The Industry Will Tell You To Drown Your Clients
Walking to the side of the pool, Sarah waited anxiously to meet her new swimming instructor.
She hated swimming. She hated everything about it.
She felt conscious in her costume, knowing people would be looking at her, judging her. The rub of the tiles under her feet. That smell. The chlorine instantly took her back to that fateful day. It was a lifetime ago, yet Sarah was instantly gripped with a fear that had washed over her many times before. Allowed to play by the pool as a child, she had slipped and fallen in, choking down water and frantically fighting to reach the surface. Sarah had been pulled from the pool that day. Whilst the physical trauma quickly subsided, the psychological trauma haunted her throughout her adult years. She had never learned to swim.
“Where is he?” she wondered. The angst was tying knots in her stomach; she felt nauseous. Nathan, her instructor, was late. "I can't do this," she thought a thousand times over as she talked herself out of turning and leaving.
She had been here before, trying to learn to swim, but the fear of water had been too great.
Today was different, she told herself; she wanted to take control. She didn’t want to be scared of the water anymore and, above all else, she longed to take her kids into the pool like all the other parents.
“You can do this, you can do this, you can do this,” she repeated to herself in an internal mantra.
Eventually, after what seemed like an age, Nathan showed up. A competitive swimmer himself, Nathan had a lean, athletic build and the air of authority. He had been recommended to Sarah by a family friend who knew his background and thought someone of his caliber would be a great coach.
After a brief “hello,” Nathan instructed Sarah to jump into the shallow end of the pool. “Right, we’re going to start with some front crawl drills” he explained. Mimicking the action from the side of the pool, Nathan gave Sarah her first set of instructions, “kick your legs, pull with your arms, breathe every third stroke. We will start by doing 3 lots of 10 meters. Ok, when you’re ready, off you go”…..
Unsure what she was supposed to do, but not wanting to make the situation any more uncomfortable, Sarah summoned all her courage, awkwardly lowering herself into the pool. Nervously, she picked up her feet, kicking furiously and pulling the water with as much energy as she could muster.
“Come on Sarah, come on Sarah,” she encouraged herself.
It was no use. She could feel herself sinking deeper in the water and, as she started to fatigue, it flooded to the back of her throat, down her gullet, causing her to cough and wretch. After what seemed like an age, legs and arms burning and the fear of sinking under growing, she panicked, placing her feet down on the floor and lunging for the safety of the pool’s tiled side.
Less than 5 meters.
Anxiously, she looked up at Nathan. He didn’t say it, but he looked disappointed, maybe even borderline annoyed.
“Ok Sarah, you’re not kicking your legs like I said and you need that head in the water if you are to become more streamlined. You’ve got to listen if you want to learn to swim. Let’s go again”.
Not wanting to further embarrass herself, and fighting the accumulating sense of panic, Sarah pushed off the side of the pool in a flurry of frantic activity.
“Kick your legs, Sarah! Kick your legs,” Nathan bellowed.
She desperately wanted to swim - it meant everything - but no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t do it. This time she had chocked down some water, causing her to gasp for air, slamming her feet down.
“That’s a bit better Sarah. You just have to keep going. Now let’s try some breaststroke instead,” exclaimed Nathan.
This sequence was repeated again and again over the course of the following 30 minutes with all manner of floats, strokes and challenges being set. Sarah was becoming increasingly exhausted at this point, but Nathan, knowing she had to do more, remained steadfast in his instruction.
“Ok the last thing we’re going to do today is picking up the brick from the bottom of the shallow end. It will help you to get comfortable going under water,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Under water!” she screamed in her head. “I don’t think I can go under water Nathan,” she muttered repentantly.
“Sarah, if you want to learn to swim properly, you have to learn to go underwater,” he assured her.
Sarah knew he was the instructor and that he knew “what was best”, but she just couldn’t make herself do it. She became increasingly overwhelmed. It was too much, too soon. She couldn’t do it.
“Ok, that will do us for today. Get yourself out Sarah and we will work on this next week”.
Dejected and drained, she pulled herself out of the pool, thanked Nathan for the session and headed for the showers. Wearily trudging away, the sense of failure was overpowering. “I can’t swim and I never will be able to … I can’t go through this again,” she thought.
The following week Nathan stood at the side of the pool staring at the clock as the hands swept round. Sarah was now 15 minutes late. However, unbeknown to Nathan, Sarah wasn’t coming back that. She wasn’t coming back at all and wouldn’t return to swim lessons again.
Welcome To The Gym
Whilst some may see this as a rather melodramatic account, Sarah’s story is one played out in gyms up and down the country. On a daily basis people are stepping through Gym doors for the first time in years, weighed down by failures from the past, insecurities from the present and anxiety about the unknown. They have probably tried and failed at this whole exercise or weight loss thing in the years gone by and now associate exercise with pain, discomfort and failure.
What does the industry do with these clients? We beast them.
#GoHardOrGoHome #NoPainNoGain #ExcusesDon’tBurnCalories
We throw them into high intensity circuits with unfamiliar and very often inappropriate exercises. Why? Because “the industry” judges a trainer by the tiredness of their clients on departure and the levels of excruciation in their DOMS when they wake the next day. We put the training before the person, not once stopping to consider the wider psychological impact we might be having by pushing people too hard, thwarting their competency with ever changing exercises and crushing their sense of autonomy by enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach to training (and, while I’m ranting, if we pride ourselves as trainers on the ability to come up with new, stupid exercises then you have reduced this profession to nothing more than a YouTube search for the “20 most extreme core exercises”. No wonder people think personal training is a low skill job. Good luck on your race to the bottom).
Now look back at the treatment of many of those new clients through the lens of a swim instructor. If a swim instructor prided themselves on how close they could take clients to drowning, how uncomfortable or anxious they could make them feel whist adopting a “trainer knows best” mentality, then we would be calling for their heads, appalled at the blatant disregard for their clients physical and psychological wellbeing.
But when it comes to the gym? No, we are encouraged to drown our clients. More, more, more. Suffer, suffer, suffer. (The more, the better; the suffering, the same)?
What Did Sarah Need? What Do Many New Gym Clients Need?
To be put at ease; to have someone understand them without judgment; to feel like their instructor gives a shit and has their best interests at heart; to know that they’re safe; to feel like they can become good at something and that they have choice; that getting things wrong is not only expected, but celebrated as part of the cycle and growth of self-challenge; and, despite their recently acquired status a “the new kid,” they feel that all-important sense of belonging.
As Dan John once told me, “the goal of the first session is to get a second session”. In order to do so, we must support basic psychological needs (much more on this from Stuart in our applied phase) and use our skill as trainers to give our clients what they need, dressed up in such a way so as to mimic the perception of their own desires.
As an industry, we have to stop reducing personal training to a 60-minute string of thoughtless exercises designed to create maximum levels of discomfort and fatigue. We have to stop glorifying the excessive and we have to start helping people to develop a positive long-term relationship with exercise, rooted in “wants and likes”, not “should” and “have to”.
The future of personal training belongs to those that manipulate the physical (training) to nurture the psychological.
Are you going to drown your clients?
Want to Learn More About Lift The Bar Training?
If you’re thinking about becoming a personal trainer who doesn’t become part of the statistic of not lasting longer than 18 months in the industry and you want to give yourself the best learning platform for becoming a trainer, our course is for you.
The Lift The Bar Training qualification is the industries first personal training course that merges both online and offline learning while also having an extended Applied phase that supports you in the early stages of your new career. Rather than just receiving your qualification and throwing you out into the world (like Sarah experienced above), we guide you so that you get a fantastic platform to build from in one the most challenging stages of your career.
Having worked with 1000’s of personal trainers, the education team at LTB Training have created a 12-month long industry leading personal training course that includes a foundation level 2 and entry level 3 qualification, which allows you to become a fully certified personal trainer. This has been created with practical application at the core and with cutting edge research in mind so that you’re left with no stone unturned for starting off your career as a personal trainer. You’ll then complete our qualification by going through a 6-month applied phase, which teaches you the essentials of how to work with personal training clients and arm you with the knowledge on how to build a business that lasts and helps as many people as possible.
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