What This Personal Trainer Really Thinks of Her Clients

Last week one of my long-time clients came into the studio late for her session and immediately said, “You must think I’m becoming the biggest space case.” She then began explaining why she was late and how nothing was meshing for her lately. I told her it was no problem and I just listened, nodded and agreed with her about how life is crazy as I showed her the first exercise in the day’s routine. The truth is, I wasn’t even worried about her being late. I wasn’t angry with her or even slightly annoyed. I knew she’d show up and I was happy that I could still give her 45 minutes of my time, possibly the only 45 minutes of her day that would be her own.

This got me thinking about the general public’s conceptions about personal trainers (I know what they are because I have them too) and how we get so caught up in the assumption that other people are judging us. I get it, I do. But I think there are a few things you should know about what I’m really thinking when you walk through those studio doors. Even if you’re not a client of mine but you know what I do and are thinking I’m judging you when we run into one another at a restaurant and you’re enjoying your French dip with fries, hear this:

Hey You…

…With all the excuses. There was a time when I would’ve been mad at you for canceling on me. Not anymore. You go to bed with the best of intentions and you wake up feeling like someone beat you in your sleep. Or you hurt your back again at your job and you think you should rest it. Or you’re having a mental war with yourself and think you should avoid all human interaction until it runs its course. Or you’re sick. Or your kid’s sick. Or you’re in the middle of a really challenging relationship phase with your spouse and you don’t have the physical energy to put your shoes on. Whatever it is, it’s not my business and I’m not going to tell you to suck it up and get to the gym. I’m not mad at you and I’m not thinking you’re a jerk for cancelling last minute (8 years ago I would’ve thought you were a jerk). Now that I’m older and confident enough in my own self to know it’s not about me or my training, that it’s about you and this moment you need for yourself, we’re ok. Life happens and things don’t always go as planned. Just show up next week. You can tell me all about why you weren’t here, or you don’t have to say a word.

…With the weight loss obsession. I love you, I do. But please get over it. You see, my concern is your health and making you fit and happier. I could honestly give the whole weight loss thing up. But I know it matters to you, I know you think if you lost 5 more pounds you’d be happier. I would love to help you lose 20 or even 100 pounds if you truly need to but my focus revolves around helping you learn how to make your body healthier for life. Not just for the summer. Not just so you can get to your goal weight for three months and then slowly add it all back on. I want you to feel good about being in the body you’re in, because – I know you’ve heard this before – it’s the only one you’ve got. You’re not going to change your body frame. After having two children I’ve had to come to terms with a lot about my body that I cannot control, so don’t think I don’t know where that self-critic in you is coming from. I’m also not saying you don’t deserve to be at the goal weight you want to be at. All I’m saying is please stop treating it like it’s the only thing that matters. Because believe me, you’ll reach that weight and will battle with staying there or, even worse, you’ll decide it’s still not good enough.

…With the overzealous approach to fitness. I get you because I’ve been you. You come in to the studio and you do the workout and you do it well. You’re pretty sure that’s the best workout you’ve ever had because you’re drenched in sweat, you’re beat, you’re already sore and you thought you were going to die but you kept going. Tomorrow you’ll do it again. Except tomorrow comes and you hurt so bad and not in a good way and you’re beyond exhausted because you just spent every ounce of physical energy you had for the week on that one workout. But you push yourself hard anyway and ignore the fact that maybe you should have gone for a run or done yoga instead. Don’t be that person, please. There’s a reason I customize my clients’ workouts and there’s even a reason one workout will feel more or less challenging than the one prior. You need variety, you need a change in modality, your body needs balance or you’ll burn out quick. I’m not saying those strenuous workouts aren’t worth your time – they are absolutely great workouts and you should do them – along with a variety of other things. My job is to make your body strong, not beat you into submission until your body breaks. So please stop breaking yourself so I can do my job.

…With the low self-confidence. You are always saying how you “should” be fitter, you “should” be skinnier, you “should” have put more thought into your workout clothes when you packed them this morning. You think I’m judging you because maybe you’ve got money and you feel you “should” look better than you do. Or maybe you think I care about the social status of your friends and I’ll ignore the fact that the reason you’re at the studio is because of them, not because of you. I don’t want to train them, please remove them from the room. I don’t want to train your workout clothes, keep those on but forgive me if I don’t notice what they cost. I don’t want to train the person you think you “should” be because I want to train the you who is good with being you.

…With the on again/off again patterns. I understand that you are probably more the norm than the exception. It seems everyone gets gung-ho about a fitness regimen or diet fad these days only to get de-railed a few months into it. All or nothing is the weird mentality I witness every day. I see you for three months straight every other three months and what I really want to tell you is I can’t help you if you keep doing it this way. You come back to me because you got off-track and now you’re going to exercise six days a week and eat perfectly with NO room for screw-ups. And this works for you, until it doesn’t. I wait three months until you’ve gained all the weight back plus some and you call me up to say “This time is going to be different.” What I want is for you to calm your jets. Ease up a little. Work on making fitness part of your life, not just some landmark you’re sprinting to reach. Use baby steps so that suddenly a year will go by and you’ll realize you’re healthier overall because you allow yourself slip up now and then without it ruining your entire journey. This isn’t me trying to persuade you into spending cash on me year-round. This is me trying to tell you that no matter what you do, please stop giving up before your body has a chance to show you what it can do.

…With the kids. What I want to say most to you: You’re doing just fine. I know how exhausted you are. I know how challenging it is to find the time to take care of yourself when you have little people demanding your constant attention. Whether you’re a working or stay at home parent, you feel bad when you have to reschedule or cancel with me because you really do want to come in. In fact it’s the only time you might actually look forward to working out because it’s adult interaction. You need to take care of yourself because no one else will and you simply must be around for your family for the long haul. I commend you for realizing this. You probably don’t get to work out with me as much as my clients do who have older children or no children at all, but I hope you still make the effort to stay healthy outside of our sessions. My goal is to make you aware of how hard it doesn’t have to be and to convince you not to give up on your body. Ever. It’s absolutely possible to be healthier after kids than you were before them.

…With the medical/physical/dietary limitation. You have my utmost respect. You might have Parkinson’s, or are recovering from knee surgery, or are diabetic, or are going through depression, or have lymphoma, or you just finished your chemo treatments for prostate cancer and your doctor cleared you to exercise again. You still come in and give me your time and best effort. You tell me how inspiring I am and I tell you it’s you who are the inspiring one. You never use your limitation as an excuse and we could all learn a lot from you. I soak up our entire hour together because having the chance to work with people like you is exactly why I do what I do. Please stop worrying that I’ll think you’re lame or weak. I am thinking the exact opposite. You get stronger every week and you think I’m just being nice but it’s the truth. I hope to have your resilience if ever I am in your shoes.

…Who shows up. Thank you. You have no idea how happy training you makes me and how lucky I feel to have the clients I have. You are more than a client to me – we have cultivated a relationship that resembles friendship. You come from every kind of background and every kind of socioeconomic status. You keep coming back for more and you never give up on yourself. You understand there will be setbacks in your life that might cause you to gain a bit of weight or become temporarily sedentary. You don’t let that deter you from a healthy lifestyle. You respect my time and knowledge and in turn I respect yours. You’re the reason I wanted to come back to work after having two children. You’re the reason I’m one of the lucky few who feel happy to get in the car to drive to work in the morning. Thanks for showing up.

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