Where to Start With Your Clients

A new client comes in. It is without a doubt the most exciting and terrifying part of being a Personal Trainer.

The internal monologue that plagues most personal trainers sounds like a little something like this…

“What do I do? Bodyfat? Strength test? Talk? Ask for credit card details? Will they like me? Give them a workout where they won’t be able to go to the toilet without cursing my name? Tell them their macros and get them to track food?”

This is a totally normal part of being a trainer and its totally understandable that it leads to confusion and uncertainty. It happens to all of us and once you figure out what to do in the first session with your clients, not only is it extremely liberating, you become the expert in the eyes of the client.

Want to know exactly what to do? Read on.

To truly know where you need to start your clients, it is ideal to use a classification system. Clients come to us with differing levels of abilities, needs and goals and we need to structure our coaching approach to accommodate for that. Here is a simple way to break clients down, according to their needs.

Nutritional Competency

Level 1: Asks the question “What’s a protein?” Has never followed a proper nutrition plan, when their food journal is looked at there is a poor understanding or implementation of solid nutritional principals.

This client thrives on basic education and habit development. Giving this client a macro tracking diet is beyond their capabilities right now and will lead to overwhelm, panic and an eventual blowout. Here are some basic strategies to use which will lead to great success:

– Eat one vegetable with dinner.

– Drink 1 litre of water daily.

– Have protein at breakfast.

– Eat slowly and until 80% full.

As you can see, these strategies are simple yet easy to implement and measure. These will help establish a solid foundation for any client.

Level 2: Has followed a nutrition plan before, has an understanding of nutrition principles, has had some fat loss or muscle gain success.

This client is ready for some more definite guidance on portion control, timing and other factors. Here are some strategies that work well with them:

– Have a post workout shake with a predetermined amount of carbs and protein.

– Use portion control, whether it is food sizes or a calorie and macronutrient tracking tool.

– Look at basic nutrient timing strategies, carbs around workouts and fats away from training.

This client still needs to look at basic habits as well, these are still a necessity for all. There should nearly be automatic at this point which is why other more complex strategies will enhance their results.

Level 3: The first words they say when talking about nutrition are, “Here, look at my spreadsheet”.

This client knows all about nutrient timing, supplementation, counting calories and has probably done every different nutrition protocol under the sun. The key thing that distinguishes a real level 3 client from someone who isn’t, is their results. If they have their detailed spreadsheet, all the nutriton knowledge in the world and are still around 30% body fat, they are a level 1 client. A true level 3 client has some results to back it up. Here are some strategies that work with them:

– Specific macronutrient targets for them to hit

– Carb cycling strategies

– Strategic re-feeds

As you can see these are more advanced strategies that require a lot more nutritional knowledge and maturity to implement. It is essential to pick the right strategy for the right client at the right time to get the outcome you need.

Training Competency

Level 1: Has never been in a gym before, says the kettlebells look like a cannonball with a handle, has never done a squat or deadlift in their life.

This client can be both the dream and the nightmare client. One way of approaching them is a blank canvas, upon which you can paint the ultimate training program and get it right the first time. The other perspective that may occur is that due to their lack of activity they may have extremely poor movement quality and the mobility of a fire truck. Here are some strategies for this client.

– Spend enough time teaching high quality movement patterns so they become the clients preferred strategy.

– Teach them ideal form on squats, deadlifts and the other fundamental exercises.

– Make mobility and warming up correctly priorities.

This will set up everything in the future for success. Do it now!

Level 2: Has been to gyms before, may have had a personal trainer, has done group fitness classes, followed a program, is familiar with the big lifts.

This client is a mixed bag. They are ready to train and can work quite hard, but they may have really bad habits ingrained. Quite often you have to re-educate them on things like adequate squat depth, bench technique and other factors. Here are some strategies that I have found useful:

– Work on following ideal tempo and rest prescriptions.

– Refine technique at a higher level each and every training session.

Start implementing strategic deloads into their training.

These strategies if done well can make a huge difference to a level 2 client achieving their results.

Level 3: Comes in and says, “I think I need more scapula and glute activation”. Has their training program for the last 6 months ready to go. Knows all the different split workout structures. Can recite their deadlift and squat numbers at the drop of the hat.

The temptation with a level 3 client is to spend more time talking training than is spent actually training. It is surprisingly refreshing when a client has a degree of training knowledge which can lead to longer and longer conversations. Stay focused on the training session with these clients and use these strategies.

– Involve them in creating their program. They do better when they are part of the process.

– Keep them focused on the main parts of training, don’t let them get caught up in the details.

– Give them something new to look forward to.

As you can see from this short article, there are so many possible strategies you can use for working with clients. The key thing you must do is successfully identify what level your client is at and coach appropriately. It will make a huge difference, I guarantee it.



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Paul Meldrum

Paul Meldrum

Paul has been involved in the health and fitness industry for seventeen years. He coaches both clients and personal trainers to get better results in all areas.