I recently had a conversation with a personal trainer at Fitness First on Collins Street, Melbourne that highlighted for me how not to work with a potential new client. Now I don't want to malign this fine institution or their personal trainers in general; I don't know the stringent requirements they have for the position, nor do I want to suggest that all their trainers treat potential clients the same way.
I'd probably include the specific trainers name here to avoid any possibility of confusion, if I could remember it; but I don't remember it, and frankly don't want to. I'll just call him “Mr Trainer”, on the basis that if I show him some respect, he might learn to do the same to me.
The interaction left me feeling cranky until I could channel my anger passive-aggressively into this article. So here are a few suggestions on how to deal with potential clients that other personal trainers might find helpful if you want to come across as a real dickhead:
1. Tell Potential Clients That They're Doing It All Wrong
… but don't tell them how to do it right. This started soon after Mr Trainer asked me “What do you want to get out of coming to the gym today?”
I was in Melbourne primarily for the 2015 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, had been there for two weeks, and felt I had done enough sight-seeing during the daytime; which tended to be relatively devoid of comedy. Most of the festival action is on at night, so I had some time to kill and the hostel where I was staying had given me a free gym pass, which turned out to be worth every cent I'd paid for it.
OK, enough back story. I replied: “Well I had some time to kill, and I'd like to improve my upper body strength and my self-confidence.”
“No, that's not right”, he said.
Well, actually it was, but I was looking for commonality between us to help build rapport and I habitually avoid conflict, so I said “Ok, how about I just want to improve my upper body strength and confidence?”
He shook his head: “Well you're not going about it the right way. I saw you on the lat pull-down machine before when I was coaching my client beside you”, he said, “and you were lifting the same weight that she was.”
So the implication was that I wasn't lifting enough weight; I was only lifting a girls weight.
“I see. Are you suggesting I should be lifting more weight?”
“You sit down all the time.”, he said, which was news to me. I'm actually pretty active and gave up my all-day-at-a-desk job years ago. I'm getting into stand-up comedy, not sit-down comedy. “Don't sit down. Walk around. Use the weight of gravity and work against that. Do push-ups.”, he said.
This pretty much set the theme for our interaction electing him as the expert and me the bumbling fool. I know I'm thin and wiry, but that's just how god made me. I have been in a gym before, and although I feel intimidated and out-of-place with all those buffed guys walking around lifting cars, I do still have a reasonable idea of how the whole thing works.
Now in all fairness to Mr Trainer, I hadn't paid for a full fitness assessment, and he didn't give me one. But he did seem to enjoy telling me that every life choice I ever made was wrong, without asking me why nor taking my specific needs into account. I couldn't easily see how simply walking around was going to improve my upper body strength and I'm not so feeble that I have to struggle daily against the mere force of gravity.
But it didn't stop there. When I said I lived in Bondi in Sydney, it seemed that was wrong too.
“Bondi? No, you don't want to live there.” he said.
“I love it; the beach is beautiful, and the place is full of European backpackers”, I countered.
“People get stabbed there. There are stabbings”, he replied.
Well woop-dee-doo. So idiots sometimes get drunk and pick fights with each other, then pretend they're the innocent victim of a supreme injustice when it all turns nasty. That happens everywhere. It's not hard to stay away from the isolated incidents of violence in any big city. Besides, yesterday's paper said they thought human remains were found off St Kilda beach. Why the hell do people from Sydney and Melbourne have to hate each other? Are we still children who have to argue that my city is better than your city in order to feel good about ourselves?
“I love living in Bondi”, I said, “Every second girl I meet there is a vegan yoga instructor”
I felt the sense of derision: “Well they wouldn't be much good if they're a vegan yoga instructor. They're all messed up in the head.”
I don't know what his experience of yoga has been, but even though it's not my favourite spiritual practice, it is renowned for the calming effect it has on the mind. It's probably even possible to be healthy and vegan.
“Well, I prefer Tai Chi myself, because I prefer the continuous sense of movement”, I replied, again looking for commonality.
“I'm a Tai Chi instructor”, he said. Again I felt the sense of superiority. It was starting to look as though we had a lot in common, and should have got on like a house on fire, if only the guy hadn't been stuck in ego superiority dickhead land.
2. Treat Potential Clients Like They're An Idiot
I'm not familiar with the tremendous demands placed on members of the personal training industry by their profession, so maybe I'm being a bit harsh here. I do know that my own life hasn't always been a walk in the park, but I'm a smart guy and I've learned a lot about how to overcome adversity in the last few years with a combination of brute-force persistence, emotional intelligence and a positive mental attitude.
At first I thought that being a comedian, I would have little in common with Mr Trainer. But as the conversation progressed and he launched into an unsolicited lecture on the importance of a holistic approach to health and fitness, the topic of unconscious beliefs, hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, the power of the mind, and the importance of a holistic lifestyle approach that includes both physical and mental aspects came up. All the stuff I'm right into.
“I'm also a life coach”, he said, “I studied hypnosis in Las Vegas.”
Well, everyone's a life coach these days aren't they?
“That's awesome. I've been studying NLP for several years myself, and am fascinated by hypnosis and the power of the subconscious mind”, I said. I even threw in a reference to Milton Erickson in the hope of both impressing the guy and getting onto the same page.
We talked a bit more about how the conscious and unconscious mind interact. I neglected to say that I was also a confidence coach, and instead focused on discussing my plan to take over the world by subliminally teaching emotional intelligence, NLP and other mental principles of consciousness to my comedy audience.
“I've even been listening to an audio book by Edward De Bono titled How To Have A Beautiful Mind while training today”, I said. Then I looked him in the eye, smiled and said “We have a lot in common.”
This should have been a fascinating conversation between two like-minded soul brothers; yet something was amiss, and in hindsight I think that something was this guy's need to feel superior to me.
Mr Trainer responded with a look that said “I'm superior to you in every way buddy. We have nothing in common.” To reinforce the point, he pulled up his shirt and showed me his hairy abs. I'm not kidding.
Ironically, the specific part of the audio book I'd just been listening to was on connecting with other people by finding what you have in common with them, rather than areas where you differ. Perhaps Mr Trainer might like to read it to help him build better rapport with future potential clients.
3. Laud Your Physique Over Theirs
I don't claim to have a body-builder's body, but I do like to keep mine fit and healthy since it's the only one I have and I plan on it lasting a long time. Call me lazy, but I don't spend my spare time between clients working out in the gym, nor did I lift weights like Brutus Beefcake every day for the past ten years.
There's more than one very good reason for this; but that possibility didn't seem to occur to Mr Trainer and he didn't ask. He didn't bother to enquire what health and fitness activities I did engage in nor what my personal experiences had been up until this point. Instead, he just went about implying that he was better than me because his physique was superior to mine.
During our conversation about the relationship between physical and mental fitness when he looked at me and said: “I took the physical route first and then the mental; I can see that you've taken the mental first”.
Yeah, nice one Mr Trainer.
Later on when I wanted to know where the sit-up bench was, I asked another trainer who gave me a useful answer while Mr Trainer gave another unhelpful dickhead response as he condescendingly put his hand on my shoulder.
I took that as a subtle put-down, but then... I am rather paranoid about the whole bullying thing. Perhaps he was well-intentioned. I mean, how could he possibly have forgotten already that he and I have nothing in common?