Four Agreements for Personal Trainers

[UPDATED] In 2012, as a struggling personal trainer frustrated with my stagnant business, I embarked on a new journey of self discovery, including conferences, seminars, mentors and, in this case, new books.

One of the biggest discoveries was a book I have since read three times and gifted more than I can count.  I wrote this then, and have edited it to reflect 5 years of a new level of entrepreneurship as a gym owner and personal trainer.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

A book intended for those looking to change the way life is handled, treated and reacted to, this book made a difference in my life within the first month of reading it, and continues to impact me on a daily basis.

In summary, the Four Agreements are simple:

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
2. Take nothing personally
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
4. Always Do Your Best

And yet, with the simplest explanation of each, the agreements are difficult to master on a daily personal or professional basis.  That being said, upon reflection of this book, it suddenly dawned on me: the Four Agreements are essential for personal trainers who want to make a lifelong career of coaching.  In fact, it almost becomes a conduct code, a business manual, and a creed for which trainers stand by.  I took some notes and am sharing my interpretation and adaptations for personal trainers and coaches.

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word

Book interpretation:

Impeccable comes from the Latin pecatus, which means “sin.” The im means “without”, so impeccable means “without sin”. Simply put, being impeccable with your word is the correct use of your energy, towards others, yourself, and your work.

Trainer/Coach Interpretation:

Typically we express our word in many ways, but negatively they can include:
• Envy towards other trainers (especially certain celebrity trainers with TV shows that may or may not have great coaching skills)
• Anger towards that late client or client who doesn’t do their homework (“I can’t stand when my client is late!”)
• Hate towards popular training programs (“That program is so awful!”) that may or may not be effective

Trainer/Coach Implementation:

Every trainer has a role; instead of looking at other trainers and their scientifically-flawed methods, be thankful and express gratitude they are bringing attention to the field, and focus instead on how you can implement his/her marketing methods to showcase your program/product/methods

That client will not benefit from your anger towards them for being late, and you will not benefit from being frustrated over a working client.  Instead, see what you can do to help them when they are late: take their coat, ask if they have had water or food recently, or even set up a shaker bottle with their during workout drink.

This focus on still delivering the service you promised client will relay how important they are to you, and don’t ever forget this: Everyone walks into a room with an invisible sign around their neck, saying ‘Make me feel important today’.

The good trainers and coaches of today have dissected popular yet ineffective training programs with ever-growing scrutiny, but the truly great have looked at them and been able to take some of the scrutinized programming or methods and utilize them for their own benefit.

In essence, these coaches are taking effective methods from ineffective programs and implementing it with their own effective programs.  If they had turned their gaze away from those despised programs, they certainly would have missed their opportunity to ‘Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own’ (Bruce Lee)

2. Take Nothing Personally

Book interpretation:

When you take something personally, you agree with what was said.  Someone called you stupid? When you take it personally that will only be a reflection of your opinion of yourself. But the Second Agreement mandates you observe that statement as a reflection of the person saying it, not who they are directing it to.

Trainer/Coach Interpretation:

Perhaps one of the boldest and toughest rules, this one has truly given me fits.  But despite my stubbornness, I have been able to apply this effectively by remembering what we do and say is only a reflection of ourselves, not others. And vice versa!  For instance, a potential client speaks about their love of (insert your most scrutinized program/company/etc here), when you completely disagree with their methods.

Most would take this comparison personally, and would be insulted that they did not know of your methods by reading your blog, website etc. In addition, my typical initial reaction would have been to say why my methods are better…

Trainer/Coach Implementation:
…Instead, my new reaction is not to lessen the other program, rather to add what my company and programs focus on in addition to those methods.  Inclusive rather than exclusive words help keep conversation going, you will not get heated in an argument with someone over a workout program they love, and will have the ability to showcase your talent.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

Book interpretation:

When we make assumptions, we believe those assumptions to be true, about others thoughts or actions, then react, misunderstand, take it personally, and end up creating drama. The biggest assumption people make: that everyone sees life, operates their business, that everyone thinks (or should) the way we do.

Trainer/Coach Interpretation:

Typically our assumptions can be made on a scheduling level (‘I assumed our repeating appointment was at this time”), on a teaching level (“I assumed you knew”), or assuming someone with poor posture has upper crossed syndrome. However, we can clarify these assumptions by asking the questions to clear up our miscommunication.

Trainer/Coach Implementation:

Communicate versus assume when it comes to scheduling.  Confirming appointments is now easy due to simple apps and programs (Mindbody and other companies send reminder emails if you do not).  When teaching, ask for confirmation of material before moving on, especially with clients:  “Have we/you done this movement before?”

Accusing a client of not paying attention (they probably forgot) will not get you further attention; rather, confirming their involvement in the session and movement process will.

Assessing versus assuming is one of Gray Cook’s big quotes.  Assessing movement patterns can confirm someone has upper crossed syndrome.  But, those deficient movement patterns show you what is causing the upper crossed syndrome.

4. Always Do Your Best

Book interpretation:

Under any circumstance, always do your best. Sick, tired, underpaid, and overworked? Regardless, always do your best. In addition, make sure not to overdo it, which will lead you to spending more energy than you have, lessening the quality of output, and your best will not be enough.  Lastly, take action with your best effort because you love it, it makes you happy, and not because you’re expecting a reward.

Trainer/Coach Interpretation:

Trainers work hard, typically too hard. We have tough schedules, brutal eating times (530a, 12p, 8:30p) and randomized workout times. Our lives are dictated by our clients’ schedules rather than our own personal preferences. Thomas Plummer says that the average trainer lasts 8 years in the industry. Why? Trainers know one speed: hard and fast. While valiant, knowing how to focus effort (and where to focus it), delivering your best effort despite working conditions, and remembering why you started training in the first place will yield a happier, more effective trainer.

Trainer/Coach Implementation:

Always do your best, despite being sick, tired, underpaid, overworked, over-trained, etc.  Know that your best work will get you noticed, and if not by management, then by the potential client doing cardio but shopping personal trainers by observing who they would want to work with.

Also, do not overwork yourself; I once did 181 sessions at a big box gym one month only to retract to 130 the next because I was overworked and overtired. After that I found my sweet spot at 150 and maintained that workload because it made me happy, my effort was 100% and my output was better than alternating between super high and lower than my best.

Lastly, doing your best will consistently adapt and change as your previous best is not your current best and your new studies and teachings will now be greater than ever before.

In summary, do not be afraid to take time to look at your reactions and actions.  Pretend it is a workout program and adjust the sets, reps, and weights.  After all, it isn’t the weak who change, but those strong enough to make a change and a difference in their world.

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