Your clients aren't lazy athletes, so don't train them like one
Okay, so a bit of an unusual one today, but I wanted to start a bit of a conversation about something that's not really talked about as much when it comes to training the general population. From here on and I'll label that Gen pop. (Read my other article on using inclusive language and activity selection if you would like to learn how to be more inclusive in language to this particular population).
Okay, so I freely admit that many people that get into the fitness industry are athletic themselves. Some of them play competitive sports, which is great. And then they want to get into the industry because they love it so much that you know, you'll never work a day in your life when you're doing something you absolutely love, which is great. More than a average amount, in fact, a disproportionate amount would prefer to be working with athletes as opposed to general population. I have no qualms with that. However, there isn't as many opportunities to work with athletes as there is for Gen Pop. And there isn't as great a need for as many people to be working with athletes which tends to be why there are a whole bunch of people that are working with general population that didn't want to be there in the first place.
That said, some people can really quite enjoy starting to work with Gen Pop. I personally absolutely love working with the general population and they’ve been a first choice for me. I did some work with athletes and then I realized that GEN POP is more my go and I enjoyed that the most and it is quite different to athlete. Not just from a mindset perspective, but from a programming perspective as well. I also would say I have evidence that people enjoy my training as my retention rate is over 90% and perhaps higher as I do get people coming back after they have a break for a bit. I also have been named National Peoples Choice Fitness Instructor of the year and that was determined by a public vote... so I'll share my knowledge in this article.
So when you're training an athlete, usually the programming when you're in season is developed around leaving enough in the tank for the game day to be successful, and planning to do enough training stimulus to push the person into a slight bit of adaptation but again, leaving enough energy in the tank in order to be able to give it your all in a game situation. Understandably a game situation is the most important part of an athlete's career. It's what they're getting paid for. It's what they show up for. And this other stuff that they do is kind of like the “eating their vegetables” part of it.
However, when training the general population, the general population are not just a lazy athlete, as in they're not just someone that you program slightly less than you would an athlete or someone you program the same as an athlete and you just see what they can manage out of that. Not at all. Let me explain why. Their game is actually in the gym, where they're expanding most of their energy is in the gym, where they're learning and responding to unknowns is in the gym. So if you're training someone as if they are a lazy athlete that's from the gen pop, you're not going to be getting the same performance indicators and incrementally as proficient as quickly if you're treating them just like a lazy athlete.
Furthermore, from this, I do notice that trainers sometimes take gen pop with no major injuries, or ailments, as if they need rehab. C’mon it's simply just someone who's deconditioned. And my point from this is, your clients don't need to do “rehab work”, to rehab them from being deconditioned. They need to be conditioned. They'll get the most bang for their buck, for being conditioned. And you will find yourself out of a job very quickly if you're treating a deconditioned Gen pop member, as if they are a rehabilitating athlete, ergo, the types of sessions where you see a personal trainer getting a client to just lie on the floor on their back for 20 minutes out of the session on a foam roller just you know, talking to them and watching them do that. I'm all for that if you're trying to build rapport with the client, and maybe you're just trying to get them to be mentally ready to be in the gym for any length of time, or you're educating them on other aspects. So there are caveats to this, and I'm not saying thrash a new client either, of course not! But your approximate baseline can be judged from the initial screening.
If you want to be showing your new clients that personal training is worth the money, I'd suggest that it might be an idea to be getting them the results that they need sooner rather than later. And that's not by getting them to lay on the ground in a crucifix position for 30 mins, just because they sit with a rounded upper back most of the time during the day, or by making them work out only with a broomstick for weeks on end until they meet your mobility criteria just so they can do your favourite move of an overhead snatch. Instead, we better put in some range of motion activities, and conditioning work that will get them to a better place with their conditioning sooner, and work with the opposing muscles to get a muscle that is tight to loosen up beyond the hour after
The third thing to consider is with your clients not being a lazy athlete and instead being someone from gen pop. They don't necessarily need - unless they've got a competition that they want to work towards, or have a goal to be oly lifting or muscle ups - to be doing exercises that are cool-to-look-at exercises in the gym in order to be getting them results. What I mean by that is taking your general population who has enough mobility to say squat and do push ups and chest press (with a little bit of mobilizing before working out) and instead taking them into doing Olympic lifting where they're doing say overhead snatches and that sort of thing just because that's what you like to do.
Yes, Oly lfting or head stands is a cool skill to work on to keep and pique interest, but the thing is the noticeable results in terms of skill set that you get from the work up for Oly lifting or head stands are as a result of spending hours in the gym, which a general population person does not have the time to do. Your client is not you. They are not spending all day in the gym and any time they spend in the gym is better spent:
1. doing the fundamentals
2. pushing towards their goals,
3. meeting them wherever they're at on their journey and doing your best as opposed to reaching for the nice stuff which is maybe snatches, maybe it's an overhead squat that sort of thing.
Generally, GEN POP will just think that using weights in general is actually pretty cool. And the technical nature of doing Olympic lifting will means that it's going to be years before they perfect that and for most athletes that I see require sessions that are really long with one or two work up sets, with not an incredible amount of volume because it's really easy to have central nervous system overload. If you devoted one of the two times they can squeeze into their week to get into the gym for 42minx, then they haven't got as much from the session in terms of volume and progressive conditioning as potentially doing some pretty basic work that you can create interest from in terms of the programming and the scheduling when it comes to cardiovascular exercises for example.
Another point that I would like to make as well is that your client is ALSO not you with your superior genetics. Generally people get pulled into working in the fitness industry because they are genetically sound at just being better at exercise than most other people. Or they've just done it so long that they enjoy it because they're better at it. Besides the 10% of motivated and inspired clients out there, remember: your client is not you, they do not enjoy doing the exercises much and on top of that they may not have found themselves to have such good wins as you've had when you've been doing exercise. If you've got the genetic loading or you're a bit more superior in terms of how you respond to exercise, and you're treating your client as if they will have the same level of response rate as you do. You're missing out on the level that will keep your client engaged.
To put that in perspective, if I get someone in that they didn't realize that there was much wrong with their gait pattern or the way they sit or any of that sort of thing and they just want to feel fitter, healthier and stronger... by telling them that their squatting is not as deep as what you can do and you'll give them 12 weeks and you'll be able to get their bum to touch their heels. Well. What if they've got Celtic hips? What if their q angle isn't right for that? What if they just don't have the type of ability, passive mobility or genetic potential in terms of structural systems to be able to get into that position, what if they are always going to be hypo mobile? Does that mean in 12 weeks time your client is going to think that you lied to them or that they're a lost case because they've worked so hard and they haven't managed to be able to get the results that you've promised them?
How about instead, being better able to meet clients where they're at and know what their potential might be, (this does take experience) learning that there are different types of skeletal systems, and there are different types of ability that will come from various different types of genetic potential, then being able to relay that to your client can often mean the difference between the client giving up and or continuing with you for a long time.
As an example when I go to yoga with my Celtic hips when I try and do a wide squat I cannot get past parallel. And if someone does a hip scour on me, my internal external rotation and also scouring my hip socket, they will see that I'm not very free, passively, nevermind actively. So when people see me doing these mobility exercises in yoga, they always say to me 12 weeks and I will be able to get you to do the splits or we'll be able to fix that. Well, there's nothing actually wrong with my ability. Sure, I don't stretch as much as I could. The problem is, I actually won't get as much range from stretching from doing yoga as someone who has the propensity to be hyper mobile. I would consider myself more hypo mobile. So if I was someone who didn't know any better, I would say, "oh my gosh, even when I do my best it isn't enough. Im a failure". And probably start ghosting my trainer as I fee inadequate.
So for me, treating gen pop as their own separate group, thinking of them as their own separate category without treating them how you'd prefer to be treating athletes would be my best advice. Use inclusive language to encourage, being very cognizant to learn the capabilities, mindset, and treating each person as the individual, and you'll absolutely be able to soar. Gen pop allows you to learn a very broad skillset whilst also specialising, and that is invaluable plus rewarding.
Reach out if any of this resonated with you. I *hope* this post may change some perceptions for my fave population!