Fitness Friday: Impersonal Trainer

Michael Steele

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them. --Dalai Lama

About 10 years ago, following the birth of my daughter, I gave up my job as a suit to work from home and sell real estate. At the time, houses were practically selling themselves and it required very little effort to make money.

My kind of job!

I took a three-day class, spent $250 to take a short quiz and BOOM, I was a Realtor. I made a decent living and excelled at the job because I had several years of experience in the corporate world, so I was comfortable with negotiating contracts, talking to attorneys and closing deals.

Plus, I had a newborn baby who didn't eat unless papa got paid.

Unfortunately, my story is the exception, not the rule. The market was red hot, so every Tom, Dick and Harry with dreams of becoming the next Donald Trump were coming on board. It didn't cost the broker anything to add new agents (everything works on commission), so why not let them run wild and collect 50-percent of whatever they could bring in?

The problem was, to most of the new recruits, their knowledge of real estate was limited to "houses are green, hotels are red."

One day, I nearly came to blows with a cocky young shyster in my office, who ran an ad for one of his listings that was littered with typos and grammatical errors. I said, "Aren't you embarrassed to let your client read this?"

"I sell houses, not manuscripts," was his reply.

It bothered me, because this was a person who was responsible for handling a real estate contract, where one misplaced decimal, one box not checked off, could spell ruin for a potential buyer or seller. You wanna mail it in when you're counting your change at the supermarket? Fine.

Don't gamble when your client is putting $350,000 at stake.

These are major, life changing decisions, ones that require the most rigorous attention to detail. It should come as no surprise then, to learn that Mr. Jerk-face was sued later that year because he "forgot" to tell one of his investors you need a permit to install new plumbing.

Whoops.

I see a lot of those same mistakes these days at the gym. Fitness is a hot commodity and the world is on a health-kick. Gyms are cropping up all over the place and people are running out to get in shape. And that means more jobs, giving hope to every Tom, Dick and Harry -- probably the same ones who bailed when the real estate market tanked -- to become the next Tony Little.

$80 for an online quiz and yep, you can be a bona fide "certified" personal trainer.

Sure, some places will tell you they only accept nationally-accredited certifications from places like the American College Of Sports Medicine (ACSM), but a 19-year-old kid at my gym was hired as a "personal trainer" at a major health club chain in my area.

I called my friend who works there, because I thought it was a gag, but nope, he's on the gym floor helping people get in shape.

It goes back to the problem I had in real estate, in that you're taking the biggest investment you have, in this case your health, and turning it over to some slick-talking shlub who spent his beer money on a piece of paper that labels him legit.

That's when I went online to get the scoop.

I searched the classifieds and found one of the ads for the fitness chain responsible for hiring Joey Bananas, and upon digesting it, I realized why he got the job. It wasn't because he was passionate about health and fitness, or was experienced in helping people lose weight while getting in shape, it was because he had six-pack abs and a great smile.

And he was charming, which is apparently what they were looking for:

This is a ONCE IN A LIFETIME opportunity to jump in and jump-start your fitness career with a brand new multi-million dollar club with thousands of new members.

This position requires a motivated, career-aspiring fitness professional who will be responsible for performing paid one-on-one sessions with new and existing clients and acquiring new personal training customers by prospecting our membership base. As a central part of the personal training team all personal trainers at **** are responsible for maintaining and developing their client base while delivering outstanding customer service through fun and effective personal training sessions. A strong understanding of fitness and is a must, as is a keen understanding of prospecting methods and an outgoing personality.

Responsibilities:

Personal Training Client Acquisition:
o Prospect the club exercise floor, front desk and other areas to set up complementary training sessions
o Book consultations for the PT manager and/or assistant personal training manager to facilitate personal training sales and acquisition of new clients
o Assist the membership team in setting new member orientation appointments

Conduct Personal Training Sessions:
o Conduct fun, effective and safe 30 and 60 minute sessions with new and existing clients
o Conduct free personal training sessions
o Sell monthly personal training programs to membership base
o Sell monthly upgrade and promotion packages to membership base and current clients
o Conduct semi-private personal training (if trainer qualities)
o Run paid boot camp classes (if trainer qualifies)

Prospecting:
o Perform prospecting techniques and methods to acquire appointments within ****
o Perform prospecting over the phone with members for various reasons

Client and Lead Nurturing:
o Perform confirmation calls with current clients
o Acquire referrals from existing client base and contacts
o Develop progressive and fundamentally sound exercise programs for client
base
o Deliver exceptional customer service to all members and clients
o Follow-up with members who worked with a personal trainer in the past but who have since stopped

Your success will be measured by your personal monthly session volume, total personal training contract sales and meeting or exceeding standards set by **** for the responsibilities written above

(emphasis mine)

Constant Improvement:
o Continue on an ever-evolving personal education journey in the area of health and fitness
o Demonstrate an increasing mastery of sales, prospecting and professional development in the field of health and fitness

Incredible.

That's a 400-word help wanted ad for "personal trainer" at a national health club chain -- unedited -- and I can't find anything about the health and well being of people who put their trust and safety in the hands of a trainer. Hell, it even says a trainer's success is measured by how much money they make for the club, regardless of what happens to the client.

Remember them?

That position reports to the Personal Training Manager. Here is an excerpt from the help wanted ad for that position:

As a central part of the health club management team, the Assistant Personal Training Manager at **** is responsible for maintaining or exceeding minimum standards for the volume of self-booked appointments, show percentage, closing percentage and end of month total personal training contract value.

A strong understanding of fitness and sales is a must, as is a keen understanding of prospecting methods and an outgoing personality.

Keep that assembly line moving!

What's unfortunate is that like real estate agents, there are some excellent personal trainers, but they're swimming against a current of incompetence. I used to work as a bouncer with "Rich," who was a trainer a few towns over, and he would tell me that it was his job to get his clients to fire him as quickly as possible.

Sounds a little nutty when it's your livelihood.

But his philosophy was simple. His job was to take people who needed help, and help them. The goal was to get them to a place where they could function independently. He often referred to himself as "training wheels" and that you can't really enjoy the ride until they come off.

Spread your wings and fly, little birdie.

And the clients who did stick around, didn't do it because they needed his supervision, they did it because they enjoyed the companionship and direction of an authority figure. Some folks need to be coached for motivation and inspiration. In a way, knowing their money is at stake, along with a trainer waiting in the lobby, forces people to be accountable.

They won't do it for themselves, but they're not going to let Rich down!

Luckily for them, he's an honest and dedicated trainer. My big issue with this industry is how little it polices itself. That's why we, as consumers, must hold them -- and ourselves -- accountable. If you hire a personal trainer, which has incorrectly become an all-encompassing title for everything health and fitness related, then make sure you know what you're getting.

And why you're getting it.

For starters, the first session should not involve any money, nor should it produce any actual training, other than to gauge what your level of fitness is. Instead, it should be used to get to know one another and determine if it's the right fit. Try to find a trainer who has a background in what your goals are.

If they talk down to you, or use lots of industry jargon, make a run for it.

Sounds like common sense, but some gyms are like car dealerships in that you get whoever is next in the rotation. You're stuck with them and they're going to sell you the world. In reality, it's your money and your well being, it shouldn't be turned over to anyone you don't feel has your best interests at heart.

Obviously, making money is a part of the business.

But a good trainer will earn every penny (and you'll feel good about parting with it). At the same time, don't be afraid to ask them direct questions. What qualifies you to train me? Can you tell me about a time you worked with a client who had similar goals?

What was their experience like?

If it's your first week with a trainer and they have you doing handstands on the stability ball, chances are they are trying to create a dependency, which means more sessions and more money. However, if your program consists of a well-balanced routine, with a direct approach to working out, you're probably in good hands.

And your trainer should never be afraid to say no.

I often help people at my gym for free because I figure fuck it, I'm there anyway, it doesn't hurt to compare notes. An older gentlemen recently said to me "My son is going to be a senior next year and has to shave two seconds off his time on the track, maybe you could work with him?"

Uh ... no, sorry.

I wouldn't even know where to start, which is why I referred him to a good friend of mine, who has a master's degree and 25 years of experience in strength and conditioning at the collegiate level. Sure, I feel comfortable in most aspects of fitness and nutrition, but once you start getting into competitive sports or competition, it's a different animal altogether.

And requires a different level of "personal" training.

That's one of the reasons I teamed up with ViSalus for our 2013 fitness campaign, because it's for regular folks like us, who are committed to eating right and staying in shape, rather than training for Mr. Olympia or the 2014 Summer Olympics.

Plus, it helps me stay out of those nutritional supplement stores.

ViSalus only sends me what I need and with five different challenge kits (see them here), there's something for everyone. I use the "Fit Kit" because I train like an athlete, while my wife uses the "Core Kit," to maintain a lighter training schedule. There's no meathead -- who thinks he's a nutritionist -- trying to sell me magic pills or giant tubs of chalky protein powder.

Safe, effective products right at your door step.

Getting help on your fitness journey often requires help from a professional. They key to finding one, is learning how to differentiate them from the unprofessional, who is often lurking at the same location. Your program should be smart, simple and fun. If it's not, perhaps it's time to keep looking.

You only have one body, make sure it's in good hands.

Fitness Friday is sponsored by ViSalus. Opinions expressed are solely of the author. For more information on the ViSalus line of products click here.

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