June 1997. The Chicago Bulls were preparing to play Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
The series was tied 2-2, and the Bulls needed a critical win on the road to gain momentum. But Michael Jordan felt awful.
In fact, he had reportedly come down with the flu (later reports pointed to food poisoning). The greatest player in the history of basketball was down, but he wasn’t out.
In the “Flu Game,” Jordan somehow persevered to put on a brilliant display of athleticism and grit and led his team to victory. A true professional, Jordan showed up when it counted.
Now, if a trainer has the flu, they should stay home. But the point is that many of the same qualities that make great athletes are what make great trainers.
What Makes Someone a Professional?
Technically, it’s collecting a paycheck.
But true pros know it’s so much more. If any pro athlete just showed up to collect their money, they probably wouldn’t have much success nor draw much admiration.
So what characteristics really help both athletes and trainer get to the top?
1. Pros Can Be Counted On
If a trainer is a professional, it’s not even a question of whether or not they’ll show up. They will always be there, and they will always be prepared. Sure, they might get sick every once in a while, but those instances should be rare, and their communication of them should be considerate.
A trainer you can’t count on doesn’t care about your long-term goals, and they don’t deserve your money.
This isn’t to say the trainer will always feel 100 percent amazing, but what makes a professional is that they strive to still be the same person on those days when they’re dragging.
A trainer is nothing without the trust of their clients, and the first step to building trust is simply showing up and doing their best, day after day after day.
But a professional trainer can also be counted on to ensure your safety and to never make you feel uncomfortable about your body or your current capabilities. I don’t care how energetic you are, if you’re putting people in danger and/or shaming your clients, you are a bad trainer.
2. Pros Know it Takes a Team
You might be thinking, “OK, but personal training isn’t a team sport. It’s just a trainer and their clients.”
That’s where you’re wrong.
Even individual sport athletes have teams. Serena Williams doesn’t just coast through life not speaking to anyone. She’s famously supported by a tight inner circle that helps her train, supports her when she needs it, and challenges her to be better. Simone Biles’ support system cheers her on behind the scenes while she’s off breaking gymnastics records. No one can do it alone.
If a trainer thinks they know it all and they refuse to learn from others, they’re not a pro.
A pro isn’t afraid to ask for help. They crave learning opportunities. They admit when they don’t know something, and use those as chances to get better. But most importantly, they’re willing to set aside their own egos and self-serving desires for your benefit.
A trainer who’s connected to a network of other passionate, knowledgeable people who can help their clients achieve their goals is always going to be the “lone wolf” who thinks they know everything.
3. Pros Are Obsessed With Getting Better
You know the story: The guy who kept practicing his jumper even after they turned the lights out in the gym. The girl who refused to leave the field until she drilled 100 shots on net. The athlete who showed up an hour early to every practice to refine their craft.
Those athletes are obsessed with getting better. Great trainers are no different.
They’re always actively searching for ways they can learn and improve—even on “days off.” Even if it costs money. Even if it costs time and money. There are millions of other fitness professionals around the world. The great ones are driven to stand out.
Personal training is so much more than basic anatomy and program design.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve personally learned via things like networking, attending conferences, reading books, etc. Maybe you pick up a new exercise for training around arthritic knees. Maybe you discuss how to deal with that client who always cancels 15 minutes before your 6 a.m. session. Or maybe you develop a new business method that better serves your clients.
Great trainers are always looking to get better and to understand the “why” behind what they do.
4. Pros Respect the Process
No one turns pro overnight.
It sucks to wake up at 4 a.m., peek one eye open at the snooze button, and force yourself out of bed. It’s hard to do the little things like follow up with clients who probably won’t email you back. And it’s tough to follow a carefully laid plan when Instagram modeling sounds really enticing and easy.
Yet day in and day out, day off or day on, professional trainers constantly take small steps toward their goals (and that includes planned rest and recovery). Incremental gains!
If a a trainer gives off the vibe a client is somehow “beneath them,” that client should run for the hills and never look back. The trainer doesn’t respect the process, and more importantly they don’t respect the person. That client owes it to themselves to find someone who will.
5. Pros Deliver
People pay trainers to make them feel better.
But how often are they going to walk into the gym absolutely amped up and ready to kill it? Maybe 10 percent of the time? Twenty percent if you’re lucky?
If a client’s able to drag themselves to the gym, they’ve done the hardest part. It’s now up to their trainer to help them fight through any malaise and ultimately leave feeling empowered and accomplished.
A trainer needs to be running the right program for each individual and their respective goals, but consistency is what creates results.
A trainer needs to have tools to create that consistency for clients. That includes trust, enthusiasm and a willingness to let clients make decisions on what they’re going to do. Occasionally giving someone two or three different exercise options to choose from rather than just telling them “Do this” can make a big difference.
Your clients will respond to what you produce. You’ll either make it, or you won’t.
Professional trainers make it.
It’s not always easy, and they’ll have to go back to the drawing board more than once. But if the right effort and intent are there, clients will feel it. Word will get out. They’ll build momentum. And both themselves and their clients will rack up the wins.
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