Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Today my friend Tony posted THIS POST.
About being a hands on trainer (no literally put your goddamn hands on the athlete, seriously)
Corroborating his post was the following TED talk by Dr. Abraham Verghese.

You should watch it.. I'll wait...
Done? Good. You are now smarter.
Starting at 11:00 going to 12:10 there is a very important anecdote for those of us in the fields of wellness and particularly physical training. He is a leading authority in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He is able to deal with this particularly difficult condition because he spends an entire appointment with these patients just listening to their problems. We should take that to heart.
The movement assessment has become de rigueur. It is accepted and unquestioned in our industry, but how often do trainers, dieticians, coaches, doctors, caregivers of any kind sit down an LISTEN to their clients? Dr Verghese states that doctors interrupt their patients within 14 seconds. It probably took you more time to read the preceding couple sentences, but it's about 14 more seconds than most training clients get to speak.
I have seen too many coaches screen the athlete. Then tell the athlete: "your movement screen says ABC, you compete in (whatever sport) that means your training looks like blah. I'll write up a program and we'll get started next week. Nice to meet you." handshake and they're outta there!
I googled "listening personal trainer" I found ZERO pictures of the client talking and the trainer listening intently.
See anything wrong with that? I sure as heck do.
Every athlete I train, either before or after the movement assessment (depending on age and injury history), we sit down face to face. I ask questions and they talk:

Why are we here? What are you expecting?
What does your training currently look like? How is that working for you?
What other training methods have you used in the last 3 years?
Do you have any injuries? (I then ask specifically about common injuries for their sport)
What other sports have you competed? (Old injuries and movement patterns are probably still there)
Are there any movements that cause you pain, or that you prefer not to do?
What will your training load look like outside of my gym?
How is your job stress?
Do you sleep well? Why don't you sleep more? (no one sleeps enough your humble author included)
Are you comfortable with your diet? Is it dialed in? How long have you been eating that way?
Are you taking any supplements? Why are you taking what you're taking?

Those are just the questions I ask for starters. Each one of those could have several follow up questions depending on what they answer. Most importantly I don't give my opinion on much of anything until they answer first. Many clients will parrot your answer if you even hint at what you believe. If I force them to answer without prejudicing their responses with my own opinion I can gain a depth of insight into the athlete.
The supplement question alone gives me an excellent insight to their level of commitment, training personality, and experience. If they're taking every new herb and powder under the sun every single day, multiple times per day, they're probably very committed (financially and time wise) they are a very aggressive training personality, but with limited experience. I will have to give them more background, and keep a closer eye on them.
If they are taking creatine, fish oil, vitamin D and whey, every day like clockwork. If they use terms like post-training nutrition compartmentalization. I know they are educated, experienced and committed. I can explain things in a bit more depth and far less breadth.
Once I'm satisfied that the athlete has answered my questions, then I let them ask me whatever they want. This is where I give my opinion on horny goat weed, or whatever the supplement of the day is. Or where I ask the them if they can stop staying up late playing Assassin's Creed because it isn't the best thing for his training, no I don't care how much B.J. Penn plays.
I make suggestions and then ask more questions.
This builds trust. I can prioritize the changes I need the athlete to make and build a road map. I can identify the "security blanket" behaviors. Things that while not ideal have to be the last things to go as they make the athlete feel safe.

Then I can make a training plan. Once I have the training plan together, then I write up a detailed program. I have the athlete review the program, and check in with me from time to time, and I listen. If something's not working, if something is aggravated, or if they have a new coach in their sport that is forcing them to run 124 miles per week. I know about it, and we adjust.

Now I can hear the chorus from here, I don't have time, that's too much work, the client doesn't know what they're talking about.
You DO have time. Sitting down for 30 minutes the first meeting with a client is not a huge time investment, charge for it up front.
People said movement assessment was too much work too, now everyone worth their salt does it. Listening to the people paying us should not be a radical act. It doesn't mean they get to dictate everything, just that they are heard and acknowledged.
This last one drives me batty. You have no idea what the client knows, this is your chance to validate them as people and establish yourself as caring and knowledgeable before they are in the gym and under training stress. It keeps you from blowing up a training session talking through these things on the gym floor, or scrapping an entire program because the athlete is unable/unwilling to do a certain movement.
For me this mental screen is as important to helping the client as any movement screen.

Feel free to agree or argue in the comments.

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