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When Being a Trainer Just Isn’t Enough

By July 16, 2014Running a Gym
Reading Time: 4 minutes
The next Whole Life Challenge starts in:

My clients talk to me about their sex lives.

They talk to me about their energy levels and their sleep patterns and their careers. Some of them are stressed about their finances and their relationships. And, of course, they all have their share of physical limitations or aches and pain.

All of this impacts their overall well-being.

Twenty years ago, back when I was just “personal trainer Andy,” my training was entirely based on what happened inside the gym. My clients and I could talkabout their spiritual lives, their relationships, and their emotional well-being, but my expertise was limited to my years as an athlete and my on-the-job training.

Other than the fact that my clients knew I was a good guy who cared about them, my opinion in these areas didn’t count for much. I was just their trainer and, as such, my clients expected me to stay inside the physical realm, not deal with them as “whole people.”

The more I trained people, the more challenging it became to see the impact I could be having on lives if I didn’t feel so disempowered to address things that lived outside of the gym.

Okay, full disclosure: I’m slightly obsessive when it comes to personal development. In the first five years of becoming a trainer, I worked continuously on developing knowledge and skills that would give me confidence and credibility in the gym. This included training and certs from UCLA, the C.H.E.K. Institute, California Healing Arts College, Pose and VivoBarefoot running, USA Weightlifting, and most of the CrossFit and specialty courses.

While satisfying my desire to be a great trainer with the credibility to give advice in areas like diet, biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, lifts, and running form, these programs fell short of bridging the gap into the other “whole life” areas.

I began to address these areas by looking inside myself—through regular and consistent business and life coaching (I’ve had a personal coach for myself since 1996), Zen training at the Santa Monica Zen Center, and, most recently, by earning a Master’s Degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

Through this work, I learned what it feels like to be coached, pushed, and challenged in all areas of life. And little by little, I started to incorporate this into my work with students and clients.

Now, when my clients talk to me about their work- or relationship-related stress, I can really talk to them about their whole lives. And it’s no coincidence that as my expertise grows, so does the value that my program delivers to students at CFLA. CFLA is now one of the most profitable and consistently successful affiliates in the world, with over 300 students who pay the gym an average of $210 per month.

Does your relationship with your clients exist solely “inside the gym?”

I know through my own experience, and by watching other boxes worldwide, that looking at your clients as “whole people” can only lead to this: You will have an easier time bringing in new clients, and once you do, they will stay with your gym longer because the impact you have on their lives will be greater.

After all, we aren’t talking about machines and how to make them run better. We aren’t mass-producing widgets by using factory processes or assembly lines.

We are talking about people, each of whom has a unique perspective, life experience and set of habits that affect their well-being.

If you can address those issues when no one else has, your clients will never dream of joining another gym.

So how do we engage our students and create a culture around this in a meaningful way in a group fitness program with hundreds of students? This was the problem that Michael Stanwyck and I were trying to solve when we came up with the idea of the Whole Life Challenge (WLC) back in 2011.

We wanted to show our students how the choices they made outside of the gym often had a bigger impact on their overall health and well-being than the work they were doing inside the gym. We wanted to help them look at their whole lives… to help them become conscious of the choices that they were already making, and then help them make small, incremental changes that last a lifetime. We knew that if we were able to do that, we would have clients for life.

As we approach the eighth Whole Life Challenge in September, I’ve personally seen the behavioral, physical, mental, and emotional transformation of thousands of lives—of members of the gym and members of their families. And while it is true that as a fitness trainer, you will have an impact on people’s live by addressing the things inside of gym, true change happens outside the gym—in real life. The WLC bridges this gap.

Affiliate owners around the world tell us that when they took responsibly for their clients’ whole lives by participating in the Challenge, their communities became tighter. Their boxes stopped being just another place to do CrossFit and train hard. Instead, they became communities for real, sustainable change as it relates to health, fitness, and overall well-being.

“Suddenly, my clients started to see their training in a whole new light. The WLC gave them a framework to see for the first time how their choices impacted all areas of their lives… and it empowered them to make small, sustainable changes” said Kelley Rakow, owner of CrossFit Ocean City.

So this is where you come in. Are you ready change the context of the conversation between you and your clients in your community? Make a real difference in people’s lives. Join us by becoming a Whole Life Challenge Partner.

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Andy Petranek
Andy is what you’d call a modern day Renaissance Man: a former professional trumpeter who attended the Eastman School of Music; a snowboarder, mountain biker, surfer, kayaker, outrigger paddler, mountaineer, and former Marine (Gulf War veteran); a professionally sponsored adventure racer; and the oldest participant to qualify for and participate in the CrossFit Games at the age of 43.

Andy is a certified CHEK Practitioner and holistic lifestyle coach. He holds a spectrum of certifications from CrossFit and is also a Vivobarefoot certified running coach. He has trained as a Zen buddhist and graduated with a Master’s degree in spiritual psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

Andy founded CrossFit LA one of the first and most successful CrossFit training centers in the world and the first to be featured in national media. He is the co-founder of the Whole Life Challenge, Inc, currently its president, and is also a consultant and life/business coach. Andy lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Julia, and son, Dashel.