Be careful trying to predict clients

Posted on January 10, 2018

(Last Updated On: January 10, 2018)

Predicting the future has always been good business. So much media is either talking about what just happened, or what’s going to happen next.

Of course, nobody knows what’s going to happen. In sports, we say “that’s why they play the game.”

With personal training, with new clients, I consider there to be two kinds of predictions:

  1. Can I help this person?
  2. How is this person going to do?

With 1., as a trainer, you want to be good. Nobody can perfectly know, but I consider the purpose of an assessment to get a solid idea. This person…

  • wants to lose weight and has hip pain
  • is on blood pressure medication but wants to exercise
  • wants a more muscular butt, but not more muscular thighs
  • had two knee replacements and is trying to get moving again
  • wants to get a good workout without ticking off their chronic low back issue
  • is a 45 year old woman, works full-time, has two kids, can only come one hour per week, wants to lose weight

“Can I help this person?”

I want to be more sure than not. If I’m less than, I don’t know, 75% sure (an exact number isn’t the point), I flat out say so.

“I think I can be of help, but honestly, I’m not too sure. I’m willing to try if you are, but I like to be upfront with what I feel I can do for people. Your history of X throws a wrench in the mix.”

Once in a while I have to tell a person I have no experience with their situation. Even then, I am typically willing to give it a go -in the least, I’m almost always confident I know how to not make someone worse- but if I’m experimenting with someone, I’m going to tell them.


What I mean here though is “Can I help this person…provided we communicate well?” That’s 2., “how will this person do?”

Anybody can help anybody lose weight if a person listens to every word, right?

“Hey you, eat less.”

But the human factor is the factor.

  • Will this client enjoy my sense of humor?
  • Is my expectation of what they need to do out of line with their expectation?
  • Will I accidentally ask too much, causing this person to lose confidence in me?
  • Does this person say they’re ready to make a change, but deep down they aren’t there yet?
  • If I’m 20 years younger than them, do they have a hard time listening to a younger person?
  • Will this client and I randomly have some things in common causing us to bond unusually?
  • (I’m currently doing a lot more endurance training than in the past) Does this client think I’m tall and in shape, or do they think I’m tall and not muscular enough for a trainer?

The hell if I, or anybody, knows!


I got lucky in this domain. I believe it was the third client I ever had. I was only a month into working. Her name was Connie.

About six weeks in with Connie, we weren’t getting anywhere. She was entirely miserable every session. She wasn’t from the area. Her husband had a job where they might move every year or two. She was from a small town in the midwest, now in, what was to her, a large city on the coast. I’m more or less a coastal city person to begin with. She never enjoyed exercising. Had never been in a gym. I’m 23 at the time. She’s in her 40s.

There was nothing to suggest this relationship, or Connie’s fitness endeavors for that matter, were going anywhere positive.

After six weeks, I pulled Connie aside and said,

“Look, I understand you’re not enjoying this. I realize exercise, the gym, it’s something a lot of people don’t like.

However, I’ve really tried to mix up what we’re doing, but it doesn’t seem to be working. That could very well be my fault. You’re paying a fair amount for this and I don’t want you to be miserable here. That’s not fun for either of us.

Would you like to try another trainer? I’m happy to set you up with somebody. Won’t take it personal. Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t right.”

Keep in mind, I had maybe five clients at this time. Only working three days a week. At best, I was making $800 a month. I bring this up to show how much Connie appeared to hate our sessions. It made me so unhappy I wouldn’t be able to avoid thinking about her session, knowing it was coming every morning, that I was willing to send her to someone else.

Connie immediately refuted what I said. She didn’t want another trainer. She told me she realizes she hasn’t been in a good mood, but it wasn’t because of me. She’d like to keep going and she’d try to be a bit more upbeat.

Brief tangents:

  1. Any time I’ve told someone they might want to entertain another trainer, they immediately turn me down. I do think client relationships and business are a lot like male -female dynamics. If one tries too hard, it can be unattractive. When one seems somewhat indifferent? It can lure the person in.
  2. Many times when a client relationship isn’t going well, it’s not the trainer. The client simply has life going on. You need to be honest and assess yourself, if not ask the client. But many times the answer is “Sorry, I’m going through a divorce / work is killing me / my kid is having a hard time.” Hey no problem. I can understand that. So long as you’re not taking it out on me every day. (This does happen. As a trainer, I’ll accommodate, but I won’t be a punching bag.)

From that point Connie TRANSFORMED. I couldn’t believe how well the next four months went. She lost 35 lbs and got under 200 lbs for the first time since high school. She was funny. She enjoyed coming to the gym. She started coming early. She worked out as hard as anybody I’ve ever had. She would do rack pulls and yell “I AM SWAGGER!” Eventually she had to move due to her husband’s job; we even went to dinner before she left. A couple years later she found me on Facebook to reminisce.

I have had experience after experience like this. Where in my head I reflexively say “This person isn’t going to do well.” Then I stop, think of Connie, and give the person a chance.

I’ve also had plenty of people who I think are going to do great, and they don’t.

I’ve trained doctors who love my ability to speak “the lingo” with them, I have a good sense how their brain works, our backgrounds are similar, I think I can reason with them into following certain guidelines. Then I discover they can’t even show up on time.

Meanwhile, a guy from Texas, goes shooting every weekend, would prefer if we all killed our food, thinks Bud Light is the pinnacle of alcohol, and he does phenomenally well.

-> I have no problem with this type of person. I’m just saying my background is a different world. One of the great aspects of personal training is you meet practically every kind of person society has. It’s also why so many trainers don’t do well. You need empathy; an ability to relate and talk to all kinds of people; to not judge anyone too quickly. For a trainer, it’s as important as any other quality.

I’ve seen these situations over and over. Yet when I get new client requests, the basic instinct is to quickly try and predict

“Will this be an easy or hard client?”

“Is this person going to make my life miserable?”

“This client gets it. They won’t need as much help.”

“Ugh, I doubt this person will listen to a word of what I have to say.”

It’s something I continually have to resist, and admit to myself, I don’t know. When it comes to meeting new, or potential new clients, I have to be into the thousands by now. What’s crazy is I don’t think I’ve improved at this, at all. It’s the only area of personal training I can say that.

We humans have an affinity for wanting to know the future, but whenever you’re predicting people, nobody knows. You have to play the game to find out.

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