Coaching a team or a group class has always been an intimidating concept for me. I prefer to work in pairs. In particular, what I’ve loved most about personal training is the one-on-one conversation developed over time with a client. To me, that’s where coaching relationships are truly built.
I’ve worked with a variety of clients: business executives, recovering addicts, teenagers struggling with weight gain, pregnant and post-partum ladies, and those returning from injury.
What I found many times in coach-client conversations was that the gems of wisdom originated as often from the client as they did from me. In fact, I can still picture many of these conversations and where they took place, as I then repeated and integrated these powerful life lessons into my coaching practices over time.
So that you, too, can benefit from these wise words, here’s a short list of inspiring, health-related life practices delivered by my all-star clients between lunges and pull-ups.
1. Leave when the party is “hot.” Also known as: nothing good happens after midnight for your body, mind, or reputation.
If you were looking for a band of characters, I’d direct you to business executives who train in the wee hours of the morning. They’ve worked hard for their position in life and have had to juggle incredible priorities and stress to maintain their success. Each of these individuals tends to have their set of golden go-bys, but the principle of “leaving a party early” was one I heard more than a few times and in the many cities where I worked.
There’s a lot that could be rolled into this lesson, but in its simplest terms the message is: you never want to be the person who is featured in the main headline from a social function when you’ve got a reputation to maintain. Moreover, if you expect to lead an office when you’re back at work Monday, you better be rested, ready, and have worked out before you show up.
2. When returning from a gym hiatus, aim to do a little bit of everything in moderation.
Post-partum clients are an excited lot. Maybe it’s the six to eight weeks of no exercise after giving birth, or the first escape to do something for yourself when your life has suddenly become all about someone else. These clients taught me the principle of the exercise “smorgasbord.” In other words — when you get your first taste of gym time after an extended break, it’s best to do just a little bit of everything.
If you’ve been out of the gym for a bit, you may find your stamina is down. What I learned from these clients was their hyper-awareness to fatigue combined with their determination to keep going made it best to combine short bouts of a variety of exercises.
For example, completing a circuit of 1 set of 20 different exercises that take you about 30 seconds apiece is an easier psychological demand and endurance demand than trying to do one activity for 10-15 minutes. Moreover, you’ll be less sore and more likely to return for your second workout.
3. The Law of Averages: focus on a set of healthy habits and aim to do most of them daily.
Hmm, this one sounds a lot like the Whole Life Challenge? It sure does. I heard this “mindset” from a client about sixteen years ago. She was in law school and, as law school students often are, she was bombarded with stress, late hours of studying, and having little energy left to exercise.
Her principle was to maintain this simple handful of habits: “eat right, exercise, and sleep well.” She would aim to do two of these three things each day at a minimum, and not beat herself up as long as she made those two things happen.
Of course, your handful of goals can extend to the 7 Daily Habits of the Whole Life Challenge. But whatever your habits, the key is to recognize that if you’re hitting more than half of your habit goals, then you are slowly tipping the scales in favor of long-term health.
4. Heal thyself; because what you decide to do (or not do) today, can affect you in the long run.
I worked at university gyms a couple times in my career, and training professors was truly a blast. Once, I gave a professor who was near retirement the direction to do 10 split squats on each leg. She set up for her first repetition, teetered, and reset. She remarked, “I should’ve finished my physical therapy.”
This had never come up in our training sessions before, so I asked when the physical therapy was and what it was for. She had broken her ankle about forty years prior and never finished her physical therapy appointments nor regained her full ankle mobility following surgery. She went on to ask me to tell all my other clients to finish their physical therapy appointments if they were ever injured.
When I hurt my back a few years later, these words of wisdom led me to diligently complete all my appointments. Because I knew the reason to make these appointments was more about the future health of my body than my pain in the moment.
5. It’s never too late in life to start something new.
This lesson is one near and dear to my heart, because the client who carried this message was actually my grandmother. She was eighty when she told me she wanted to join my gym and see what I did for a living.
She had never been on a treadmill or used any fancy gym equipment, but she had the might of a linebacker in her 99lb, 5’2” body. I watched her stroll right up to the front desk of the gym like she owned the place and off we went on her first gym adventure.
There is something in the gym for everyone, at any point in your life. If you’re not sure what that is, find a good tour guide, i.e. a personal trainer who cares. You never know what you might teach them.
The Real Life Lessons of Training
To be honest, I could fill a book with moments like these. They are examples of the richest part of coaching — human connection and personal development. There are lessons to be learned from everyone we interact with, and if you listen well, sometimes they resonate for a lifetime.