comments I’ve heard from trainers “on the job” in health clubs I happened to visit. Each comment was directed at another trainer employed or retained at the same facility:

“Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He puts everyone on a low carb diet and has them do an hour a day of cardio.”

“You’re training with her?!?!?! She’s hung up on that crazy Super Slow stuff and she never gets results for any of her clients.”

“He thinks he’s “all that” just because he’s on the juice and won a few contests. He doesn’t understand anything about human movement.”

I know those who uttered the words can defend their statements, but are they acting “responsibly?” Are they helping improve the fractured perception of professional stature personal trainers are subjected to?

I see destructive criticism in our field both on a small scale and on a massive scale. It most struck me when I made the mistake of responding to someone on one of the personal training discussion boards with a message of what I believed was praise and encouragement. The first response was from a trainer who told me to come down off of my high horse. Another followed that one in which someone said to my critic, “you only wish you were as successful as he is.” The battle started to rage, and I vowed never to return to that discussion board again. If trainers spend their time sitting in front of their computers putting down others who have pursued the same path as they have, I think their time would be better spent interacting with real people in the real world and actually doing some good.

Globally I hear trainers ready to slam anyone and everyone who fails to agree with them. “He’s a jerk, she’s a moron, he’s full of bull.”

I used to take negative criticism to heart. I remember speaking at an IHRSA conference several years ago. 285 evaluations were turned in at the end. 284 of them had rated my session excellent. For some reason it’s the one I remember that said, “this speaker doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” That bothered me. I almost let it ruin the whole conference for me, and of course the critic remained anonymous so I couldn’t find out why or how I had disappointed this person. It took some reframing for me to realize, I won’t please everyone, and there will be criticism along the way, some of it welcome, some of it undesired. I heard a quote shortly after the IHRSA conference that stuck with me. “To avoid criticism, be nothing, do nothing, say nothing.”

I choose to be heard. If I’m criticized, at the very least it means people are listening.

Some of you may be confused. You might have read my articles regarding some of the low carb diets, or heard me discuss the marketing behind some of the hot new supplements, and you may believe I rip these people apart. I don’t. I share facts and beliefs and I allow people to form their own decisions. Rather than saying a diet is “bad,” I point out what calorie deprivation can do to metabolism. Rather than saying a product shouldn’t be purchased, I discuss the realities behind those items listed in small print on the ingredient label. It may sound, at times, like criticism, but it’s never personalized and it’s always meant to be constructive, staying within the realm of my mission and delivering the fitness truth.

If criticism is constructive, it’s helpful, and if criticism is fact-based evaluation that opens up a dialogue or a discussion, it can lead to yet a new breakthrough.

If we want respect from those outside of our industry, we first have to create it within. I believe we need to band together, and play up the virtues of what we do. I believe there needs to be a mutual respect among true fitness professionals, and if anyone crosses the lines of ethics and morality, we can criticize their actions without making an emotion based statement that makes us appear incongruent. I believe we will disagree amongst ourselves in specific areas that are still begging science to come to some conclusions, but science at any given moment is nothing more than a best guess, so this disagreement will be inherent even as we thrive and prosper. With that said, there is a way to disagree, constructively, with professional respect, and to focus on those issues we all agree on, primarily the indisputable fact that what people need if they’re going to achieve positive physical change, is a combination of aerobic movement, resistance exercise, and good healthful supportive eating. With a solid foundation of agreement, we view each other not as adversaries, but as colleagues, colleagues who, at times, may respectfully disagree.

There are a number of ways we can view the concept of criticism. If we view it as examination and evaluation, that’s healthy. Too many in our field seem to believe that criticism equals attack, and I think that’s a crippling pursuit. If you’re always on the attack, well, we tend to get what we focus on, so your life becomes a series of never ending battles. Keep that in mind before you criticize. Remember, integrity and sincerity are traits we value. Allow those traits to carry over to a mutual respect for others who have been driven by a similar passion and mission to pursue the same career as you.


Just as I said criticism can be healthy, so too can competition. I don’t see other trainers as my competition. I see them as allies in the big picture, in working to gain the respect that our profession deserves. Are there individuals calling themselves personal trainers who I do not believe fairly represent the personal training ideal? Of course, but I don’t see them as competition. I see them as doing something very different than I do.

Let me share a quick story.

Nick and Ryan went hiking. They spent hours climbing up a rocky mountain trail, and another few hours coming down the other side of the very steep hill. Just as they got to the bottom they heard a roar, and they turned around to see a huge Grizzly bear right at the top of the hill. The bear started running toward them. Nick started running, his heavy hiking boots pounding one foot in front of the other. Ryan sat down, opened up his backpack and pulled out his running shoes. Nick looked back as Ryan was untying his hiking boots and he yelled, “Ryan, are you crazy? You can’t outrun a bear!” Ryan, as he finished lacing up his running shoes said, “You’re right, but I don’t have to outrun a bear. I just have to outrun you.”

That’s how many people think of competition. Competition doesn’t have to be thought of as a contest resulting in one entity’s death so the other can survive. Competition can be healthy, as it creates added awareness, it motivates those who are in the arena, and it allows for the customers to ultimately make their own decisions. I’m not suggesting we embrace our competitors, but I’m not suggesting we waste lots of energy in battling them either. Those who are sincere, who deliver value, and who conduct their business in line with the ideals you live by with, by the nature of their existence, drive you to continuously excel, and that’s good. Those who are anything else are not really competitors, and by working together to help boost public perception of our value and ability, we all prosper.

In my seminars I share two powerful ways of literally obliterating competition, and that doesn’t mean we terminate their existence. It simply means we cause them to stop impacting our livelihood negatively.

The first option is, grab a position that they can’t touch. Use your integrity as a springboard and use your clients to prove that while many make the promise of a fitness result, you actually deliver. Do that repeatedly and most of your competition just goes away.

The second option is to create alliances that prove to be mutual wins. I’ve met many trainers who view health clubs as their competitors, but with some careful strategizing, any trainer can align with a health club for mutual gain.

Let’s leave the negativity to those who choose to wallow in it. We have embarked upon a noble and intensely gratifying pursuit. Keep things in perspective and maintain the position of a true professional and the future is brighter than ever.

OK, so now let’s examine what the “response-ability” of a personal trainer is. If you believe it’s “taking people through workouts,” you have a very limited perspective. Taking people through workouts is a part of what we do, but should not be the entirety of it. I realize that most people view our responsibility as that of a workout leader, but if we “respond” to the public’s short-sighted perception, we can reframe our scope of responsibility completely.

Reframing: The Four Primary Responsibilities


Most people fail to get the fitness or weight loss result they hope for simply because they’re misled. They’ve bought into the flawed dictums, “eat less, weigh less,” or “aerobic exercise burns fat.” There’s so much more to the picture, and if we fail to clear out the false information embedded in our clients’ heads, even the best, most creative workouts, will leave the client wanting for more.

In order to educate, you must understand what false beliefs might prove to be barriers in the way of achievement and you must share the realities that will ensure results. You must have a forum, incorporated within the scope of your duties, that allows you to educate each client to best follow the plan you lay out.


If we believe that once we educate our clients, they are newly fueled rocked honed in on their own respective destinations, we are deluding ourselves. Human nature mixed with real world stressors and distractions ensure that at times motivation will wane, and we have to be there to provide that vital intangible, motivation. Motivation goes beyond providing motivational music, motivational words, or motivational chatter. It involves a basic understanding of human psychology, and requires that we understand the mindset, the specific obstacles, and the limitations that may limit success. Once we identify the obstacles or limitations that have shut motivation down, we can elicit and use triggers to keep mental energies at a peak, and those triggers almost always relate back to the client’s dissatisfaction with his or her present condition.


Even with education and motivation, we have not prepared our clients for success. Success, when it comes to changing bodies, is gradual, and education and motivation are enough to move clients forward, but they will at times falter, misstep, and require new direction. That’s where coaching comes into play.

As a coach you must design a plan of action and then be accessible to answer questions, to provide direction, and to help make shifts and adjustments when results are not immediately satisfying. You must be prepared, willing, and able to help your clients avoid or escape “crisis thinking.”


In order to behave as a true fitness professional, you must accurately and adequately assess physical condition and design a program that limits risk. Without an assessment, it is not possible to determine whether or not a program or exercise prescription meets a standard of safety for the individual.

You must instruct and re-instruct to ensure safe and effective movement.

You must monitor physical changes during exercise and help the client understand how to self-monitor exercise intensity.

The Lesson to be Learned

Our ability to respond will dictate in great part how far we can take our careers, and our responsibility must include Educating, Motivating, Coaching, and Protecting. In the next installment we’ll tackle a question that bears exploration . . . “Isn’t it all about the client?”