This category covers things that relate to increasing the amount of physical movement that a person does. We are a mobile species and movement plans a big role in helping us regulate our bodies, our brains, our mood, and our spirit. It can include things about exercise programs, exercise movements, or general mobility such as walking, picking things up, or the activities that make-up our jobs and recreational life.
Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work.
When it comes to personal training and basically any type of training, there are two type of clients, those who do what they are told and everyone else. Those who do the work are generally self-motivated. They may not know exactly why they are doing what they do, but when pressed on it they can come-up with a good reason, or two, or more. Intuitively they understand that they must pay the metaphoric bill before they eat the metaphoric meal – the bill is the work and every decision that moves them forward while the meal is the results they are seeking. For me, these clients are moderately interesting to work with and most of the joy comes from the validation that my methods and programs work and from the empathetic joy of seeing someone work hard, get what they earn, and feel good about it. I enjoy the conversations as well because these types of people have a lot to teach and I have a lot to learn.
Everyone else acts like training is a meal at a fine dining restaurant. It’s an experience to have and the bill will be paid at the end after they know that the experience was worth it. These people are a lot more work. There is a different problem to be solved and I may not know the answer because they don’t know the question. They don’t necessarily do what is being asked of them because they don’t really know why they are in front of me, asking for my help, on a journey that they may not even have started. It’s messy with a much lower success rate. The best case is that they actually start the journey and figure out why it is important OR that a light gets shined on the life they are living, the future that this will create for them, and a sense of peace about both.
The truth is that it is much more important to me that they find out what their goals actually are and not important at all that they achieve a goal that was never theirs in the first place.
I like my life and I believe everyone else should like their life too. If I can be of service and guide / help them automate the making of the life of their dreams then all the better. Sometimes they are already living the life of their dreams and just have never taken the time to notice it. They may not realize what is involved with chasing down a goal and that the actualization of the goal can be rather unfulfilling. After you reach your goal you are still you. You may be a leaner, more muscular, faster you, but at the end of the day, you remain you.
I used to believe that everyone should work out and improve their health. This is something that I no longer believe. I know everyone will benefit from moderate exercise, improved nutrition, reduced stress, and a more mindful approach to life, but that doesn’t mean everyone should go after these benefits. Sometimes these benefits actually make people miserable. Having single digit body fat is hard work and requires a lot of sacrifice. Once you achieve it, it requires continuous effort to maintain because it is a possession of sorts. It is now YOURS to lose, and this knowledge can generate a considerable amount of negative mental energy. And regardless of what you do, if you live long enough, you WILL lose it. Everything that arises will pass away, your discipline, your 6 pack abs, your youth, even your earthly existence.
A quick conversation can unpacked that a person just want to feel happier with who they are, the solution for which is meditation. After a few months of twice a day practice is all that is needed for the laws of nature to reveal themselves, and equanimous acceptance is bound to follow.
An effective consultation can reveal that the goal is simply to feel better. The prescription here is simple, improve posture through the use of structural balance movements, core and breath training. When we automate standing up straight when your head back and breathing deeply into our belly our psychological mind set shifts towards confidence, security, and contentment. The experience of pain is reduced and we feel and act more capable.
Cultivating and maintaining mindfulness is very easy and will add tremendous value to your life because of the compounding effect of experience over time. Improving and maintaining posture and appropriate breathing requires 5 minutes a day of work and offers similar compounding lifelong benefits. These things are easy, and anyone can achieve them. And if they are actually what the person is seeking, it is better for everyone in the long run to just go straight for them.
I am not suggesting that someone should not work out to improve their health. They should, most people should, but it is even better if the person actually wants to do it. There is no downside when someone works hard to get what they want AND need. The same cannot be said when someone gets what they need but do not want. Needs and wants are not the same and when they are not aligned who are we to decide what another person needs?
I find this approach helpful when it comes to training and coaching. Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work. Anything other than this is an indication that they do not really know what they want or that they have not taken the time to get clear on why they want it. A simpler solution likely exists for them, one that has them invest a lot less time and allows them to go directly to what they want.
The funny thing about an honest person who actually believes nonsense is that they are telling the truth when they are lying to people.
In many of the leadership books and blogs, the notion of mistakes comes up a
lot. To be a leader, you need to take action and any time you take action,
there is a chance that this action will not lead to the desired outcome.
Mistakes are a big part of learning and the best leaders in any industry tend
to make more than their fair share of them.
It makes a lot of sense to regard any mistake as lesson. This will make them
more powerful because it will reduce the long term consequences of the action.
Letting go of a poor decision is easier when we know that we are less likely to
make the same decision again in the future.
But I question the validity of the assumption that actual learning has
occurred when one habitually label mistakes lessons, given the apparent
tendency for people to do the same things over and over again. What may
actually be occurring is more akin to a karmic cleanse vs. a real lesson. It is
easier to call something a lesson and to state that the outcome was the result
of a lack of knowledge / experience than to really dig into what happened and
to accept that you had the resources to think the thing through and still chose
to act impulsively.
To be clear, I’m not talking about innovation here. Making something new
that performs its function perfectly necessitates it having been made and NOT
perform that function perfectly more than once. Each previous iteration was not
a mistake because the inventor could not have known better. Each version is a
lesson that builds upon all of the lessons from before. The outcome was not a
result of having information / resources and choosing not to use them.
What I am talking about are all of the times when taking a few minutes to
think things through beforehand would likely have revealed a lot of the blind
spots or things that did not immediately come to mind.
For example, I used to say “it takes 21 days to learn a new skill and make
it a habit” without any sense of irony. I had heard it when I started working
at a gym and it was something that we were encouraged to say to new or
potential members to let them know that changing course to move towards a more
healthful life requires some effort but that the effort doesn’t really need to
be sustained (3 weeks was all that was needed before the body would do it on
its own). The lack of irony was due to my missing the fact that I had created
the habit of saying that saying in about 30 seconds.
Some behaviors will require 21 days, others 1, some 261, etc. I was wrong. I
wasn’t learning a lesson, I was making a mistake every time I lazily repeated a
simple phrase that served a sales purpose. It turns out that I was lying because
I should have known better than to repeat something so trite and catchy. If I
had taken the required 3 moments to consider what was going on in the context
of my own life I would have realized that 21 days was not an average, was not
an actual and did not reflect how things progressed in my own life. When I was
learning to become a cycling instructor, I started practicing every day the day
after the training workshop ended; so less than 48 hours to create the habit –
I didn’t need to convince myself to practice, I was excited to do it. When I
decide to wake-up earlier in the morning, it takes me about a week of
deliberately getting out of bed at 5:15 am before I find myself walking around
at 5:16 am without a desire to push snooze and stay in bed. The habit of
mindfulness as it applies to my baseline level of anxiety has yet to full take
hold, even after years of knowing that I can be an anxious person and will seek
out the experiences that will create anxiety. My journeys down the rabbit hole
though are much shorter than before but I am still starting them.
On some level I knew I was talking nonsense. However, it was my job to sell
gym memberships so I just kept saying the line over and over again. I got good
at it. Prospective members believed me and I think I started to believe me.
The funny thing about an honest person who actually believes nonsense is
that they are telling the truth when they are lying to people. Someone who is
that convinced that life will be completely different in 3 weeks is able to convince
other people of that “fact.” There I was, pouring out sincerity, stoking the
flames of hope that their future would be better and all it would take was a
few weeks of effort before the body just did the work willingly. I closed a lot
of sales because I believed what I was saying, and that made it easier for the
people on the other side of the table to believe it too.
It didn’t take long, about 22 days after my first sale, before the evidence
began to grow that my silly little phrase wasn’t true. Over a few months it
became evident that I wasn’t going to be able to excel at selling gym
memberships for much longer because it was clear that people have a baseline
and it can take months and maybe years for it to be updated.
I moved on to management, then personal training, and finally fitness class
instruction growing further away from the notion that “it takes 21 days to
learn a new skill and make it a habit.” For me, selling gym memberships for
that club was like convincing someone to convert all of their dollars into the
currency of a country that doesn’t exist anymore – it was something that can be
done but was probably going to be a mistake and when it came time to correct
it, the exchange rate would ensure that the customer lost money. Going from zero
to a sustained full speed, which is what is required when someone makes the
decision to transform their body composition, is going to require that they
create a bunch of new behaviors, put a lot of effort into continuing to do
them, and endure whatever sense of loss going without the things that got them
to the position of needing to change their body composition in the first place
causes. It is possible, but for almost everyone it is going to SUCK.
And that is the power of labeling a mistake a lesson in the fitness
industry. There is no cost to it, so doing it eliminates the incentive to
actually change future actions. In fact, there is a disincentive to changing
because you move away from doing what you know works and into the realm of the
unknown. The new actions may not work so you will be, at the very least, going
without the sense of certainty that what you are doing is going to be
effective, and, more likely, be going without the money. Better to call it a
lesson so you get to continue to do what you did before and get the same
outcome. This is what immunizes the fitness professional from the pain
associated with making a mistake because the reframe allows the “lesson” to be
the cost of knowing something and because it ultimately is the responsibility
of the member / client / participant to put in the work. If the habit doesn’t
take after exactly 3 weeks it is probably the clients fault for doing something
wrong. The mistake was not in the BS statement, it was to belief that the
client or member was willing to put in the work to form that new habit.
So long as there is no pain associated with the action, the motivation to do
anything different will never grow. The client will experience the pain. When,
on the 22nd day, going to the gym and eating more healthful food is not the
automatic, they will begin to feel the pain of their blown expectation. And
this is the problem with not being completely honest with people when it comes
to the fitness industry. People are hopeful about their future and very much
want to believe that it will not only get very easy to do, but that it won’t
take very long for that to happen. “It takes 21 days to learn a new skill and
make it a habit” is tailor-made to capitalize on their vulnerable state of
mind. They are coached into thinking “sure, it’ll be tough for a couple of
weeks but then it will get easy and after that, it’s only a matter of time
before I look and feel amazing.”
That just isn’t true. Well, the second part of it might be, that it will be
just a matter of time before they look and feel amazing so long as they
continue to consistently put in the work in the gym and the kitchen. But for
95% of the people who take-up fitness it can be months or years before their
body and brain make the pursuit of physical improvement automatic. Until then,
and even occasionally afterwards, it will require will-power. In my experience,
the only people for which the 21 days saying actually applies are for those who
have taken a short period of time away from their exercise habit. For everyone
else there is an almost 100% chance that the saying is false and for those who
sign-up for services based on their belief of it will be disappointed and have
less money because of it.
My approach now is almost complete honesty and to even attempt to talk
someone out of joining or starting because a lot of people do not want to
improve their fitness, they simply want to be happier. While becoming a regular
exerciser can improve happiness and improve someone’s feelings of well-being,
it can also contribute to a lot of suffering, misery, and feelings of shame and
inadequacy. If you don’t believe this, consider what goes through someone’s
mind when they hit day 22 and find that they haven’t really learned a new skill
and have definitely not made it a habit. When they find going to the gym on
week 4 to be as tough as or even tougher than they did on week 1, what are they
going to think about themselves? When they start to compare themselves to the
other members who seem to be showing up 3-5 times a week without any effort and
when they remember the certainty in which the sales person or personal trainer
told them that it would only take 21 days it will be nearly impossible to not
be flooded with feelings of inadequacy and failure. Experiencing these feelings
is not conducive to being happy.
I made a mistake and I changed course because I felt horrible for lying to
people when they were vulnerable, easily influenced, and when I stood to gain
from saying something that sounded true but was clearly false. When I had to
face myself in the mirror I realized that I had been using BS to harvest
peoples hope in an attempt to help sell them gym memberships. And morally I
felt awful because I knew that I had contributed to their suffering. It wasn’t
a mistake because I SHOULD have known better and it wasn’t a lesson because I
already knew better.
This brings me to some of the other things I was told when I was learning
how to sell gym memberships. The sales managers and sales coaches tried to make
me feel bad for applying what I knew about people. The statement “how are they
supposed to believe in themselves if you don’t even believe in them?” was
directed towards me more than once. As was “who are you to judge them for
something that might happen in the future? Who are you to deny them the
opportunity to have a better life?” These statements feel like they might be
true, except I knew that they were not. It wasn’t that I was a pessimist, it
was that I was both a realist and someone with a back ground in psychology / human
behavior. I believed in the prospective members as much as I believe in people.
I knew what it took for me to change my behavior and I knew a lot of the
theories about what is required for human beings to be ready for change. The
truth is that there are only a couple of short cuts to the process and unless
someone arrives at the gym for the first time having taken one of them, having
had one of the requisite experiences OR is actually ready to change, they will
have extreme difficult making the changes.
Informed consent is a thing that is very important and it was the only thing
that we were NOT seeking. We needed and wanted their consent in terms of a
signature on a legally binding agreement to allow the gym to access their bank
account to withdraw the membership dues. The act of informing them of the
actions they were going to need to do was vacated in favor of cultivating their
hope and filling their mind with grand ideas that do not hold up. When they
failed to form the new habit it was their decision and completely their own
responsibility. When I would talk about my concerns about the entire
transaction I was reminded that maybe the habit didn’t take because I didn’t
believe in the member enough. The fact that behavior change is hard and
requires sustained unreasonable effort was completely ignored. My crappy
attitude was probably contributing to the member’s challenges in automating a
difficult set of complex behaviors that are both physical challenging and are
experienced as psychological pain. Initially I adjusted my attitude but it
became obvious very quickly that my sincere belief in other people is not
sufficient to move them to do anything more than to sign-up and come in a few
times during the first few weeks. The heavy lifting needed to be done by them.
This all comes down to the following couple of facts:
The first is that people operate using a system of rewards and punishments.
Rewards serve to fuel action and to repeat an action that lead to the reward.
Punishments serve to reduce action in general but specifically the action that
caused the punishment. At the shallowest level, things that feel good are
rewards and things that feel bad are punishments. With references to the “it
takes 21 days” line I learned, it was initially reinforced because it seemed to
be effective at getting people to sign-up for a gym membership. The closing of
the sale felt good because it meant that I had performed my job well and would
result in higher wages come pay-day. However, after the first month, I began to
notice that the new members were not that much different from me and many were
having difficult forming that habit. Their pain and eventual disillusionment
started to weigh on me. They had a desire to finally make the life of their
dreams and started with such hope that it would become a habit very quickly.
Reality landed on them HARD after the first few weeks turned into a month and
it remained a constant challenge to eat better and drive to the gym to do
movements that are not innately rewarding. Either because they were telling me
this, I was reading it on their faces, or because they stopped coming into the
gym, I was getting absolutely clear that the exercise habit is a tough one to
create. The words that had once been powerfully reinforced though sales began
to be experienced as punishments when I realized that I had lied to the people
who had trusted me.
On a deeper level, the pleasure and pain can be perceived as either reward
or punishment, and this is the area that my NOT taking the effort to more fully
inform them of what would be required to become an habitual exerciser and more
effective eater came back to haunt me. At this deeper level, were pain can be
viewed as a reward and pleasure can be viewed as a punishment, the person needs
to take the time to think about what is going on in order to manufacture the
meaning that matches reward or punishment. For me, as a sales person, closing a
sale would only feel good when I made it as clear as possible what the first
few months of the gym would be like for them and the sense of loss or sacrifice
that comes along with changing your diet to remove sugar and junk food while
increasing the consumption of highly nutritious foods. My aim became disclosing
as possible about how long it would take to reach their goal and the number of
times they would have to say “no” to something they wanted and “yes” to
something that felt uncomfortable in the short term.
Of course two things happened here. The first was that the sales managers
and coaches did not like me going off script and tried to move me back on
course; which I wasn’t having any of because I had grown tired of feeling like
a lying jerk. The second was that the members who signed-up became active
members because they were fully aware of what was about to happen, had
considered it, and had still made the decision to join. When, 8 weeks later,
they still found that they had to call upon their willpower to come to the gym
at the end of their work day, they were not plagued with any feelings of “why
hasn’t this become a habit yet?” or “what is wrong with me, why can’t I like
this?” They did not like it, but they accepted it as something that they were
going to have to do in order to get the thing that they wanted. This, more than
anything else, is the formula for success – consistent hard work over time.
They were able to view showing-up and making it to the end of a workout as
rewarding in spite of the fact that NOTHING about it brought them any
measurable pleasure. They manufactured a meaning that served as a proxy for
pleasure to allow their brain to reward the behavior.
This is what is called the “discipline high.” You trigger chemical rewards
in response to doing things that are hard, require will power, and for which
there is a big disincentive to doing. Pain becomes pleasure-like, pleasure
becomes pain-like and the person takes the actions they accepted as part of the
journey. This type of meaning manufacturing might have been what the “21 days
to learn…” statement was getting at, but it was never outlined or explained to
me this way.
Now it turned out that because of my updated approach, the powers that be
thought that I would be a better manager than sales person and I got the
opportunity to perform that role at a different club. I employed the same
updated approach with managing the team as I had with selling memberships and
they responded in more or less the same way. Improving at anything will take
sustained work, a lot of which will not be directly rewarding. The sooner you
accept this fact and just start doing it the better the process is going to go
Years later, when I look at those first steps into to the fitness field I
smile and feel grateful that they are behind me. At the time I didn’t realize
that it is a self-help industry and that no matter what I bring to the table
the members, participants, or clients will need to perform the work. I can
motivate, want, coach, etc. until I’m exhausted, but if they do not put in the
effort there will be NO transformation. They need to help themselves and until
they are willing AND doing it, nothing is going to happen.
It is a fun job for many but for me it is only fun when there has been full
disclosure and the person is agreeing to perform their role KNOWING that it is
going to be hard work, mostly thankless, void of any physical reward and is not
something that feels good initially. Each of us have the potential to learn how
to work our muscles in a way that causes them to release feel good chemicals
but reaching this point requires the body to work at a particularly hard level for
an unpleasantly long period of time. Put another way, you need to be very fit,
have strong muscles, and the ability to tolerate a large amount of discomfort
before the body will respond by releasing endorphins to numb the pain and boost
the pleasure. This can take 3 to 9 months, which is a lot longer than the 21
days I used to promise. BUT when you know that it will happen and that the
journey towards that moment might just suck completely, you are much more
likely to accept the work as part of it and just do it.
I’m now much more inclined to consider a mistake both a mistake AND a lesson. It is a mistake because the pain is a necessary part of the process. It reduces the chances of me repeating an action that causes pain. This simultaneously creates the opportunity of a future perceived contrast reward in so far as any elimination of pain is experienced as pleasure when contrasted to the possibility of that pain. The pain eliminates the actions that do not work as the prospect of pleasure serves to fuel different actions in the future. In the absence of certainty that an action WILL lead to a rewarding outcome, we leverage this hope of a rewarding outcome to keep trying.
Don’t let yourself off the hook by labeling a mistake a lesson. Your brain learns better when there is something on the line so keep it there and learn from your mistakes.
Regardless of how I feel about what I have written since I started newstasis.com one thing has become clear, some of it lands on as negative or bitter so therefore it is negative and bitter.
I accept these interpretations. While I believe that I am not a negative or bitter person, I do see the negative of my choices and can very easily see the negative of a lot of situations. I speak from my experiences within the fitness industry, the experiences I have had, the conversations I have engaged in, and the things I have seen. The fitness field is an industry with a success rate of about 20% or less for people who engage professionals for needed help, the turn over rate for fitness professionals is more than 50% over a three year period, and the churn rate for new participants is close to 70%. Summed up, very few people benefit from the existence of the industry, most of the people who stick with it are lifers (those who’d be doing the stuff anyway) or people who will die early if they DON’T stick with it, and many of the best (in my opinion) fitness professionals leave the industry after only a few years.
I’m entitled to my own opinion and in this case, it matches the facts – most people who are involved in the fitness industry achieve a very small level of success that lasts for a short period of time.
Admittedly, I have more control over myself than I do anyone else, and when I am working as a fitness professional I try to do the best work I am capable of. Part of doing the good work is to try and stop people from hurting themselves BEFORE I try to help them because preventing someone from hurting themselves is a form of help. All things being equal, I will dig in deep about why someone wants to get into better shape and will often try to talk them out of it.
Here’s the thing, trying and failing makes failing again in the future more likely. If someone isn’t ready, they shouldn’t bother. There is a lot of evidence created when we set out to do something and end-up not doing it and this evidence goes a long way to evolve our identity. This is not to say that I will tell someone not to work out, I encourage people to move more, to enjoy the feelings of hard work, and to maybe learn to love the sense of accomplishment at the end of a challenging workout. I might even invite them to notice the feelings of connection with the other people in a fitness class and how all of these things make life more enjoyable. Each of those things is true and are sources of happiness, and are worthwhile if for no other reason as they are fun and make life a little better.
But that is about as far as I go with it. The fitness industry is a self-help industry and most people won’t help themselves for long enough or hard enough to transform their bodies, and that is fine. Having the body of my dreams wasn’t nearly as rewarding as being able to do 12 pull-ups or riding my bike up the Niagara escarpment 10 times in a day. In fact, having abs was something to not have anymore, and that created pressure, boosted my narcissism and made me fearful of certain foods. Don’t get me wrong, I like looking fit, but I LOVE feeling great and doing fun and challenging things. Time will take a toll on my appearance, the toll it takes on my ability to do things is more or less determined by me.
I don’t even encourage people to stop smoking anymore. Smoking isn’t healthful or alivening, but neither is unsolicited advice or coaching / requests to do something that you don’t want to do or stop something that you want to keep doing. Everyone stops smoking eventually and they’ll stop when they are ready or when they die. Until then a smoker should enjoy their cigarettes completely because if you’re going to do something harmful you bloody well better enjoy it.
What does all of this mean?
There is a time and a place for the truth and that time isn’t always and that place isn’t everywhere. I try to write as honestly as I can and if someone happens to interpret that as negative, then my words were negative and I am therefore negative. If they choose to not read them again, that’s a fair choice for them to make and I support them in it.
I write knowing that some people would rather feel good and be happy than engage the negative in an attempt to deal with what is. Again, I support people in the decisions and am equally grateful to be part of the choice, even if that choice is to not read or listen to my words.
I KNOW how to use language to create a powerful impetus for change – just take one of my classes and you’ll notice just how much harder you work there than most places on earth – and that is what I have been doing with my blog. I could just as easily state that working for free benefits business owners a lot more than the person who is giving their time away and leave it up to the reader to draw the conclusion that when you give away your time, you are proving that your time has no value, but that leaves too much unsaid or open to misinterpretation. Instead I said unpaid internships are a scourge and hurt everyone; even those who get the free labor.
My dad once said that it is too bad that I couldn’t work for other people because getting a job with a corporation is a great way to do a lot of cool things while having someone else take on the majority of the risk. I agreed with the second point but wasn’t sure I understood him saying that I couldn’t work for other people. When I asked him about this he said: “You can be fantastic and you can be awful, but you are never in the middle, which is the realm of working for other people. You have a way of engaging the world that is interesting to those around you and will bring them along for the ride as certain as you are about the right way forward. And the moment someone disagrees with you and prevents you from taking the righteous action you know is correct you become awful.” At the time I wasn’t sure how to take it but I warmed up to the essence of what he was saying. He was at least 90% correct at the time.
As I have gotten older, there has been a shift in my approach. I am certain I am right about fewer things, but I am absolutely certain about the things that I am right about. Experience, education, and curiosity do this to a person if they are open to the lessons and willing to be wrong in order to one day be right.
In all of it though, I remain intolerant to dishonesty. This is why my feelings about the fitness industry seem to be unchanging. It remains an industry in which opinion is presented as fact, science takes a back page to gurufication, and hope is weaponized to harvest fresh souls. But my absolute contempt of dishonesty applies to all areas of my life. While I have grown less inclined to prove someone to be a liar and to fight with someone who is playing fast and loose with the facts, I notice when people are not being truthful either through deliberate attempt to deceive or through an act of willful ignorance / motivated reasoning. They are flagged in my mind as being dishonest, self interested, or too lazy to put in the effort to see reality in a way that doesn’t serve their interests. I’m content with leaving them alone and allowing them their chance at happiness because when someone is that motivated to maintain their fiction or that resistant to the truth they probably don’t have much else going for them.
Of course, they’ll be left alone only when their lack of honesty is harmful to only them. The moment it begins to contribute to the suffering of other people is the moment I begin to track in on their intention and their reasons for avoiding the truth.
In the world of fitness there are many ways to contribute to the lives of the participants and matching the role you are most passionate about with the clients who need this type of help will open the doors to your most satisfying career. Sadly the opposite is true, choosing to work with clients who do not need your specific type of help will result in a boring and short career as a fitness professional.
First things first, fitness professionals serve as proxies for their clients. When a client doesn’t know the proper way to move, they connect with a trainer who knows how to move. When a client doesn’t have the appropriate nutritional habits, they’ll connect with a coach who knows the proper food and ways to eat. When a client doesn’t have the needed will power to sustain regular workouts, they connect with a coach who will act as their will power, being collaboratively forceful to get the client to do that which they lack the will to do on their own. If a client is unwilling to commit to a better future, a trainer will get their commitment by selling them a block of training. When a client gets caught-up in their stories, a coach will give them a different perspective and help them separate the truth from the fiction within the story.
Given that we act as proxies for our clients and that we have a particular passion / ability, we cultivate long gratifying careers when we are able to be passionate proxies to our clients. For example, if we love coaching movement, particularly foundation movement, we’ll be most satisfied when our work is made-up of coaching newer trainees who are open to the coaching and highly motivated to adapt. We’ll be less satisfied coaching high level athletes who know how to move efficiently and even less satisfied trying to get people to commit to a better future, as these clients have not yet agreed to be coached so there won’t be any movements to prescribe, watch, or correct. By the same token, those who love to help clients generate future possibilities will feel stifled if they spend their time engaging with people who have actually made the decision to move forward with training because these clients need movement coaching.
There is a life cycle with training spanning the range between non-trainee (A), thinking about it (B), beginner (C), intermediate (D), advanced (E), athlete (F), and relapsed non-trainee (G); this last group is distinct from the non-trainee group but only for a while – after a length of time those who are no longer working out become non-trainees.
It is not unusual for a trainer to enjoy working with people from a variety of these groups, to have a specific gift for one of them and to find the rest of them to be unappealing or exceptionally hard to work with. For example, there are similarities between B and G in that neither is actively working out BUT both are more open to it than someone who simply doesn’t do it (A). B and G just need to uncover the compelling reason why they need to start and they will begin. Person G might have achieved their initial objective and stopped why person B never found out what that objective was in the first place. The conversation with B and G will be very similar, while these conversations will have a completely different tone, feeling and intention than those with someone who has no interest in working-out or has not yet realized that they have a compelling reason to do so.
Training beginners is very different than training advanced participants, and while training advanced people has a lot in common with training athletes, athletes need more structure and planning in order for them to be in peak physical condition for their key performance dates. Athletes are very easy to train in terms of their motivation and willingness to do what they are told, a coach needs to be very specific with what they are telling them to do as there is very little room for error given that a small change in form will have a much larger impact in terms of performance.
Personally, I connect best with C and D, and moderately well with B. I have enjoyed training athletes but accept that there are better coaches for them than me, and I don’t have the innate patience to work with them effectively. I’m much better at getting people to move safely than I am at getting them to move specifically. I have coached weight lifting and power lifting and I don’t find it to be very appealing. However, I am very effective at getting someone to push themselves to their physical limit in a functional circuit or to dig a little deeper and cross into the realm of maximum intensity in a cycling class. I’m also much better at noticing and pointing out the tiny physical changes in terms of appearance or ability that are experienced during the first months of training than I am at analyzing the lifting numbers and determining an athletes rate of neurological adaptation.
All of this is to say that I am a great trainer for people who are just starting out and I am an effective sales person for those individuals who are on the fence about starting a workout program. I have the science background to design effective advanced programs although I do not have the passion or interest to take people through them on a regular basis. I just don’t engage high performance athletes because their training time is too valuable to be spent with me and my coaching time is too valuable to be spend with them. E.g. if they want to go to the Olympics or become a professional they should work with someone who is able to take the time to plot their course very specifically, while I am taking the time to move hundreds of people through the phases of not being sure they want to work out to not being sure they can work out to being sure they can work out to knowing what to do to get what they want, how intensely to do it and how to avoid injuries while doing it. When the fit is right, I LOVE what I do, just as my clients LOVE learning what they need to do, as well as what they CAN do – it will be a pure WIN:WIN. When the fit is wrong, I call my mistake and find them the right trainer. Even though no one is really losing, it is always better to exit break even situations and seek out a WIN:WIN.
Given that I like people and have a genuine curiosity about how they engage the world, it is common for me to have the enrollment conversation with people that I never end up training – either because they are a better fit with another trainer or because it was discovered that they didn’t actually want to work out and simply needed some perspective about life and their relationship with it. E.g. while most people would benefit from physical exercise, not everyone should set about trying to improve their body composition or improve their fitness. Exercise feels amazing for a lot of people who work out regularly – exercise of a specific duration and intensity will trigger the body to release reward chemicals that are pleasurable, reinforcing, and which have a positive impact on mood and psychological health. However, the intensity is rather high and the duration is relatively long, so triggering the release requires a baseline level of fitness that is fairly high. 15 minutes of movement at an average intensity of 82 percent may not seem like a lot, but anything above 80 percent is very close to breathless effort that is physically painful due to the accumulation of lactate. Until your body learns how to tolerate this discomfort, exercise is not going to be immediately pleasurable. So while the human being can be trained to make exercise feel fantastic in the moment, doing so is a skill that requires a lot of work that has all of the characteristics of suffering.
If working out is not for someone, it is better to find that out at the beginning and to completely avoid starting. Too often when a large training package is sold to someone who doesn’t actually want to improve their health and fitness, there is a large drop in the quality of their life because they are out the money, the time, they get nothing of value out of the workouts, they hurt physically, and in the end the entire experience has been a massive waste of resources. This doesn’t work for me because my main objective is to reduce suffering so if I convince someone to take a journey that they honestly don’t want to take, regardless of the long term potential health benefits, I have contributed to their perceived and actual level of suffering. It’s so much better to not start the journey than to begin one that doesn’t need to be undertaken.
I’m not saying that these people deserve to have a miserable life or that they do not deserve to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise and improved health and fitness. They do deserve to have an amazing life and reap whatever rewards they can. It is just that improving your health and fitness is hard work and not for everyone. It won’t necessarily make someone happy and in the end, the relapse rates for people who achieve a big fitness goal are very high. Feeling good and being happy are not the same thing, so when someone comes to me looking to become happier I’m going to take a straight line to the activities that lead to increased happiness and, for the record, working out and achieving a massive body transformation do not make miserable people happy in spite of the fact that they make the person feel fantastic.
In a way, I started off my career as a fitness professional believing something that wasn’t true and when I began to notice that people didn’t work the way I thought they did, I had to change my course. But what I learned during those fifteen years is useful, valuable and exactly what some people need. There is nothing to be gained by throwing it all away; the opposite is true, it is science and it is effectively instructions on how to engineer fitness. It’s knowledge and wisdom even though it was a mistake to believe that fitness is the same thing as happiness. Engineering happiness is a different science so I have had to learn it.
This means that I can work with a larger percentage of people, lead them to a couple of different outcomes – fitness and health and / or happiness and well-being – and direct them towards their actual desired path much more effectively than had I only one set of tools. This keeps the job interesting and it allows me to contribute to the positive life experiences of a larger number of people. Most importantly for me, I get to do what I am passionate about without having to convince people that they need something that they don’t. I have the freedom to work with the people I am best suited for and to actually reduce the suffering of both active and sedentary clients.
I will post the second part of this article, Finding Your Passion As A Fitness Professional, early next week.
In Choosing A Fitness Club – Post Revisited I covered some of the considerations a person might have when making a decision on what gym to join. There was a section in which I made reference to the five distinct types of people and how they tend to self-select their training times:
They are early morning, off-hour, after work, late evening lifters, and the generalists. As rules of thumb, anyone who is willing to get out of bed to go to the gym will likely be highly driven and have less time to waste on things they deem as unimportant. The after work people will have a similar desire to waste as little time as possible. The late evening lifters tend to have a very focused lifting intensity but a more laid back approach to their between sets time. Off-hour people have selected these times because they work for them in terms of traffic flow and life management. The generalists workout whenever they can or feel like it.
This is an interesting topic that I need to expand on because, in general, people unconsciously and automatically find the time that works for them and just stick with it. With the exception of the generalists, the people who workout whenever they can make the time or feel like it, the chances of people remaining as active members at a gym are determined by their ability to get this time of day selection correct. Rephrased, most people who cancel their gym memberships or stop going to the gym / working out do so as a consequence of choosing to train at the wrong time. My belief is that it isn’t that the time was not convenient for them it is that who they are is not convenient for the time they picked. Who they are is NOT so malleable as to become whatever they want it to be.
There are five different types of people which correspond to five specific time frames in terms of when people train at the gym. Anytime, or what I referred to as generalist, early morning, off-hour, after work and late evening. Let’s talk about each one specifically because being able to identify which one you are will go a long way in making sure that you get the best start on your deliberate fitness journey:
Anytime / generalist – these are people who can workout whenever they feel like and will tend to do so based more on their availability than any other factor. These people tend to be lifers who enjoy working out for its own sake. Moving feels good and being healthy is not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of necessity. There is a very good chance that if you are one of these people you already know you are and you are already a member at a gym and working out regularly. Of those who are not regular exercisers, only a very small percentage of them belong to this group. It is possible for people to become a member of this group by joining one of the other four groups first, developing the exercise habit, learning how to really enjoy it for its own sake, and them transitioning.
Personality traits include independence, internal locus of control, lack of a need for social approval, strong time management skills, self awareness and a tendency towards free-thinking. They probably won’t talk much about their training or workouts and will simply just do them. There is a very good chance that they will look like they workout and their food choices will tend to be on the healthy side of the scale. Consider these people to be the doers and not the talkers who roll with the punches in order to accomplish unreasonable amounts of work.
Early morning – these are people who need to workout early in the morning, usually within an hour or so of waking and their first venture out of the house will be to the gym. Their training goals will primarily be to improve fitness and improve body composition with a higher focus on reducing body fat. They may not necessarily be morning people and may drag themselves through the first thirty minutes of being awake, but they will show a dramatic surge of energy once their workout begins and will always leave the gym feeling WAY more energetic than how they arrived. They will show a propensity towards “all or nothing thinking” and this will manifest as a need to get to the gym by a certain time or else not going. Missed workouts will not be made-up later in the day and will only be made-up later in the week.
Personality traits will include being highly driven, goal oriented, binary in their thinking, a tendency towards accountability to other people leading them to benefit from group fitness or personal training experiences. On days that they miss their morning workouts, as opposed to off days, they will be a little insufferable and will operate very differently compared to the days they worked out or took a planned off day. It is be as though one bad decision first thing in the morning serves to set the tone for more bad decisions through out the day. These people are best served by getting out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off in the morning, so to NEVER push snooze, and get up at the same time every day REGARDLESS of what they have planned. A successful first five minutes will result in a day of massive action and the creation of a lot of forward momentum.
Off-hour – these are people who have the flexibility to workout more or less anytime and choose to get to the gym when it is less busy. There reasons for training will be varied – strength, body composition, muscle growth, fitness, cardio performance, or for pleasure. They will have a similar mind set to the early morning people in terms of there being a cut off time for going to the gym although they will have a wider range in terms of when they can go. If they miss a workout, they can catch-up later in the week or will do more work in the remaining workouts of the week to make sure they get the training time in. The people will be the first to have training partners or to form more obvious social groups. For example, the early morning people might participate in fitness classes and spend time socially with the other participants, but their conversation during class will have a transactional flair and may lack a closeness or softness that is afforded by having more time to fully engage someone. Off-hour people, on the other hand, will be able to take the time to engage other people in a more connected way. Their closeness will be obvious to others and it can often be interpreted as cliquey. This is usually not the case however as they will welcome new members in and will quickly begin to look out for the needs of others.
Not all off-hour people are joiners or part of a group. Some will be as single minded as the anytime / generalists or the early morning people, but just have the flexibility to go to the gym whenever they like. With these specific people, they will display the same “no nonsense” approach to their time at the gym and will come across as transactional vs. collaborative. They have a mission while they are at the gym and nothing is going to get in their way from achieving their objective.
Personality traits for those who are not like the anytime or early morning people might include a more calm, deliberate or laid back approach to life, having a success pattern that includes a social or connection component, an absence of any perceivable sense of urgency, and the heightened quality of relationships with the staff.
After work – these are the people who workout right after work and for which the gym represents “me” time in terms of throwing way the days stress. Their training objectives will be very similar to those of the early morning – general fitness and body composition with a higher focus towards reducing body fat – and they will have an awareness that they will be able to have a higher degree of flexibility with their dinner as a result of working out so close to it. Their food choices will be positively impacted by this proximity and their workout will serve to empower / improved decision making – their meals on workout days will be healthier than their non-workout days , with particularly positive impact on their dinner choices. They will have slightly more flexibility when if comes to delaying their gym visit, but there will be a cut off and most of them will NOT come to the gym if they go home first. Missed workouts will only be made-up later in the week and the effect of missing a planned workout will very often lead to a series of bad health choices in the hours between the missed workout and going to bed. The elation that is experienced by the early morning people will not be so obvious or may not even be present. However, the workout will serve to refocus them for the rest of the day and the massive reduction in physiological and emotional stress that their training causes will manifest itself as a enhanced sense of well-being, contentment or peace of mind.
Personality traits include being driven, goal oriented, determined, the ability to manage time and balance many competing demands. There will be a more or less equal mix between those who are accountable to themselves and those who are accountable to other people, although most will have an internal locus of control in terms of determining what they want for their future. The mix of energies will be broad ranging from almost manic with an exceptionally high sense of urgency to a low almost sedated “I don’t give a crap” / “nothing matters” which will have a lot to do with the evening responsibilities of the people – parents will still be getting after it because their day is about to begin again while those with fewer responsibilities might be crossing off the final item on their daily “to do” list.
The after work group will be the largest of the five. It will show the greatest diversity in how they use the gym space and services. There will be a high number of group fitness enthusiasts and a higher percentage of personal training consumers. Monday and Tuesday between 4:45 pm and 7:15 pm tend to be the busiest times of the week, with Saturday morning being a distant third, although there are regional specific patterns based on demographics.
Late evening – these are the people who, for the most part, go home after work to eat dinner before coming to the gym. Their training goals are very much on body composition with a big focus on gaining muscle, and on the development of strength. In general there will be a much higher percentage of males vs. females when compared to any other time of the day. The energy will be lower and slower with the exception of the periods of time spent under the bar when the people will be putting between 75% and 100% effort in. To a neutral observer it will seem like very little work is getting done when compared to early morning and after work. However, it will only seem this way. The reality will be that while there are fewer calories being burned via the cardio equipment and classes, there will be a lot more work being done in terms of force X distance. The time needed by the central nervous system to recover from these great efforts is the reason why the energy between sets will be very low. There is a great sense of urgency but these people have learned how to channel it into the lifting.
Personality traits include being driven, goal oriented, strong willed to stubborn, with an almost complete self-accountability to oneself for the work that needs to get done, with mixed accountability to others for showing-up. This is the realm of training partners because of the need for spotters and because progress is so slow the lifting of heavy objects can become a hyper competitive way of keep things interesting. These people tend to never miss workouts and will usually create and stick to a very rigid schedule that does not change often or vary much. The physiological reasons for this are clear and fairly well supported by evidence – building muscle is a process that requires you to train a muscle a particular way, give it a specific length of time to recover and then train it again, over and over again for years. Getting massive is not something that happens by accident or as a consequence of achieving any other fitness goal. This is different from fat loss, improved general fitness or specific cardiovascular health which are complementary objectives – by training for one you inevitably achieve the others.
There will be a much lower percentage of people who are doing intense cardio training because of how that type of training ramps up metabolic rate and tends to make falling asleep very difficult. This is why there will be very few people training to reduce body fat at this time of day. Very few general interest classes will be offered during this time and those classes that are available will tend to be very skills focused with a narrow appeal – boxing or other combat type sports.
How do you make use of this information? The first thing you will need to do is figure out what you are trying to achieve and consider what your schedule looks like in terms of open times you have or can make to train. The next thing you will need to do is take an honest inventory of your traits and begin to compare them to what is outlined above. Once you start to get a feeling for the type of person you are, factor in your training goals and consider what the ideal time of day is to fit that training is. Re-look at your schedule to see if you can make this time available for training three to five times a week.
None of what I have said above should be taken to mean that you cannot make a less than ideal situation work. You absolutely can, but knowing that you are moving forward into a head wind is often the only thing that is needed to ensure that you keep moving forward. No matter what your goals are, you will need to do a lot of work and this work is not ever easy, even when you learn to love doing it. The thing is, it’s a lot easier to learn to love working this hard when your training time matches who you are. The weights will give you enough resistance, there is no point in adding more friction by trying to do something that you have never done during a time that doesn’t suit you doing it.
So you have decided to invest in your future and start to work out, good for you! You won’t regret it. Improving your fitness means that you are going to be improving your health, and that always means that in the weeks, months and years that follow, you will live with at least a little bit more ease.
And like many people you have decided to avoid the upfront cost of buying all the needed gear to create a home gym and instead join a local gym. Okay, that is probably a good idea, particularly if you have never been a fitness enthusiast before. Improving ones health is not for everyone so unless you commitment devices are an effective way for you to stay on track, buying a bunch of equipment isn’t the best idea because it is expensive, it takes up room, and in the event you choose that fitness isn’t for you, its continued presence in your home serves as a kind of impulsiveness hangover.
Join a gym for a year and be curious about what the membership reveals about your commitment to physical self improvement. Review this decision at the end of the first month, the first quarter, nine months in and midway through the tenth month. If you like it, renew or invest in a home gym, and if you don’t, make sure to cancel your membership so it expires at the end of the year and you don’t end-up paying for time you don’t want or use.
Gyms are like restaurants or candy stores – not all are created equal. And if you have specific needs, you might have to send some time looking at different ones to make sure the fit is right. If you don’t know what you are looking for, and this is probably the case for anyone who is just beginning their journey into the realm of deliberate fitness, how do you go about finding the right gym for you or at least right enough to allow you to get started and objectively make the decision if its a trip worth taking?
There is one major consideration and a few other things to look for that will help you make as good a decision as is possible about something you know practically nothing about.
Will you go there three to five times a week, every week for the next twelve months? If the answer is no, don’t join. Look somewhere else and if the answer is always “no”, save your money or spend it on something else. Of all the considerations, this is really the only one that matters because improving fitness takes consistent effort over time. While one workout will help, the true benefit is cumulative. It will take about six months training three to four workouts per week to get to a decent level fitness. This is between 78 and 104 visits to the gym over that twenty-six week period.
Keep this thought in mind when you are visiting the potential gyms. You will be coming to this place between twelve and sixteen times a month and if you do not see that as a possibility, don’t sign-up. This is actually more important than what you will be doing at the gym because a safely done low quality workout done consistently is more effective than the highest quality workout done infrequently.
This is the major consideration and the only show stopper. You don’t have to like it, although it is better if you do, you just have to do it 78 to 104 times in the next six months. If you are confident that you will and are willing to make that commitment take a look through the tips below on things to look for during your initial gym visits to get an idea of what you will be signing-up for.
When to shop: Make it as close to real life as possible. If you plan on working out right after work, make the visits right after work and drive from work. If you plan on going first thing in the morning, wake-up one day and make a dry run. Road and gym traffic have a pattern that is very stable. It isn’t enough to imagine that it will be rush hour and things will be busy because when we have “go fever” our optimism will colour our imagination in a way that will make us over confident that we won’t be annoyed. When we make the drive under real life conditions we are having an experience that is very close to what we’ll need to do over and over again. If it sucks before we sign-up, what reason do we have to believe that it will stop sucking once we pay?
Time of day plays the biggest role in determining the type of people who go to the gym. There are five distinct types of gym trainees and you will undoubtedly start to become one of them as you spend more and more time training when they train. They are early morning, off-hour, after work, late evening lifters, and the generalists. As rules of thumb, anyone who is willing to get out of bed to go to the gym will likely be highly driven and have less time to waste on things they deem as unimportant. The after work people will have a similar desire to waste as little time as possible. The late evening lifters tend to have a very focused lifting intensity but a more laid back approach to their between sets time. Off-hour people have selected these times because they work for them in terms of traffic flow and life management. The generalists workout whenever they can or feel like it. If you don’t like the mood, tone or energy when you visit, it isn’t going to change. But if you decide to train at that time, you probably will.
Once you get there: what does the parking lot look like? Are there lights, are they on when they shouldn’t be or off when they should be on? Are there garbage cans and are they overflowing or is there garbage all over the place? Is there sufficient parking? Are the specialty parking spots close to the entrance? Is there an employee of the month parking spot? If there is cleared snow, how has it been left? Have walkways been shoveled and salted or sanded? Is there a snow shovel visible? Do they have a flag pole and if they do, what is the condition of the flag? Is it at the right position – half or full mast? How are the cars parked – are they within the lines, are they backed or driven in?
All of these things will give you a good impression of how the staff approach their job and how the landlord approaches their tenants. Parking lots have very few rules or laws that specifically apply to them so most of what you will see will be the reflection of decisions people make to go above and beyond what is required. People who are willing to walk past garbage are making a decision to leave it on the ground, which is a reflection of what they believe they are responsible for.
The way people park is also very revealing. Double, crooked or otherwise selfishly parked cars are an indication of a possible personality flaw in the driver. In every case other than that of someone being a bad driver, there is a near zero percent chance that this flaw will not manifest itself in other ways inside the gym. While the staff is not responsible for how people park, they are responsible for making sure the members act in a socially acceptable way which includes how people park.
The first twenty feet: this is about first impressions and it includes information from all of your senses – feelings, smells, sounds and sights in that order. There shouldn’t be a taste and if there is, you should probably take a few moments to reconcile that fact. Is the floor level, is it bumpy, are there broken or missing tiles, is there a floor mat and is it clean, does the door open and close smoothly, does everything you tough feel clean? If you shake someones hand, what is their hand shake like? Do all of the staff shake hands the same way? Our brain picks up on the feeling of things in a mostly unconscious way, so give it the opportunity to take this information in and generate a perception. Our feet will feel problems very quickly and will make you aware that something isn’t right. Try to notice the information that is coming from the floor because it tells us a lot about the existence of a cleaning schedule or system and the level of care given to maintenance.
People who are moving intensely are burning a lot of energy, generating a lot of heat, sweating a lot and releasing a lot of water and carbon dioxide. For these reasons, gyms need to have very good ventilation. The air should be fresh, dry and odorless along with being at a temperature that matches the time of year.
What do you hear as you walk in? The volume and type of music, the sounds of the equipment, the amount and volume of chatter between members, what do the staff say to you and to the other members? Are there systems in place to control greetings and prospective member intake?
Finally, what are you seeing? Is the gym clean, well organized and tidy? Do the staff have uniforms or a dress code? Is the gym branded and if not, does it look like someone has given its appearance some consideration? Are the signs up to date, mounted in a consistent way, and appealing to look at? Can you tell the staff apart from the members? What are the members wearing? Are their finger prints or dust on things? Are their any burned out lights?
As you tour the gym: is any of the equipment out of order and if so, how long has it been that way? If it isn’t clear, ask someone. Is there a way to clean the equipment after use and do you observe members doing it? Do the members put equipment back after use? Are their weights left on the machines or barbells? Are there enough dumbbells and how high do they go? Is there a functional training area? Do they have squat racks and are there any Smith machines? How many hamstring curl machines and of different types are there? Do they offer group fitness classes, do they have their own studio and does it have an independent ventilation system? Is it clean and tidy?
Make sure you go into the change room and all bathrooms. Are they clean and tidy? What is the condition of the lockers? Is there soap, paper towels and toilet paper available? How is the water pressure and is there hot water? Are there any signs posted and if so, what do they say? For the record, people can be disgusting and most of the problems that management need to deal with concern the change room. The signs here will paint a clear picture of what they are hoping to put an end to or prevent from ever starting.
The staff: how are they acting? Are they busy, friendly and radiating an energy that is positive and free of drama? Do they look like they work out and with those who don’t, are their eyes moist and vibrant? Is this a job for them or a calling? How do they interact with the members? Is there a clear supervisor or manager and if so, are they on the floor or in an office behind a computer? How long have the staff worked at the gym?
The member enrollment conversation: is it a hard sell or an easy conversation? Are they trying to get you to join on the spot and have answers for any of your objections? Do you get a weird feeling in your stomach during their presentation that is a sign that someone is trying to control your thinking or emotional state? Are you being listened to and heard, or is the person just waiting for their turn to talk? When they reveal the price, do they try to reframe it or put it in context that relates to your fitness objectives? Are they honest about what the gym is and what it isn’t? Are they offering an enrollment gift as an incentive to join and if so, is it of high or low quality? Are they clear about the cancellation policy? How do they answer your questions and do they freely release information? In general, do they know what they are talking about or are they just there to process you as a transaction?
Final thought: The thing about gyms is that they are, at their core, big rooms with equipment and people. YOU are the engine that drives the results and that is only going to happen if you go consistently over time. The highest quality equipment and top level staff have no impact on members who do not show up, and they have only limited impact on those who are their regularly. What determines the cost of the membership and the value you get out of it is the number of times you go to the gym and how intensely you train when you are there. A $250 a year membership used once a month is essentially more expensive than a $700 a year membership used five times a week, every week for the entire year. And that $700 a year membership is a much better value when each of those workouts is performed near your max possible effort.
YOU are the difference maker. The gym is a tool that you will use and the staff are a part of the service that makes the process a little more convenient and maybe a little more enjoyable. But the responsibility of making your future better falls completely upon you. A gym membership is not the solution, USING that gym membership is.
If you haven’t read or do not remember, check out Choosing A Fitness Club. There are a few other tips or considerations that you might find helpful.
Human beings tend to keep doing what they have been doing for a number of reasons.
And the main reason why we continue things is because doing them before helped to keep us alive – IF someone is still alive, their behaviors and strategies are effective. But this raises a question, “did the behavior actually contribute to survival?” Put differently, “what role did an individual behavior or action play in ensuring survival?”
After some consideration it usually becomes clear that the survival assumption constitutes false evidence or a false justification as the behavior played no impact on survival. This isn’t to say that there is not a valid reason for doing something it just says that there physical survival was never a factor in the decision to do something or to not do it. It was the thing that we did before and it worked, so we do it again, and again.
The impact of the survival hypothesis is that we don’t spend much time considering why we make a decision because doing so requires energy and time. It is imaginable that at some point in human history taking too long to act would have meant death. These deaths would have removed most of the considerers from the gene pool. Those who remain might act more quickly. They’ll be able to find reasons to justify their actions. They’ll – keeping things exactly as they are. This evidence collection is automatic and requires little conscious effort, so we go along with it believing everything we think. When we get used to doing this, we become increasingly inclined to continue doing it. When this becomes our habit, our immediate reply to a request is to say no simply because doing what we are doing is keeping us safe. The outcome is that we close-off to new experiences for no valid reason. We just got lazy with our thinking.
Imagine there is a moment of time right between when you think no and say no. In this moment you’ll be able to notice the direction and intention of your thinking. Does it know exactly why you want to say no and is that reason compelling enough to say no? It probably isn’t a habit when there is a good reason. But if your mind is searching for reasons to justify saying no it could be that the habit of no is presenting itself. The difference between these two ways of thinking is that the first knows why and says no while the second says no and hunts for why.
Habits hunt for reasons for their existence when your mind is in a non-critical state. Until logic and higher level thinking are applied to a thought stream, the habit will find its justification quickly and consistently. But it doesn’t have to. When you pay attention to your automatic / initial thoughts you’ll notice that you become more aware of them as they unfold. You can then take as much time as you want before you say anything. It is going to take some mental energy to make this happen, but it is energy well spent for the boost your self awareness and control.
Is saying “no” one of your habits? In some cases it is. It’s really easy to say no because it allows you to continue to do what you are currently doing; which by virtue of the fact that you are alive and doing it, is safe. Because what you are presently doing is safe is rarely a good reason to avoid doing other things. Unless there is a real reason to not do something, maybe you should be trying other things out. Remember, there was a time when you could do practically nothing and you’ve come a long way from that point.
Robert McNamara was the Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ during the escalation of the war in Vietnam. He had an interesting life with many jobs, but as he got older he opened-up a lot about Vietnam. He had no lust for war and had reservations about it while he was in a position of influence. When he left office in 1968 he had already suggested that the sunk cost of the Vietnam war was too high and that the US should transition their direct fighting role to the South Vietnamese. These suggestions were not accepted and the fighting continued.
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara is a 2003 documentary film about Robert McNamara. What is interesting is that he admitted to his mistakes and expressed that he had done some very wrong things while Secretary Of Defense. He learned from his actions and tried to move forward applying these lessons.
From the movie, the 11 lessons are:
Empathize with your enemy
Rationality will not save us
There’s something beyond one’s self
Proportionality should be a guideline in war
Get the data
Belief and seeing are often both wrong
Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning
In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
Never say never
You can’t change human nature
When I read the list, I considered how these lessons would apply to personal training. This is possible if we regard war as a partnership between two countries / groups to fight; in a fashion similar to the partnership between client and trainer. Maybe it’s more of a thought exercise and that I have defined the players in a way that allows me to apply the lessons to something that they were never intended to cover. And that is fine, what matters is if something is useful, not that it is right.
1) If a client wants to change, you’ll benefit from gaining an understanding about how they are suffering and what is motivating them to change their course. While you may not know what it is like to be in chronic pain or how unsatisfying seeing your reflection can be, a moment or two spend considering these things can soften the most dogmatic trainer enough to actually connect with a client to establish the trust needed to guide them towards a more fulfilling path.
2) Burning more calories than we consume is, for the most part, how people lower their body weight. That is a logical and rational thought. People know this yet it does not help them achieve their fat loss goals. Their choices are based on something less rational so the solution is likely going to flow out of uncovering or addressing the illogical something that is making life unfold as it is.
3) Often, people will only change for other people. Having enough energy to be an fantastic mother is one of the biggest motivators for a women to begin to exercise and improve her cardiovascular health. Being told that you are 6 months away dying from a heart attack moves people to make the changes they need to in order to enjoy eventually seeing their children graduate, get married and start their own families.
4) Busy people do not have ample time to do all the things that are needed to quickly achieve optimal health. If they are able to create 3 hours a week to dedicate to to improving it, these three hours need to pack in as much of the most effective movements as possible. Stretching, while important, is not going to improve strength or boost energy as much as lifting weights and increasing movement intensity to elevate heart rate. In this case, there is an enormous opportunity cost to stretching or low intensity exercise.
5) If your goal represents a 5% change in your body / fitness, you need to dedicate a small amount of time to it. If the goal is a 50% change, proportionately more effort is needed. Both the client and the trainer will spend a lot more time and effort at the beginning that then will towards the end simply because there is less to achieve towards the end.
6) Great trainers, like great people, make great decisions when they have all the information they need to make a great decision. Without the information to guide your decisions, your solutions will be incomplete and maybe even geared towards solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Listening without judgment is critical for collecting the highest quality data. You’ll remain open to what is actually occurring and this will shape your counsel.
7) Cognitive biases impact our perceptions in such a way that we see what we believe we see and we find the evidence we need in order to support our beliefs.
The things we see may not exist at all and the real world is likely somewhat different from how we perceive the real world. Effective personal trainers are always aware that they have the capacity to see things that aren’t there and to believe things that are not true. These keep the trainer open to the world and bring them closer to seeing the truth as it unfolds in front of them.
8) Progress is a state of constant change and each change may impact the next action. Effective coaches re-examine their clients course regularly and select different actions when they are called for. They know the reason for doing particular things and will not continue coaching something if a better action exists.
9) Doing good work for your clients is going to mean that you engage the worst parts of their behavior. You may not track in completely on their reason for over eating chips and under eating veggies, but to do the good work as a trainer, you are going to have to engage your clients evil and self destructive actions.
10) Everything that is possible IS possible and will come to be with the correct strategy and enough hard work. If the possible remains impossible it is simply because the strategy is incorrect or the work has not been done. “Never” is something that is said at the end of life or in the event that someone quits working towards their goal.
11) You cannot change human nature and as a personal trainer, you need to be aware of your clients nature. In some cases you can just tell someone to stop eating candy and they will stop eating candy – it’s not these peoples nature to eat candy. Regardless, you will need to work with a persons nature to help move them towards their goal. Someone who loves eating candy will probably always love to eat candy so they need to be allowed to eat candy every now and then because their nature will be expressed if repressed for too long, and these unplanned expressions tend to be over the top and extreme. You can work with their nature by asking them to eat good quality food 80% of the time, and have some candy once a week.
It’s probably fair to say that any good lesson can be applied somewhat to any other area in life. The Fog Of War does present some lessons and growth opportunities for personal trainers.
During lunch today my brother talked about code smell. I hadn’t heard of the term before, but have a lot of experience with a similar thing in the fitness industry. “Code smell, in the realm of computer programming, is any symptom in the source code of a program that possibly indicates a deeper problem” – the program works but there is something about the code that isn’t as it should be. Seasoned programmers are able to identify them because they have had enough experience to gain a high level of distinction about what works, what doesn’t and what things actually mean.
In the fitness field, there are what I will call Fitness Professional Smells and they indicate with accuracy when a professional doesn’t really know what they are doing. My list is below and if you find yourself working with someone who displays them, considering checking their references and their back ground because they may not be worth the money they are billing you in-spite of their claims.
Someone making a claim that seems outrageous, unreasonable, or well outside common sense. There is a saying that a line of bullshit is a line of bullshit. When it comes to improving your health and fitness it will require your hard work, your attention to nutrition and your introspection as to why you ended-up in the position of needing to improve your health. Getting out of shape takes time and sustained effort / rituals. Getting into shape isn’t going to take as long, but there’s a very good chance that it will take a year to drop 50 pounds. If you are starting on your first journey to improved your health, it will probably take longer. You’ll get there, but it is going to take YOUR conscious direct and consistence effort.
When emotional selling practices are used or when they try to make you cry so you buy. Unflappable people buy only the things they want to buy because they always remain in control and always think logically. When someone is trying to trigger an emotional response within you to get your compliance, be guarded. Things may not be as they appear. Let the emotion fade and do another check when you are able to process things logically. Very often things will be different, and if they are, engage the person and find out what their objective is. Maybe they just used the wrong tool to get the right outcome when an honest conversation is the way to go but maybe they are just trying to line their wallets and your are their mark.
Someone is making a promise on behalf of another person. Some gyms / personal training companies sell training packages and subcontract trainers to service the sessions. I am not a fan of this for a few reasons: First, the trainer does not get paid as much as they should, or the trainer gets paid what they are worth and are not of a high caliber. Next, when someone is selling something that they are not servicing, they cannot be held to account for the promises they make. Finally, training is about building a relationship with your trainer. Just because you like the person who sells you the package doesn’t mean that you are going to connect with the trainer they find for you. Pay the trainer directly and if that isn’t possible, talk to the trainer BEFORE you buy anything and find out why they are having someone else sell for them.
Someone who doesn’t have YOU as the engine of action and behaviors that will create change. If you want different results you are going to need to do things that are outside of your baseline, and you are probably going to need to do them consistently and for a fairly long time. When selling personal training, some people will neglect to tell you this because it can crush optimism and create a sense of hopelessness. But the truth is that YOU have created the very life that you feel you deserve; every action has moved you to become exactly what you are today. Becoming something different is simply a matter of deciding what that is and taking the actions needed to create it. You’ve been doing it all along.
Anyone who is selling a short cut. There are no shortcuts and you cannot hack the approach. There’s a very good chance that you already know what you should be doing in order to get what you want – hard work and mindful action. Anyone suggesting that there is a different way is selling something to you, plain and simple. It’s fine if you buy from them but you are never going to get what you want without the hard work and mindful action. It will always be there for you to do after the shortcut takes you somewhere different.
Anyone who doesn’t consume the product or service they are selling. I cannot reconcile a fitness professional who doesn’t workout. It isn’t just their lack of integrity that I struggle with, it’s the fact that being in great shape just feels really good – why WOULDN’T they make doing what they are selling a priority in their life before everything else?
Being asked to do anything overly complicated and for which there is no simple reason why it needs to be done. There should be a reason for everything you do in the gym or while being trained. If there isn’t a good reason, there’s a good chance that the trainer hasn’t thought much about it and is just selecting exercises that they’ve seen before or that they know how to coach. While better than doing nothing at all, it’s a poor substitute for well thought out program design that builds upon the movements you have become good at performing.
When you get the creeps from someone or the feeling that something doesn’t add-up. Almost all of our mental functioning is unconscious and very often we are not aware of the outcome of a process. But there will be times when we get a gut feeling about something; this represents the outcome of a process. These feelings are the result of a pattern matching some past similar experience. It is best to pay attention to your gut when you have one of these moments because there is critical information being revealed; a flag is being raised. Take a timeout and reengage the situation only when you figure out the source of the feeling. Invite someone with more experience into the situation to get a second opinion on what is going on.
Someone is suggesting you do programs that are for someone who is more advanced. High performance or advanced athletes are not the same as us normal folk simply because they have done so much work that their bodies adapt very quickly. In a lot of cases, your body would adapt just as quickly if you had done the same things they have done. But you haven’t, so your gains and adaptation are going to take a lot longer. Programming for the untrained doesn’t need to be complicated and you will progress a lot faster if you are given the time needed to adapt to the movements. A one week micro cycle may be what an Olympic weight lifter needs to pull a new personal best, but it isn’t going to do very much for most people. Programs should change a little bit over time, not all at once every 3 weeks.
So there you have it, a list of things that to me indicate that a fitness professional may not be exactly what they are presenting themselves to be. Fitness Professional Smells that you can use to figure out if you need to ask more questions or find someone else to work with.
There is this thing people do that used to annoy me but that I now use as a vetting tool and that is a persons ability to admit that they were wrong. Regardless of their motivation, if someone isn’t able to say that they were wrong they are not a scientist, so their inflated opinion of what they know is tainted by an unmentioned emotional need and biased by something that isn’t an objective truth or reality.
I have been wrong a lot, even if it was well intentioned and based on everything that I knew at the time. And it is important to be wrong and to admit it because only the divine and the foolish do not change.
Here is a list of some of the ways that I have been wrong and changed over the last 15 years in the realm of the fitness industry:
Believing that nutrition is more important than food. This mistake, like a number of the ones I have made while in the fitness industry, was based on the need to make statements that sounded correct, were thought provoking, and that were sticky. But it is nonsense. Human beings NEED to eat food to get nutrients, they cannot thrive consuming the nutrients alone. Whole food is a natural concoction of 1000’s of chemicals that work in a synergistic way inside the body. When these chemicals are taken in one at a time, they have a different impact on the body and there is no certainty that this is going to be a health promoting.
Believing that the program is more important than consistency. I used to believe a lot of the hype and I would dispense this advice as though it was scientific fact. The fact that my clients were getting good results I interpreted as proof that the programing was effective. But over time I started to notice that the clients of some other trainers who programed using the same methods were not experiencing the same results. Furthermore, I noticed that clients who were using extraordinarily simple programs were experiencing great results. What I had missed was the fact that doing small things consistently will generate better results than a perfectly crafted program that is done occasionally.
Believing that by creating an emotional response a transformation has occurred. This one is false, completely false. While there may be times when an emotional response indicates a readiness for change or that a person has started their transformation, setting out to make a client cry is not helpful and will usually permanently damage the relationship. This is not to say that there is no useful information revealed when a client has a spontaneous and organic emotional response, there is just very little useful information to be gained by setting out to create an emotional response. It’s a sales tool that is used to breakdown defenses so someone can sell their services. It’s unforgivable and anyone who sets out to do it is trying to help their own bottom line and doesn’t care about the well-being of the person they are trying to take money from.
Believing that EVERYONE should workout and become more healthy. Morally I struggled with this one for a while. I believe that everyone is entitled to live an amazing life, rich in health and vitality BUT they must choose to live this life. Any coercion or pressure that forces them to choose it will usually result in more suffering as they fail to achieve success and feel worse than they would have had they not tried. I am always enthusiastic and possibility driven with anyone who is suffering the effects of poor health choices, but I’m only at their service when they choose to transform their life. Everyone CAN be more healthy but people shouldn’t be pressured into it.
Believing that what gurus said was more useful than what I knew. Within the fitness industry the gurus have a field day selling their wisdom to anyone who is looking for a shortcut. These people in turn make money dispensing this wisdom to the people they convinced would benefit from it. The problem with believing the gurus is that they rarely have any scientific basis for supporting their claims, and given that they have a financial motive for stating anything, there is a conflict of interest that motivates them to lie. Their well of wisdom in poisoned and unless science supports their claims, you shouldn’t buy into them. After 15 years in the industry, the formula for success is very simple, consistent intense work through a full range of motion, moderate amounts of good quality food (mostly vegetables), adequate rest and recovery, and a positive outlook on life in general. This isn’t flashy and it won’t make me millions of dollars, but it works for everyone and it is based on science.