How to be a Personal Trainer for the over 40 set

Just came from the gym. Summer’s ending, time to get focused and working with a trainer keeps me focused. Checkbook in hand, I show up and ask for Gary.

Of course. Of course Gary doesn’t work there anymore, because this particular Gold’s Gym powers through employees like they are ratty towels. First there was John who I liked, so obviously he quit. Then there was Brandon who was so busy watching spandex-clad beauties in the gym that I feared for my safety, then he was fired. So I got sent to Michael, who was amazing and skilled…it’s sad to me that my commitment to working out and my time with Michael didn’t coincide but never mind…he left, too. Then Lyle who was cute as hell, but his attendance was sporadic at best until he just disappeared. Then Steve, who is most memorable because he was my trainer while the gym was being “remodeled” (which amounted to new paint and rubber floors that are now coming up), so Steve and I worked out in the parking lot until Steve was fired. After Steve was Cory which was when it occurred to me that a commitment on my part was more likely to get results, so I saw Cory a lot. Of course, Cory was fired and I was handed to Gary. I got spoiled because Gary was around for a year or so before I arrived just today and was told that he was also gone. Of course.

So I got a dose of ‘tude about my lack of commitment to the gym from another in a long string of Fitness Managers, and I make an appointment with a twenty-something trainer on Thursday. Based solely on my extensive experience with the Personal Training Revolving Door at North Seattle Gold’s Gym, I thought I would jot down some guidelines for personal trainers (*note: I refer to men training men here since that’s my experience, but probably it applies in all gender combinations and some age combinations as well.)

Customer Service – This is basic and I won’t spend much time on it. Remember that your client is also your customer. He can spend his money somewhere else if he isn’t getting what he wants. Piss him off, shame him or hurt him and he will.

Foreign Territory – Despite the fact that you work and play in the gym and likely know each different machine and free weight by it’s given name, your new client doesn’t. Machines seem safe because out-of-shape guys like him are on the machines and also because the machines usually have an instruction card on how to use them. Free weights are scary because all the big buff guys are over there and there are  no instruction cards. Don’t assume that your client knows his way around the equipment or free weights and remember that the gym is a scary place for LOTS of people, so familiarity with the equipment as well as the customs and social expectations will make him feel comfortable.

Lose the ‘tude – The fact that you have beautifully defined lats may be a source of pride and dominance in whatever pack you run in socially, but while you were refining your squat technique your client was getting his degree, or raising his children, or writing poetry, or loving his partner, or some other equally vital life experience. If you have the slightest eye-rolling impulse at hearing that your client doesn’t come to the gym at least 4 times a week I recommend you get really good at hiding that reaction. I also hope that someday you get audited by the IRS and need a pencil-necked geek with a pocket protector to keep your ass out of jail.

20’s and 40’s – I don’t give a crap how many pamphlets you read about bodies beyond their 40’s; assume that until you have one you don’t know a damned thing about them. They do not move or recover like they did in their 20’s and no amount of cajoling, ordering, shaming or gentle encouragement is going to change that. If your client is contorted into a position that makes his face all red and puffy, expect that somewhere in his mind the voice that craves ice cream at inopportune times is asking “Really?! We’re PAYING for this?!” and don’t expect to see him again.

Motivation – Take one fewer nutrition class and one more class on adult learning so you can learn how adults prefer to learn and how they are motivated. Hint: shame is NOT a motivator despite what is apparently taught to middle-school PE teachers and Personal Trainers across America. The more he is asked to do exercises that he cannot complete, the more he will associate the gym with a sense of failure and he will stop coming. Work with him on exercises and workouts that he can easily accomplish in the beginning so he will learn to associate going to the gym with a feeling of success. You’ll be shocked at how willing your client is to work out if he finds that it feeds his confidence as well as his muscles.

Goals – Stop asking what his freaking goals are. You KNOW what his goal is…it’s to get his ass into the freaking gym on a frequency somewhere between never and lifestyle choice. Work with him on techniques to motivate him to COME to the gym. Look around the gym at the number of people in the room compared to the number of people who pay for memberships. Where do you think all those other people are, stuck in traffic? Hell no, they’re at the Cheesecake Factory because it provides instant gratification and you don’t. If your opening line is asking what his goals are he’ll make up some bullshit about flexibility or strength or some such thing because he’s not willing to go all submissive and whimper that he just wants to have some muscles that are visible without benefit of an MRI.

Nutrition – Let go of the fantasy that you’re going to create change in the way he exercises AND the way he eats. Your recommendation (seriously, this is not made up) of boiled chicken breast and broccoli for two meals a day and a protein shake for the third meal of the day is as unreal as the idea that you will EVER understand the power that food has over some people.

No Pain no Gain  If your view is so limited that you can’t conceive that the 43 year old man who hasn’t worked out in 6 months might need a lighter workout than the one you do 4 times a week, you’ll never see him again. He’ll wake up the next day a little stiff  but proud of himself for starting his workout schedule again.  The day after that he won’t be able to lower himself onto the damned toilet seat without a death grip on the window sill because none of his muscles work anymore. A week later when he’s finally able to walk without wincing, the LAST thing he’ll do is want to come back for more abuse. Refer to the previous point about motivation.

For some reason this seems to elude nearly every trainer I’ve worked with and many that I’ve simply viewed from afar. I hate going to the gym.

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