I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I stopped 1-on-1 personal training.
I’ve been thinking about what I’m doing in Mexico with FitMix25 and what I’m building with AnthroPhysique Online Coaching. I’ve dedicated my life to these two systems because I deeply believe in their benefits for someone’s health and fitness.
But I was wondering why my belief is so strong and what truly is the benefit of these systems?
It comes down to something that happened to me 8 years ago in early 2008.
This post is a little longer, but it is the story about a lunch that literally changed everything about how I approach fitness and coaching.
But first, let’s rewind 11 years…
In mid 2005, I finished my Kinesiology degree and had 6 months of time to kill before I would go back to school for one more year. I decided to move to Edmonton, live with my dad and work at Subway or something.
Literally, that was my plan.
Thankfully, my dad helped me get a job as a Personal Trainer at a local gym instead.
My very first client, let’s call him John, came in to the gym on his 60th birthday looking for a personal trainer. I was on shift, introduced myself, we talked for about an hour and he signed up for 5 days per week of training! We had a good chemistry and he was ready to commit.
He was ready to commit because he realized that in 60 years he had never worked out and wanted to make sure health started being more of a priority in his life. He wasn’t exactly unhealthy, he golfed 360+ days of the year, but knew that as he got older it was becoming more and more important to take care of his health.
He had literally NEVER been in a gym before. I told him my plan, how we’d progress and a timeline he could expect. He was 100% committed. He followed the plan, he did what I had set out, he experience what I said he would experience and he progressed quite quickly.
He loved the results!
Now let’s fast forward to 1.5 years later.
By now I had opened my own gym – CrossFit Edmonton. John came with me to train there even though he didn’t really love the environment. We continued our 1-on-1 personal training, despite the new gym being mostly a group program.
By this time, 1.5 years later, John went from never being in a gym before, not knowing how to use a treadmill and bicep curling 5 pound dumbbells to being able to do a 1.5x bodyweight deadlift, 100+ pound back squats with hips to parallel and a strict dead hang chin up.
A reminder: he’s 61 at this point.
Beyond that he had lost weight, now loved walking the golf course, was the envy of his golf buddies and felt way better about life. He would tell me stories about doing box jump style jumps onto random stairs and ledges he would find on the golf courses. It was awesome!
About 6 months later, almost 2 years into training together for 3-5 days per week nearly every week without fail, John decided that it was time to move on. He felt like his health was good, his fitness was good and he had achieved his goal. I was sad to see him go, but like a proud parent I felt good about releasing him into the ‘real world’.
Fast forward another year and John and I decided to meet up for lunch.
We hadn’t been in touch a lot, but after 2 years in the gym together every week we were great friends and caught up easily.
At lunch John told me that since we stopped training together he stopped training. He was literally doing nothing exercise-wise and had lost a lot of his fitness and strength.
In 2 years of training together, John still had not built the skills and habits to keep training on his own.
This was the day I stopped training too. I stopped being a personal trainer.
In a way, I felt like I had failed John.
Sure, we got him amazing results and at 61 years of age he could do many things that most 21 year olds can’t even do.
But I kept asking myself, what was the point if it couldn’t be maintained?
What was the point if a year later he was back to square one?
What was the point if he still couldn’t do it on his own?
This is when I realized that Personal Training was a dependency relationship.
And it made sense.
Think about it. Why have you or would you ever hire a personal trainer?
Simple, to motivate you.
You realize one day that you don’t have the motivation to reach your goals on your own so you hire someone to push you.
It’s great because you’ve tried on your own but can’t stick with it. So you can hire someone to give you that extra push.
As I stated in this article, the key problem with this scenario is that all of the motivation is in the personal trainer, not you.
What I learned with John is that he only did well when he was with me because I was the one with the motivation. In 2 years of training together it’s the one thing I never gave him. He built his fitness, his strength and his ability to frequently host gun shows, but he never built his own motivation.
This is why when we stopped working together, he stopped entirely.
And trust me, I actually tried working on his self motivation. We reduced our sessions together at points so he could do sessions on his own. When he went away on holidays I would give him workouts to follow. I gave him home workouts, golf course warm ups and even stretches. He had a lot of material to do things on his own.
But he never did.
In personal training, the motivation is in the trainer, not the client. That’s the hardest piece to teach and pass on.
It’s hard mostly because of the nature of the relationship.
Let’s fast forward 7 more years back to today.
I now have two successful companies. 1 offers online fitness and nutrition coaching and the other is a group fitness program of only 25 minutes.
Why these? Why these systems?
At their root they go back to the decision 8 years ago to stop being a 1-on-1 personal trainer.
In the group fitness classes there is still a lot of outside motivation: a trainer, other people, a community, music, etc. However, it’s still on you to show up and push yourself every day. It has it’s limits, but there is not as much dependancy as there is in 1-on-1 coaching. Also, the shorter classes, exercise selection and client education are key elements in our system for helping people to build self motivation.
The online coaching is still technically a 1-on-1 service, but our clients always workout completely on their own. At it’s core, it’s about helping clients become more empowered and self motivated. Our coaches are literally prioritizing the clients own personal motivation through the methods we use. The entire structure of coaching is built around having less and less coach support (motivation) as you build more and more of your own.
The moral of the story here is that I never wanted another John experience.
I never wanted to use up someone’s time again if I couldn’t empower them to be able to one day continue to do things on their own. I never wanted to hold someone back from becoming self motivated.
I’m hoping that by reading this article and hearing this story you can apply it to your own life and fitness journey.
Take a look at what you’re doing now.
Take a look at what you’ve done in the past.
Take a look at how you can and will progress from this point on.
If you’ve done a program or bootcamp before and stopped. If you’ve bought a DVD or bowflex and then stopped. If you’ve hired a personal trainer and stopped, you already know what I’m talking about.
My advice is this:
Stop investing in the thing that motivates you.
Start investing in the thing that helps you motivate yourself.
It’s the only way you’ll ever see lasting change.
It’s on YOU.