I’d like to introduce you all to a friend of mine. This is Alex.
I’ve known Alex online for a while now, but I didn’t meet him until this summer, when he was cool enough to let us stay at his place while we got set up in an apartment (it’s hard to apartment search in CA while living an Arkansas and North Carolina). Luckily, he was the cool kind of person you meet online who turned out to be even better in real life than on the internet – not the kind that seems normal enough, until you wind up 6 feet under the earth in the New Mexico desert as soon as you close your eyes.
Anyways, I’ve learned a lesson from Alex this summer that may be more valuable that any individual tidbit of information I picked up in the entirety of my formal education or experiential leaning so far. Namely, physiology only matters if someone’s already psychologically invested. Emotional buy-in is hugely important.
I guess this was something I “knew” on an intellectual level, but it didn’t really make sense on an experiential level until I saw Alex’s work this summer.
Alex runs a kick-ass weight loss facility in Huntington Beach. In the corner of it, he has a fully equipped powerlifting gym (power rack, competition plates, Texas power bar and deadlift bar, DBs up to 200s… It’s awesome) where we’ve been training most of the time, but the majority of the facility is dedicated to his weight loss clients: mostly middle aged, mostly female people wanting to lose weight and look good. The place is always packed, and everyone always seems to be having a good time.
So I asked Alex what his special sauce is – obviously weight loss is a big industry and HB is a great place to be, but he’s not the only gym in town by a LONG shot (there are 5+ in a 1 mile radius) and his place is doing *exceptionally* well, especially since it just opened its doors 9 months ago.
His answer, “I tell these women that they’re going to lose 20 pounds in 6 weeks, and I deliver.”
I did some quick mental math. That’s roughly three and a half pounds per week. It’s physiologically best to shoot for 1-2 pounds per week, right?
I think he could tell I was about to protest, so he cut me off. “These people aren’t happy with how they look and they want to lose a lot of weight. We both know they need to start working out and eating right. What’s going to get them to do that? Telling them, ‘you want to lose 40 pounds, but the healthiest thing is to drop a pound or two per week, so I can help you get to your goal in 5-10 months,’ or telling them, ‘you want to lose 40 pounds. Sweet. How about we cut that number in half in the next six weeks?’”
Next I asked him about success rates. 68% lose 20 pounds in 6 weeks, and virtually everyone loses at least 15.
I’m starting to get skeptical. I know the research showing that sustained, substantial (20+ pounds) weight loss is possible, but exceedingly rare without bariatric surgery. But that’s the norm for him. Sure, he’s only been at it for 9 months, but the hefty majority of the people who have been with him from the beginning have lost 30 pounds or more and have kept it off or are still losing weight.
So I ask him about his methods. He shows me the diets that he puts them on. He starts them at roughly 10-11 calories per pound of body weight, adjusts down if they’re unhappy with how fast they’re losing weight, and won’t drop someone below 100 grams of carbs per day or 1,500 calories per day. He puts a premium on protein and quality food sources. Nothing mind-blowing or revolutionary.
So what’s his secret? Emotional buy-in. It starts with the pitch of losing 20 pounds in 6 weeks (a goal that is doable, but big enough to animate the people he’s working with), is intensified by the group classes and supportive environment, and is reinforced at every step along the way. These people are interested in losing weight (why else would they set foot in the door?), Alex makes them believe they can lose weight (“68% of the people I’ve worked with have lost 20 pounds or more in 6 weeks. You seem like someone who works hard enough to be in the top 2/3, right?”), and he has a solid plan in place – good workouts and solid nutrition – to make sure their buy-in isn’t squandered. More than anything, his adherence rate (a low adherence rate is the bane of every trainer’s existence) is absurdly high.
Rewind 4 years to when I started doing online training consultations. I thought online strength training was something I wanted to get into, but I’m a little sensitive about charging for things – I’m the world’s biggest cheapskate, so if I’m going to charge someone for a service I’m providing, I want to make sure I’m providing a service that’s worth the cost.
So what I did was blast all over Facebook and the forums that I was a part of at the time that I’d be taking on training clients for free. I thought I knew what I was doing – I’d been writing training programs for workout partners and friends at my gym for quite some time with overall good results, and I thought that would translate online.
Oh boy was I wrong.
Some people did okay. Most, however, did not. The biggest issue – they weren’t doing what I told them to do! Some would openly admit it. Others would complain they weren’t getting results, and as soon I told them they had to start taking video of their main lifts and their major accessory work every workout, in addition to taking pictures of all the meals they ate… they magically started improving.
After a lot of frustration, I finally had a success rate good enough that I felt like I was ethically justified to charge for my services.
And a magical thing happened. Adherence rate jumped a solid 25% right away as soon as people had some skin in the game. And results improved noticeably.
Once that was off the ground and running, I haven’t promoted hardly any – occasionally I’ll brag on a client who has hit a big PR or had a major accomplishment – but that’s because I’m legitimately proud of the effort they’ve put in, and I think they should get some public kudos for it. Other than that, I don’t talk about it much. I hate hate hate sales.
The great thing about hating sales: my adherence rate is now very high: 90%+. Sure, people don’t work out when they’re celebrating their honeymoon, or will cheat like a beast if they get invited to a wedding (and I’d be disappointed if they didn’t; unless you have a world record or an Olympic medal in your sights, life should trump training) but on the whole, people eat like they’re supposed to, get all their workouts in, and see great results.
I didn’t have to convince them to train with me because of brilliant marketing or sales tactics. They read this blog, see what I’ve done, and think “Hey, this guy knows what he’s talking about and I think he can help me get stronger. Furthermore, I’m convinced enough of that fact that I’m willing to pay him to train me.” I don’t have to use any fancy tactics to get belief and buy-in. No one contacts me asking me to work with them unless buy-in is already there.
So at this point you may be thinking, “That’s great, but how does this apply to me in any way at all. Congrats to you and your friend, but I read your damn blog because I usually get something out of what you write, so get on with your freaking point.”
For the fitness professional:
Are you having to aggressively market yourself and your services to keep your head above water? Think about taking a step back and focusing on the quality of the work you do.
Are you knowledgeable? Do you write or make videos that benefit your readers or viewers while simultaneously demonstrating you know what you’re talking about? If not, get on it.
Are you getting your clients the results they want and do you love what you do and the people you train? Then let people see that – it goes a lot further than fancy advertising schemes do in my opinion.
Of course, if you’re selling a program, I do think there’s something to be said for marketing. How many new lifters are absolutely stoked to start StrongLifts or Starting Strength because they’re convinced it’s the best thing since sliced bread because of how dang confident Medhi and Rip sound when they talk about training new lifters? Ditto for intermediate lifters starting 5/3/1 or the Cube Method because of how Wendler and Brandon Lilly sound 100% sure you’re going to get a ton stronger doing their programs.
Without that emotional buy-in, I guarantee you that you’re going to get less effort and worse results. Of course, there’s a fine line between getting someone excited about your program and making claims you can’t back up, but if you can be honest while building justifiable excitement, you’re going to be able to get better results for your clients.
For the person looking to get in shape, get stronger, or look sexy:
Invest in what you’re doing. The fitness industry makes it really easy for you to convince yourself you really care without actually buying in to your own fitness. You can get a ton of information for free, and you can get a gym membership dirt cheap most places – it’s easy to go through the motions without ever really putting any skin in the game.
How much do you pay for cable TV? How much is your monthly phone bill? How much do you spend on entertainment or eating out at restaurants?
How much do you spend on your fitness goals?
In a society like ours, spending habits are a pretty good indication of priorities.
Want to get stronger or improve your performance? Your best bet is to hire a competent local coach or trainer to work with you 1 on 1. Your next best bet is to get in with a group or semi-private fitness class germane to your goals. If you don’t have good local options or you can’t afford them, THEN think about hiring an online coach (Yes, it’s last on the list for a reason. I get good results with my online clients, but as a coach I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a lot you simply can’t address and won’t see unless you’re actually there with a person coaching them in real time. If you can work with a competent coach in person, do not hire someone online).
Want to get sexy? Hire a diet coach. Some people have the willpower to make a meal plan for themselves and stick with it, but most benefit hugely from hiring a good diet coach. Here’s a (not so) secret: most diet coaches don’t do anything absurdly complicated: set calories, set protein, and either set fat and adjust carbs, or set carbs and adjust fat – then make small adjustments based on how someone’s progress is going. And you know what? It works, because the first law of thermodynamics is pretty accurate, and someone who cares enough to spend money on a diet coach is (literally) invested in their results.
Want to improve your knowledge? Buy an anatomy textbook and an exercise physiology textbook. Read 10 pages per day. Assuming 600 pages apiece, you’ve read them cover to cover in 4 months. Suddenly, everything will make a LOT more sense to you, you’ll be less apt to fall for stupid marketing gimmicks, and you’ll find yourself less and less interested in the drivel on most popular websites.
Humans are not solely rational beings. More often than not, we make decisions based on emotion, and then try to come up with logical justifications after the fact (no matter how much we may hate to admit it) rather than make logical decisions and grow emotionally attached to them later.
I’d wager that very few people reading this need to be rationally convinced about the need to train harder and eat more/less/better to meet their strength, performance, and physique goals. Most people just need more emotional buy-in. They’ve tried and failed too often, or have never had enough belief in their ability to succeed to fully devote themselves to their goals in the first place.
1. Pick a goal that’s doable, but big enough to animate you (the first ingredient in Alex’s secret sauce).
2. Find someone who you think can get you there. You may know enough to do it yourself, but that’s often not enough. Plenty of coaches hire coaches. That’s how I met Alex in the first place. The other person – and the payment you send each month – keep you accountable
3. And invest – literally and emotionally – in the process.