Dr. Erin Nitschke by Dr. Erin Nitschke
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Starting a personal-training career is many things—exciting, scary, fun, overwhelming—to name just a few. You are taking your first steps into the professional world and will likely experience both the high of success and the disappointment of some failed attempts. And that's O.K. Mistakes are allowed and are often the way in which we learn the most valuable of lessons. There are, however, some pitfalls to be aware of so you can sidestep them right out of the gates. By avoiding these five common—yet avoidable—mistakes, you will be better positioned to achieve your professional goals sooner than those who don't plan ahead.

1. Not charging enough for your services.

It’s enticing to want to be the trainer who offers the lowest price, but don't do it. Your expertise, background and the experience you bring to the table are all valuable and deserving of appropriate compensation. Instead of trying to offer the lowest price, offer a competitive price and work to highlight what you have to offer potential clients that other trainers in the area do not. What's your edge? What's your trademark service? Research the competition and place yourself in a solid position to compete. You will attract clients who are serious about investing in their health and working hard to accomplish what they desire.

2. Failing to assess clients.

Not every client needs or will benefit from a full physical fitness assessment. However, every client needs some type of evaluation. For example, you may have a significantly out of shape client who works a sedentary job and has unbalanced eating habits. It's unnecessary to subject that individual to a full battery of assessments such as push-ups, sit-ups, or a one-mile run to determine a benchmark to gather enough information to begin. Instead, focus on the client’s goals and what measurements or metrics you can safely collect that directly relate to the initial short-term goals.

For all clients, be sure you do not skip the “paperwork” component of screening and assessment, which includes health history, waiver of liability, informed consent and other lifestyle inventory/behavior details. These tools help to inform the overall safety and structure of the program, and are necessary and required for all clients regardless of their fitness levels or goals. The point here is to use your judgment when it comes to the physical assessments.

3. Not tailoring programs to fit client needs and goals.

Many new trainers forget to train the client based on his or her needs, skills and abilities. Instead, they train the client in a cookie-cutter fashion, which ultimately leads to injury, a lack of progress toward the individual’s goals or boredom, which may lead a client to drop out. A trainer must view the creation of a program through the client’s eyes and incorporate exercises and components that are safe, effective, fun and aimed at achieving the goals each client sets. This takes practice and time to learn, but making an honest effort with each client will reduce attrition and strengthen the client-trainer relationship.

4. Disregarding the basics.

Certified personal trainers are extremely knowledgeable in a variety of training methods and techniques. However, not every client who seeks your services is ready to hit the weights or attempt box jumps. Yes, it’s fun to try new techniques with clients, but you need to make sure to address the basics. Sometimes that means working on flexibility, muscular imbalances and postural or balance concerns. For example, if your client's core strength is poor, it’s not a good plan to have him or her perform back squats with a fully loaded bar. Instead, you can employ other techniques to build core strength to support more advanced or challenging movements. Using a client’s body weight, for instance, might be a more appropriate place to start. There are always new ways to make a move more challenging, but don't expect each client to be able to do that initially.

5. Not investing time in building a network.

Certified fitness professionals have a specific scope of practice, just as other allied health professionals have their own predetermined boundaries that define their practice. It may be tempting to invest all of your energy and focus into building your business, getting and retaining clients, and turning a profit. However, it is equally important to recruit other professionals to be a part of your professional network. There may be times when you are unable to answer a client's question about a nagging injury—this is when having a physical therapist in your network with whom you can consult and refer is invaluable. This is also true for nutrition questions and meal-plan requests. Forging a relationship with a registered dietitian is valuable for consulting on those topics.

A professional network can also help you, as a new trainer, grow in ways you wouldn't otherwise be able to do on your own. Consider the mentorship possibilities that exist within a professional network and/or the referrals you gain by supporting the practices of those within your network. It's a win for you, a win for your client, and a win for each member of your network.

With solid research, relationship building and a thoughtful approach to each client scenario, you can avoid these mistakes and be well on your way to enjoying a fruitful and exciting career.

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