Jeremy Boyd

What They Want vs. What They Need

Written By

Jeremy Boyd


Personal Training

Posted On

21 November 2013

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Have you ever had a client who wouldn't listen to your advice? Perhaps they even insisted on the type of programme they should be doing. Have you ever lost a client for no apparent reason, even though you got them results? If you want a way to distinguish yourself from the competition and keep your clients for longer, read on.

"I want to look big and ripped on my holiday in 8 weeks"

Imagine these were the first words out of a prospective client's mouth in response to the standard opener, "How can I help?". Normally when you hear this, the course of action is pretty standard - air tight nutrition and a combination of high volume and metabolic workouts. However, imagine this gentleman was different to our usual clients. Firstly, he's obviously spent some time in the gym, most of it bench pressing by the look of his ridiculously protracted shoulders. Secondly, he looks unhealthy. Whilst this may sound normal enough to most of you, let's distinguish between unfit and unhealthy. Unfit people, who make up the bulk of our new joining gym members, simply look like they need to eat less and move more. Unhealthy people, look ill. Pasty complexion, poor skin, bad posture, and a general malaise, all combining to make someone look like they've got some kind of condition we don't want. This client looks unhealthy.

With people like Paul Chek and Gary Gray extolling the virtues of fixing clients before we overload them with exercise, many trainers have been inspired and motivated to make proper rehabilitation part of their professional responsibility to clients. Not only that, but for some, it has become a priority. Thus, consultations can involve the trainer telling the client they need to sort out their posture, nutrition and lifestyle, and them telling you they just want to look more 'buff' in a pair of shorts. Ultimately, you can lose them as clients before they've had their first session. This can often leave a bitter taste in the mouth. Could they not see you had their best interest at heart? Had you been unclear about the importance of a more remedial strategy? The answer to both of those questions is 'No'. The reason is simply that people often have a specific outcome in mind. Any strategy you present that doesn't address that is irrelevant from their perspective.

What They Want vs What They Need
What They Want vs What They Need
What They Want vs What They Need

Want is always a more powerful motivator than need - always. Over the last 20 years, we've seen people prioritise their wants at the expense of their needs, time and time again. What needs to change is the ability to programme to satisfy both and communicate the needs/wants balance more successfully. Courses in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Life Coaching, Counselling and various other personal development and communication systems, can assist in enhancing the client-trainer information exchange process. The common key in all of the above disciplines is that everyone acts out of best self-interest. We all perceive an upside to each of our decisions and actions. We may be the only person to see it, but it's there nonetheless. Consider the client mentioned at the start of this article. His perception may be that he'll be more attractive to women and the envy of the men on his upcoming holiday. The trainer perception might be that he'll look like a muscular version of Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

So what's the solution?

Give the client what they want.

Prioritise it in their workouts and food plans, but tweak it so that it meets their needs too. If a male client wants a bigger chest but has protracted shoulders, there is most likely little difference in his mind between a flat barbell bench press and an incline dumbbell bench press, yet one is better for his shoulders. If a female client wants to lose body fat and traditionally runs, but has little upper body muscle tone and strength, she's not going to mind if you swap her machine-based interval sessions for high speed compound movements. Something with weights as part of a circuit and some boxing pad work will work well to satisfy both her needs and wants. She'll probably thank you and praise you to her friends in the long run.

The prescription part can be both the hard and the easy part, depending on how artistic you want to get. At one end of the scale, you can simply choose better variants of the same exercise. At the other end, you can order your exercise to activate/excite weak or inactive muscles, or de-emphasise dominant ones.

For example, compare the following programmes:

Programme 1
Block Exercise Reps Tempo
A1 Wide Pronated Grip Lat Pulldown 6 - 8 4010
A2 Seated Rows 8 - 10 1010
A3 Straight Arm Cable Pulldowns 8 - 10 3010
Total Time Under Tension (TUT): 78 - 100 seconds
Programme 2
Block Exercise Reps Tempo
A1 Face Pulls 12 - 15 1010
A2 Seated Cable Rows 10 - 12 2010
A3 Wide Semi Supinated Grip Lat Pulldown 10 - 12 2010
Total Time Under Tension (TUT): 84 - 102 seconds

The first programme is an excerpt from a workout prescribed to a female client by a junior trainer. The client in question always worked hard, but had horrendous shoulder posture. Having seen her do the above workout the previous week, you might also have seen her struggle to keep her shoulder blades back and down, despite the enthusiastic yelling of the word 'shoulders' by her trainer. The following week the trainer modified her session to follow the second programme. In this format, A1 allows the low intensity work to start. This is achieved by activating the low threshold motor units in the lower and middle segments of the trapezius, and encouraging shoulder retraction.

A2 reinforces this and starts to provide a training effect to the muscles now firing as a result of A1. It also has the psychological advantage of being a familiar movement. Too much change can sometimes confuse a client or make them uncomfortable, especially if they are slow to master new techniques. A3 in programme 2 keeps the basic movement of A1 in workout 1, but changes the biomechanics to facilitate shoulder retraction even further and therefore inhibit shoulder protraction. This is not to say a client couldn't protract doing the exercise, just that it makes it more comfortable to do the exercise properly. Time under tension stays the same. Perceived exertion will be similar, only now the client gets a workout that suits her posture as well as her main objective.

The trainer in question fed back after the session that the client really felt the benefits of the changes and was also able to see an immediate change in her posture. Over the following few weeks, her posture improved, the headaches that she'd been having but keeping to herself went, and she looked significantly fitter and healthier.

Your clients need to know that you're doing this for them, but they also need to know that it's not at the expense of their wants. Therefore, when you present their programme, go through how it meets their wants first, then show how it will also meet their needs. From the client's perspective, it's like buying a new TV, getting to the till and finding out it comes with a free HDMI cable and Blu-Ray player they didn't know about. They're happy to have it, but it wasn't what they went into the shop for. It's an added bonus that they are very pleased to hear about.

Give your clients what they want and you'll keep them happy. Give them what they need as well and they'll be even happier.

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