May of 2014, I passed my ACSM Certified Personal Trainer Exam. Shortly after, I started working at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a personal trainer.
It's mind-blowing to me that I've been a coach for five years now. What started as "I literally don't like doing anything else but working out" has turned out to be a beautiful intersection of all my passions combined: writing, teaching, training and nutrition, psychology, and empowering others.
Being a coach/personal trainer has been nothing like I expected. And I've learned a lot from working with hundreds of people over the last five years.
A few of the biggest lessons I've learned over the last five years:
1. Quit Telling People What To Do. Build Awareness, Responsibility, And Self-Belief.
When I first started coaching, I thought my job was strictly: "Tell people when and how to work out. That's what they pay me for."
Accountability is important - don't get me wrong. We all hate letting others down, and are MUCH more likely to follow through if we know someone else is watching. I have a coach for this exact reason.
But, over the last few years I've really started to realize...
The clients that I've nagged at constantly to tell to follow their macros, workouts, etc.?
...I was doing those people a disservice. All I was doing was creating a co-dependent relationship, where they never had to develop any intrinsic sense of motivation.
If I'm basically dragging people through the routines they should be following, when they stop working with me, they'll inevitably fall off the fitness wagon almost immediately. They never learned how to be independent and troubleshoot problems on their own.
Now, I go into every call, every email, every conversation with one primary goal:
If I had a "coaching mantra", this would be it. I write this on my hand every single day, as a constant reminder of my mission whenever I'm around others.
I DON'T want to create co-dependent relationships where clients always "need me" to reach their fitness goals. (E.g. Client One completely transforms his body and believes:"I did this because of Jeremiah.")
My goal is to create a movement of independent badasses, who have crushed their goals and are in the best place they've ever been - both physically and mentally. (E.g. Client Two completely transforms her body and believes: "I did this because of ME. I am a badass, and capable of A LOT more than I believed previously.")
Constantly pestering clients about following their training plans, nutrition, etc. creates a lot of Client One scenarios. Even if my constant pestering does get the in the gym more (which is rare), I'm not setting them up for a lifetime of success without me - which is the ultimate goal for every coaching client I take on. I want them to be able to do this entirely on their own someday.
Now, don't get it twisted, I still communicate with my clients A LOT... I just go into every conversation, email, and phone call with a few goals:
Build Self-Belief - You are capable. You're a badass. You CAN do this. Everything that you've accomplished is because of you.
Build Awareness - "What are the steps this week?" "Tell me where you think the biggest issues are, and I'll help you troubleshoot." I catch myself saying things like this a lot.
Imagine this: A client hasn't been following their diet. We hop on a call and I say:
"You didn't follow your diet this week. I want you to do X,Y, and Z this week to MAKE SURE it happens."
...Yeahhhh. That person's not gonna follow through.
One of the most fundamental things people value is autonomy - We want to feel like we have complete control of our actions. We want to be the one who's in control.
Now imagine this: We hop on a call and instead I say:
"What's on your mind?"
Obviously, the diet is on your mind - but now you don't feel like I'm attacking you, so you break down your diet struggles.
"Where do you think the biggest issues with your diet are occurring?"
You talk about how you can't help but stop for Burger King a few times a week driving home from work - you're always starving.
"What steps do you think you could take this week to fix the issue?"
You talk about how you should probably just have your desk and car stocked with snacks to avoid the post-work hunger. Maybe even try taking a different route so you don't have to drive by Burger King... and suddenly, you've solved the issue on your own.
The beauty of this is, because you came up with the solution (instead of me telling you what to do), you're 100x more likely to follow through. You truly believe this is the best approach for you, and you're bought in 100%.
By taking this approach, the client has created their own awareness of the issue AND realized they already knew the solution (which adds to self-belief that they can do this).
Build Responsibility - Again, if I'm constantly dragging people through workouts and nutrition protocols - they WON'T succeed when they're on their own. After helping a client create awareness around the problem, helping them accept responsibility/take ownership is the final piece to solving the issue.
This is key. Of course I'm here for accountability, guidance, and to help however possible - but until the client takes responsibility for taking action on the steps we talked about, they won't get results.
My old view of my role as a coach Manager - someone here to manage your life for you.
My new view of my role as a coach Leader - Someone here to give you the tools (education, training programs, nutrition protocols, mindset, etc.) necessary to achieve your goals, and then help empower you to realize you're capable of doing it yourself. THAT is how people get life-long results.
Again, don't take any of this as "I ignore my clients" - We're in constant communication. I just strive to teach everyone to be as independent and feel 100% capable of doing this on their own - NOT be reliant on me for the rest of their lives.
2. The More Dogmatic You Are, The Fewer People You Help.
When I first started coaching, I had recently lost a lot of weight following a low-carb diet and - I shit you not - doing 20 minutes straight per day of walking lunges as cardio.
Obviously, I thought everyone with weight loss goals should do the same... "It worked for me."
As it turns out, a low-carb diet is very hard for most people to stick to. The clients I recommended it to got no results.
Oh and minutes straight of walking lunges are a great way to get new clients to never come back.
Over the years, I've had LOTS of instances where I thought certain things were undeniable truths - and ended up being very wrong.
A few examples:
Everyone should barbell squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press. I think every new trainer has gone through this phase after reading Starting Strength. The reality is, most clients:
- Will have movement restrictions or an injury history that makes at least one of those moves a really bad idea.
- Could get better results and more real-world carryover from a different variation of the same movement pattern
- Couldn't care less how much they squat, bench, or deadlift. They just want to look good and feel good.
Everyone should follow intermittent fasting. Again, I got great fat loss results fasting. Turns out most of my clients who followed it just felt like balls, and didn't lose any weight.
Cardio is dumb. Outside of sports-specific training, there's no need for it. I also did my fair share of time as anti-cardio guy. The reality is, while cardio shouldn't be your biggest priority - it DOES have lots of benefits for: better cardiovascular health, quicker recovery between sets, quicker recovery between training sessions, and an overall higher level of fitness.
...and much more.
The reality was, anytime I blindly believed there was only one way to do things, I was hindering A LOT of my clients results. Every time I've thought I had all the answers, I've been humbled pretty quickly.
This is exactly why my approach now is prioritizing ADHERENCE > everything else. Carbs vs. fat, lifting 3x/week vs. 5x/week, tracking calories vs. portion sizes... the most important thing is that we determine a plan that you can stick to long-term that will create a happier, healthier, more full life - NOT blindly following what I think is the "best" protocol.
3. "Just Try Harder" Is A Terrible Strategy.
Whenever a client wasn't getting results back in the day, the solution was typically something along the lines of:
"Uhhh... maybe you should try harder next time."
Spoiler alert: Any time you "hope to try harder next time" in any area of life... you're probably going to get the same results as this time.
Despite popular belief, issue is rarely "you don't want this bad enough". I'm pretty sure most everyone wants to feel better and look better.
The issue is typically people run out of time - no time to cook a healthy meal, no time to workout, etc.
The solution ISN'T more motivational talk - it's showing people how to get organized, so they stop running out of time. I often refer to this as shifting from reactive to proactive thinking.
Reactive is telling yourself you’ll eat healthy this week... Proactive meal prepping for the week on Sunday.
Reactive is hoping to find time to work out... Proactive is setting strict time-blocks to train in your schedule.
Reactive is going to the gym without a plan... Proactive is a goal specific plan for the month(s) ahead.
Reactive is hoping you’ll have the willpower to get out of bed 15-minutes earlier to journal and meditate... Proactive is setting an alarm across the room that’ll force you out of bed.
Seriously, one the biggest parts of my job is teaching people:⠀Stuff that you “hope” you’ll find the time or willpower to do... you probably won’t do.⠀Instead of “hoping” something will happen - plan more, get more organized, schedule it, prioritize it, and find a way to force yourself to act.
4. Educate As Much As Possible.
When I first started coaching, I was scared to teach my clients everything I knew.
"If they know all I know, they'll just leave."
This has been one of my biggest mindset shifts over the last five years.
When I realized that my goal WASN'T to create a bunch of co-dependent relationships with my clients, but rather a movement of empowered, independent badasses - I understood I needed to teach my clients as much as possible.
How I see it now is - if we work together for six months, and you're entirely capable of managing your training and nutrition on your own, I've done an amazing job as your coach.
The dope thing is - as soon as I started putting more emphasis on teaching instead of just telling people what to do, my clients got WAY better results.
This is exactly why I created a months long email course for my clients, as well as constant social media content, blogs, etc.
The more my clients know about all of this, the more tools they have to be successful.
5. It's Crazy How Flawed You Can Be, And Still Have A Major Impact On Other's Lives
One of the most amazing feelings in the world is helping someone drastically shift their life - not just physically, but mentally I've seen clients make some insane transformations.
That said - knowing that others were looking up to me used to constantly make me feel like an imposter.
"If saw how flawed I am, that we struggle with so many of the same issues... they'd think I was a phony."
That said - when I finally quit believing I had to be perfected, and opened up to my clients about my struggles... it helped them A LOT. Me being more relatable actually seems to help them open up more, and then we're typically able to work through the issue quicker.
This is the amazing thing about coaching - you don't have to be perfect to change other's lives. You just have to care a lot.