Fitness studios play an important role in clients’ lives, providing inspiration and a community to help them live a healthier life. When it comes to clients who don’t fit your typical mold, however, such as those nursing an injury, those who are above your typical age range, or those dealing with a personal health concern, positive corrections and focus on what they’re doing right can go a long way towards increasing self esteem—and the likelihood of them returning to your studio.
Below, we share a few tips to keep your clients happy and provide your staff with the sense of reward you only get when you make a positive impact on someone’s life.
BE SENSITIVE TO UNSEEN HEALTH CONCERNS
Most everyone loves personal attention, whether it’s a shout out in class, a quick form correction, or a genuine question about someone’s life outside the gym. If you want people to feel comfortable right away and to keep coming back, then it’s all about how much effort and attention you give them. Similarly, when someone is upfront about a health issue they’re facing, checking in could help mitigate any anxiety they have around being in the class and coming back to it.
Zayna Gold, owner of Boston Body, is a Pilates instructor with a special appreciation for what many of these clients are facing: she was diagnosed with IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and has since made it part of her mission as an instructor and studio owner to facilitate a nurturing environment for those struggling with autoimmune diseases.
She says, “Pilates Mat and Reformer exercises helped me focus on rebuilding strong muscles—including the spinal extensors and pelvic floor—while keeping my spine in a stable neutral to avoid low-back pain. But above all, they helped me regain harmony and balance, and feel strong and centered from head to toe.”
Health issues may not always be obvious, such as the autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis that millions of people around the world face. Her tips for facilitating a good experience for clients who may be dealing with personal health concerns? Stay positive and don’t harp on perfect form or breath patterns.
Gold advises, “Chronic digestive spasms and pain play havoc with body awareness and alignment. Focus on proper muscle engagement instead to make sure the targeted muscle groups are activated.”
She also suggests getting creative with body positions and resistance. If weighted straps and bands are too much, for instance, use “air weights” instead and tell clients to imagine holding heavy objects. If lying on the stomach is painful, suggest an all-fours variation.
Above all, Gold advises to train your staff to treat each client with compassion and understanding. Some studios keep green stars on file for those with body sensitivities so instructors can get quick reminders before class. This can make it more comfortable for people with health concerns to not have to bring it up in front of the entire class.
KEEP AN EYE ON OVER-EXERCISERS
Yoga instructor Livia Budrys, who works as the Clinical Director & Director of Trauma Services at Eating Recovery Center’s Insight Behavioral Health Center, says that while most people like extra attention from an instructor, it might not be the case for someone with an eating disorder or exercise addiction.
While you may be tempted to pull someone aside, this form of personal attention may be too much. “Depending on your setting and the severity of what you’re observing, you may consider requesting that they have a visit with their primary care physician to be cleared for exercise,” she says. But if you don’t have a background in eating disorders or psychology, it’s difficult to call out students.
Regardless, what you can do is keep your class focusing on healthy body image. Budrys suggests practicing what she calls mindful coaching. Instead of saying “burn calories” or “sweat away the pounds,” try saying, “feel how strong your legs are” or “notice how powerful you are,” instead.
“It is more empowering to focus on gains in mental and physical strength and stamina,” Budrys says.
TAILOR TO VARIOUS AGES
Seniors enjoy fitness, too! While your workout method might seem too strenuous for the older crowd, consider adding a new class specifically for that subset of clientele. Lauren Taus, a yoga instructor who teaches at Equinox, Pure Yoga and for various corporate clients, holds a seniors-only class for women in their eighties and nineties. “I do it all with them and I give them individual cues,” she says. “I just think about okay, what is it like to do a sun salutation in a chair?”
There are plenty of ways to modify depending on your audience, and Taus suggests teaching at senior centers for free to get practice teaching different age levels. “Try and rise to the occasion of your students; you can teach what’s in the room,” she says. If anything, it’s a new way to get involved in the community and widen the diversity of your clientele and class offerings.