On a day-to-day basis, I am a proponent of the one-word answer. Yes and no are clear and to the point. However, short answers lack explanation. In the fitness setting, a lack of explanation risks losing memberships and personal training sales. Knowledge is only power if it is properly transferred and applied.
Remember that new members come to you with varying amounts of fitness knowledge. Some may have specific exercise plans but most likely have none at all. All properly educated fitness professionals should have the ability to listen, plan and implement an exercise program, but it is the "whys" that educate and prove to your potential clients that you know what you are talking about.
For example, Trainer A may say, “I’m going to have you do a dumbbell shoulder press.” While Trainer B may say, “I’m going to have you do a dumbbell shoulder press. Remember in your assessment that I identified a muscular imbalance favoring your left deltoid or shoulder. Using dumbbells will allow each side to work independently, helping to correct that imbalance.”
With whom would you rather train? Both trainers might have recognized the imbalance and designed a plan to correct it, but only Trainer B verbalized the reasoning, which proved to his potential client that he is knowledgeable but that he did not talk over the member's head. Instead, he explained the reason for the exercise as well as the direct benefit of it. Not only does this prove the trainer’s knowledge, but it transfers that knowledge to the client. It is the difference between "what" versus "why."
Trainer B also showed the member that he was listening because he individualized the workout to the specific needs of that member. When your trainers are able to establish themselves as not just an expert but empathetic and reliable, they build trust that in turn builds relationships. When members feel their specific needs are being met, it helps to build that valuable relationship between them and the staff. These relationships also will help build sales and increase retention.
The main reason people cancel their gym memberships is because of staff issues. Many of the issues are caused by a lack of connection with the staff. When your staff can build trusting relationships with your members, the members become loyal and want to remain as members.
Personal trainers went into the fitness business because they wanted to help people, not because they wanted to be salespeople. However, teaching your trainers to offer the "why" helps them to prove themselves as knowledgeable fitness professionals, which helps them sell more personal training.
When your trainers are allowed to show the members that they are more interested in helping than they are selling, they build relationships. Members learn that your trainers have their best interests at heart, that they have listened to their goals and that your trainers can create a plan specifically for them. This mindset helps your club develop clients who trust your trainers and their abilities as trainers.
Todd Degree is the program coordinator for the Exercise Science and Wellness Department at Gateway Community College in New Haven, CT. He is a CSCS and NSCA-CPT, and he spent several years as a fitness director for a regional health club. He can be reached at