Your business model is based around onboarding new clients—but once you’ve landed these newbies, what’s next? We talked to three experts in different fields about the best ways to work with beginners—clients who have never done the workout before—in a manner that turns them from novices to lifers.
Before a beginner even gears up for the first workout, a trainer’s job is to pepper him or her with questions—What are their fitness goals? Are they here to try something new? Lose weight? Gain confidence? Recover from an injury? Do they have any experience at all in your realm of fitness?
“Those questions really set the tone for building positive rapport with my clients and then I start to tackle other things like their timeline, past exercise experience, etc.,” says Stefani McCullah, a Tier 3 Trainer at Equinox and Group Fitness Instructor at RowClub in San Francisco. “I like to make sure I know why they are coming to me, so I can help them the best way possible and make it fun.”
Adds Liz Charney, also a Group Fitness Instructor at Row Club, “Asking a ton of questions usually strikes a casual conversation, and allows an initial student/trainer relationship to form.”
Just as important as the conversation that ensues, however, is also what’s left unsaid between a trainer and student. “As a rule of thumb, I’m a cooperative coach,” says Grace Martinez, owner of Run 2 Be Fit, a mobile group running studio in Everett, Washington. “I try to make sure I’m asking for feedback, but also looking at the non-verbal cues.”
COMFORT IS KEY
Embarking on a new type of fitness can be daunting for beginners. In addition to not knowing what they’re doing, the studio is a foreign place, the equipment is unfamiliar and they likely don’t know any of their trainers or classmates personally. Just as you would entertain guests in your home, it’s important for trainers to make new students as comfortable as possible in the beginning days and weeks.
“It is important not to isolate newbies and make them feel like they belong to one team,” advises Charney. “I try to incorporate lots of partner workouts and team challenges to enforce the collaborative learning environment at RowClub. Our class sizes are typically 10 to 12 students max, so the class structure allows the instructors to focus on providing personal attention to each client. We like to have the new students sit near an expert or the instructor so they get the best experience. It is important for new students to have a role model to follow for proper form and technique.”
Part of making your students comfortable is also about boosting them up when they’re psyching themselves out. “We are our worst critics,” says Martinez. “We would never talk to a good friend the way we talk to ourselves. I often remind people to be kind to themselves. Fitness is a journey and I love helping a student sort through the ups and downs of it.”
FOCUS ON GOAL-SETTING
Beginners oftentimes have short attention spans when it comes to learning a new fitness regimen. Yes, long-term goals are key for the trainer to understand why the student is there in the first place, but short-term wins—in the form of tangible evidence that the workouts are working—are what will keep them coming back again and again.
“We all need a little bit of instant gratification to feel the draw to stay on that long-term path, so short-term goals are really important in the beginning,” says McCullah. “For example, being able to pull a 2:15/2:2:20 split consistently [in rowing] or executing a real push-up. Those are short term goals that help beginners feel like they are seeing progress so they want to stick to the long-term ones that may be a little more challenging, like losing 30 pounds.”
Charney adds that long-terms goals are key for beginners, who are “typically entering the ‘action’ stage of the process of change. They are ready and willing to change their lifestyle and looking for an expert to help them establish a long-term action plan. This then leads to the ‘maintenance’ stage, which is where we are able to create consistency, perseverance and form healthy habits over time.”
Given their novice status, it’s imperative that trainers instill correct form and function for beginners—because nothing will drive them out of your studio faster than an injury. “I like to emphasize the importance of proper mobility and movement mechanics,” advises McCullah. “If a person lacks range of motion and flexibility, they are a whole lot more likely to move poorly, which leads to bad form, which leads to injury. Doing 1 to 5 reps with proper form is not only safer, but will produce results faster than 10 to 20 reps with poor form.”
JUST DON’T DO THIS…
What’s the quickest way to lose a client? By disregarding them altogether. Fitness is about community, and if you don’t foster a safe, caring environment for beginners, they’re likely to go elsewhere.
McCullah also advises against having beginners play up to seasoned classmates. “Having them try something way too advanced for their level is one of the worst mistakes you can make. You don’t want confirm their fears that they can’t do something by having them try something they will very likely fail at.”
That said, Martinez says the worst thing a trainer can do is underestimate her student. “Don’t expect too little, everyone is stronger than they think they are.”