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  • drsuzbaxter

Being your most authentic self in your business / sessions: & what can you learn from rude clients?

I think at the core of it, most people would say that they're in the industry to help more people, potentially to build a legacy. Maybe they wanted to be the role model that they didn't see for themselves or maybe they found that through exercise, and correct and healthy nutrition, and they've been able to overcome adversity and serious health problems, and they want to be able to gift that to the rest of the world.

Now, with that gift, we all as fitness professionals want to be able to help as many people as possible, but one person can't do it alone. This is one of the reasons why I created Sweat Equity Coaching. I was working so hard, my head was down. It was buried in the sand and I was just, I was digging, and I was helping as many clients as I could and I was absolutely fighting a losing battle because I was running out of time. Even through hiring staff, which again, meant that we could get more clients coming in. We started to realize that, hey, this is not going to be enough to affect the amount of people that I personally want to affect. So that is why I've created sweat equity, to be able to reach more health professionals, allied health professionals and healthcare practitioners. So that we can make the whole population, in general, healthier. So knowing that I can fill my books up and I can fill other people's books up. I wanted to give a bit of an insight into some of the things that I've noticed can make a difference in order to help you reach more people apologetically. Now, I don't say with ego, that I'm filling my books up and filling other people's books up. I just have been in the industry long enough that I know myself and I know my exact ideal client.

These are two factors that can really help you be the most authentic version of yourself with the rise of social media. The whole of the general population out there, regardless of whether they realize it or not, are very in tune to identifying whether someone is being fake or not genuine. It's something that people can feel as a gut feeling now because they're exposed to social media all the time, and it may not be something that they can necessarily put their finger on. This is absolutely a skill that we've achieved in the shortest space of time when it comes to technology and that sort of thing.

So do you know yourself?

What are your likes?

What are your dislikes?

What are your values?

What are your attitudes and what shapes your behavior?

These are all things that really tie into knowing yourself and being able to present yourself in a way that you know exactly who you are, and you could be very proud and confident in who you are. It doesn't matter if you're worried what people might think regardless of what's going on in the world, you're always going to be you. The greatest injustice happens when you're dimming your light and you're trying to fit into other people's expectations of you, when that's not who you are. And it was not who you were meant to be. So this is why it's really important to know yourself. I'm not saying that I haven't suffered in the past from getting really bogged down about what trolls or what naysayers might say to me.

I remember my first group fitness class that I instructed when I'd done my course. And I've been shadow teaching. It was sort of like you were the understudy in any class until one became available. So I was waiting in the wings until a class became available. And I put my hand up to teach a class or shadow a class with another instructor who was very well respected in the area. I remember I got there really early and I didn't even get paid to do it. I'm not saying that in any shocking way. But a lot of the experience I got was in putting my hand up and being like, I just want to be the best I can be. And you know, that's definitely something that we should consider, especially when we're trying to build mastery in something but there's a topic for another day.

I remember this call came through at reception and I was sat slightly in front of reception, (there was a kind of waiting area and I was waiting for this instructor to arrive so that we could double check what tracks i was doing). This call came through and the manager picked up the phone and the manager put the phone to her chest, sort of covering the mouthpiece and was like Susan, can you take the whole class by yourself today? And I was like, I was filled with excitement. I actually was not scared. If you do my course you'll find out that I do say that excitement and being scared are two physiological responses but two different versions of the same physiological response and the only difference is your thoughts towards whatever it is.

I hadn't mentally prepped myself to be excited about it. I just was and I was so ready for this.I quickly put extra stuff together that I might have worked on in different classes. I was in there five minutes early like you're supposed to be. I'd made sure the stereo was running. I'd done everything like two or three times. The participants already knew me. So I was really excited about taking this class and I, because of the excitement, I would say at the time, I give the best class that: first of all that I could, but second of all that I had ever taken in terms of the tracks and the way I projected my voice and all of that sort of thing. I remember at the end of class thinking, wow, this is my very first class by myself. "If there's anything that you guys have for feedback, I'm so excited to hear from you". Now, I was a young teenager at this point, I'd say 16 or 17.

After class, I had these two ladies and I can see their faces in my eyes.They were right up to my face and it was almost like they waited for everybody to leave the room until it was quiet. They spent at least 20 minutes, maybe half an hour after the class, telling me how bad it was that I called a particular move something different from what they called it. I think I called it a straddle, knee lift instead of a side knee or something like that. Another one was telling me something about how my accent was too thick (even though I had tried really hard to make my accent more understandable). I've got a slight accent. Most people pick up on my accent but they always say to me how clear I am. But so, this lady was telling me that she couldn't understand me. Oh my goodness. I HAD BEEN so excited, so proud of myself. But then, I had to have these two ladies right in my face and I couldn't bring up that I was new to this, and I literally had stepped in to help out someone and I hadn't intended to take the class and if I hadn't taken the class there would have been no class on. I remember stepping away from that and bursting into tears, that empty kind of uncontrollable tears that are soul destroying. But I didn't give up. I began to realize over time, because I have been in the industry a while, that there's a lot of people out there that are really big on bringing people down or they will say things that are really quite hurtful, and it's quite an odd environment at the gym.

If you're working in the fitness industry, have a think about it. So everybody that's in the gym has paid a casual fee or the paid membership to be there right. So they are entitled to be in the gym. You get everybody from all walks of life being there and the only adequate culture there is one that people can perceive. You don't go to a special class to tell you how to act in the gym and that sort of thing. These are people who maybe are really unhappy in their jobs or they're that bullying boss or you know, someone who, maybe is quite quiet at work, but the gym is like their zone and now they're like king of the jungle or that sort of thing. These mixes of people come together and when that happens, some really interesting things can occur.

Over the years, I've come to see that what people say to you is more of a reflection of what's going on inside of them. If they've come to you and said something really quite mean, what they've said is a reflection of the fact that your presence or something that you have done is causing them to feel something mentally and sometimes physically as well. If it's quite a strong feeling, confront something, and they may not like what they're feeling. Because the gym is such a positive place, or your fitness studio is such a positive place, well of course they're going to take that out on the person who's just asked for feedback.

As another aside, I remember having a lady that came up to me and I was 18. I came back from Europe to see my family. I haven't done a huge amount of exercise there but I exercise most days. I just ate whatever I wanted, you know the typical kind of stuff you do when you go to Europe like why wouldn't you eat gelato when you're in Rome? But this lady came up to me and I'm an impressionable female that's young, and she's telling me “Oh, you've put on quite a bit of weight while you're away”.

Now, I really haven't weighed myself but I would say maybe two kilos I'd put on if that. My clothes still fitted me, but it made me look less sharp. I was probably devastated for a couple of days because I became used to what it's like to hear unpleasant personal statements but it still was triggering nonetheless. But it was only like a couple of months later that I realized that this lady actually paid this massive premium at the gym to be part of this diet program where all of her food was managed for her: someone delivered her food for her. And she had weight management like counseling sessions, twice a week. She was paying big bucks. And the bottom line is her biggest fear was pretty right on and so in some ways I guess she was trying to be helpful or her biggest fear would be not to know it and that was really triggering for her when she saw me. I go around not knowing I'd put weight on like she was doing it probably from an area of caring, but in doing so if we think about it rationally, she was actually showing that one of her greatest fears is putting weight on, and it had nothing to do with me. Who cares? Who cares? I put weight on. Unless you know, you're strapped me skydiving and I failed to tell you that before we did our calculation... you know something that's like a life or death scenario.

So in saying that being apologetically you, regardless of what people are going to say. It might be hard to do at first, but the thing is, if you are not yourself in this world, all those people that were guided by you, by the person that you are, will never be able to find you. if you're trying to be someone else and lots of people out there who are on social media and that sort of thing will actually feel that sense of like you're not being yourself, and you're being a bit disingenuous. So that doesn't attract that many people either.

From there, attracting the right people and knowing who you want to attract. That's about thinking who are you most inspired to work with? And what in your skill set helps you get there or what do you need to work on to be known as a specialist in your area? Being someone who can just put their hand up and help everybody with everything doesn't get to your core demographic of clients. It doesn't get you that bulk of people. It'll get you people that aren't really sure what they want either. Whilst that will pay some of your bills, that's not going to be a long term strategy for sustainability in your business because they also might find out who they are in the process. Then they'll be moving on to someone else who is that specialist or who ignites that flame inside them. So it's worth bearing in mind that once you've identified and you know truly your beliefs, you and your value system and sticking to that and being unashamedly you. It's really important to hone in on who you are and how you present to the group that you want to target.

If someone is looking for a specialist, they've got a back issue or you the back issue person, because if you are the person that can deal with backhand, but also you can deal with knees, you can also deal with headaches and also deal with this. Well, if someone specifically has a sore back, they're probably not going to look for you. They're going to look for the person that is the leading back end specialist. So becoming a well known person in your area for whatever it is maybe it's not an ailment, maybe it's because you're super funny. I'm not funny, and I openly admit that I'm not funny and everybody else has a better sense of humor than me but I also will laugh at most things. That's probably not one of my strengths and I am not ashamed to admit that. But I like to show that one of our values is having fun while getting fit.

So my ideal clients, (I feel bad for saying that my ideal client has niggles), but my ideal client is someone who has been told that there are quite a complicated case by other health and allied professionals, and they've got a few niggles and they're just not really sure where to start, or where to go or who to turn to and they don't want to make things worse. They'd like things to be better and they maybe ignored their health for a bit of time. But also in the same vein, they have a bit of sense of fun, a bit of sense of enjoyment, and they don't take themselves too seriously, that tends to be my ideal client.

When I worked in a big box gym I was drawn to that energy because they knew who I was just pretty much by looking at me and seeing my interaction with clients. They knew exactly who I was by just glancing a couple of times over at me and a couple of my clients. Yes, I deal with a range of different injuries and that sort of thing or different chronic illnesses. But at the same time we injected fun into the rehab process. I would say the majority of my clients were in that demographic where they've maybe already had kids and they have neglected their health for a few years. So that was really obvious. Like, if you looked over and you could see yourself in the person that I was training, well then you'd be attracted to reach out and ask more questions. That's something that being in a box, big box gym really helps you to understand.

If you do want to open a studio, potentially you have already opened the studio. Think about the things that most excite you about training a client and usually you'll find that there's like about two, maybe three different avatars of clients that you're just like, oh my goodness, this person gives me life, the style of this person gives me life. Like think about what all of the clients that you train have in common. All the ones that give you life, give you energy, and what are those attributes or features? That's what needs to be really obvious in your marketing that you're putting out to the world. And so if you're pretty marketing out into the world photos of people that look like your ideal client will help your ideal client see themselves, their training and your facility. This is super important. And it did pose a little bit of an interesting scenario for me because my age demographic really doesn't want to be put on the internet. So that brought about its own interesting little kind of problem solving strategies that I had to work through. But typically, think of the ideal demographic that you have and make sure that they are represented in anything you're putting out into the world, especially if you have your own studio where there's not a specific amount of foot traffic like there would be in a big box gym and that sort of thing. From here, when you're being apologetically yourself, which of course this is encouraging you to be. Do you remember that? Your demographic and your interaction of how your instructing style should be, will make you feel the most authentic to you.

So thinking about you being a bootcamp instructor and there's no disrespect. But if you're a bootcamp instructor, your style of instructing and coaching is going to be very different than my style of instructing and coaching, because I tend to be more one on one and one of my values is connection, or I'll be semi private, but I'm still in that kind of build a connection with people and create these meaningful experiences around them rehabbing their injury, so that they feel really connected to their bodies again, after forgetting about their bodies and ultimately their health for years. But if you're a bootcamp instructor, you need to be in that style where you are probably your ideal demographic, they want to be yelled at in a kind of booming voice, where it's kind of like a military style: that is what pretty much boot camp is. But if I would save that style with my clients, it would really switch off a whole bunch of them just because of the age range, and this style of niggles that we're working with as well. So thinking about how you're instructing style can really tie in to who you're trying to target and who you are as a person.

So for me, I'm not going to be the yelling type. First of all, because already my voice can be projected quite easily but I can come across quite harsh and abrasive because I'm quite direct when I'm making instructions about moving and how to eat better and that sort of thing. And that's because I'm Irish, but if I'm to yell that as opposed to projecting my voice, then it'll definitely turn off the type of demographic that I work with. So what really works for me is a projected voice so that I can be heard. But even in a large group scenario, finding ways to connect with each person in there so that they have a really meaningful experience. That might be a glance at a person and telling them good job, especially when I know they're going really hard. Or it may be a look at someone and asking them to go a little bit deeper. If you're doing a squat, for instance, because you've seen them doing more than that. You ask them, Is there more that you can give me? Do you think you've got anything more in the tank? And as we are in the industry longer, we can actually often pick up on body cues, body language, and even movements. Whether we're just being a little bit harsh and ignoring things all in the pursuit of just more intensity, or whether we need to be the motivating force that reminds the person to keep their mind and body in the room as opposed to letting it float away about what's for dinner and that sort of thing. So using that skill of being a bit more intuitive around people and reading people a little bit more can help you with this one as well.

Over time, your instructing style might change and that's completely normal, especially depending on the types of workout that you're instructing as well. So, my voice and my demeanor and even my attire is so much different when I'm instructing a mind body or Pilates class. It's slower, softer, more meaningful, maybe there's longer sentences and that sort of thing. But then, if I'm taking a body attack class, the words would be more punctual to point. That's also because I have to breathe a little bit more when I'm doing high knees, a bit more forceful breathing. But on top of that, there's quick changes and those quick cues that need to happen because of the quick moves. And that's why the style has to change. It also has to save the music as well. So even the type of music that comes through for the particular class that you're teaching, I try to make sure that my voice is not cutting off the music. So if the pitch of the person singing the song is like the same level as my voice in terms of volume, but also in terms of pitches, well, then I'll actually change my voice a little bit, or really choose in the song where I'm using my voice so that I can be heard, and I'm not competing with the music at the same time.

Another way to think about it for if it's a non synchronous activity, so not a group fitness class where you're all working out to the beats of the music is thinking about your style and demeanor based on if you're doing a high intensity interval workout, or whether it's more like a strength session, or even barre for instance. Embrace the true authenticity of the workout that you're presenting to the demographic in front of you, and how all of these align with each other. And that's how you can really be authentic when it comes to your instruction and you can provide the most for your participants as well.

Hope you enjoyed reading! We do have a course: It's about bringing out the magic in you as an instructor when it comes to group fitness classes, both choreographed and non choreographed. So if this is something that you're interested in, check out our courses page or alternatively, just reach out to us with a phone call. We'd be more than happy to point you in the right direction. Thanks for reading.

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