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Habits of Highly-Effective Personal Trainers

I was listening to a podcast recently that suggested you are the average of the five people most present in your daily life. Surround yourself with people that spark ideas, encourage and challenge you and you’re motivated to be your best self. Surround yourself with critical and draining people and it’s hard to achieve your full potential. The idea has made me carefully evaluate all the “voices” in my daily life: Do they encourage me to stretch or do they drag me down? And the second question is Why? What about them energizes me?

This is an easy lens to apply to personal trainers and coaches — because the results can be read immediately. If you come to a class in the mood to kick ass and leave underwhelmed, then the instructor failed to inspire. On the other hand, how awesome is it when you show up unmotivated… planning to just go thru the motions… and the teacher connects with you and pushes you to perform? We quickly establish preferences for trainers that help us break thru the thresholds that we can’t on our own.

Ready for the second question? How do they do that? What makes someone an effective trainer? And — since this is a business blog — how can we apply those attributes to work scenarios? E.g. evaluating what make a someone a cultural fit or a transformational leader? I’m making the parallel because often it’s a “gut feel” — something that’s harder to articulate than a list of qualities.

So let’s start here: Saturday I show up to Orangetheory determined to knock out the workout so I could have a Starbucks and get on with my day. I just wanted a quiet treadmill in the corner where I could hide. But, new teacher: Amy. She wants to know who’s who and as soon as she learns my name, she’s on me. Not in a drill sergeant kind of way, but in a “Let’s see if you can bring it” watching/not watching kind of way. Before I know it, I’m showing off. Doing a lot more than I thought I was capable of that morning. Wearing myself out. When I paused to stretch (and puke welled up in my throat), there she was again: “Yup, stretch quickly, but then get back to it.” I didn’t think murderous thoughts. Instead, I followed her directions as if under hypnosis, lest she think I was a slacker.

Before we get on to the parallels with work, let me compare Amy to other Orange Theory trainers. The class format is always the same, and it’s delivered as a daily template, so there’s little the trainers can do to personalize it. It’s running, rowing and bootcamp-style exercises. The job of the trainers is to keep everyone on task so they’re working at the proper intensity. The magic of Amy, (Nick, Christine, Lynda and other trainers like her), was zeroing in on individuals rather than barking orders to a class of 30. “What are you doing, Jen?” she asks, assessing the exertion on my face, “Can you bump that up even 1-2 points?”

Then there’s energy and preparation. If you think about it, “always on” high-energy people are pretty rare, and they often walk a fine line between sincerely likable and annoying. The rest of us have summon up our high-octane moments, like a deep breath before you use your loud voice. When you inhale half-halfheartedly, you never hit an authoritative decibel level. Amy’s not a naturally loud person, but her voice is friendly and confident.

And she’s prepared. She’s read the workout template — maybe even done it herself — and she knows how to lead us thru it: When to push, when to let us recover. Class starts and ends on time. There’s no scrambling or ad-libbing, which is a beautiful thing. Not a calorie-burning moment wasted.

Leap thru time and space to your last meeting. Did people show up on time, ready to respond to the agenda, accomplish great things and leave feeling it was worthwhile? You can laugh. I’m laughing. Because that happens, like, never.

Or, think about the interview you didn’t have time to prepare for. You scan the resume as the candidate is sitting in front of you, ask bullshit questions and both leave feeling like you never quite connected. The outcome could have been so different if you did your homework and asked the questions required to properly vet the candidate. Calorie-burning moments, wasted. There are some terrific mavericks that are gifted with winging it, but they are never as good as the average person that takes time to prepare. The Presidential debates have told us this much.

Anyway, you get my point. Effective personal trainers, meticulous hiring managers, inspiring leaders and intoxicating people are:

1. Observant and responsive

2. Energetic and captivating

3. Prepared

Nothing to do with smarts or innate ability, but everything to do with commitment.


Psst, this isn’t the first time I’ve compared coaches to business leaders. Read about the Mr. Miyagi of Swim, here.

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