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Managing Expectations


Managing Expectations

Michael Buckley

“Hi. I’m a personal trainer like you and I have recommended some of your postings to a number of clients (especially the ones about lifting weights for women, gaining weight even though you’re exercising and the one about the elderly guy that runs marathons). Here’s my question: a lot of times people come to me with fitness goals that are overly ambitious. I am good at my job and I have had success with a lot of my clients and when I have a new client I don’t want to totally ruin their enthusiasm. Plus, this is a business and I want to put on business without promising results that are not realistic. How do you manage client expectations while keeping a new client motivated and how do you put on new business without making unrealistic promises?” – Holly L., San Luis Obiscpo, CA


Holly, I’m sure you and I could trade stories for days about the conversations we have with people that have fitness ambitions that are can more accurately be characterized as wishes than as attainable goals. When people find out what I do for a living, I am often bombarded with questions like, “What do I need to do to get abs?” I often reply, “Getting a six-pack isn’t just a fitness goal. It’s a lifestyle choice”.


When the person asking that question is a new client, I am being paid to offer solutions to help my client along not to be snarky. So if a new client says, “I want a six-pack”, I’ll say, “Great”, you’ll say, “So you have an idea of where you want to go eventually. That is a really clear long-term goal and I’m sure that with hard work both during our sessions and with the right meal plan you can get there eventually. So let’s talk about your short-term goals”.


Say this new client in pursuit of a six-pack is not currently exercising at all and needs to shed some body fat in order to rock a washboard stomach, a good short-term goal is to start leaning up. I am a big fan of Kettlebell swings to amp metabolism and they are also an amazing workout for the abs. So we can set a goal to increase the amount of time this client can swing the bell. Maybe we start with 30 seconds of swings with 30 seconds rest and by the end of the month the goal is to work up to swinging the bells continuously for one minute at a time with 20 seconds of rest in between sets. Setting little micro-goals like this is a great way to set quantifiable benchmarks of fitness in pursuit of a larger conquest. Beyond that, if someone is progressing in their workouts and being disciplined in their time outside of the gym, they are bound to start seeing results. When one focuses on a big goal in the distant future it is easy to get discouraged and call it quits because it seems like it’s never going to happen. Setting smaller, attainable goals on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis is essential for motivation. If someone is working hard and making sacrifices in order to make something happen, it is important to celebrate the little victories along the way.


Sometimes people are under the impression that simply hiring a trainer two or three times a week is enough in and of itself to transform their bodies. It’s important to articulate the client’s role in this process. Physical fitness is a constantly evolving process and requires hard work, discipline and, yes, patience on the part of the client in order to meet their goals. After all, when that client meets their goals, you don’t want to deprive them of their accomplishments.


I send my online clients a check-in questionnaire at the end of each week. The single most important question I ask is, “what were your victories this week?”. Progress happens incrementally, little-by-little and my clients get stronger, better and closer to their goals every week, all of them. Acknowledging the little victories along the way is essential in building the consistency needed to meet those big benchmarks. Folks want results and sometimes you need to force them to hit pause and reflect to realize that results aren’t just something that happens in the span of the 6 weeks between the “Before” and “After” pix in an advertisement for a “miracle supplement.” (Don’t get me started on that crap. That’s an entirely different post.) The results of our efforts (and without effort there are no results) are usually right there in front of us on the daily if we take the time to recognize them.


A good trainer can facilitate and expedite progress, of course, but if the client has to literally do all the heavy lifting, what can you as a trainer guarantee?


Here are things I can guarantee: I will be attentive and focused during all of our sessions. I will operate from a place of empathy but I will push you safely beyond where you would push yourself were you trying to do this on your own. We will be doing everything with proper form, not only to prevent injury, but because, for most exercises it is harder and more effective to do them correctly. Based on what we’ve discussed in terms of your goals, I will have a plan for how we will navigate this journey but I will also be flexible and alter that plan in order to best serve your needs, goals and constantly changing (improving) fitness level. I would suggest that you let me worry about the numbers and that rather than fixating on what the scale says or how many pounds you can bench or how long you can hold a plank for that you take note of other victories along the way; how your clothes fit, compliments you receive, increased energy levels, etc. I can promise you all of this. I have also had great success with countless others and you don’t have to take my word for it. You can check out my testimonials from other clients.


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