Newbie or veteran: Who should pay more to train with you?

Last week I had a morning where I did three personal training hours with new clients in a row. By the end, I was exhausted.

While I certainly don’t blame them for requiring a ton of my emotional energy (and it’s my job to give it to them), but coaching someone in their first few sessions can be tedious. You’re not exactly dealing with delivering higher level information to them…

“The tall bars are the 45 lb. bars, the middle-sized ones weigh 35 lb., and these little stumpy guys are 25 lb. And I know it’s confusing because the 15 lb. bars are longer than the 25 lb. bars, but you can recognize them because they’re made from aluminum and they rattle.”

“Start warming up on your own when you get here…Make sure you always put your equipment away when you’re done with it….The 25 lb. plates are over there…There’s a water cooler over there…You could get towed if you park there…”. And on and on.

When it comes to the boring housekeeping stuff, sometimes I wish I could just press play on my iPhone and avoid spending the energy repeating myself for three hours in a row…

Not only can it be tedious going through basic gym etiquette etc, but teaching new movements is also incredibly taxing on the energy levels of the coach. Have you ever had a client who, no matter what you did, couldn’t figure out how to hinge properly? While some people are coordinated and pick it up quickly, my three new clients last week all had a hell of a time grasping the concept of a hinge. Again, I’m not blaming them; it’s part of the process of learning new movements, and it’s my job to find the right tools to help them understand and learn.

My intention when I arrived that morning was to stick around after my three hours of coaching and train. By the time three hours were over, my motivation to workout had thinned and I found myself at home recharging in the bath tub instead.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my morning, and I am truly excited about teaching new clients; the point is simply that it DOES take a lot of emotional energy to train new clients, and it can be draining at times. In a good way, but still draining.

The day after my back-to-back-to-back newbie morning, I had a morning of three hours full of veterans.

My first hour was with a client who has been coming for four-and-a-half years and is currently following the Wendler strength program. I wrote his warm-up and his working back squat sets and reps on the whiteboard and we shot the shit and laughed our way through warm-up. Then we got a bit more serious and he loaded his bar and cranked out some heavy squats, and we finished with some new accessory work I came across to help strengthen his glutes. Generally, the hour took little emotional energy for me. It felt more like hanging out with a friend who needs a bit of advice here and there.

The following two hours were similar: A client who has been coming for six years and then a group class of 10 veterans.

I finished the three hours of coaching feeling invigorated and fresh and stuck around for a hard strength session at 9 a.m. before heading home with the energy to spend four more hours at my computer writing.

OK, getting to my point:

Considering the energy and effort required to coach Day 1 versus Day 2 of my week last week, who should be paying more money to train with me? The new clients or the veterans?

It’s no surprise, I think the new athletes should be.

But this isn’t the case at most gyms. Many gyms offer a “free trial,” or a complimentary “No Sweat Intro,” or a free week or a discounted first month. Some even offer two-for-one fundamentals, or 50% off the first 6-weeks. And on and on. 

The general idea is this low barrier of entry will get people to sign up, and before you know it they’re hooked and will suddenly value it and be willing to pay full price.

This thinking is completely flawed (borderline absurd) from my experience.

I’ve said it before, but we’re in the service industry. Your time and the energy required to coach has to be factored in to the cost people pay. New athletes take the most energy and should pay the most. 

In our system, what this means is new athletes pay $87.50 for personal training—most people do 12 to 20 personal training sessions at the start, meaning they pay somewhere between $1,050 to $1,750 in their first six to eight weeks training with us. And then once they are more self-sufficient and become less work for the coach, they do a combination of group classes and periodic personal training and pay a more affordable $230 to $275 a month, depending on their membership.

I truly think this is what’s best for the client. The initial investment in their health makes them more committed to their goals than they are when they’re paying next to nothing to be there. In other words, they value the training a whole lot more, and it shows in their accountability. Further, they know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: When they’re ready for group classes, they’ll get to start paying less money because they earned it through their hard work during personal training.

And from the coach perspective, it certainly makes more sense to me. I know I’d be resentful coaching two movement-challenged human beings for $20 an hour through fundamentals, who were paying a two-for-one rate to be there. Or coaching a free intro session where I got paid $0 to bore myself to death for an hour.

Instead, my movement-challenged newbies (bless their hearts) are paying a premium to be there, and the service I provide them needs to live up to their $87.50 an hour rate. If it doesn’t, they won’t stick around.

What results are more committed clients and more committed coaches. What more could a business ask for?

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