One-on-one training—it’s maybe the best experience lender that a fitness coach can borrow from to improve and expand their coaching repertoire. It’s also pretty damn weird—and by weird I mean polarizing. People tend to either love it or hate it. And it can be super productive or devolve into a dancing monkey show with the trainer counting reps and entertaining the client. It takes a lot of focus, energy, and giving—and that is some draining shit.


But, as I said in the first sentence, it’s a great way to gain experience. I sincerely believe that it’s something every fitness coach should do at some point in their career. I’ve done a lot of it in mine, and I’m going to share what I’ve learned that makes sessions successful and keeps you from burning yourself to the ground like a redneck’s fireworks shack on Fourth of July.


Program as Far in Advance as Possible


With most personal training clients buying session packages, and not thinking in terms of programming, it’s easy to get caught up in the game of just writing workouts for a given day. I mean why write a long-term program when you’re only guaranteed ten sessions, right? That’s a valid question. But only planning for those ten sessions isn’t the best thing to do for you or for the client.


Results take time and effort, and we need to make sure we’re clear with clients and communicate that with them up front. Writing a program for four to six weeks is a simple action that lets people know that ten sessions probably isn’t going to do it. (Unless they hired you for some short-term reason like cleaning up their lifting form.) If it’s a new client, it shows them that you’re already thinking about helping them long-term and that you care about their success. That’s a good thing for them to know.


Besides communicating that commitment to the long-term is the way to go, having a program ready for your clients that goes beyond their scheduled sessions makes your life a lot easier. Trying to figure out what you’re going to do with someone “as you go” is a miserable, anxiety-provoking feeling. Working from a written program saves you that strife.


Also, it’s much easier to adapt an existing plan than it is to try to come up with a new one every week, or heaven forbid, every session. If you program out for all of your clients at least month in advance, even if they haven’t committed to that long of a term yet, you’ll save yourself a lot of work and worry in the long run.


Think about that cumulatively. Let’s, for consideration’s sake, say that you have ten one-on-one clients. And for each of those clients you try to come up with a new workout for each session—and you train each of those clients twice per week. That’s twenty times that you’ll have to work and worry throughout the course of the week. But if you write a month long program for each of them, that’s only ten times per month that you have to put a plan together.


Listen, I know that you’re a Strength Faction member and you’re an enlightened soul, but this topic is too important to gloss over.


Program out for you clients as far in advance as you can—usually four to six weeks. If they’re new, they’ll see that you value you them enough to plan ahead for them and you communicate the importance of long-term training. You’ll also save yourself a bunch of time, work, and worry.


Control as Much as You Can Control


Most folks still handling a steady stream of one-on-one’s work in the commercial gym setting—meaning that there is a ton of shit going on all around you at all times, exposing you and your clients to a lot of variables that you can’t control. There are creepy guys that make sex moans as they foam roll, old ladies that are far more aggressive than appropriate with the inny-outy machine (you know which one I’m talking about), and the ever-present jagaloon that commandeers a bench for forty-five minutes so he can talk to his boo-thang about the workout that he isn’t doing.


It’s a circus sometimes.


To keep that circus from pitching its big top over your session, create a “micro-environment” for your client and yourself. Here’s what to do:


Set up as much shit as you can in advance. That’s really it.


If you know someone is going to start with kettlebell swings and core work, have that laid out for them. Then, if you’re able to work the next step ahead, and know that they’ll be barbell deadlifting after those swings, commandeer a bar and get it set up. Get everything you need to train your client for the duration of the session and contain it in a little nook of the gym—that way you can watch the circus but you don’t have to be part of the show.


This pre-session set up does a few things for us.


First, it makes the session way more efficient—and more efficiency means more density. That, in turn, means a better chance for your client to get results because they’re able to fit in more work.


Second, it conserves energy and focus. Having a controlled environment for your session creates a nice little safe haven for your client to “relax” in. That buffer, that seemingly sane corner of control decreases the need to be constantly scanning the environment for what’s going on around them, who’s close, who isn’t, etc. It also just limits the amount each of you has to think about how to make the session work—hunting down equipment, securing space, etc.


I know this sounds hunky dory and you might be thinking that there is no way in hell that it will work in your environment. I’m not saying that it’s easy, or that it’s always going to work perfectly, but it’s worth making every effort to make it happen.


Find some space. Set up the equipment you need for your next client’s program. Guard that area. Watch your session go super smoothly. Butter. Warm butter.


G.A.B. Before The Session Starts


Being a one-on-one coach gives you the wonderful opportunity to set a strong intent with every client during every session. That’s a wonderful thing.


Before getting cracking on the session, as you’re checking in on the human in front of you, get a G.A.B. session in and set a goal for the day. Both of you will be more intently focused for the next hour and there’s less of a chance of it turning into a therapy session. (More on that in a bit).


See the G.A.B. lesson for a refresher on how to get that shit done.


Walk Them Through the Session Before the Session Starts


After/during your G.A.B. session, walk the client through everything that’s going to happen for the day. Pull out your handy-dandy program that you’ve already written (hint, hint, wink, wink) and show/remind them of the exercises they’ll be doing for the day. Point out what they did last week, or last session, and let them conceptualize the session with the visual of the program. This will keep them from wasting energy on wondering what the hell is about to happen, they can focus in on training because they have the path they have to navigate in their brain.


As a bonus, this is a great opportunity for them to acknowledge and reflect on progress. They’ll get to see what they did last week, see some incremental steps forward, and get focused for what they’ll do with the next hour of their lives.


The Coaching/Convo Happy Medium


Your clients are partly paying for conversation, so you can’t deny them it. But it’s draining on you, and unproductive for them, if your entire session turns into a talkfest. Walking them through the session before it starts and G.A.Bing to set an intent helps keep focus. Other ways to keep the session moving are to stick to rest periods. In our semi-private coaching we don’t worry so much about that, but in a private coaching environment where the chat monster can flap its chatty gums at any minute, rest periods keep people moving. Actually just physically keeping moving helps keep the chat monster in the depths as well. It locks pace and urgency into the session. So, pair exercises together, keep at least semi-strict rest periods, and keep moving between the exercises and you can keep the convo at a happy medium.


Manage Your Energy


Up to this point, we’ve discussed conducting the session in a way that’s productive. For this section, which will be a bit longer and include some subsections, we’re talking about managing ourselves so that we can be who we need to be for our clients and avoid burning ourselves out. Let’s jump in, shall we?


Focus on Your Mindset


Let’s start with some gratitude. You help other people exercise, and they pay you money for it. I’m not trying to be preachy, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that. Let it sink in for a minute (because you could be sinking knee deep into shit that you have to clean up right now and getting paid minimum wage for it.)


Beyond taking some time for gratitude, and writing down some things that you’re generally grateful for in your KYST journal, develop a system for yourself to keep your head on straight.


At the most basic level, just make some time for yourself that you know is just yours—and don’t give it up for anything. Seriously, be like a rabid raccoon that found a cocaine stash every time someone, or something, tries to take that time away from you.


Also, be consistent with something. Have something that you just check the box on every day. That consistency will give your psyche some bedrock. It could be as simple as making your bed every day. Just have something that absolutely gets done every day without negotiation.


If you’re grateful, make some time for yourself, and stay consistent with at least one thing every day, you’ll have a better chance of keeping your head in a good place.


Stack Your Sessions


Do your best to stack your sessions by scheduling them back-to-back with a small break for set-up in between. I understand that this is perfect world kind of stuff, especially accounting for the small break, but if you can sort this out to be at least close to optimal, you’ll be in way better shape energy wise. Rather than having a bunch of rises and falls throughout the day, you get a solid block of work with a longer refractory period that you can use to play and recover.


Also, stacking your sessions makes you look busy. Looking busy is good.  You seem exclusive and valuable.


Keep Tabs on Personalities


Why people and How people can be very draining as clients. They need a lot of conversation. They just need a lot out of you, and you have to keep that in mind as you roll into and out of sessions. Be conscious of where your head is at before you go into a session. If you know someone is going to take a lot out of you, focus on keeping a boundary between you and the client while still serving them and giving them what they need. It also helps to frame your thoughts with some unconditional positive regard before starting the session, and remember that, they’re just a fucking human being. (The swearing was moderately necessary.)


Take your breaks after those challenging folks so you don’t carry that juju into the next session, and so you have time to recover and get your mind right before helping the next person.


Get Out of the Gym


Seriously, at least once per day, get out of the gym. I don’t even care what you do, unless it’s some kind of Russian espionage or you go to a baby seal punting convention—I do mind those things. Just get out of there and get some space. Don’t get bullied into thinking that you have to be there every working minute of the day.


Build a Community Around Yourself


This section is about your longevity and long-term success—and also about connecting people to other people so that they can help take care of each other. I hope by being a Strength Faction member you see the value in a real community. You can build one, too. In fact, it would be in your best interest. Let’s talk about two things that you can do to build a community around yourself.


Introduce Your Clients to Each Other


Connecting your clients builds a supportive web that helps them hold each other up. As you pass from one client to the next, have the one departing hang back for a second to meet the person about to start. Create a Facebook group that connects all of your clients. Sponsor some happy hours that get everyone together. While you’re doing this, facilitate a conversation between them all so they get to know each other, they start to care about each other, and they continue to help each other kick ass.


Introduce Your Clients to Your Fellow Trainers


No one wants to be around the insecure, wary person. People want to be around the confident sharer and connector. That’s what a true alpha personality is—the person that leads from the front and protects while also connecting people, sharing, and making people feel welcome. They don’t hide in scarcity and insecurity. If you want your clients to view you as that type of person, introduce them to other trainers in your gym. Make them see how you understand your own value and you lead from the front by being a team member and by making them feel comfortable by showing them around to the other people inhabiting their space.


Go Kick Some One-on-One Ass!


Ok, so that was a lot. If it all seems overwhelming, start with one section of the lesson, implement that into your one-on-one practice, work on it for a few weeks, and then add in another piece. And, remember, there’s a solution in here that fits your context, you just have to think, apply, observe, and then modify. Go kick some ass.

In 2010, two dudes Chris and Todd, started the business that would eventually become Strength Faction.

You know how they say the rest is history? Well, it’s not.

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