Why even the veterans need a personal coach

I’ve written plenty of times about the value of personal training and connecting with your clients on a more personal level, often focusing on the initial relationship and the importance of finding the person’s pain on the first day to see if you have a solution to their problem.

I’ve realized lately, though, that this one-on-one connection is as important, and possibly even more important, with long-term clients. This came about when I realized that most of the time people, even experienced clients, don’t always know what they want, let alone what’s best for them. They think they know what they want: They want a muscle-up, or a 300 lb. back squat or a 500 lb. deadlift, or a pull-up, or, or, or…

Sometimes their alleged wants aren’t necessarily appropriate wants for them, like the person who can’t yet pass a shoulder flexion test, who expresses a desire to get better at kipping pull-ups and snatches and toes-to-bar.

Truth is, we stopped snatching our clients at MadLab School of Fitness in the last couple years (except for those in our competitor’s program and those who attend our weightlifting class and have been cleared to snatch). From an injury and fitness perspective, it has been hugely beneficial.

A strange thing has also happened since then: The people who have arrived at the gym in the last two years with no preconceived notions about the movements they want to learn could care less if they ever learned to snatch. But the people who have been around for 10 years, who arrived in our kipping pull-up and snatching heyday, have put forth complaints here and there.

“Why don’t we ever snatch anymore?” they grumble in unison. Regardless of how poorly most of them used to perform the movement, they still think they want to do it.

We talked about this and what to do about it in a coaches meeting recently, and a big part of me initially sided with the nostalgic client who just wants to snatch: “I understand why so-and-so wants to snatch. I like snatching, too and want to keep snatching. I get it,” I argued.

The other coaches heard me out and then challenged me to sit down and speak to my clients in a one-on-one environment to get to the bottom of why the snatch is so important to them. Or why learning how to do kipping-toes-to-bar is a priority. Or why, despite the pain they feel when they invert themselves into a handstand, do they insist on ignoring our advice to abandon the handstand for a more appropriate movement for their capabilities.

Doing this led to some enlightening conversations for both myself and my clients, conversations that helped them articulate what they actually want from working with me: Most want to feel better, maybe look better, see fitness and health progress, lose weight, gain weight, with the ultimate goal being to support a happier, healthier life and remain injury-free in the process. When we actually got down to the bottom of their goals, there was no mention of snatches. No mention of kipping pull-ups.

Getting to the overall message: Discovering this about my clients helped me save three of them from quitting because we weren’t doing enough “classic CrossFit” anymore. It helped them figure out exactly what they want, and lose the ego they had about seeking out goals that aren’t necessarily appropriate for them at the moment, goals that likely won’t get them any closer to their ultimate goal to live a better life. And none of this would have been possible without two things

1. An already in place trusting relationship with my clients.

2. A membership that includes personal training. In this case, our personal training session was used more as a conversation about life than actually training, but more was accomplished in that hour than in the last three months of training.

None of this would have been accomplished had these been group class clients who show up just for the workout. Chances are all three would have quit to find a place that let them throw ugly and dangerous-looking snatches over their heads and then show them how to butterfly kip before sending them home in pain.

Personal training isn’t just for the new athlete. It’s for everyone, and it’s especially important if you have a business that is and will always be evolving, as it’s a chance to educate clients about how you have evolved and how this evolution will help them be successful. Otherwise, all you’re doing is administering a workout and hoping people stick around.

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