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Entries in Aion Fitness (1)

Friday
Jun112010

Trainer Talk: Is It Bad Form to Correct Bad Form?

By Patricia Glynn

“Never give advice unless asked.”

The old German proverb certainly proves sage advice in a number of hairy circumstances. But what about in the health club setting? Should you offer unsolicited recommendations to misguided members—those who are perhaps using equipment in ways it was never intended?

Is it bad form to correct bad form?

According to Jonathan Ross, owner of Bowie, Maryland’s Aion Fitness, and also one of Men’s Journal magazine’s Top 100 Trainers in America, reaching out is always appropriate. It’s absolutely necessary when the member is at risk of injuring themselves, but also, too, when they simply insist on slouching lazily on a machine’s handrails. The key, he says, lies in choosing your words carefully. “What you say can make or break your effort.”

He offers his own freshmen experience as a warning: “When I was just a few weeks into my fitness career, I noticed a gentleman performing an exercise incorrectly and so I offered to show him how to do it the right way. He didn’t appreciate my bold, critical interruption, to say the least. The verbal beating I withstood still lingers with me to this day.”

While many club clients might graciously accept criticism, others might turn heel and ignore it. And there are some, as Ross’ example demonstrates, who will react quite negatively to any sort of instructive intrusion. The latter, in fact, often leads health club associates to adopt a permanent hands-off policy. But that, explains Ross, is a mistake. He admits the possibility for negativity is, unfortunately, a constant. Yet there are ways, he notes, to handle the situation that decrease the likelihood of an unpleasant outburst.

“How you approach someone makes all the difference in the world. In my example, my comment came across as insulting and abrupt. There I was, some young twenty-something trainer, telling him he was doing his workout all wrong. It’s no wonder he reacted defensively. Thankfully, I learned from my faux pas.”

Now, Ross says, he first introduces himself and establishes himself as a qualified fitness professional. After exchanging brief pleasantries, he politely asks if he might make a suggestion. “Ask them, ‘Do you mind if I show you how to make that exercise more effective?’ Asking permission is often overlooked, but it’s really quite critical. Language is powerful. In this case, the way the question is phrased suggests that you just want to help them improve what they’re already doing. You’re not singling them out, not correcting an error and thereby making them feel incompetent. The probability that they’ll be receptive to your overture is then much higher. Of course, they still might be unwilling to listen. In that case, you simply go your separate ways—no harm done.”

Ryan Halvorson, a personal trainer at San Diego, California’s Wave House Athletic Club and an expert for the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, has similarly dealt with what he terms “an all-too-common gym scenario.” For him, as with Ross, reacting, rather than turning a blind eye, is the only option. But more than that, the member’s misstep is also, he explains, an “opportunity to deliver exceptional customer service. Providing guidance on how to maximize the effectiveness of an exercise can create a better experience for the member.”

Halvorson, like Ross, recommends avoiding “phrases that make them feel they’ve done something wrong. Instead,” he says, “use a simple, pointed comment such as ‘I know a great technique that may help you get more out of that exercise. Would you like me to show you?’ Keep it short, sweet, and friendly.” And if the member objects? “Don’t take it personally,” he advises. “In that case, just thank them for their time and let them know that, if they should ever need help, you’re happy to provide it. Then, simply move along.”

What are your thoughts on this touchy topic? Please let us know in the “Comments” box below.