Don’t talk TO clients, talk WITH clients. Guest post from Megan Pomarensky

You and your client have different wants and whys…and this gap is where training drops off.

I used to talk to clients a lot. Telling them what they needed in order for them to get stronger, feel less symptoms, or move better.

I also used to wonder why they didn’t seem to “buy in” to what I was saying…why there was a struggle with completing their workouts on their own, or doing their mobility drills between sessions.

I later learned that the struggle was because while I was talking to them, I wasn’t talking with them. 

I wasn’t fully understanding what they wanted or what their priorities were. 

Most of them didn’t care about anatomy or movement mechanics the same way I did. 

You’ve seen it…clients don’t come in saying they want  “scapular control” or their “glutes to be activated”, or to have better ankle dorsiflexion, more hip internal rotation, or to have a “centrated shoulder joint”. They aren’t saying they want to strengthen their posterior chain, or master intra-abdominal pressure.

Clients are saying that they want to feel stronger, manage their pain, be able to do more, and have minimal worries.

In the early days of my training, I skimmed over that part. I was focused on my why for their programming. Showing clients all the drills, while rattling off numbers and facts like needing a 2-4” knee to wall because closed-chain dorsiflexion is what makes the shin bone move relative to the foot.

How having 30 degrees of hip internal rotation will improve the joint articulation in squatting.

That the scapula rotating with the humerus in the proper 2:1 ratio will create space for less impingement in the shoulder.

Why glute strength can stop excess force on the medial knee compartment.

…then would be left wondering why they didn’t care as much as I did about their program, why they didn’t seem to stick to it, and why they routinely asked what else they could add (spin, yoga, running, etc), or what parts of the program they could skip because they had better things to do.
(I also wondered why clients felt like they needed my permission to do things, because I was inadvertently also making them feel fragile…a story for another day :)) clients need to get those ROM numbers, strength or movement patterns to get to what they want? For a lot of cases, likely yes.

But they needed it for a different reason than what I was initially telling them.

  • That ankle mobility will let them fully push off and sprint up the field faster than their opponents.
  • That hip mobility will help them comfortably sit on the floor to play with their kids
  • The shoulder with good mechanics will help them keep doing their job without pain every time they have to lift or work at above shoulder height.
  • That glute and hip strength will make hikes much easier, and they’ll be able spend more time out on more challenging adventures.

Any behaviour change – including exercise and rehab drills – requires a person to be ready, willing, and able to change. And I can guarantee that people will be more willing to make that change, when they see the value in each step of the process.

Here are 4 strategies you can use to facilitate the deeper level conversation with your client to create programming that will get completed, and ultimately get better results:

  1. Get really clear on their goal for training. Find out what it is, and then ask why. Then ask it again. And again. Get to that deeper level, where it really means something.
    • “I want to get stronger”
    • “I want to be able to play hockey again”
    • “I want to coach my kid’s team”
    • “I want to spend more time with my kid doing what we love”.
  2. Identify what they currently struggle with or what they believe potential barriers will be, and create strategies they can use from day one to avoid that struggle from derailing them.
    • “Since time is limited for you, you can practice this squat pattern every time you get up or sit down in the office, versus doing 3 x 10 after work while you’re at home with the family. Because you’ll still get a lot of reps in throughout the day, your body is going to learn that movement really well!”.
  3. Instead of showing the client how smart you are with the numbers, show them how much you care, by relating the drill/exercise to how it’s going to help them reach their goal.
    • “This is going to help improve your ankle strength and balance so that when you’re coming down the uneven trails on your hike, your feet and legs will be strong and able to handle those little tweaks that can happen if you slip a bit or go over on it”.
    • “We’re going to do 10 seconds of assault bike sprints full out, with 50 seconds recovery, because that’s the kind of bursts of power that you need for each football play”.
  4. Show them that there’s a plan.
    • “After we get this hip pattern hinge locked in and feeling natural on its own, we’re going to add some resistance and be able to start lifting weights with it to build the strength in your back, hip and leg muscles. We can also train it on both legs, single leg, or holding the weights in different ways, to give you a ton of options of ways to lift things safely”.
    • “You mentioned having a history of knee pain flare-ups during past experiences of progressing in the gym, so we’ll use the stretches/exercises that worked well for you in the past as part of a warm-up and cool-down, and focus your training on exercises that use your hips and back of legs more to start. Then as your legs get stronger and get used to the activity, we can introduce exercises that let your knees help a little bit more and more to get stronger too”.

Now those are reasons to train!

Incorporating these strategies has changed the game for me over the past few years that I’ve been rehabbing and training clients, regardless of their circumstance! Whether we are trying to manage or minimize the chronic pain they’ve been experiencing, or are injury-free and looking to take their performance to the next level, understanding the “why” of the goals, along with every aspect of the program, increases the readiness and willingness to change, and then participation levels skyrocket 🚀

Let me know how it goes when you try these strategies!

Megan Pomarensky is a Certified Athletic Therapist, a Certified Functional Strength Coach, and a Certified Vinyasa Yoga Instructor, with a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Science. She is an internationally published academic author, public speaker, and educator.

Over the past 9 years, Megan has built a successful private clinical and training practice working with clients from professional athletes looking to improve performance to older adults with chronic pain, and everyone in between. Her mission is to empower every client to better understand their body, get the most efficient and effective rehab and training, make informed decisions about their care, and break the chronic pain cycle.

She also helps therapists and coaches get better results for their clients by getting out of the textbooks, protocols and checklists, by providing continuing education courses, and clinical/business mentorship opportunities.

IG/Twitter @meganpomarensky