Saturday, May 26, 2012

Personal Training - A Business of Leadership

I ran my first half-marathon yesterday and trained an amazing group of people for the event. These people were overcoming major challenges (blindness, obesity, ridiculous work schedules, cancer) to run the 2009 NYC Half Marathon and for some of them, it was their first race ever!

The experience was amazing for me, and it challenged me and transformed me just as much as it challenged and transformed them. I wanted to share my experience because I think there are a lot of elite fitness professionals out there who will appreciate my story.

Most personal trainers are in great shape so it is easy to forget how hard it can be for people to change their lives, confront their barriers and transform themselves. In the personal training business, you, your body, your personality and your lifestyle are a walking billboard for your business. For better or for worse, people are going to initially make assumptions about your skills and abilities based on how you look. But more important than how you look is how you act, how you communicate, what you know and how you make people feel. A trainer could be blessed with amazing genetics and only know how to push people past their limits and injure them.

Now let's be clear, I am not saying you shouldn't care about how you look. I am saying that you should inspire people not only with your looks, but also with your words and actions. That is leadership by example.

And whether you like it or not, your clients are going to look to you for advice on all things health.

- "What did you eat this morning?"
- "How much sleep do I really need?"
- "What do you think about this supplement?
- "Do you take any supplements? Why or why not?"

They look to you for leadership, and like any good leader, you will have a thoughtful and truthful answer for them.

There are many ways to ensure that you can empathize for your clients while leading by example. Put yourself in the client's shoes. Of course, you could make yourself really fat and then lose weight like that trainer in England, but I think it is best to push and break through whatever barriers and obstacles you already have. We all have them, even if you already look good and feel good, health is not about an absence of disease, but rather vitality. There is always more potential waiting to be realized. There is no need to go out and create more challenges; use the ones you already have:

1. Enter a race you have never done before with your client, and set a realistic goal for yourself and your client.
2. Have other trainers train you. This can be a great way to learn and help you empathize with your client.
3. Learn a new skill or activity and share your experience with your client, or participate in a physical activity that your client admires.
4. Introduce a social element to your clients program (Start a running group, boot camp, etc).
5. Enter a race or competition on your own and tell everyone you know. (You will be very motivated to train your butt off instead of coasting if people know about your event and your goal, and it will inspire your clients tremendously to see you work hard.)

I think Confucius said "A wise man using a bad situation just as much as a good situation". Or maybe it was Lao Tzu. Is there a client you are working with that you are having trouble motivating? Any of the above could be a great way to inspire them with your actions.

You may have never done any of the above, but that is great. It is an opportunity to get better, hold yourself to a higher standard, and differentiate yourself from other fitness professionals. Yes it can be uncomfortable or anxiety provoking, but that is the point! That is what your client experiences. Confront your "comfortability zone" gradually, so the range of things you are comfortable doing expands, increasing your "sphere of influence". Just getting outside, in a new environment, or adding a social element (groups, bootcamps, race, etc) can be a great way of expanding your skills and providing a novel experience for the client that can break them out of non-ideal habits and get them inspired.

When your clients see you pushing your limits, it motivates them tremendously!

My Team, Leadership, & My First Half Marathon

I am so proud of our team. I was honored to be the strength coach and work with Jimmy Lynch, our running coach, in preparing our team for the big day. Our team is truly inspirational, they all overcame major challenges (lack of sight, cancer, overweight, over worked, never ran before) to run the NYC half marathon.

They are truly inspirational. Dale ran his first half-marathon without the luxury of sight, with help from Bruce his guide. Dale is so low key and relaxed, he was a pleasure to train with, and Bruce went above and beyond the call of duty in supporting Dale. He was there with him every step of the way, they are both people I admire and look up to.

Allison, a cancer survivor, battled through the heat and humidity. She didn't break her record, but no one did today, and I am proud of her for giving it her best shot. She also learned how to push herself harder, train smarter, and use strength training to compliment her running, so I am excited to see what she will do in the future.

Heather, who had never been athletic or into sports at all, and had never ran much let alone run a race, was able to finish her first half marathon with a smile on her face. AND SHE LIKES RUNNING NOW! That is the tipping point, the beginning of transformation, when exercise goes from something "I should do" to something "I want to do". I am so proud of her.

Quiana accomplished her goal of finishing under 3 hours. She is very impressive, she had to battle a very tough work schedule, but she persisted and trained hard, and finished her first half marathon with tears in her eyes. This is the most common excuse, "I don't have time". Well she made the time. Her father had a heart attack when he weighed the same as her, and she was committed to make sure that the same would not happen to her.

Jimmy Lynch was our running coach, he is AN AMAZING TRAINER, a master of his craft, and I was honored to work with him and learn from him. The program he provided me was so on point and comprehensive, it really opened my eyes up. I will be even more confident when training my clients for endurance races.

The fabulous Miss Heidi Jones is one of those rare individuals who oozes intelligence, passion, and sincerity. She really cares about our team and encouraged us day in and day out. I am especially grateful to her for letting me contribute to this group, it has been an amazing and transforming experience for me as well, to a degree which I was not expecting.

Mind Over Matter, Soul Before Flesh

Leading our clients to better health requires being fearless! But not in the western sense of the word (meaning without fear) but rather in the zen Buddhist sense of the word, meaning using our focus and discipline to confront and overcome our fears.

For instance, this was my first half-marathon race, and I got food poisoning 6 hours before the race. This is the meal I ate the night before: Organic burger, organic broccoli, cup of pasta, and a highly suspect salad.

I threw up every single piece of food in the list above. GROSS!

I had a right to be upset; I had sacrificed a lot for this race, but I CHOSE not to go there. Not only did I not get ahead of myself and get anxious, but I even embraced the moment while being sick. I was totally keeled over the sink, and in between barfs, sincerely laughing at myself. Funny and weird, right? Laughing at oneself is a great life skill. I confronted my fears and they lost their power over me. I made it to the race on time with 6 hours sleep. Sure, my stomach didn't feel great, but I just went with the flow and kept my head, cool, calm, and collected.

The Race

My primary goal was to finish the race, without knee pain, and without having to walk. I don't have any major knee issues, but I didn't want to start getting any and I have seen way too many runners whose gait looks painful just to watch. It is amazing to see the people that limp across the finish line. Not cool: your joints are more important than anything, including the heart and a race. Lose the use of a knee or a hip and see how easy it is to stimulate your heart with exercise. Still possible, but NOT EASY AT ALL. I was able to avoid any joint issues by increasing my intensity very gradually over the course of 12 weeks, and by mainly training on the dirt paths in Central Park and not on concrete.

My secondary goal was to finish in 1:30 minutes (6:50 min/mile pace). It was way too hot. I doubt any race records were broken today, the humidity was crazy, and it was my first endurance race. My plan had been to pace 7:10 in the park, and then start shaving down my pace 5 seconds every mile that followed. I came out of the gate HOT, all the adrenalin I suppose, and ran the first mile in 6:35. As soon as I realized, I settled back into a 7:25 pace.

I am proud of my accomplishment, and I felt amazing once I crossed the finish line. I finished in the top 10%, not bad for a first timer. The 'high' lasted over an hour. It is empowering to break through barriers, particularly ones that are self-imposed. Everyone creates boundaries and limitations on what we think is possible.


My thoughts when I started the program were, "Sure, I will give it a shot, but I am no runner". Well, I am a runner now!!! I got my 1 mile pace down to 5:41 during my training program, a full minute and 10 seconds faster than my record, which I set in grade school when I was "a runner". Age is nothing but a number baby, you get out of your body what you put into it, and anyone that tells you different is confused.

As you know, your clients have similar thoughts. They tell themselves what they are capable of, what their limits are, what they should be able to do, and what they think they will never be able to do or be.

But it's just not true, is it? And by leading the way and breaking through your own barriers, you can pave a path for them to do the same.

Thanks to everyone for their support! I am looking forward to more racing, in particular the Empire State Building Run Up in February.

If you have any comments you would like to share, race day stories of your own, or questions, experience you have had with clients, please leave them in the comments below.

Until next time, keep your business fit.

Johnny Fitness

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