Episode 263

How to Communicate About Programming to Your Clients with Pete Dupuis

In this episode, Pete Dupuis joins me to talk about how to communicate about programming to your clients.

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend. On today’s episode, I’m speaking with Pete, and we’re talking about how to communicate to your clients about your gym’s programming. So if you wanna learn more about how to be an effective communicator about your gym’s approach to fitness is a great episode for you. So keep on listening, friends.

Welcome to The Business for Unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their business. I’m your host, Michael Keeler. Join me each week for actionable advice. Expert insights and the inside scoop on what it really takes to level up your gym. Get ready to unlock your potential and become a real unicorn in the fitness industry.

Let’s begin.

Hello, fitness business nerds. What’s up? Welcome to another episode of the Business Unicorns podcast. Today I’m here [00:01:00] with Pete. Hello, my friend. Hi there. We’re back. We’re back. We’re back at it. We’re doing it. Before we dive in today’s conversation, I just wanna do a quick shout out about our email list.

Dear listeners, if you’re not on our email list, I suggest you get on there. It’s a link down in the show notes to join our email list. Not only will you get a recap of all of our content every Saturday, but Pete puts out a weekly email. Mark puts out a weekly email and every single email we put out, we really try and make full of like actionable, tangible, practical advice for things you can use right away.

And so if you haven’t yet, please click the link in the bio, join our email list, and we promise we’re gonna send you valuable content that you’ll be able to use immediately. That being said, let’s jump into today’s conversation. Today’s conversation came from a Unicorn Society member, Blake Denny. Thanks for this question.

Blake and Blake wanted us to talk a little bit about how we communicate our programming choices to our clients. So whether the programming changes from time to time or you change your approach to programming, like what is our strategy for [00:02:00] communicating about programming to our clients? You wanna kick this one off, Pete?

If I’m gonna kick it off, I will give the caveat that we run a unique model here with nearly a hundred percent of our clients are executing individualized training material. Yep. That we design in monthly chunks. So there’s a lot of communication as it relates to what the programming objective or strategy is.

And I would tell you that there are two different types of communication that we need to think about. One is, Coach to athlete and one is business to parent. And that’s a very big piece of the puzzle because a lot of our athletes are on the younger side, so say definitely 13 ish and on up a handful of twelves depending on how engaged they are, excited about the process.

But with the younger athletes, it’s very common for us to field. Ongoing questions from parents. What are we trying to accomplish [00:03:00] here? When are you gonna test them again? How often are we getting evaluated? What can we expect for tangible adjustments by next season? And programming conversation is just an exercise in expectation management, in my experience.

Mm-hmm. Does that bring some clarity for what we deal with? Yeah, I think 100%. I think, and that’s a great way to frame this whole topic, right? It is about expectation setting. It’s about clarifying when you first are onboarding a new client, whether it’s the parent or the athlete, or. General population, adult, right?

Getting clear about this is our approach, this is our strategy, this is how programming works here, this is how you’ll learn about it, this is how you’ll be, stay informed about it, which is awesome. But let’s start with your model, just because I think there’s a lot of folks out there who are also do sports performance and work with youth athletes.

So can you talk a little bit about the first category of like coach to client communication and like what matters to you there? Yeah, so this starts in the assessment room, right from the moment we begin talking about injury history and. Executing movement screenings, things of that [00:04:00] nature. We need to help people understand what they’re getting into.

And oftentimes we’ll transition into the weight room and they’ll see people walking around with clipboards and we wanna make sure they know what they’re looking at. And so we design programs in four week intervals, and then you get new material every fifth week. Now any gym owner out there will tell you.

It’s not the highest percentage of clients who get a four week program done exactly 28 days, or at least not in these performance centers where homework gets in the way sports get in the way life gets in the way. So that’s a whole other conversation. But what we do is we explain how we think about our program design in the sense that.

We reserve the right to evaluate and adjust our approach consistently. Now, that could happen midstream. That could be on day two when we course correct, ’cause something just doesn’t look right on the training floor. But this is usually from month one to month two to month three, and there’s definitely a vision for what the next several [00:05:00] months look like when we start an athlete.

But we don’t design months 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 for an off season. Simultaneously, we might have an overarching kind of concept that’s looking to be accomplished, but month two is designed in the backend of month one. ’cause we have been using each of these training sessions to basically their informal assessments and movement screenings.

The client might not realize it, but our coaches are watching and taking mental notes and seeing what did and did not work, and then they’re adjusting accordingly. But one of the things that we need to make sure we manage from an expectation standpoint is, To communicate to the client that we don’t throw a hundred percent of this out and start over every month.

This isn’t a game of novelty. Mm-hmm. It’s nice that they do new things, but there are certain foundational movements that exist in every program. We might tweak your rep scheme or your volume or your rest intervals. We might slightly change a [00:06:00] neutral grip to a supinated grip or whatever, whatever.

Language we’re using in the weight room. But the reality is they’re going to hip hinge, they’re going to do lunges, they’re gonna do certain things that show up in all their programs, and we need clients to understand that’s for good reason. These are the meat and potatoes of our programming strategy, and it doesn’t mean we’re lazy.

Because you did trap bar deadlift in some capacity in consecutive months, it means that it’s important. If it’s showing up in consecutive months, it’s valuable exercise for you. And so we need to communicate that early so that people don’t get programmed number two and be like, ah, what the hell? 40% of this is stuff I pretty much already know.

And it’s best that we have that conversation before rather than after in a reactive way. Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s so well said. And I think you, you really started off strong by reminding people that this is a kind of expectation setting and a kind of education that starts in our first meeting with clients.

I love that you started there. The first time we meet them, we’re starting to help [00:07:00] them to teach them how we think about these things and how we design our programs. And then that feedback loop between the client and the instructor is ongoing forever. Every session, whether the client knows it or not, the trainers.

Paying attention and making notes, mental notes or otherwise about what’s working and not working in their programming. And then they’re having some conversations about what’s working and not working for the client that’s reflected in the next round of programming. And that’s an ongoing kind of education project to teach them how to think like your coaches think.

So I think that’s so smart. What’s different when working with, when working with the parents? So when working with the parents of the athletes, what changes there? I think what comes into play more often than anything else with the a parents of the athletes is managing expectations as it relates to assessment.

Mm-hmm. Because we will have parents who think that their son or daughter needs to be evaluated every 29th day, full on movement screening, get out the force plates, get out the just jump [00:08:00] mat, let’s test it all. I need to know exactly what I got out of the last four weeks. Yeah. And sure, I wanna see people extract value from their investment.

I. But the reality is we don’t need to evaluate every single month because like I said, the training sessions are micro evaluations if we’re doing our job. So communicating to parents how we think about the cadence of evaluations and their necessity is really important. So we’ll bring you into an off season and we’ll do some entry testing and lay down some metrics that we’re chasing.

And if you’re gonna train consistently with us, From say now, which is the start of the fall until the spring, when the spring sports season starts, where 85% of my clients go in season. Then we’re gonna do some exit taste testing as well. But there isn’t a moment in there where it makes sense to be like, stop everything.

We have to put you on the training table so we can do an evaluation. Yeah. It just doesn’t, it’s not necessary. It’s an exercise in it’s. It’s just for theatrics. ’cause every training session is hands-on [00:09:00] clients and manual interaction, and they’re all evaluative in that nature. Now the next question that comes from there is, okay, if I leave for a period, do I get evaluated when I come back?

And we have unofficial rules on that front, but my mindset is if we don’t see you for 60 days, we’re gonna do a little bit of an informal movement screening when you come back. Most of the time we know exactly what’s coming, but if we can budget 15 minutes in the calendar to talk about what you’ve been doing the last 60 days, do a quick screen talk about any shifts and goals and objectives that might be in play now that weren’t before, and then move forward accordingly.

That usually puts the client and the parent at ease. But as a rule of thumb, I want one to a maximum of two evaluations a year for our clients. In general. Yeah. This is, I’ll say though, injuries blow that whole thing up. Okay. So if somebody has a significant setback and they have been through a recovery [00:10:00] process or a surgical intervention or something like that, we’re right back to the drawing board from an evaluation assessment standpoint, when they make their return.

Yeah, that makes sense. That makes sense. And it also makes sense to me as someone who doesn’t have kids, that the parents really are interested in the testing. They’re like, what am I getting outta this investment? When is little Johnny gonna be tested next? And I think it’s useful to know whether you’re working with parents or other general population.

What part of these expectations do they care about the most? Is it the testing and the assessing? Is it who’s designing my program? Is it what exercises are gonna be chosen? Is it like, do I get to give feedback? And I think learning that about your clients early on helps you play this expectations game much better.

The answer to the four questions you just asked is yes, and yes, exactly. They want all of the above. They would all, I’ll give you a piece of advice, or I’ll give our listeners a piece of advice. One of the best moves you can make. This is assuming you are not lying, is to communicate to your clients and their parents that the team is discussing.

The athlete’s training [00:11:00] needs behind closed doors. So we have a staff meeting each week where we’re running the list of new programs that have hit the training floor and discussing what the objectives are in this new month of training material, what issues we’re trying to keep an eye out, what red flags there are.

I. That we need to take into consideration what we want the interns to know if they’re working with a given athlete, what the parent’s insecurities are hitting the training floor. Mm-hmm. All of this stuff is on the radar of the team. And when I say to a parent, we had a staff meeting on Wednesday and we actually ran through Johnny’s entire program as a group, and they collectively understand the injury he’s coming off of.

That changes everything right then and there. I’ve quelled the fears we’re done with the concerns that the athlete is gonna fall through the cracks in a group training environment where we have this kind of semi-private model, and we basically say, just because one coach I. Evaluated your son or daughter, and that one coach wrote the program doesn’t mean we can’t collectively deliver on the experience, and I can’t emphasize this [00:12:00] enough.

Don’t lie about that. If you didn’t have that conversation as a team, if you haven’t built that into your routine, your weekly mission control meeting, yeah, then it’s not okay. It’s not a white lie. It’s a dangerous lie, and you need to. That hole in your system first before you do anything else. But most of the responsible gym owners are doing something of this nature, and it’s worth explaining what happens behind closed doors because we are pretty meticulous about these things because we’re exposed to a pretty significant amount of risk with the training material we put out there.

Yeah. Yeah, that makes total sense. And I, I think that’s true that I think any even little tiny white lies to your clients can be pretty detrimental. ’cause they always find out, they, they always know. So just avoid, lie to your clients at all costs. Sure. Yeah. I’ll, you know what, I’ll add a little bit of perspective just from a general pop perspective, because we don’t actually do, at this point, any customized, individualized programming.

All of our programming is on mass for the group. We do [00:13:00] large group training with a lot of people, classroom style, with body weight, kettlebell, kettlebells, and resistance bands. And we do small group personal training, six on one training in like a weight room. And in both cases the programming is for everyone.

There’s a few different templates and paths people can take in small group training, but both of them are designed by like a core program design team or kind of a rotating series of designers. And they’re on a four week cycle, just like you, Pete. So both our class setting and our small group setting on this four week cycle.

And one of the ways that we communicate about programming, ’cause I think we get less detailed questions about programming being a kettlebell gym and not working with athletes. People are generally along for the ride. We do obviously explain throughout the sales process the benefit of the approach that we take, but really most people are happy just to hear our updates every four weeks.

So every four weeks, whoever designed the programs that they’re about to do they, they put together this kind of a little one sheet explaining I. Here’s what’s up in this next four week cycle. Here are some of the exercises we chose and why. [00:14:00] Here’s some, some things we’re focusing on these next four weeks and why, and we literally could send that out to all of our members.

It gets hung up on the wall so they can see it. So if people, if there’s any nerds who wanna know, why am I doing these exercises I’m doing, how does this program fit what we did last four weeks or the coming four weeks? We answer all of that. Every four weeks in the basically a general announcement we make to everyone.

And for most of our members, that’s enough. If they wanna ask more questions about why cer, why training our programming is a certain way. They can absolutely nerd out with our trainers at any point. But for most of our members, that’s all they need. The only exception to that is that we have, we have a class, this is a large group class called Wild Card Wednesdays, and Wild Card Wednesdays is usually designed a little different than everything else.

It’s, and the trainer who designs it rotates designing the programming, and it’s usually based on a silly theme. I. And so, for example, the one I think is coming up this week that we’re recording is based on the board game, the Settlers of Catan. So we basically programmed a whole [00:15:00] class around the theme of this board game.

So if you can imagine it, we designed a class around it from movie themes to music themes. And so for that class we also, whoever designs it, puts out a little blurb about here’s what the wild card Wednesday is about. And it really goes a long way of making sure people feel looped in and their expectations are set for what they’re about to explore.

And that’s usually sufficient for us. That’s usually sufficient for us. Anything I should add? No. You guys, you always dot your I’s and cross your T’s. So I have, I have not gonna tell you guys how you should modify your SOPs relating to programming at M F F. I’ll tell you a funny story. We had a, a.

Strength camps are our group fitness kind of adult morning training thing. We had our coordinator for that used to make a habit of, at the end of the day, putting the next day’s regimen on the marker board. Mm. And then he’d publish it on the Strength Camp Facebook page. Can’t wait [00:16:00] to see you guys in the morning.

We’re ready to go. Yep. And we started to see very specific trends in people who would opt out when they didn’t like the exercise material. And so that’s amazing. Somebody would be super consistent, would also consistently skip like a certain, I don’t know, deadlift day or something like that. Yep. And when we’d call them out on it, why weren’t you there?

They’d be like, I’m not coming if you’re telling me what the punishment’s gonna be the next day. Yeah. And I always thought that was really funny because the objective was to create engagement and Yep. And. Community and dialogue, and instead it was just allowing people to opt out of hard things. Yeah.

Which is obnoxious, so we don’t have that same habit anymore. Yeah, totally. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. I think for us, the wild cards, Wednesdays tend to have the opposite effect, like we make specifically make them Wednesdays as like a hump day. It’s like something to look forward to. Like the middle of the week, I’m gonna go to a class that’s themed on the Barbie movie or I’m gonna go to a class that’s themed on like at M f F, my favorite musical.

And that’s something that gets ’em to want to come when maybe they were thinking they [00:17:00] were gonna skip it. And so that’s, that’s quite an exciting, I’ll say this ’cause just ’cause it’s top of mind I see in the folks we talk to every day in Unicorn society when it comes to programming. The thing that most of them do that I think is a pseudonym in the foot is most of them make it too complicated.

Most of ’em spend too much time making the programs too complicated, so they have to spend a lot of extra time explaining them and tap dancing around it. And they spend a lot of time actually designing the programming. And I think if there’s any advice I have in that direction, again, I’m not a trainer, so you all listening can tell me to go f myself.

It’s fine. But I would say most of you should spend more time on other aspects of the client experience, then making your programming so complicated that every single program is so highly individualized and so highly unique that it takes someone 30 to 60 minutes to even design a single program. That’s too much.

It’s not a good use of everyone’s time. And most clients, I would say, even sports performance folks probably don’t care [00:18:00] enough. What they want, and this is something we’ve moved towards mf, is we really start talking about individualized coaching. Customized coaching that on the floor when we’re interacting with you.

That’s where the customization happens, not in the pre-planning. Pre-planning and the programming in advance. We’re actually gonna, at M F F, you’re gonna get a template, but we’re gonna make it fit you and your needs and your preferences in the room because we’re really attentive coaches. And so we can spend more time adjusting, progressing, regressing, having people change up the exercises entirely.

We can do that on the floor in real time. So we’ve been trying to stress more and more the importance of individualized coaching, customized coaching, but the programming actually being a little bit more generic’s, such a more efficient use of our time. That’s maybe not right for everyone, but that’s certainly the sweet spot we’ve been finding at M F F.

Does that make sense? Look, we position ourselves as an individualized program design facility. Yep. And I’ll tell all of our listeners that exceedingly nuanced programming doesn’t scale. Yeah. [00:19:00] And what it does is it pisses off your colleagues. So a decent chunk of our weekly meeting, Can be conversations about things that staff members are tired of having to coach on the training floor.

Yeah. Tired of seeing in programs because they know that they’re so coaching intensive, that it is compromising the experience for the balance of the athletes in the room. Yeah. And so look, we’re into our 17th year here. This is a song and dance we can’t stop doing. So what we do is we just continuously keep our finger on the pulse of programming habits and we have.

SOPs surrounding discussions. On programming do’s and don’ts, great things that we really like to respectfully request, stop showing up in our peers programs, and then we discuss as a group ways to regress or progress them in more logical ways that work for the group as a whole. Not at the expense of everyone except for one athlete at one given moment.

I think that’s really well said Pete. I think [00:20:00] that’s the system I think a lot of gyms are missing, right? ’cause everything in this universe, including programming, moves in the direction of complexity. And in programming we need some system that builds a current, in the opposite direction, that makes, makes the exercise library smaller, not bigger.

That makes all the coaching cues less, not more, right? Like I think there’s something that has to be fighting against that desire for complexity. And I think what you described is exactly it. Let’s leave it there. I think we really, we covered this topic of like how to communicate about programming. I think we covered it from GenPro perspective and a sports performance perspective.

So I feel like we nailed it. Anything you wanna add for our listeners as we wrap things up? Oh, Come to Philly and meet with us at the retreat. I don’t know if we still have spots available. So that’s a, yeah, we might, by the time they’re listening to this, I think it was pretty much sold out. But we were gonna add a few more ’cause there was really high demand.

So if you, at the time of listening to this, we still have spots for Philly, please come. Yeah, email us or just hello@businessunicorns.com and let us ask us if we have spots, if we have them. We’re happy to have you. [00:21:00] Yep. Mid-September. Yeah, it’s, it’s gonna be a good time. It’s gonna be a good time. Thanks for a great conversation, Pete and dear listeners, if you enjoyed this podcast, please go leave us a five star review everywhere you listen to this podcast.

It really helps us find more listeners like you who could value, who could benefit from this content, and, and I’ll see you on the next one. Thanks for a great chat, Pete. Talk soon.