Creating Client Relationships for the Long Term

Dan Darcy TutorAs a Personal Trainer who’s been in the industry for over 12 years, I’ve learnt how to build client relationships for the long term. I love my job and feel like I’m living the dream…well most of the time.  Of course every job comes with challenges, and to me the most challenging part of being a Personal Trainer can be our relationships with our clients. Theory is one thing, but when you find yourself feeling frustrated, drained, questioning your ability as a trainer and not looking forward to your sessions with a client it can be hard to work out what is happening. Your client seems stuck but so do you. What do you do?


Setting your clients up right from the start

Personal Trainer taking Older Male Client through Program Card

Firstly, setting up clear boundaries and expectations between you and your clients can prevent many misunderstandings from developing. This applies to fees, being on time, cancellation timeframes and policies etc., and also on the processes within sessions such as only talking between sets.

This onboarding phase also includes what I think is one of the most important aspects of building a good professional relationship and that is developing rapport. I like to take some time for us to get to know each other.

It follows that good communication throughout your sessions helps build positive interactions and results. Simple things such as acknowledging emails, smiling and saying hi as you walk through the gym, or emailing information about a topic you know your client is interested in don’t cost anything but you are adding to the emotional bank account.

Tailor more than just their program

There are no ‘one size fits all’ strategies for working with clients, including the challenging ones– clients are different and it would be a mistake to treat them as a homogenous group. However, it is useful to understand the broad type of client first. Working with athletes is different to working with an everyday client or one with a chronic condition.

So, assuming that my programs are appropriate at this level, I start to think about what else could be happening. I consider what I bring to this? What does my client bring to this? This allows us to work through problems together e.g. a client has a sore ankle. The problem is that they are worried about doing lunges for fear of re-injuring themselves. The client and I would talk about the problem then work out what they can do. If this process doesn’t happen, the danger is that I might start getting frustrated with the client and the partnership breaking down.

For new clients it is worth considering whether they might feel intimidated by the gym environment. It can be overwhelming for a client who has not exercised for twenty years to even walked into a gym let alone worked out. Maybe they have tried many times before to lose weight and lack confidence. Getting to the underlying issue allows you to intervene before they become another statistic.

Keeping your client motivated

Young people in the gymWhat is your client’s motivation (more often than not a combination)? Ask them directly, listen to them, observe what works. By knowing what motivates your client you can tailor strategies for each client:

  1. Recognition motivators: acknowledge a correct move “great work”, “high five” etc
  2. Social motivators: incorporate some group training, chat between sets
  3. Mastery motivators: review training logs and use regular measurements to show success or highlight areas for development.

In all cases keep linking what you’re working on back to their training goals and help them to make this direct connection. Don’t underestimate the value of regular check-ins – occasionally ask “how are we going”? “What do you find useful”? and “would you change anything”?

For the client who talks more than exercises, limit talking to between sets and perhaps have a timer to signal the next set. For those who seem to hate working out, try reframing negative self talk and statements. With a client who is always late – explain that you have another client booked in after their session and can’t extend the session.

Look after yourself too!

On busy days when you have back-to-back appointments it is helpful to take two minutes to regroup between clients. Breathe and ground yourself in the present moment and then focus on next client. Of course, sometimes for whatever reason, we just don’t fit with our client, so it may be better for your client if you refer them on to another PT.

We all have (or will have) challenging clients throughout our careers. I have learnt that some of these clients have had a huge impact on my growth and development both personally and professionally. By reserving my judgment and learning to appreciate and accept people for where they are at, being more compassionate with myself, and working on the problem between us rather than within either of us, I am best placed to help my clients achieve their goals.

Dan Darcy Tutor

Written by Onfit Tutor, Dan Darcy