While a relevant certificate, diploma or degree is a mandatory requirement for a career in the fitness industry, a resume filled with qualifications is no guarantee of success.
There are a number of factors beyond a fitness professional’s acumen and understanding of exercise science that will determine their success in this services-based industry, with their so-called ‘soft’ or social skills playing a very important role.
A people’s person
While a personal trainer or fitness instructor doesn’t need to be the most outgoing individual, it is important to understand that fit pros work directly with people every day.
You therefore need to be comfortable engaging with people on a daily basis. Your ability to interact with clients and potential clients will ultimately determine your long-term success, often more so than the type of services you offer or your understanding of exercise and nutrition.
You also need to be agile in your approach. Not every client responds well to a drill Sargent, while others thrive in that environment. If you’re able to switch between a softer approach and a more regimented style, you’ll have broader market appeal.
Even if your business is run exclusively online, there are still specific social skills that are needed to engage and interact with clients in a professional manner. That’s because online training is about more than just firing off a gym programme once every month. You still need to stay in contact with clients, be it via messaging apps, email or regular calls to assess their progress and make suitable recommendations.
Scheduling regular one-on-one sessions with online clients (where possible) is also a great way to boost their training and maintain a strong interpersonal relationship.
Be a motivator
Every successful fitness professional must have the ability to motivate and inspire their clients. This requires a true passion for their craft, a drive to constantly improve, learn and grow, and a deep-seated desire to help people transform their lives and achieve their goals.
This also entails dealing with clients who may be struggling, which often requires patience and perseverance. You’ll need to encourage clients on their bad days, with the EQ to know when to push and when to back off to get the most from their time with you.
The ability to effectively communicate is another critical skill that fitness professionals need to master if they hope to build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with their clients. This not only requires the ability to effectively convey instructions and share your knowledge with clients, but also entails being a good listener.
Pay attention to how they describe their experience of your sessions with them and when they express their views on how they feel the programme is going. If you fail to listen to and understand your clients then you’ll fail to meet their expectations and deliver on their desired objectives.
And in a country that boasts such a diversity of cultures and personalities, it is also essential that fitness professionals are adaptable in their communication styles, tailoring their approach to the different individuals they work with.
The same principle applies to digital communication and social media engagement, which requires a multi-channel, often always-on (within reason) approach to client communication.
Polish your bench-side manner
No matter how many clients you see during the day, each one deserves your full attention and the same level of positive energy. This can be difficult in an industry where long hours are common, but it’s imperative that you’re mindful of your attitude and demeanour at every session.
Your undivided attention during every minute of a paid-for session is another non-negotiable in terms of your bench-side manner. Not only is playing on your phone or chatting to other gym-goers during a client session disrespectful, it also erodes the value the client is paying for. Make your client your priority for the entire session by giving them your full attention. And never, ever be late for a session.
Similar principles apply to online trainers. While it can be tempting to scale up and take on hundreds of clients to boost your earning potential, you must be mindful of keeping client numbers at manageable levels. Every client pays for and deserves the same level of service, which cannot be met when trainers are overburdened.
Offer individualised services
While a generic exercise program will work for most people, at least initially, to continue making progress a trainer will need to individualise their approach. Those fitness professionals who choose to follow a cookie-cutter approach, because it’s more convenient and saves time, are doing their clients a disservice.
The fitness industry has also become a creative industry – fit pros must be creative with their programming and activities to avoid boredom and keep it interesting, both for them and their clients. This is more easily achieved when the fitness professional has a broad base of expertise from which to draw.
It’s also important to put in the extra effort to delve into the unique needs, requirements and circumstances of every client to structure specific plans for them. In doing so their rate of success will skyrocket, as will your business!
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.