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Problem Clients


Being an educated fitness professional is one of the most exciting and rewarding careers. As the obesity rates continues to grow, more and more people who love fitness are getting certified to work with paying clients. A great personal trainer has that passion for helping others and takes great pride in seeing his clients achieve success. As a trainer, you want to help as many people as you can, but what about those clients you can’t help? Sometimes there are things out of your control that interrupt the trainer/client experience. After many years of training, you will probably experience them all. This article will analyze some common issues associated with training problem clients... and give you some strategies to overcome these issues.

1. The “I Eat What I Want” Client

The number of clients who DO NOT follow a nutrition plan out number those who actually do. This is normally the biggest issue trainers have with clients. You will see the average training client two hours per week. They still have 146 hours in their week without you around. This leaves plenty of time for them to eat pizza and ice cream. When it comes down to it, your clients will eat whatever they want, and you are powerless to stop them.

Solution: Continue to stress proper eating.

Obviously, the key to any training program is your client’s ability to eat the right foods. You can only stress proper eating habits so much. Your client will either be disciplined or not. Know this: If your client still eats poorly and yet refuses to quit training with you, he will still get the great benefits from moving and using his body! You can also try to introduce him to an RD for meal plan assistance. This issue is almost out of your hands as a trainer.

2. The “Talking Too Much” Client

Certainly trainers wear many hats. You will act as a therapist and hear the things that men and women want to tell their spouse but don’t! You will probably become great friends with all of your clients. Regardless of the situation, your client WILL want to talk to you about his life. The challenge is balancing the chatting with physical exertion. If he wanted a shrink, he would have hired one. Some clients are just looking for someone to be their friend outside of the family and work environment. If you client has a goal of serious weight loss and yet he only actually works through 50 percent of his session, this can become a problem.

Solution: As a trainer, you must learn how hard to push each client.

If you believe the person’s reasoning for hiring you is to have someone to hang out with, keeping him in your schedule is up to you. If you think being his friend will somehow benefit his life, go for it! If the talking is interrupting his ability to reach fitness goals, gently remind him what he is paying you for.

3. The “Lack Of Effort” Client

Some clients just do not know the definition of “high intensity.” They want to lose 50 pounds, and you keep telling them to move throughout their entire 60 minute session. You use phrases such as, “Let’s keep it moving!” and “OK, let’s get to our next exercise!” Your client slowly gets up off the stability ball with a grimace on his face. Then it takes him three minutes to begin his squats because he’s thinking too much about his next set. Not all clients like to work hard, and exercise can be difficult for those who sit at a desk all day. Without the effort on your client’s part, he will not achieve success. If someone drops to the floor after three push ups and looks up at you in anguish, what can you do?

Solution: The best exercise for a client is one he will do.

There are numerous ways to design a workout that will keep your client moving. The best way is to add some flexibility or isolated arms and abs exercises into the mix with the four pillars of human movement: pushing/pulling, locomotion, raising/lowering your center of mass and rotation. You may look at it as “active rest,” and your client will be able to keep up.

4. The “Always Have To Reschedule” Client

When you have a client who consistently has to reschedule sessions, it is frustrating. You try to get him great fitness results and yet the lack of consistency takes away from his progress. There’s also a chance that by constantly rescheduling sessions, your client may look at training with you as being less important than it should be. In this case, he may decide the cost doesn’t fit in his budget anymore! If he takes too much time off from training, we all know how hard it is to start again.

Solution: Explain to your client the benefit of exercise consistency.

Also, uphold a 24 hour cancellation policy. If he cancels within that time for any reason other than sickness or emergency, charge him! Your client will not like paying for sessions he is not actually completing. This rationale alone will make him see the importance of being there.

5. The “Always Late” Client

Many clients don’t find it important to show up on time. In fact, you may have a client who consistently makes it to sessions 15 to 20 minutes late. Obviously, it’s important to begin and end your sessions on time. A late client is definitely a problem. Not only is your client showing you a lack of respect, but it will be even harder for you to get him the results he is paying you for! Many trainers do nothing about a late client because they are still making money from those sessions. Unfortunately for them, when the client notices no results after three months, that trainer will need to find a replacement for this client.

Solution: The first step in handling this issue is a conversation.

Make your client aware of the consequences for showing up late as it relates to achieving his fitness goals. The next step would be possibly changing his session start time, if it fits into your schedule. As soon as the client understands how important punctuality is to you, he will follow suit.

6. The “I Know It All” Client

You might have a client who is a seasoned veteran of resistance training. He started back in the “Arnold” days and thinks he knows everything. He is 50 years old, about 60 pounds overweight and refuses to bench press ONLY 135 pounds. On the first day of training, you might give him two sets of an exercise, but he expects to do four sets because that is what he did 25 years ago. You become more like his spotter than his trainer, and you give up trying to teach him about flexibility (which he needs more than strength). He has tight pectorals and anterior deltoids and yet refuses to do a floor cobra because there are no dumbbells involved (even though he can barely hold the position for three seconds).

Solution: Don’t give into this person, even if you risk losing him as a client.

Teach him the latest techniques in flexibility and functional training and explain that there is more to training than just bodybuilding. Correct his weaknesses. He will end up thinking you are an amazing trainer if you mix it up with bodyweight exercises. Make this person fatigue with no added weight, and you will have a client for life. He will want to learn this “new age” style of training.

7. The “Everything Hurts Me” Client

Some clients have NEVER exercised before in their lives. They are out of shape and decided to hire a personal trainer because their doctor recommended they begin an exercise routine. Because of their inexperience, they hate every exercise you give them. They complain constantly about “pain,” which you know is just muscle fatigue. They ask, “Is this normal?” They feel every back row and chest press exercise in their hands and forearms, never in the back or chest. They ask again, “Is this normal?” They feel every squat in their lower backs, and they never exhale on exertion.

Solution: Show your patience and put yourself in their shoes.

You should explain to this type of client that the process will take plenty of time, so be prepared for a long term training program. Explain every little thing to him, and be sure to listen to his complaints. More often than not, he just wants to tell you what he feels to make you aware as the professional. He's not necessarily looking for a solution. Start him with a very basic program as it won’t seem basic to him at all.

8. The “Exercise Frustrates Me” Client

You may have a client who gets frustrated because he can’t do every exercise. Let’s say he has very little athletic ability, and you are trying to give him a functional training program that involves a lot of movement. He may get frustrated due to how awkward the movements make him feel. The only exercises he can do without frustration are arm curls with dumbbells and certain selectorized machines.

Solution: Monitor his exercise progressions.

Start him at a more basic level if he gets frustrated by more advanced exercises. Give him more isolation exercises if training with functional movements irritates him. Of course, exercise selection is dictated by goals, but if you’re training someone for general fitness, isolation and some basic functional movements should be sufficient.

9. The “I Feel Sick” Client

Some clients just cannot handle the feel of using their muscles. After the first two sets of a workout, they start to complain of lightheadedness and nausea. This may happen during their first four to six workouts with you, and it affects them to the point they can’t continue their session. If this happens with a client often, there’s a good chance he will stop training altogether because he doesn’t understand what’s wrong and quits in frustration.

Solution: Explain to him that this feeling is only temporary.

As soon as his body adapts to the alarm phase of training, he should be fine. For a sedentary person beginning an exercise routine, movement shocks the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis.

10. The “I’ll Decide For Myself” Client

For some clients, if you tell them to do 15 reps of an exercise, they will stop at 10 because that’s what they think is enough, saying “I read that 10 reps are all I should be doing.” This client may not even be fatigued, and yet he will stop at that number. You may even tell him to do 30 seconds of an exercise, but he will still stop at the 10th rep even if only 20 seconds have passed. These clients like to determine intensity level for themselves, and they never sweat much because they don’t move enough. After a month of training has passed and they haven’t had any positive results, they blame your training methods.

Solution: This client needs to know who the boss is.

Remind him why he hired you in the first place. You are not only there to select his exercises but to also determine the sets and reps scheme for his training. Someone like this does NOT make a very good client, so keeping him in your schedule may be a perilous feat.

Hopefully this has provided you with some strategies to combat those clients who seem intent on jeopardizing their own training programs. Good luck, and remember, a little patience goes a long way.