Running a successful Personal Training arm of your fitness business positively impacts member retention and culture. Many fitness business owners have high expectations of their PTs. High expectations can lead to great performance; however, not understanding and facilitating the stages of learning for personal trainers can kill their confidence, contributing to poor member service and retention.

Here is how to determine which stage of learning your PT is experiencing and how to communicate accordingly.

The four stages and strategies for facilitating learning

The four stages of learning for personal trainers, also known as the four stages of competence, were first uncovered by Noel Burch of Gordon Training International. However, Abraham Maslow is often erroneously credited.

Unconscious Incompetence

“I don’t know that I don’t know how to do this.” This is the stage of blissful ignorance before learning begins.

Strategy – This stage is the most challenging and requires a lot of support. PTs in this stage need someone to lead the way, be patient with them, and answer any questions. Let them know mistakes are OK as long as they learn from them. During this stage, the most important thing to do is set high standards for the PT and be willing to give feedback to help them move on. Ideally, a PT manager can support them through this; however, If you are working on a low-staffing model, you must schedule regular meetings and catch-ups during the first 12 weeks to monitor progress and consider outsourcing PT-specific online learning and coaching.

Conscious Incompetence

“I know that I don’t know how to do this yet.” This is the most challenging stage, where learning begins and the most judgments against the self come to light. It is also the stage in which most PTs give up. This is where many PTs look at senior PTs and feel inadequate or compare themselves to online fitness gurus and wonder why they decided to become a PT in the first place.

Strategy – The Conscious Incompetence stage is where most PTs give up. This is the stage where they start learning but still have doubts about themselves. The best way to help PTs in this stage is to give them feedback that helps them improve and be understanding and supportive. Also, keep things simple, so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Try not to layer on too many new skills and be patient.

Conscious Competence

“I know that I know how to do this.” This stage of learning is much easier than the second stage, but it is still a bit uncomfortable and self-conscious. At this stage, they have mastered a few programs and can handle the basics easily, but they might still get thrown off by special populations or difficult clients.

Strategy – Most PTs feel comfortable in the Conscious Competence stage of learning for personal trainers. They know what they can do and how to do it. PTs in this stage need feedback on what they have done well but also be understanding and supportive. Don’t give them too much feedback at once; allow them to digest it.

Unconscious Competence

“What, you say I did something well?” This stage of learning a skill has become a natural part of us; we don’t have to think about it.

Strategy – The Unconscious Competence stage is where most PTs feel comfortable. They are skilled and competent and don’t need to think too much about delivering great service. The only risk here is that they can become comfortable and not seek out new challenges to grow their business. Encourage them to take some risks and start the learning process again to keep them engaged. Also, beware of ignoring these PTs simply because they are off and running. Schedule quarterly check-ins to ensure they are not getting bored or starting to look for new opportunities.

By recognising that personal trainers’ learning stages are unique for each trainer, you can respond appropriately and encourage them to foster the growth mindset for success.

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