Supplementing Your Continuing Education Book Habit

I'm buried under a pile of summer internship applications this week. I've reviewed more than 100 apps and scheduled 15 interviews to take place between Monday and Friday. With this in mind, I know better than to think that I'll find time to write a blog of my own. Thankfully my friend and former CSP intern, Kim Lloyd, has prepared a great guest post for me to share. Enjoy! 

Full confession here - I’m the oldest person on staff at the gym where I work. Every time another pop star from the 80’s dies, I have to explain why clients are suddenly coming in to the gym teary-eyed and requesting that we listen to the Wham station on Pandora radio.

While my knees sound 40 years old, I don’t often notice the age difference.

But I have noticed my extra decade of perspective (ahem) creeping in during our staff meetings. For the first few months I worked at the gym our standard homework was to read one book a month, discuss what we got out of the book, and apply those nuggets to our business model and clients.

Great idea, right?

Sort of.

As a relatively new coach who transitioned into this industry in my late 30’s, continuing education is a priority for me. Books, blogs, the Personal Trainer Development Center, and workshops are my lifelines to knowledge that will help me get the best results from my clients. I know I’m never going to stop learning in the profession, and I need all the help and good ideas I can get.

But in our relentless pursuit of bettering our businesses, and ourselves, we developed a bad case of professional whiplash.  We would get fired up, spend a few days trying to apply the strategies we’d carefully studied - only to abandon them once we dived into the next book with its shiny new ideas.

Sure, we learned a lot, but the constant consumption of books and business strategies came at a cost. If you’re overwhelming yourself and your staff with theory, without ensuring they understand clients’ communication or learning styles, are you creating better coaches?

There’s a great scene in the movie “Good Will Hunting” where Will confronts a snotty Harvard history major in his pursuit of a girl (note: my co-workers have never heard of Good Will Hunting). The guy spouts off some rhetoric about history, when Will rightly points out that all he’s doing is repeating what he read in a book. He’s not bringing his own experience in to influence his opinion.

But Will does it with a great Boston accent, and then gets the girl’s number and rubs it in Harvard-dude’s face.

Reading self-help books is great, especially if you’re the analytical sort, but think critically about the return on investment. I’ve read a lot of those books myself, always with the secret hope that this would be the one that would make me more confident, reduce my anxieties, and calm my inner critic. But all the time I spent reading books was time I didn’t spend learning to trust myself, and developing my confidence in building genuine relationships with my clients and co-workers. Most of what we do, day-in and day-out, is try to connect with other human beings, determine what’s important to them, and do our best to help them out. Being effective requires empathy and compassion, and it can be easy to undervalue those critical skills in the face of a brand-new business plan.

My co-workers and I have begun to wean ourselves away from our security-blanket of outside advice, and talk more about developing skills from within. Purposeful introspection, examining what stretches your comfort zone, and practicing good communication skills provide a foundation for the occasional self-help type of book.

While by no means an exhaustive list, I have also found these to be helpful supplements to continuing education books:

1. Personality tests

I’m a fan of the Meyers Briggs Personality Test (MBTI) as a way to help understand yourself and your co-workers. The test has four different categories that offer insight to how you get energy and inspiration, how you process information, why you want to punch your co-worker in the face when she procrastinates on everything, and why she wants to punch you when you’re breathing down her neck three months before a project is due.

The MBTI is just one option. I know a number of businesses that have opted for the DISC personality test, which is a little quicker and less intense. Either way, presenting your staff with an opportunity to understand themselves is a step towards enhancing the soft skills they need to better engage with clients and co-workers.

2. Understanding and practicing communication skills

There are lots of directions you can go with building your skills in this area, but I would start with developing a basic understanding of direct versus indirect communication styles. If you have a client who is an indirect communicator, and you approach her in an abrupt or challenging way, she’s going to think you’re rude, never come back to your gym again, and let her friends on Facebook know that you’re a total jerk.

Meanwhile, you’re probably not actually rude - you just communicate in a very direct way. And you have no idea what you did to piss her off. You don’t necessarily have to change the fundamentals of how you say everything, but you could probably do a better job of tuning in to how different clients prefer to receive their information and coaching.

3. Get a little non-traditional

Of all of the staff meetings we’ve had in the past few months, one of the best ideas was not fitness-related at all – we brought an improv instructor to run us through some exercises. We were all thinking it would be a bunch of awkward amateur stand-up, but mostly what he did was put us in various situations, and push us to handle the scenarios in unscripted, spontaneous ways.  Something like improv (or wilderness leadership training, or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity) can push us to take the over-thinking out of interactions with clients.

4. Practice being more sensitive to non-verbal cues

We spend a lot of time watching a client for technique, level of fatigue, and risk of injury, but may not be paying attention to whether she seems nervous, intimidated, or frustrated.  Understanding how best to address that space is arguably more important than teaching her a solid hip hinge.

Because if you can’t do the first, you’ll never have the opportunity to do the second. 

About the Author

Kim Lloyd is a former Cressey Sports Performance Intern, and current strength coach at Spurling Fitness in Kennebunk, ME. She has a Masters in Sports Leadership from Northeastern University and is a proud graduate of Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania where she played lacrosse. 

Kim maintains a fitness blog on her own site,