The outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has got everyone feeling stressed and uncertain. This kind of tension has an effect on us not just as business people, trainers, athletes, weight-loss hopefuls, etc., but as human beings. Some of us are change-averse even though the only constant in life is change. 


The term we keep hearing at the moment is ‘pivot’, referring to what we need to do to essentially keep us all alive. For some people, the worry is that they will be out of a job, or are going to lose their homes, or will not be able to continue doing the work they love to do. At PT Academy, many of our trainers who have worked so hard to build their careers in fitness are wondering how they are going to continue, since their jobs have completely changed sincere the COVID outbreak. 


Here, we will talk about what we as personal trainers can do to retain our clients and maximize those opportunities we do have for the future. We are literally all in this together, and we would like to help our network of personal trainers to discover some important tools for training clients during COVID-19 and beyond. 

The Impact of Stress and Uncertainty

As physical trainers, we have dedicated our lives to helping people overcome their mental barriers in order to become their physical best. Right now, with our clients under enormous stress, our work is truly more important than ever before. Right now, life is more uncertain than it has ever been for most of us, and with no foreseeable end in sight and a whole lot of guesswork to provide us with information, people are feeling the effects of the stress. 


Uncertainty for even a few hours can have you on edge, but uncertainty for extended periods of time can actually be devastating for both physical and mental health. Some proven results of prolonged uncertainty on human health and wellness include: 

  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Suppressed thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decrease in muscle tissue
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Lowered Immunity
  • Inflammatory response in the body
  • Slowed healing
  • Increased abdominal fat


In addition to the very real health implications of stress and uncertainty, these emotions can cause you to become physically tense and sore, which can further prevent you from doing the necessary activities to keep yourself in good health. Think about it: when you are physically tense and have done nothing for your body, you feel emotionally bad. When you have done something for your body, you feel open and ready to take things on. 


As personal trainers, we are not only helping our clients to train their bodies, but also to train their minds. 

Helping Clients Stay Motivated

Motivation fluctuates, and it is not uncommon for people to go from feeling highly committed to an activity to feeling uninterested just days or weeks later. As fitness professionals, we see this happen all the time, particularly around the holidays. New Years rolls around and dozens of people sign up for fitness courses, then a few weeks later, half of them have already stopped attending. 


If clients struggle to stay motivated and continue on with their programs under normal circumstances, imagine how people must be feeling now when we are submerged in uncertainty. Someone who is already under a lot of stress is not going to react well when more is added, and for lots of people, being pressured to do a difficult task while already under pressure from outside forces will just result in shutting down. 


One of the biggest mistakes trainers make is neglecting to pay attention to what our clients need when they feel unmotivated. It is not realistic for all of your clients to sustain a super-high-intensity workout routine seven days a week, and for some, even committing to three or four will feel like too much. Uncertainty and stress can fool us into thinking that we need to give up as motivation fluctuates, but actually, these peaks and valleys of commitment are pretty normal. 


As trainers, one of the worst things we can do for our clients is to push them too hard when they are feeling unmotivated. This is setting them up for failure and will likely break their trust with you, essentially doing the opposite of what you intended in the first place. This is why it is so important to understand where your client’s level of motivation is at. 


If your client is feeling stressed about COVID-19 and has been struggling to get other things done during the day which has made them feel unmotivated, give them something easy to do. Giving them an easy task that they can accomplish will boost their spirits, and help them to feel more motivated to tackle their workout the next time you have a session. Completing something easy is always more productive than trying to force the completion of a more intense or stressful workout. 


Basically, to help your clients stay motivated to continue working out during COVID-19, you need to adjust to their level of motivation. On days where they feel really motivated, give them something difficult and challenging. On days where they feel a little down and defeated, give them something you know they can accomplish to help them pull themselves out of the funk. 

Getting and Keeping Clients

Since we can’t be physically meeting with fitness hopefuls, personal trainers everywhere are learning to acquire clients from afar and use retention techniques to keep their focus and attention. It can feel daunting to convince someone virtually that they need you to help them train, but if you use the right techniques to make your clients feel heard, supported, and challenged, your clients will keep coming back time and time again. 

Set Expectations Early

One of the easiest ways to lose a client is to disappoint them, and one of the easiest ways to disappoint a client is to forget to set their expectations early. When your clients sign up, you should survey them to determine what exactly they are hoping to achieve during the course of your time together. 


Once you know what your client is expecting, you will be able to set some ground rules, boundaries, and expectations for them as well. This whole process helps to build trust, and if you commit to following through on your end, you will have a client for years to come. 

Choosing a Comfortable Environment

One of the biggest challenges facing personal trainers (and frankly, businesses of all kinds) during the COVID-19 outbreak has been the need for social distancing. While social distancing is a necessary preventative measure to protect the health of everyone, it does make things like working out with a personal training a little more difficult. 


In order to create a comfortable training environment for your client, it is important to choose a safe but productive location. Some personal trainers have found that the best approach has been to meet their clients in a large park in order to maintain adequate distance while still breaking a sweat together. Others are finding that they are able to close down their gyms enough to have private clients come in solo, yet again maintaining adequate distance. 


For most, their careers as personal trainers have turned virtual, meeting clients online via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and tons of other video chatting services. As it turns out, virtual fitness training is not as difficult as we feared, and many trainers have already found early success connecting online with their clients. 


If you choose to go the virtual route, be sure to spend at least a few minutes considering your background. Strangely enough, nothing is more distracting than staring at someone’s trashcan in the background or locking eyes with a big pile of laundry when you are trying to get something done. Before you connect with your clients, take a moment to look at yourself in your viewfinder, and remove anything that could be distracting for your clients. This is all part of creating a comfortable and productive atmosphere, and you should not underestimate the impact these few minutes of effort can have. 

Accept Feedback

We are all navigating through this new world together, which means everyone is trying to figure out how to live and do their jobs in a post-COVID-19 environment. Because of this, it is going to take some trial and error in order for all of us to figure out the best ways to move forward, and the best way to expedite that process is to ask your clients directly for feedback. 


Your clients will be your best resource for finding out how you can improve, how you can attract more clients, and of all the things you have been doing right. Whether it be good or bad, it is important to absorb and implement this feedback, so be sure to pay close attention and make the necessary changes. For you, the goal is continuous self-improvement.

Stop Using Tools that Limit You

Again, we can’t be face to face with our clients right now, which means that some exercises or pieces of equipment are going to be more challenging to use than others. Some tools might need to be discontinued altogether, since they might not be safe for your client to use without being spotted or coached by you in person. Because you can’t kinesthetically give your client feedback, you are going to need to program fewer steps between exercises in order to properly explain things to your client. 


Refusing to change the way you train is going to make it nearly impossible to continue your career during COVID-19, so be brutally honest with yourself about tools, techniques, or habits that are holding you back. 


This is also something to look for when you go over client feedback. Take note of the things clients complain about or say could have been clearer. Misunderstandings can cause injury and frustrated clients, and without the ability to be hands-on, it is more vital than ever for you to communicate as clearly as you possibly can. 

Building Trust

Our responsibility as fitness instructors has undeniably gone up as a result of the increased stress and uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. Now, we are not only being sought out to help with physical discomfort, fitness enhancement, etc., but also to relieve stress and anxiety. Because of this, it is more important than ever to build a deep level of trust with your clients so that they feel confident and comfortable when they come to you for your sessions. Some easy ways to build trust and accountability with your clients include: 

  • Showing up early
  • Remembering your promises and sticking to them
  • Being radically present and engaged
  • Planning sessions ahead
  • Avoiding canceling sessions, changing times, or changing locations

Personalized Holistic Coaching

Right now we are living in the age of personalization, and actually, tailoring your approach and programming to the individual is a great way to build trust and retain a client. Recently, we have partnered with Ph360, a company with second to none tools for understanding how we are all different and what that means in terms of nutrition, programming, lifestyle, epigenetics, etc. Using their resources, we are helping our trainers to create professional, custom plans for their clients, which not only builds credibility but creates better results. 


Are you interested in adapting your personal training career to fit the needs of your clients during COVID-19? Visit PT Academy to see more resources for building your fitness career, and be sure to check out our blog for more tips, tricks, and information. 


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