What do you do with bad clients?

A strength coach’s dream is a gym filled with clients that learn form fast, are always aggressive with the weights, show up 10 minutes early for every session and  never have bad gym days.

That’s not reality.

Most of us don’t have the luxury to pick and choose clients, in this economy you are almost crazy to turn away people right now, unless you are fully established and can afford to. So what do you do when a client isn’t responding to your coaching?

There are a few ways to handle this based upon the one-on-one dynamic or group setting.

I believe the group setting is easier to deal with as you will have other clients/athletes who will encourage them to work harder and help them out, peer pressure if you will. If that doesn’t work, that client becomes a drag on the group and you have no choice but to ask them to go elsewhere. You cannot have one person who is refusing to “get it” drag down a group. That becomes a cancer on the team environment.

In a one-on-one setting it is a lot different, the only person you have to worry about it dragging down is you. There are a couple ways to effectively deal with a problem client. For the sake of argument let’s assume they are in their first month and paid a month in full.

  1. Sit them down after the first month and talk about their experiences and tell them the deal. Say something along the lines of “I expect my clients to show up on time/work hard/listen/etc. and I would like to keep working with you to help you meet your goals. If you are sacrificing time and money and hired me to do a job, I expect you to commit to this time we have and give me your best. Can you do that?” Hopefully they answer yes and you can continue on the 2nd month. If they have improved, good. If they haven’t, you have given yourself an out to let them go as a client. Your time is too valuable to continually help those who aren’t willing to put forth the effort to improve.
  2. If you are employed by a gym as a trainer, you cannot just “fire” a client. Management will be pissed at you. Your best option is to approach the GM or Training Manager and talk to them saying “This client isn’t really a good fit for me, can you place them with another trainer who may work better with them?” This ensures the gym doesn’t lose money, you look good for doing the right thing and the client has another chance to find a better fit.

You have to understand you and your clients sell your training by looks. You need to look good, which is a given, and their improvements will have family and friends asking them how they did it and who trained them. If the same family and friends are aware they have a trainer but they are showing NO improvements they are going to think you are a bad trainer. That’s the horrible part. You may be a genius in the gym, but you are only as good as your clients’ efforts.

I am a blunt, assertive trainer. I push my clients hard and I teach them proper form above all. I’ve had to deal with clients that were less than optimal, sometimes they were able to change, sometimes they weren’t. The key is to handle it in a way that makes you look diplomatic and professional; not like a jerk. Don’t let them leave your gym with an opportunity to tell people “man, that guy was a real jerk to me, I’m telling everyone I know how terrible he is.” If you give them chances to adapt, learn and grow, most people will respond. The ones that don’t will see themselves to the door by their actions.


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