When to Stop Training and Start Coaching

I came to a realization a few years ago. After spending five years in university taking a science degree in exercise, I found myself working in a health club (the same one I work in now), reading the “Help Wanted” ads looking for a new job. Within the first 10 months of employment I had peaked at about 30 clients and then found myself with only about 5, meaning I could barely afford rent, groceries, and keeping myself knee-deep in trucker caps.

At the time, I was casually dating a pretty swell gal who seemed to like hanging out with me, and I didn’t want her dating a dead-beat who couldn’t maintain a client. (For those who read this blog frequently, I refer you to the back-story of The Future). I mean, I knew how to program till the cows come home, I was one of the only trainers in my entire city who was working on any type of Post-Rehab style of programming, forming a few relationships with chiropractors and physios, but they weren’t producing anything yet. It was probably the lowest point of my training career, and it hadn’t even really begun.

Then one morning as I was trying out some different types of exercises to see what they did and whether I liked them or not (a practice I would DEFINITELY recommend to everyone out there), I came to a realisation:

I was focusing only on the physical components of working out, the controllable variables, angles, and specifics of an exercise program. I had completely forgotten about the individual doing the workout.

From that point on I changed pretty damn near everything I did for my clients. I changed the questions I asked in the consultation, I changed how I talked to my clients, what I talked to them about, how I approached their lifestyle habits, how I held them accountable, how I flexed to meet their needs, etc, etc, etc. I didn’t really change much in how I programmed for my clients, or how I taught them the exercises, progressions, or anything like that, because that area didn’t need the most overhauling. If it didn’t produce some form of measurable improvement in how likely my client was to continue training with me, it was out, and I was going to try something else and see what it did.

Within 2 weeks, I went from 5 clients to 10, all from people watching me train my clients and wanting to train with me.

Within a month, I was up to 20 clients. All of my clients were renewing with me, and I was back to being busy. This continued to grow, and within the next year I had reached my maximum number of clients that I could realistically train in one-on-one sessions without skipping those pesky things called “sleep.”

I’ve kept a consistently full clientele since then, and all because of one simple thing that a lot of new trainers forget: we are responsible for teaching people not just how to exercise, but how to find the excitement and passion to exercise that we have. We are responsible for helping people find solutions to their physical problems, which sometimes have emotional or mental roadblocks that need to be properly addressed. We’re responsible for showing our clients that success is measured in steps along the way, not merely in reaching the end of the road.

I’ve used the analogy of the yellow brick road leading to Oz with a lot of clients, saying that each brick may be small, but they all lead closer to Oz, and that each brick forward is still further along than they were when they started to walk the path.

One other component that I have always found incredibly important to success as a trainer or in helping someone achieve their goals is to make them laugh at least six times during a session. Seriously here, laughing is done waaaaaay too little in today’s society, and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve probably figured out I have a fairly warped and twisted sense of humor. Babies laugh on average around 200 times a day, where your average desk jockey in their thirties will laugh about 15-20 times. That’s a whole lotta giggles left on the table between diapers and dress shirts!! Laughing has a seriously beneficial effect on people’s hormonal balance, stress management capabilities, metabolism, bowel health, and sex life. Don’t believe me? Ask any female out there what they find most appealing in a man, and most will say “sense of humor” is right up there. How else do you figure a guy like Zack Galafinakis can get laid??

I’ve always said that everyone is someone else’s weirdo, so I want to be that weirdo to as many of my clients as possible.

For example: I like to sing during my training sessions. Loudly. As off-key as possible, about what I see and think, not specific songs or anything like that. Kinda like Randy Newman on Family Guy when Y2K hit. Look it up if you want, I won’t mind, just come right back here when you’re done. To top it off, I try to make people laugh any way possible, and in most cases this would be when they are trying to balance or maintain a stable core, and where laughing would be like having an earthquake shake a bridge.

I’ve also had clients reveal some pretty deep things to me at times: they were diagnosed with cancer and didn’t want to tell their spouse for fear they wouldn’t respect them any more. They lost their job and didn’t think they could find another one because they were too old and couldn’t afford to change careers at this stage in their lives. Their spouse was cheating on them, or they were cheating on their spouse, or they were getting a divorce. They’d attempted suicide. Each situation was unique, and as much as I wanted to go all Dr. Melfi on them and try to diagnose their problems as somehow relating to their parents not driving them to soccer practice enough, I simply listened and asked questions to let them talk more. It’s not my job to be a psychiatrist, but people open up to those they feel comfortable with and who they trust.

Essentially, as much as I like talking about the anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and adaptive possibility of the body, the most difficult part of becoming a good trainer or coach isn’t the ability to design the greatest program on the face of the earth, but the ability to relate, listen, and encourage a client to help them achieve their goals as best as possible, regardless of what may be standing in their way. I’ve known a lot of trainers who didn’t know their ass from their acetabulum, couldn’t spot their clients arching back to save their lives, and had them training legs on Tuesdays, EVERY Tuesday, but their clients absolutely loved them because they understood them.

A good trainer can program a workout. A great trainer can coach. A client who knows that you take ownership of their results and their livelihood will pay off huge in the long run, as they have the utmost confidence in your abilities to help them succeed, whatever their goals may be. I’ve had clients that I met in a consult who couldn’t afford training, but because I took the interest in them to develop, stopped to chat with them every time they were in the gym, and encouraged each step along the way, they decided to pursue a career in personal training on their own. I can’t tell you what kind of feeling it gives me when someone says they changed how they felt about themselves by simply having me believe in them enough to help them make a change in their lives.

Please don’t take this as me bragging about how fantastically awesome I am, because it’s really not about me here, but about how important forming a relationship with someone is in their personal development. I’m sure everyone out there can think of one or two people who have positively influenced their lives and who they thank every day for taking the time to make their worlds a better place. Great trainers take the time to figure out how to make that kind of a difference in the lives of their clients.

So the whole point of this little post is to say that a good trainer will show a client how to exercise, where as the great trainers will help a person understand what they can achieve. The difference may be subtle, but the end result is the difference between a client for a week versus a client for life.

About deansomerset

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Post-Rehab Specialist, personal trainer and probably the coolest guy my mom knows, I try to impart a little knowledge with a sense of humor to keep people reading. I've always thought if it's something that can grab your attention, you're gonna remember it tomorrow!!
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11 Responses to When to Stop Training and Start Coaching

  1. Danny says:

    Awesome! So many times our profession is based only on numbers: sales, wuotas, packages, get 50 new leads a week which is 200 a month then close 15 a month at $150 a person and walah you just made over two thousand more dollars. We get so wrapped up in numbers that we forget when we say to someone, “Hi, how are you,” we’re actually supposed to mean it. There’s nothing more annoying than trainers arguing about “facts” that aren’t one hundred percent proven,anyways. At the end of the day, people NEED people, and noone cares how much you know until they know how much you care! Awesome post!

  2. R Smith says:


    I’ve read your blog consistently now for several months, and for as much as I read (upwards of 20,000 words a day), yours is always one of the most entertaining, informing.
    Today, this blog is the first (and only) thing I’ve read. Yet I guarantee nothing else I read today will have more of an impact.
    I get teased by friends all the time about my “mancrush” on Tony and Eric, largely because I always talk about them. Truth is, they represent something/someone I think is underrepresented among trainers: They’re great guys. I meet a lot of them who think they know WAY more than they actually do but who have the social skills of an aardvark.
    In addition to having their clients do the most stupid of exercises, they never crack a smile to the other patrons at the gym, and their idea of socializing off duty is doing bicep curls in the squat rack–when I actually want to squat, damnit.
    I came to this realization just this week: I don’t care how much you know; your job (if you want my business) is to get ME to like you, and a great start is by making me laugh. Right on, Dean. Right on.
    PS: You’re spot-on about women’s attraction to guys who make them laugh. In fact, every poll I’ve ever seen, including those conducted by MensHealth, says sense of humor is rivaled only by confidence.


    • deansomerset says:

      Hey RS – Glad to hear it, and I completely agree that people will want to be around those who they like being around, regardless of whether it’s biceps day or attacking a posterior chain issue. Right on!!

  3. Mike Groth says:

    solid post Dean! Very informative, and absolutely applicable to all individuals in our profession. No one cares about how much you know until they know how much you care…. best line in history.

  4. Tricia says:

    I think I was one of Dean’s first clients. I can confirm that what he’s said is absolutely true – about the singing and everything. You can’t help but laugh when he starts a little ditty about abs. Without a doubt, Dean has changed my life.

  5. Jim says:

    Totally agree Dean. Even in retail, I am the same. Even though customers initially don’t think you are being honest when you ask how your day is going, when they reply and you actually talk to them, they come back. There is a reason that some of my clients have come to my store after finding out that I am with the company again, and the last time they saw me was when I first stated nearly 10 years ago.

    People are looking for people who give them that little extra in their experience, a ear to listen, a laugh to share. People really need it, they know that they don’t get it enough, and when you actually take a bit of time out to listen, and you engage with them about it, you have won something they don’t give up freely, Time and Trust.

    Good article mate.

  6. J.B. says:

    Couple weeks ago I went to a perform better 1 day here in Seattle.
    Even though I feel like this is one of my strengths, I learned a ton (metric, not standard) about client interaction from Rachael Cosgrove. Particularly with respect to training women.
    The mantra at Results is “We are the best part of our client’s day every day.”
    It doesn’t have to be fake, but if you’re having a bad day be self depricating and make it a funny bad day. Keep it light, address your clients concerns, acknowledge their understanding of things, and be fun.
    Tony and the guys at Cressey do this very well. It’s what gets results (people who do not come back do not get results.. it’s science!).
    Great Post Dean.

  7. Rob says:


    That post was fantastic man. Really thank you for this. I am sending this to all my trainers to read right now.

    Too often we get caught up in the knowledge and seriousness of it all. This really put a lot of things BACK into perspective for me.

    Thank you, as always.


    P. S. please come out with something I can buy so that i don’t feel bad getting all this awesome info on your blog for free.

    • deansomerset says:

      My pleasure Rob. Check out my Products section to see what I’ve come out with if you want to drop some money on me 😉
      Also, stay tuned because I have a massive Post-Rehab DVD series in the works and should hopefully have something by the fall. When I say massive, I mean MASSIVE!!!!

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