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Six Ways Personal Trainers can Adapt their Training Strategies to Succeed in the ‘New Normal’ Gym?

Six-Ways-Personal-Trainers-can-Adapt-their-Training-1.pngThere’s no doubt about it… The gym environment is going to feel like a whole new world when doors reopen from the 25th July. Social distancing and strict hygiene measures will not just affect the member experience, but also the way Personal Trainers (PTs) are able to carry out their roles. So, what can PTs expect from the ‘new normal’ gym and what can they do to adapt their strategies in order to succeed?

1. Less ‘plugged in’ - great news for interacting with new people

Before the pandemic struck, many gym-goers would plug in their headphones, start to exercise, and switch off - going into their own little zones. But that may not be the case when gyms reopen, which could be particularly beneficial to PTs in terms of client acquisition.    
During lockdown, many of us have had more time on our hands, providing a greater opportunity to ‘switch off’ at home; something usually reserved for the gym or other activities. Confined to our own homes, we’ve also spent months with the same small group of people, or perhaps even alone. Who gets a buzz (that ‘interaction desperation’) every time the Amazon delivery driver arrives to drop off a parcel?
Hopefully, that desire for interaction will roll out into the new gym environment, with people valuing the community aspect even more as something that’s been missing in their lives; wanting to go there to socialise with others, rather than just ‘plugging in’ and switching off as they did before the pandemic. And this could mean great news for gyms as ‘assisted products’ - such as group exercise and personal training - is a growing trend, offering great commercial opportunities for operators. In fact, research by IHRSA shows that “the risk of cancelling is 56% higher in gym-only members compared to group exercisers” and a study by Les Mills states that “group exercisers who visit your club just once per week are 20% more likely to be loyal members than those who visit three times per week and only workout on the gym floor.” This means ‘assisted products’ can make a real difference to a facility’s retention rates, churn, and that all-important bottom line. 
With people eager to talk to others (of course, while observing the social distancing protocols), this should remove some of the potential awkwardness, making it easier for PTs to approach new people and work with clients in as ‘close-to-normal’ way as possible. 
Remember that Covid-19 has not just affected some people, it’s affected everyone. It’s something we all have in common, so a really easy conversation starter with a new person is, “What have you been doing for exercise while the gyms have been closed?” Or simply, “It’s great to see you back at the gym, how have you been?” With people easing their way back into their pre-Covid routines, showing that you care and are genuinely interested in people’s lives and wellbeing is going to be even more important for connecting with prospects and clients to maintain and grow your client base.

2. Keeping your distance 

As with lockdown, there are regulations and guidelines for gym operators, trainers, and members to follow, but - as we’ve seen - people’s perceptions of those will differ. From a technical standpoint, guiding clients into positions, assisting them with form, or spotting for them could be difficult if you’re both set on staying one to two metres apart for social distancing in line with the recommended guidelines.
With that in mind, you may have to spot from the equipment (disinfecting it afterwards) and not the body to ensure there’s no physical contact between you and the client. The other option is to avoid spotting altogether, thinking about ways you can generate similar physiological effects in the body without the load, for example, negative training. Instead of using a mechanical load, you could use an eccentric overload, which can elicit similar responses from the body. For example, you could get your clients to perform squats, increasing the length of time they’re going down into the bottom of the squat (i.e. from two seconds to eight seconds). As your client will be applying tension in a lengthened state, this will create more microtears in the same way that lifting a heavier load would through weight training, helping them to build strength and muscle. 
When it comes to stretching elements, there are several tactics you can use to ensure your clients are performing these effectively. Simple-to-follow demonstrations at a distance, providing clean towels for self-assisted stretches, and using walls as stretching aids (again, wiping them down after use) can all help substitute for the physical interaction/assistance you’d normally give your clients. 
Knowing how your clients feel about physical contact/distance, and thinking about how you can use the space and equipment around you creatively to support them in ways they feel comfortable with, are going to be key to adapting, surviving, and succeeding in this unfamiliar landscape.

3. Taking your procedures online

In the ‘new normal’ gym, you don’t want to be worrying about getting clients to fill out forms on the gym floor, so why not eliminate that challenge before it arises? Now is a great time to take many of your offline procedures online, so you’re able to concentrate on sessions without all the niggly bits, improving the experience for both parties.
If you don't already have a website, then why not set one up? It instantly makes you look more professional, with 84% of today’s consumers believing a business with a website is more credible than one that only has a social media page. What’s more, it’s not as hard or expensive as you might think… These days, there are tonnes of website builders that help to make this a straightforward and cost-effective process, not to mention the countless tutorials available online if you fancy creating something a bit more bespoke and flexing those tech muscles! It doesn’t have to be anything fancy either; it could simply be a landing page with a par-q for people to submit. You could then grow and develop this over time to have even more content and functions that enhance your business and client offering. 
Alongside a website, it’s also worth considering using cloud-based platforms like Google Drive or Dropbox to share files with your clients - fitness programmes, nutrition plans, tutorials, workouts, and other elements. You could set up a folder per client and add relevant content into there for them to access anytime, anywhere. Many PTs walk around with iPads/tablets, so - if you’re one of those - you could be dropping in session notes and ready-to-use content straight from the gym floor. Your clients will love the efficiency and know exactly where to go for the items they need. Not only that, with all your clients’ information stored on a single cloud system, it will make everything much easier to manage. 
By taking the time to produce good quality online documents and systems that can replace your paperwork, it will reduce the amount of close quarters, in-facility contact you need with your clients, which will not only help with social distancing but also make life much easier for everyone involved. Everything - from health assessments to fitness and nutrition programmes - could be made available at the touch of a button via your website or app. This speeding up and streamlining of processes is likely to increase member engagement, satisfaction, and retention, while making the onboarding of new clients that much easier. And if you’re not the most organised PT on the planet, it’s worth pointing out that it’s much harder to lose an online form compared to a paper one. So, if you haven’t gone virtual already, what are you waiting for?

4. Demos need to be on-point

All great PTs take pride in their demonstrations, but with social distancing removing the ability to physically adjust your clients into position, they will become even more important. You’ll probably find yourself doing more demos and adding in greater detail to make up for the physical aspect. However, it will also be important to keep these demos simple enough so that you’re not wasting time in your sessions and causing your clients - particularly the new ones - to switch off and lose focus. If a client is trying something too complex and they’re just not getting it, there will come a point where physical contact is needed, meaning you could be tempted to jump in and break social distancing rules; another key reason for keeping demos as simple as possible. Perfecting you’re mirroring - combining your verbal and non-verbal communication - will also be essential to prevent this situation from occurring.   
The need for demos to be ‘on-point’ also opens the door to video analysis. Whether using your phone or a specific app, you could film what your clients are doing in their sessions and then use this to feed back to them. Many of those video analysis apps, like Coach’s Eye, allow you to draw lines on the video to help demonstrate training elements such as correct form. Better still, videos can be shared with a client from a distance. 
Using video also adds another visual element to sessions, so if clients are struggling to follow verbal instructions - or are more visual learners - they now have another tool to help them succeed. Or, if you’ve made a demo a bit too complex, video could help you to jump over that hurdle. That said, it’s important to communicate clearly with clients before each session to explain how you intend to capture (bearing in mind social distancing) and use the video analysis so they know exactly what to expect. This will ensure they receive a positive experience.  
Linking back to our previous point about moving procedures online, you could upload these videos to your ‘client cloud’ so they’re easily accessible. Four weeks later, you could then do a comparison to see what kind of progress they’ve made. A video is a great tool for a client to use between sessions so they can continue making progress even when you’re not there. 
Although video analysis is perfectly suited for the ‘new normal’ gym environment, consider whether you want to promote it specifically as a tool for combating social distancing. Instead, you may want to introduce it simply as a great new offering; something that can be continued after Covid-19 - particularly if your clients like it and it generates good results.  
Lastly, imagine how professional you’d look if you started doing video analysis with your clients? Some of your clients may even like to share their videos on social media, effectively promoting your business for you, which could lead to increased referrals. Video analysis could really help you to stand out from the crowd and increase earnings!

5. Session planning

Until you’re more comfortable operating within the new gym environment, session planning is likely to take more time. Considering which equipment to use will be a large part of this. You may opt to avoid using as many resistance machines because of all the different mechanisms and the time it will take to wipe them down, eating into your sessions. 
The first thing to think about is imagination. How can you keep the session as interesting as possible using minimal equipment, but still maintaining that variety? A battle rope is an example of a single piece of equipment that’s quite quirky and can be used for numerous exercises. 
Although ukactive is recommending that gyms cap their capacity based on 3m square per person, space will still be an important consideration in terms of planning, and you’ll need to think carefully about how comfortable your clients would be if you were to use a potentially more congested area of the gym. You’ll also need to be prepared to be flexible. If you and your client are unable to access a piece of equipment either because it's in use, or because it would break social distancing regulations, you’ll need to move on to something else and come back to this. Of course, this is nothing new for us PTs, but it may be more common in the ‘new normal’ gym.   

6. Protecting yourself and your clients

According to the NHS, a high temperature (usually considered to be 38C or above) could be a symptom of Covid-19. Therefore, one of the measures you could implement to protect you, your clients and the wider gym community is to take the temperature of your clients before sessions. Your facility may already have a temperature gun to implement this procedure but, if not, they are inexpensive to buy and, once again, would demonstrate your professionalism and commitment to the health and safety of the people you’re working with, as well as those around you. Many gyms will make temperature testing compulsory, but if your facility is not one of those, and it’s something you’d like to do, it may be worthwhile discussing this with your clients first to get their feedback and check that it’s something they’d be onboard with. 
Communication is paramount, so it’s important to outline all of the procedures you plan to put in place (masks, wipes, clean towels, etc) to your clients and ask them if there’s anything else they’d like you to add. This will make your clients feel involved and, subsequently, more positive about continuing their PT sessions with you.  
As PTs, we're no strangers to adapting; constantly challenged to train clients with different abilities, fitness levels, goals, personalities, and motivations, testing our ability to tailor programmes to suit each individual. As we prepare to adapt to the post-Covid world, hopefully, these tips will help make that journey a little bit easier. The ‘new normal’ gym better watch out!
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The Training Room | 03/09/2020 09:00:00

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