Wonder how the most well-known and well-regarded coaches get results with every client, even the difficult ones? Well wonder no more. Nab these skills to go from great personal trainer to world-class super coach.
Sure, your success rate with most clients is awesome.
They’re fit, health-minded people, and you know how to push them toward their goals, and — often — beyond them.
Maybe the super motivated types gravitate to you, because they’ve got serious goals. And they know you’ve got the premier coaching skills to match…
… but what about the rest?
(You know, the folks who aren’t super motivated, the ones who don’t want to overhaul their entire lives in the pursuit of some major “fitness project”).
It’s sad to say, but a lot of trainers and coaches who initially feel they’ve “got it made” can often end up disappointed in their career — filled with perpetual boredom and a troubling plateau in their business.
It’s often because they begin their careers thinking they will — and should — attract only 100% disciplined, health-minded, motivated people as clients. That everyone else “doesn’t want it badly enough”. That they’re “difficult”. That they’re “not for them”.
As a result, they never build the essential skills to help every type of client who comes to them. They start losing confidence and wondering…
“Do I really have what it takes to help the people who need coaching the most?”
The “difficult clients”. The ones who seem unmotivated. The ones whose lifestyles seem so far from ours that we’re not sure if they can ever be helped.
When I first started coaching, I had plenty of these “tough” clients.
I didn’t know how to motivate them. I didn’t know how to keep them on track. I wasn’t sure about what they needed.
They used to keep me up at night. I tortured myself with:
What’s wrong with these people? Why won’t they just do what I say?
Maybe my coaching style just isn’t a good fit for people like this.
Am I even a good fit for this industry? Should I be doing this?
It can be really intimidating to sit down with a client and think, I have no idea what to do or say here. I’m not sure this person can be helped. Or, at least, I’m not sure I can help them. Does this make me a bad coach?
I wasn’t a bad coach. I just didn’t have the skills or the strategies to work with “difficult” clients.
Maybe these clients are overweight or taking too many medications. Maybe they’re limping from a knee injury that never seems to improve. Maybe they can’t sleep well. Can’t calm down. Can’t focus.
Maybe they can’t stick to a diet or exercise plan for long. Can’t resist the call of cookies or cocktails late at night. Can’t fit into their pants anymore.
Maybe they’ve even given up on the idea of having a happy, healthy life.
Whether they know it or not, they’re part of the biggest health crisis of our time.
I used to want to run from these clients.
But now, years later, “difficult” clients are the ones who make my coaching career fulfilling and worthwhile.
Over the years, I’ve coached thousands of clients (and professionals) here at Precision Nutrition. These folks come from all over the world, with different backgrounds, at different starting points in their coaching journey — from elite athletes to people who have never exercised a day in their lives to those who:
- absolutely, without a doubt, hate the gym with a fiery passion;
- are so fatigued and/or depressed they find it hard to get out of bed in the morning;
- are struggling with a chronic illness;
- have experienced or are experiencing a gender transition;
- are part of a culture their coach is less familiar with;
- are suffering from anxiety or another mental health issue;
- are more than 30 years older than their coach;
- may be making major sacrifices to get help with nutrition and fitness;
- have an eating disorder;
- don’t speak English very well.
Early in our careers, these things would have intimidated me and some of my Precision Nutrition teammates. Now we lean into the discomfort.
As world-class coaches, we’ve learned to seek out “difficult” clients, and see their challenges as fascinating puzzles to solve.
Wish you could do the same? Then check out these 5 strategies for getting results with every client, even the “difficult” ones.
Super coaches make themselves accessible.
This surprises many early-career trainers: The way to make yourself a premium coach isn’t to become some aloof disciplinarian, some flawless untouchable fitness god.
It’s the opposite. A premier coach is impressively, invariably accessible.
To have success with every kind of client, you have to be a “down to earth” communicator who creates a welcoming environment for every type of client.
No, this isn’t some sort of Jedi mind trick. Rather, it involves you thinking about the accessibility of every aspect of your coaching and your business.
- Your website: Is it easy to find, navigate, and read?
- Your printed materials: Is the font large and clear? Could someone with less-than-perfect eyesight read it easily? Do the materials include helpful photos or illustrations? Do they speak to your clients’ real, human needs?
- Your verbal communication: Do you speak audibly, clearly, and intelligibly? Do you use words your clients (all your clients) can understand based on their background, education level, and the way they view the world?
- Your demeanor: Are you friendly? Empathetic? Approachable? Relaxed? Fun? Encouraging without being dismissive or annoyingly positive?
- Your coaching style: Do you think through how you’re going to motivate each client based on his or her specific needs? Do you employ behavioral psychology, motivational interviewing, practice-based coaching and change talk?
- Your training space: Would someone with a heavier body, or a body that doesn’t move well, be able to get around your coaching space and feel comfortable?
Trust me: It’s only top-notch coaches who put in the hard work required to optimize these things. To make sure every possible type of client feels comfortable, welcome and well-communicated with in their presence and in their space.
Accessibility is a premium service, so when you nail this, your business — and your reputation — will take off.
Super coaches embrace that working with people is an adventure.
When you’re a top-notch coach, you never know who’s going to show up in your practice, or what issues they might be coming in with.
People are complicated. Their situations and histories are complicated. Our bodies are complicated.
Complexity is an inescapable reality of human life, so the best coaches don’t try to run from it. They reach for it. They love it. They eat it for breakfast, chewing on it with a big fat coach grin.
This doesn’t mean you have to come up with an elaborate individualized solution for each client. You don’t have to solve every problem your clients have ever had.
In fact, you’ll generally get the best results by helping all your clients focus on and master crucial basics (such as mindful eating).
It just means that you have to: be ready for anything, willing to learn, and take 100 percent responsibility not only for your advice but also for what your client does with that advice.
Some coaches think, You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.
The elite coach thinks: Of course you can’t make them drink! But you can make them very, very thirsty.
The adventure, then, becomes: How can I make this particular, unique person “thirsty” for movement, healthy food, and self-care on their own terms, in a way they can understand?
Super coaches practice “whole-self” coaching.
This is the skill that gives the most influential coaches that relaxed, confident air.
Here’s how to practice it:
- Don’t try to be perfect. Come to work as a real person. Human. Complex. Don’t pretend to be the perfect fitness specimen who never misses a workout, eats an unhealthy meal or makes a mistake. After all, you’re just another person trying to figure things out. Just like your clients.
- Be authentic. Clients can smell B.S. a mile away. You don’t have to tell half-truths or hide the potentially embarrassing things in your life. Bring your real self to coaching. Of course, don’t air your “dirty laundry” or prattle on about mistakes. Just be you.
- Focus completely. Mind, body, and soul; all systems integrated. Focus your energy and resources in one single direction, on being the best you can be and bringing that to your clients. Eliminate distractions and don’t waste effort worrying or trying to cover things up or trying to project an image you think clients want to see.
- Forge a relationship. Elite coaches and counselors know that clients don’t just change because of our “expert” knowledge or skills or status. They also change because human relationships are inherently regulating. Connecting with another person—in a meaningful, welcoming, affirming way—taps into our (and their) deeper selves.
Connection soothes. Connection inspires. Connection heals. Connection sorts us out. Connection creates change.
And all you have to do in order to connect with clients—even those clients you don’t understand yet — is be fully human, fully present, and fully your whole self.
(Not quite sure what that means yet? Or how to bring it to your coaching practice? That’s okay. Spend some time trying to discover your client’s real self. Connect with that and a real relationship will follow).
Super coaches draw on their non-professional experience and skills.
We all relate to each other in different ways, so when working with a diverse group of clients, you might have to get creative.
Use all your coaching powers, skills, experiences, talents, interests, and aptitudes, whenever and wherever you need them.
- You might need to teach some material creatively — with drawings, flowcharts, videos, music, etc. (Puppet show? Haiku? A game of Twister? Possibilities are endless.)
- You might need to use metaphors and analogies that speak to the client’s individual experience (e.g. “Anna, you’re an accountant, right? So think of this like the body’s balance sheet…”)
- You might need to harness your talents or experiences to relate better to a client. (“Hey! Do you like cricket/sailing/stamp collecting? Me too! Here’s what I found: Eating better and training my grip strength really helped me focus on sticking all those little stamps on the page…”).
Let your own quirks, hobbies, talents, and super powers show even if they don’t seem to have a natural place in fitness. (Hint: they probably do have a place and if you harness them you’ll stand out from the pack).
Super coaches are lifelong listeners and learners.
Most of the basic rules still apply.
For example, good nutrition is still good nutrition. But it’s not one-size-fits-all. Clients are different. Bodies are different. Life experiences and perspectives are different.
Elite coaches never stop the inquiry.
- Learn from your clients. To coach people like you, and not like you, and everything in between, you have to be ready to learn from them and cross-fertilize your ideas. Ask questions, understand how they see the world. This nourishes and grows your mindset, builds up and broadens your experiences, and helps you understand the client’s goals and needs.
- Be curious about their needs. If you’re not sure about how to help the client, just ask.
- “How can I make this easier / more comfortable for you?”
- “What do you need here, in this situation?”
- “Tell me about how well this is working for you, and how we can make it a good fit.”
Better to ask than to ignore, wonder, or sit awkwardly in an uncomfortable situation. Most people will be happy that you care enough to inquire.
- Acknowledge your limitations. Most people in the world are not you. That’s OK. (Besides, we know they broke the mold when they made you, rockstar.) Call it out. Work with it.
- “I can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be ____. But I’m here to help. So let’s work together on this.”
- “Please let me know when you might need accommodation for _____ or help with _____. I’ll try to anticipate it, but I won’t always know. Deal?”
- “I used Google Translate to make a shopping list in your language. This might be a terrible translation, but I thought it might be easier for you. What do you think? Did I get it right? This is a great chance for me to learn a few new words!”
If you screw it up, no big deal. Learn and grow. Keep working your coaching game. Clients will love you for caring enough to try.
Working with different kinds of people is awesome.
Yes, it can be intimidating to tackle a new situation, a “difficult” client.
It’s also enriching, amazing, and fulfilling.
Because it means you’re gaining new skills. Acquiring new information and insight. Growing your roster and becoming “that coach” who knows how to get results for every type of client.
Cross-fertilizing. Synthesizing. Creating. Adapting.
You’re helping people. All kinds of people. Your world is expanding. And they’re getting the assistance they need.
The more you work across boundaries, with diverse clients and situations, the better you’ll be as a coach. Eventually, you’ll welcome the challenges, because they’ll only make you more resilient, robust, successful, and fulfilled.
You’ll be a better coach not in spite of—but because of—the challenges.
Want strategies to level up your coaching?
It’s no secret that master coaches develop over time, through education and consistent practice, usually under the guidance of a mentor or coach.
Precision Nutrition is the only company in the world that both works with thousands of our own nutrition coaching clients and teaches health, fitness, and wellness professionals our real-world methods for getting results.
And here's some great news: Registration for our next PN Level 2 Master Health Coaching Certification kicks off on Wednesday, October 5th, 2022.
Want to achieve total confidence in your coaching skills? Get (and keep) more clients? Grow and strengthen your practice? If so, the PN Level 2 Certification is definitely for you.
It's designed specifically for Level 1 students and grads who realize that knowing about the science of nutrition isn’t enough.
PN’s industry-leading coaches will personally mentor you for a full 20 weeks—and you’ll become one of the best coaches in the world.
Since we only take a limited number of professionals, and since the program sells out every time, we strongly recommend you add your name to our Presale List below.When you do, you get the chance to sign up 24 hours before everyone else. Even better, you get a huge discount off the general price of the program.
Interested? Add your name to the Presale list. You’ll save up to 37% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.
We’ll be opening up spots in our next PN Level 2 Master Health Coaching Certification on Wednesday, October 5th.
If you want to find out more, we’ve set up the following Presale list which gives you two advantages.
- Pay less than everyone else. We like to reward people who are eager to get started and ready to gain mastery in their coaching practice.So we’re offering a discount of up to 37% off the general price when you sign up for the PN Level 2 Presale list.
- Sign up 24 hours before the general public and increase your chances of getting a spot. We only open the PN Level 2 Certification a few times per year. Due to high demand and a very limited number of spots, we expect it to sell out fast. But when you sign up for the Level 2 Presale List, we’ll give you the opportunity to register a full 24 hours before anyone else.
If you're serious about becoming one of the best coaches in the world—PN’s industry-leading coaches are ready to mentor you for a full 20 weeks in the PN Level 2 Master Health Coaching Certification.