Rob Simonelli is a national educational assistant at Life Time Fitness, where he oversees the development of his personal training colleagues. He is certified with the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He earned a bachelor’s of science degree in exercise science from the University of Tennessee, where he served as a student strength and conditioning coach for the university’s athletic department. He earned a master’s of education degree at the University of Wyoming, where he studied sports administration and served as a graduate assistant strength and conditioning coach. Simonelli also has been the assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Miami and the strength and conditioning coordinator at Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, FL. Throughout his 10 years at Life Time, Simonelli has trained NHL and NFL players.

A recent experience with a client’s dog has changed my perspective about how our personal trainers should approach their clients. After the 100th time that Bentley, my client’s bull terrier dog, tried to attack me, my client decided to schedule a session with a dog trainer to remedy the situation. I didn’t think it would do any good since during the previous two years, I had barely escaped Bentley’s wrath several times. One time in particular, only Bentley’s paws losing traction on the marble floor allowed me to scurry to the safety of another room as he ambushed me.

I tried to imagine how the dog trainer would convince Bentley not to kill me. Would I have to learn a safe word, or would I always have to carry a remote control for the shock collar? Pepper spray? A cattle prod? I couldn’t imagine how a trainer could possibly help, given this particular dog’s desire to taste my flesh.

Regardless, the day finally arrived, and Eddie the dog trainer explained that Bentley was just a misunderstood, if over-protective, dog. Our session began with Eddie and Bentley in one room and me in another. Eddie told me to come into the same room as the dog. This was crazy, I thought, but I did it.

Eddie explained that for our first session, I would just be in the same room as the dog. So, there I was, face to snout with the beast. Good boy. Nice dog. All that stuff. My heart was racing. I was scared. But I learned to exist in the same room as Bentley. By the second session, I threw Bentley a ball and petted him. We didn’t need a third session. I carry a ball now. Problem solved.

The training began with the dog and me in the same room. That’s it. It was ingenious, and it got me thinking about the training clients receive in my club. How do they feel when they start their first session? How much trepidation do they feel regarding training with our personal trainers or just walking into the gym in general? I bet a good portion of them are scared. I bet how our trainers interact with them at first determines whether they succeed or fail. How many people go to a fitness facility and, because of a poor experience, walk out, not to return?

Are your trainers too aggressive with new clients because they want to show their wares and impress the clients or distinguish themselves? Perhaps they are trying too hard to sell a product. Are they forgetting to properly acclimate people and get them accustomed to the gym environment? Instead, they need to build trust first and ask the right questions. Since my experience, I have re-evaluated how I perform my initial consultations and how I suggest our trainers do the same.

Instead, I now ask questions such as, “How do you feel about the club? Are you excited or nervous about your assessment today?” I make statements such as, “Today’s session is about establishing you into your new lifestyle. Don’t worry. This is going to be a good experience for you.”

Minimally, I believe the whole Bentley experience has made me slightly less scared of the dog and possibly a slightly more conscientious fitness professional. I hope it does the same for you and your trainers.