One of my favourite modules when I was an undergraduate was ‘Inter-personal relationships’. Coaching is not just shouting out things that a client needs to do. A good personal trainer needs to ensure that his relationship with his client is EXCELLENT. Research show that great interpersonal skills between a fitness coach and his client would help facilitate clients’ fitness goals – losing weight, shredding fat, gaining strength, improving energy, etc. As a personal trainer, it’s obvious that I need to establish camaraderie with my clients. After all, if they wanted something more impersonal, they would simply opt to just read a book or watch a training video. By taking them on as my clients, I realize that forming a harmonious relationship is part of the job description.

At times, junior trainer approach me to ask how I maintain long term relationships with my clients – hence this article 🙂

In my long years as a trainer here in Singapore, I’ve learned several methods of developing a strong relationship which have proven effective for me.

Mimicry. If they’re standing when they talk to me, I stand up. When they’re sitting down when I talk to them, I sit down too. Not only is this method polite, but it creates a “subconscious rapport.” Anthropologists call these actions isopraxism based on the Greek words for “same behavior”.

And it’s not just about body posture, either. I use the same volume in my voice, so I speak softly when they do. Matching the loudness of the voice strengthens that subconscious connection.

Finding common interests. In some ways, establishing a relationship with a client is like starting a friendship. I start with finding some common ground. It can be about knowing the same people, going to the same schools, or coming from the same area.

It may also be about sharing the same interests and hobbies. The two of us can talk about music, books, TV shows, movies, athletics, food, and see which ones match. Finding out that we like the same bands or the same authors can really add to that bond I’m trying to establish.

Asking the right questions. If I’m going to establish some common ground, then I need to know how to ask the right questions. In fact, just asking questions make me seem like a better individual, because most people subconsciously enjoy talking about themselves. They’ll like me more because I gave them that opportunity to talk about themselves and what they like, instead of making it all about me and what I can do for them. But it’s not all about discovering their hobbies and favorite stuff either.

I can also ask about their fitness goals, and I have to dig below the surface. If they say they want to be fit, I ask why if they seem fit enough. They may be worried about some predisposition in their family to certain medical conditions.

For others, it may actually be about improving their romantic life. By encouraging them to share these things, I become more trusted and the relationship becomes stronger. At the same time, I can help them with their ultimate goals as well.

Listening and being supportive. There is always going to be a time when a client arrives in a bad mood, and this can have a negative impact on the training session. So what I do is to be a listening post for them to vent on.

The best way for me to do this is to ask them to join me in the office so I can close the door and give my client some privacy. These private matters can’t be discussed where others may listen in. I ask questions and let them talk, so they vent it all out. I don’t even bother giving advice, because in general it’s not my place to give advice outside the topic of fitness. My job is to sympathize.

When I feel they’re done, I say something like “Thanks for sharing that with me. Are you ok now to train? Don’t worry, this stays in the office.” That helps my client train more effectively, and at the same time the relationship is reinforced as well.

Keeping a record. Some people can remember details about each of their clients. I don’t trust my memory, so I keep a record. For each client, I have a computer file listing details they’ve told me about them, as well as observations I’ve made. I note their preferences and quirks, their interests and turn-offs. Before every appointment, I review my notes, and after every session I record any new thing/info I learned.

None of these methods can be considered “cheating”, because the point of the strong relationship I’m forging is not about making lifelong friendships. They’re paying me, and so with this relationship I can help them attain their fitness goals. I’m a professional trainer, and my priority is to help them as their trainer, not just as their friend.

Coach Sharm, MSc

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