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July 13 2023 09:19 AM

5 ideas to help extend your role of personal trainer beyond sessions

Screenshot 2023-07-13 at 11.51.06 AM

This article first appeared in the Summer '23 issue of Personal Fitness Professional (PFP).

As personal trainers, our clients only spend about two to five hours a week with us and yet we are relied upon heavily for our expertise — and with that, an expectation to deliver results. Those training hours equate to roughly 2% of their entire week. You may be America's top trainer but that's still a pretty tall order to deliver results with so little contact time.

But what about outside of the gym? What can we do to extend our role of trainer beyond the personal training sessions? Arguably one of the most important parts of our job is to consult with and educate our clients so that when they are apart from us, they make wise choices, live a healthy lifestyle and progress towards their goal.

One effective way to impact the lives of your clients that has nothing to do with nutrition and exercise is simply to support them and show them you genuinely care about their lives outside of the gym. If you can be the supportive influence in the gym for just a few hours a week, imagine the impact you could have on them during all those hours away from the gym.

There are a lot of ways to build relationships with your clients or strengthen the ones that you already have without being too intrusive. Now, these suggestions could be perceived as ulterior motives to build your business, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. I trust that as a personal trainer you are genuinely interested in helping people achieve their goals — and with that, you're equally as interested in them as people, not just a commodity.

If you can engage in the following suggestions genuinely, it will not only help clients progress toward their goals, but it can build lifelong friendships outside of your business.

1. Show interest in their interests. Shared interests are a great way to build the client-trainer relationship. I have a client that likes to read, and I too enjoy reading so we give each other book updates, exchange books and have general literary discussions while training. Other commonalities could be music, travel, hunting or what they are binge watching. Sprinkling in conversation along with the training can make the workout fun, quick and show them a more human side to their trainer.

2. Send random supportive messages. Some of us remember training before there were cell phones, and many don't know the world without them. But regardless of our experience with them, we can agree that they are a useful tool for communication. Shooting clients random supportive text messages goes a long way in building trust and rapport. I have a client whose house was recently affected by floodwaters. It took a minute to shoot a quick text to see how things were going, and even offered my services to come and help move things out of the basement or fill sandbags. It doesn’t take a lot to check in on the day of an interview, a birthday or any other reason you feel they might just like to hear from you.

3. Support them in their endeavors or activities. Chances are you have helped someone prepare for a sport season, road race or any number of adventures that required dedication and hours of commitment. You can continue your support by showing up. Aside from their practices or event specific training, you likely have logged the most hours with them on their journey. Because of that bond they will look to you on the day of the event for any final tips or just some words of encouragement. Your presence means more than you can imagine. And don’t you want to see it through? Go cheer them on.

4. Show interest in their personal lives. Over the years I've been to quite a few weddings, graduations and other milestone events of clients or their family members. Attending these events shows the client that you see them as more than a business relation. You are genuinely interested in their life and want to share their celebrations by not only supporting them but showing support for other members of their family or their other friends. As trainers we learn a lot about our clients and particularly their families. In many cases we even start to feel like family.

5. Support their business. By choosing you as their trainer, they are choosing to do business with you, and if possible, you should do the same. You are supporting them in their fitness pursuits, so why not take it one step further and support them in whatever it is they do for a living. I have a client in the apparel business, so when I need apparel or promotional items, I don't even shop around. I go directly to his business. He supports me, I support him. This approach also makes it a little easier when you are contacted by solicitors; “thank you for calling but I have a client in the xyz business, so I am taken care of, thank you.”

If you engage in these suggestions and it comes from a place of authenticity, you will build strong bonds with your clients that are bigger than business relations, and what you might find is your clients will likely do the same for you. They will come to challenge you, show support and become interested in other aspects of your life, far beyond the walls of the gym.

Jim Romagna has nearly 30 years of experience in the fitness/wellness/strength and conditioning field. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer through the NSCA. Additionally, Jim is the Department Chair of the Health, Wellness and Sport Department at the University of Dubuque where he has also taught for the past 15 years. In 2016 Jim launched MERGE Performance Institute (MPI), which is built on four pillars: fitness, performance, sports medicine and education. Jim has a master’s in physical education and a doctorate in educational leadership. Follow on Instagram @jimromagna or email