ImPersonal Training: 3 Common Ways Fitness Professionals Fail To Personalize Workouts

Note: This article written by Nick Tumminello was edited by Lindsay Vastola and originally published in PFP Magazine.

The reason clients seek private or semi-private training services instead of group training classes is to get a more personalized programming. This article highlights three ways fitness professionals commonly fail to personalize programming so you can avoid making these same mistakes, offer more personalized programming and deliver clients a much higher value for their investment.

Mistake #1: Giving lessons in the trainer’s favorite exercise method, not a personalized program for the client’s goal.

There are many training approaches. Some trainers may follow a bodybuilding-type philosophy where others are more into Pilates; some do “3D functional training” and others may be more into kettlebells…and the list goes on.

That said, many fitness professionals provide a training direction based on their own chosen training philosophy (i.e. bias) instead of delivering a true “personalized” workout program. In other words, many trainers just end up giving their clients private lessons on what that particular trainer likes to do instead of using the best modalities for the client to achieve their goals – the goal they’re paying the fitness professional their hard earned money to achieve.

Put simply, there are fitness professionals and fitness hobbyists. Fitness hobbyists try to get other people excited about their pet hobby, regardless of their individual goals, while the fitness professional fit the workout program to the client’s goal, not you to the trainer’s specialty or bias.

Mistake #2: Trying to fit individuals to exercises, instead of fitting the exercises to the individual.

Continuing the point above, one of the biggest mistakes fitness professionals often make is attempting to fit the individual to the exercises instead of fitting the exercises to the individual.

All of us are the same species, human, just like all different makes and models of cars, trucks and vans are the same species: automobiles. But just like automobiles, humans come in all shapes and sizes. Your size and shape is caused by your structure, and structure determines function. Although both a mini-cooper and a mini-van are made up of the same basic parts (4-wheels, two axels, steering wheel, etc.) and can perform the same basic driving functions (e.g., go forward and reverse, turn right and left, stop and start) you would never expect a brand-new mini-cooper to drive and handle the same as a brand-new mini-van, because of the different ways their same basic parts are put together. This is exactly why it is unrealistic to expect a guy who is built like a football running back to move the same as a guy built like a lineman.

Although both the running back and lineman can change levels, push, twist, pull, and so on, they may perform the movements in slightly different ways based on their structure. In other words, there isn’t any exact exercise that matches the movement of everyone because there are individual variations in the way humans move. Therefore, the fitness professional must choose the particular exercise variations that best fit how each individual moves.

The reason why we have exercise variations in the first place is not just to add variety to training, but because there are variations of normal in the way humans move. Some exercises just don’t fit well for certain people’s body.

Not only do we all move a bit differently based on our size and shape, which is dictated by our own unique skeletal framework and body proportions, but past injury, loss of cartilage or natural joint degenerative processes such as arthritis can influence how we move. This is why attempting to fit every person to the same exercise movement is potentially dangerous. Doing so could cause a problem or further exacerbate an existing problem as it may go against one’s movement capability.

That said, when it comes to performing the exercises provided in a way that best fits you; here are two simple criteria used in the Performance U individualized training approach for finding exercises that do make sense:

  1. Comfort—the movement is pain-free, feels natural, works within current physiology.
  1. Control—the individual can demonstrate the movement technique and body positioning the fitness professional has requested. For example, when squatting, the client displays good knee and spinal alignment throughout, along with smooth, deliberate movement.

To allow for comfort and control, you may have to modify (shorten) the range of motion or adjust the hand or foot placement of a particular exercise, such as a squat or a push-up to best fit your current ability. Or, you may just have to avoid certain exercises and emphasis other variations.

Mistake #3: Failing to tailor language to create better client buy-in.

I’ve written several workout programs that were featured in exercise magazines targeted at men; only to have those exact same workout programs also featured by the same publisher in the magazine targeted at women. The only thing the publisher changed were a few key terminologies used to explain the workout.

In the men’s magazine version it said something like “use this workout program to build a stronger and more ripped body of an MMA fighter.” Whereas, in the women’s magazine version it said something like, “use this workout program to shape a tight and toned body of a goddess.”

As you know, “exercise is medicine,” but people are all much more likely to take their medicine (i.e. use a particular workout program) when they think the medicine tastes good.

This is a valuable lesson fitness professionals need to learn from the major fitness magazines; as well as take advantage of. As fitness professionals, we must meet clients where they are by giving them the respect they deserve by tailoring the way we package the information we’re communicating to them in ways that makes the medicine taste good to each individual so they can get excited about their training programs. Let’s face it, if our clients are excited about what they are doing in training because they like why they’re doing it (i.e. the packaging you delivered it in), they’re much more inclined to stick with it. Not to mention, they’re also more likely to put more effort into their training sessions.

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