As Fitness Professionals, many of us relentlessly pursue education and learning in order to deliver better service to those we work with.
Few things can improve your quality of service more than a deeper knowledge of key training issues.
Better knowledge of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pattern development and movement pattern deviation can make you better at assessment, corrective exercise and progressions.
Deeper knowledge of nutrition and food science can help you eliminate red flags and roadblocks for your clients.
Better understanding of recovery and regeneration can help your clients train harder, bounce back faster and increase training capacity more effectively.
But nothing can move your career along faster than better communication with clients. All the knowledge in the world, all the understanding in the universe is pointless if you can’t figure out:
- Who needs it.
- When they need it.
- How they need it applied.
- When to move on to something else.
- How to make it understandable to the people who need it.
So, I’m going to offer you 5 1/2 phrases that I believe every Fitness Professional needs to know, understand and use in order to communicate with those they serve at a deeper and more meaningful level.
And who knows, they just might help you land a few more clients, build a better practice and have a better life…
1. “How are you today, (insert client name here)?”
As you might imagine, the key to this question’s effectiveness depends on 2 key elements:
- Don’t call your client “insert client name here.” I’m sure that’s pretty obvious, but I figure I’ll throw it in there just in case. You’re welcome.
- Sincerity and a desire to know how your client is TODAY. Right this minute, right now. What kind of day is your client having?
As adults, life can be stressful, more or less so from day to day and even minute to minute. For youth athletes, the challenges and stresses seem to grow and multiply daily.
It ain’t so easy being a kid anymore. By the time they get to high school, they may as well be showing up to MasterChef or The Apprentice. It can be a surprise-a-minute!
So find out how they are now. Try to get inside their heads and hearts a little. See WHERE they are as much as how. Is your clients body in the training space but their head is in, well, just in space?
We’re well aware that distractions can lead to injury in training, but did you know that different types of stress can cause different disruptions in neuro-transmitter levels and quality? (1) Stress can cause negative postural changes and even lead to changes in brain chemistry. (2)
A sincere and authentic welcome and an inquiry about how your client is doing will go a long way towards moving them out of their space (stress of the day, focus on everyone else, worries about relationships, etc.) and into your space – the training space.
Once they enter the training space, leaving the worries and stress of the outside world behind for just a little while, you’ll see a noticeable change in them right from the start!
2. “It depends.” In truth, this just might be the answer to almost every fitness, nutrition and performance-related question you hear in a day.
Think about it. How many times do people ask “is (insert food name here) bad for you?” It depends. “Should I be doing deep squats?” It depends. “How often should I lift weights/do metabolic conditioning/stretch?” It depends.
So much of the exercise and nutritional programming we offer is dogmatic, based on absolutes. But how much of your client’s life is absolute, cast in stone?
It depends. Every client is unique.
While it is important to have a clear-cut way to determine what pathways to take with any individual client, a decision tree of sorts, we would do well to remember that one-size-fits-all programs and methods have a real drawback.
They just don’t fit all. So what’s the right movement, exercise, nutrition and recovery programming for the client in front of you right now?
I think you know the answer already. It depends.
3. “Tell me more.” People don’t care how much you know about them, as long as they know how much you care about them. This an old adage, but one that continues to ring true.
One of the best ways to let someone know how much you care is to listen. And, in reality, listening is one of the best tools that should be in every Fitness Professionals toolbox.
Ask a question about the client in front of you, then follow up with “tell me more.”
Here’s a sample exchange, from a recent first meeting with a client of mine.
Me: “So what’s really important for you to accomplish with your fitness program?”
Client: “Well, I want to get stronger. Especially my shoulders. They hurt a lot and feel weak sometimes.”
Me: “Tell me more about that.”
Client: “I’ve had some problems with my rotator cuffs in both shoulders, and it gives me pain and prevents me from exercising in the gym. I’m a violin and cello instructor, and I play professionally as well. My shoulders are always working whenever I am. It’s really frustrating to be in pain for 2 days after I play.”
Me: “Can you tell me a little more about your rotator cuff issues?”
Using this phrase gives permission for the client to open up, without the fitness professional seeming demanding about it. By narrowing the scope of discussion to a specific issue, it allows my client to “dive deeper” into an already-revealed point of discomfort with less likelihood of embarassment, fear or shame.
Permission questions open up realms of communication that might remain otherwise closed off. It’s often in these areas that the best and most effective communication occurs – both for your relationship with your client and for your programming success!
4. “Do you feel better than when you got here/started today?” This is not a question of “feeling better” as it relates to not being sick.
This question lets you get insight into what your client senses is happening in their fitness program. Because you are seeking input regarding how your client is feeling, you are asking them to think of an outcome other than how they look or how much weight or body fat they’ve lost.
Since we know that when clients move better, they feel better. When those two things happen, your adult clients are far more likely to become more active, leading to better results.
Your athletes, when they move and feel better, will simply train harder and become more compliant with the programming changes you make, thereby making more rapid performance improvements.
This question also helps you gauge whether your “accessory” work is having the desired effect.
If you’re like me, you ask your clients to perform specific tissue quality and mobility work in order to facilitate specific outcomes in corrective exercise and performance improvements. By getting feedback about how clients feel, you can open up discussions about how they feel “different” than when they walked in to your training space.
These discussions allow us to introduce our clients, indirectly, to the idea and impact of proprioception. By asking this question (or some similar one,) we can begin to connect the information being relayed via proprioception to sensory experiences during the training session. As their appreciation for this relationship improves, they will become more interested in and compliant with the activities you want them to undertake in order to improve tissue quality, movement quality, alignment, breathing, control and other important kinesiological and bio-mechanical aspects of their fitness.
So questions about how your client is feeling at the end of a training session can be very revealing with regard to how they are perceiving their progress, their success to date and the prospect of further success with you.
5. “Does that feel different? Different how?” These are THE questions to ask after making an alignment or form cue or adjustment.
Think about it. Let’s say your client is squatting and exhibiting a little valgus in one knee. You would likely ask “how does that feel?” to see if there is any associated pain or discomfort (the answer to that question can be very revealing, too!) Either way, you’re likely to make a positional adjustment or offer a verbal or tactile cue to improve the valgus.
How will you know if your adjustment or cue worked? How will you know if you made a cue or adjustment that made the situation worse? What if it exposes a mobility or motor control issue that was being protected by a specific posture or pattern?
Wouldn’t you want to know that? Of course!
Engaging your client in a brief description of how your adjustment feels can connect them to the outcome, if it’s positive or direct you to a different course of cueing or adjustment or even to a different exercise or activity if the outcome was not positive or not what was intended.
One great example of where this questioning can help me gauge my clients’ grasp of an exercise and how it’s affecting him/her is during cleans, particularly the catch phase.
How often do we see a client struggle with this? They have trouble grasping the idea of “dropping under the bar” during the catch, and wind up looking like they’re performing some type of circus-act barbell curl, or worse.
When I apply a cue or make an adjustment, I want to know what my client is feeling during the adjusted movement. If nothing changed, what does that mean? It may simply mean that the previous, less optimal form really wasn’t negatively impacting my client, which may be why there was no urgency to make it better.
If the movement feels cleaner and smoother, chances are we’re making progress. So I need to ask what felt better and compare it to my visual assessment. If everything matches up, it’s on to the next improvement. If not, more exploration is needed.
Obviously, if my cue or adjustment caused pain or made the wheels fall off the train, we may need to regress a bit before moving on.
The comparative nature of these questions allows your client to recognize differences, allows you to compare what you hear to what you see, thereby gaining critical intelligence and helps you co-create a positive outcome with your client.
It also allows you to be specific to your clients needs when making adjustments or cueing them. Here’s an example of one creative adjustment technique I’ve used, this one on Hang Cleans with a HS football player:
5 1/2. “Thank you!” How many of you thank your clients after each session? After all, every time a client comes to you, they are placing their trust in you. They believe in you and have put aside all they know (or think they know) about fitness to follow your direction.
They are validating your ability to inspire, motivate and help them be a better version of themselves.
They are, if you ask, willing to tell others about you. That is HUGE! You can’t buy that kind of loyalty, or that kind of marketing…
If you are the kind of Fitness Professional who pours themselves into clients, your clients are telling you that you are filling them up by training with you.
Gratitude goes a long way. Remember to show it sincerely and authentically. And often!
- Isovich, E, et al, Chronic psychosocial stress reduces the density of dopamine transporters., European Journal of Neuroscience, March, 2000
- Liu, June, PhD., et al, Emotional Stress Can Change Brain Function, LSU Health Sciences Center, January 12, 2011