WHAT IS RAPPORT?
By definition, rapport is “a relationship marked by mutual understanding and trust” (ACE Personal Trainer Manual, p. 708). As such, rapport happens to be the foundation of the ACE IFT™ Model. In fitness, rapport is the connection a fitness professional and a client or participant seek to establish during their time working together.
Think about the relationships you have in your personal life. Is it safe to say that you have established a mutual understanding and a sense of trust with your closest family members and friends? If so, then you have established personal rapport with those individuals.
Now think about practitioners you see (e.g., doctors and dentists). Have you established rapport with these professionals? Is there a mutual understanding and trust that you share? What about your experiences in school or in the corporate world? Rapport can be established between any two individuals in any given situation.
HOW DOES RAPPORT PLAY INTO THE FITNESS PROFESSION?
Given that rapport can be developed between any two people, it makes sense that it is something that can be established between a fitness professional and client. As a fitness professional, it is up to you to initiate this process of establishing rapport with the client. You are the one who must make the initial effort to welcome the client into a relationship that will be based on mutual understanding and trust. Because rapport is a mutual phenomenon, the client will have to meet you halfway.
As you and your client develop this relationship, or bond, you will find that communication becomes easier. You may even find that your client opens up to you the longer the two of you work together. Opening up is a sign of trust. As such, your clients are expecting you to be understanding and to keep their personal information confidential.
WHY IS RAPPORT IMPORTANT?
“Building rapport is a critical component of successful client-trainer relationships, as this process promotes open communication, develops trust, and fosters the client’s desire to participate in an exercise program” (ACE Personal Trainer Manual, p. 84).
Understanding your clients and what they want to achieve is your key to success. Without this understanding and trust, the client-trainer relationship cannot flourish. As clients share more information about who they are—likes, dislikes, fears, and goals—you can better understand how they function and how to best interact with them.
HOW DO YOU BUILD RAPPORT?
How do you build this crucial thing called rapport? For some fitness professionals, the ability to build rapport is innate. They are very welcoming and warm. They are genuinely interested in getting to know their clients and want to help. For others, this ability is learned. There are plenty of great trainers who began their careers with a great understanding of exercise science and the details of exercise programming, but lacked the ability to build rapport. This skill can be developed through open communication and initial positive experiences with exercise, and then enhanced through behavioral strategies that help build long-term adherence.
The rapport building stage includes making professional impressions on the client, developing trust, demonstrating warmth and genuineness, and exhibiting empathy (ACE Personal Trainer Manual, pp. 84, 100). It may also be beneficial for fitness professionals new to the industry to observe other client-trainer interactions to see why rapport is so crucial to the working relationship.
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN RAPPORT?
Once you have established rapport with your client, how do you maintain it? As long as the client finds the fitness professional to be trustworthy, genuinely concerned about his or her needs, desires and goals, and is able to continue having open and honest communication, rapport may be maintained. Importantly, maintaining rapport is a process that has no culmination or end. As long as a relationship exists, rapport is continuously being either enhanced or eroded. The same skills that developed rapport initially are used to maintain it throughout a relationship.