This work goes far beyond the reps we’re putting in at the gym, the programs we create for our clients, and the attention we devote to them during and between sessions.
This work involves checking ourselves—noticing the ways in which we knowingly or unknowingly take the easy way out. It involves doing the deeper work on ourselves so we can support our clients in going deep. And it involves digging into our biases and assumptions. It’s about holding ourselves accountable to taking the seemingly small but incredibly impactful actions that create inclusivity.
The good news? Each of us individual trainers make up the whole. And as we begin to make changes on the micro level, the shifts will be reflected on the macro level.
If you want to be part of the change, keep reading for three ways the fitness industry is failing and what you can do about it.
#1. Contributing to the dependency model.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
This quote by Benjamin Franklin is a perfect example of how we can best support our clients. While it’s true that most clients hire us because they just want to be told what to do, constantly giving them advice and answering every single question they have takes away their power to be self-reliant.
The thing is, it’s easy to answer questions. It’s easy to tell people what to do. Responding to a question with a probing question can be uncomfortable (and requires you to think of a probing question in the first place). And, depending on where your mindset is at, the idea of creating self-reliant clients can be scary. What if they don’t need you anymore?
The solution: make space for learning
Recognize that there’s a time and a place for answering questions and giving advice. Sometimes, a simple question really is just a simple question. But check your intention behind giving the answers. Are you giving a straight answer because it’s easier? Because you’re afraid what will happen if you invite the client to answer their own questions? If so, you could be taking valuable learning opportunities away from your client.
Instead, think of some ways you can respond to the questions and concerns you commonly hear. What are some questions you can respond with to help encourage your clients to find a solution to their own problems? How can you begin to hold the space for them to become their own guides rather than always relying on someone else?
#2. Failing to recognize what’s beneath the surface.
I learned early on in my personal training career that most of my clients weren’t hiring me because they needed more workouts or recipes. There was an abundance of free information on the internet, and yet they weren’t taking advantage of it. Why?
Many of our general population clients come to us carrying stories from their past that influence their beliefs about what’s possible for them moving forward. And while it’s out of our scope as personal trainers to dig into a lot of those stories, having an understanding of their potential presence is essential, especially when we’re working with clients who just don’t seem to “get it”.
Self-sabotaging behaviour such as skipping workouts, straying from nutrition goals, and going radio silent for a few weeks is rarely due to a lack of motivation, regardless of what the client says. Chances are, there’s a mark from a past experience that’s influencing the way they respond to stressors, challenges, and roadblocks today. As a trainer, simply having the awareness that there may be something mental or emotional at play that’s impacting the physical and responding with compassion rather than judgment can make a world of a difference in how a client responds to their own missteps.
The solution: think big picture
Expand your coaching abilities to help your clients see for themselves why they may be sabotaging their progress. This is a great first step. Educate yourself on the psychology of change and how early experiences can impact our present circumstances. This can help you become more aware of what your clients may be dealing with.
Even more importantly, build a network of professionals you can refer your clients out to. This way, you’ll stay within your scope and your clients get the care and attention they deserve.
#3. Falling Behind on Diversity and Inclusion Efforts
The fitness industry needed more diversity and inclusion yesterday, but today is as good a day as any to get started. This topic could span across a series of articles, so the simple, actionable suggestions I’m about to provide are just the tip of the inclusivity iceberg. Pick one, implement it, and then move onto the next.
The solution: make change, step by step
Many fitness studios and brands say they welcome everybody. However, in reality, their marketing fails to reflect that by continuing to feature similar-looking clients. Can you find ways to be more representative in your marketing by highlighting your clients of varying body sizes, backgrounds, and abilities? Are you always celebrating the aesthetic wins of your clients, and if so, can you begin to celebrate other successes such as consistency, new habits that have been adopted, or new skills that have been learned?
Making the bathrooms in your facility gender-neutral is one way to make your space feel more inclusive, as is asking a new client for their preferred gender pronouns on an intake form. Simple language shifts such as female- or male-identifying individuals can also create a sense of safety for folks who are usually left out of the conversation.
Last but not least, take a good look at who you’re learning from. Is all of your continuing education coming from people with relatively similar backgrounds and life experiences? If so, seek out teachers and educators with more diverse perspectives. This action will help you see things from a new lens?
Recognizing where we’ve been falling short can be uncomfortable. AND it’s important to not let the discomfort prevent us from doing the work. Be compassionate with yourself. Learn to let go of the guilt. And then do your part in creating a more open, welcoming space for all individuals.