By Deborah Savin el

It's tempting to assume that the moment we become certified PTs we’ve learnt all we need to deliver the best training programs for our clients.  More tempting still is the belief that, armed with our newly acquired expertise, we have much to teach our clients and they’re lucky to have us as their trainer.

What if instead we accept that every interaction we have with a client and every training session we deliver is an opportunity to learn?  As qualified fit pros, we’re embarking on a unique learning experience that will take us from good to great, from scientifically competent to client-focussed and service-oriented trainers who put their clients above everything else.

In the four years since I got my “badge,” I've been fortunate enough to have found great teachers in my clients.  Here are a few of the lessons I've learnt.

Lesson 1: Be prepared, but more importantly, be responsive

We should always be ready to give our best, with a session plan designed to progress our client towards their goals and incorporating their preferred training style; but we should also be ready to make changes to that plan, or even throw it out the window completely, once we’ve established where our client is physically and emotionally on that day.

One morning I arrived at a client's home ready to train with her.  I asked her how she was feeling and how was work, which was a particular source of stress in her life.  To the first question, she managed a small “OK,” but the second left her unable to speak and tears welling up in her eyes.

At that moment, my carefully prepared plan did indeed go “out the window,” and instead we went on a hike.  To begin with, it was an opportunity for her to talk, but soon her pace intensified and her arms started to swing.  She was regaining control, energy, and inner well-being and at the end she said, “that was exactly what I needed, thank you.”

Clearly, my client felt stronger at the end of her session than she had at the start, something that might not have happened if I'd stuck with my original plan and not factored in her current emotional state.  I needed to meet her where she was that morning if I was going to have a positive impact on her day.

Lesson 2: Be ready to be surprised by your clients' feedback – the positive side effects of exercise

We're familiar with the four main goals clients have when starting an exercise program: wellness, weight loss, lean body mass and sports conditioning.  And if we apply motivational interviewing techniques we can elicit the drivers, positive and negative, behind these goals.

But what about the positive side effects a client experiences once they’ve embarked on their program?  To know what they are and to be able to use them to further motivate our client and strengthen their resolve, it’s essential that we ask for feedback.

Some 10 weeks into her program, I asked a client how she felt it was going and what results she’d observed.  The response she gave was way beyond what I’d anticipated.  For years, she’d suffered with very visible psoriasis which damaged her self-confidence, particularly at work. When she told me that her skin was so much better since she'd started exercising regularly, I was stunned.

Was the improvement directly linked to regular exercise, or the result of an exercise-induced reduction in stress levels?  I don't know.  But now my client had a uniquely positive motivation to make exercise part of her life and, through my asking for feedback, we were now both aware of it.  For me, this knowledge would allow me to better support and encourage her, but for my client it was life-changing.

Lesson 3: Deliver the best service you can and your clients will become a valuable marketing tool

Early on in my career, I was asked by three women to train them as a small group and we met twice a week.  From that group of three, directly or indirectly, I gained nine clients over the next three months – my client base had increased four-fold!

This was way beyond my expectations as a new PT, but showed me something invaluable.

If we look after the clients we have, if we train them the way they want to be trained, if we become their raving fan, then they will be quick to recommend us and our services to others.  That’s an extremely powerful marketing tool and comes at no extra cost.

The Big Lesson

Our clients are incredible teachers, but we must be willing to listen if we’re going to learn from them.  We're the lucky ones!

Please share the lessons you’ve learnt from your clients and how they’ve helped you become the great trainer you are today.

Deborah Savin I first entered the fitness industry as a group exercise-to-music instructor whilst completing my PhD in Applied Maths. Even then I was torn between the two worlds, having discovered how much I enjoyed using my energy and passion to engage and motivate others.

Maths took priority and, after a brief career in banking, I became a financial training consultant designing and delivering training courses for financial institutions worldwide, first in London then in Hong Kong.

This role gave me an opportunity to work with small and large groups and with very diverse populations. It was through doing this that I realised I enjoyed being in close contact with people and acting as a coach, trainer and mentor.

Exercise was always a big part of my life and in 2009 I began part time studies for an MSc in Exercise and Nutrition Science. It was while completing my dissertation, for which I recruited and trained study participants, I realised the science wasn’t as important to me as my connection with people. So I embarked on a career as a personal trainer.

While in Hong Kong I set up Movéo Fitness, taking exercise into the homes and favourite spaces of my clients. Over the following two years my client base expanded rapidly, and mostly by word of mouth.

At the beginning of 2015 I made the decision to leave Hong Kong and relocate to Cape Town. Movéo Fitness South Africa was born and now operates from a private studio purpose-built to offer a unique space to my personal training clients.