Episode 269

The 4 Pillars of Trainer Development with Ben Pickard

In this episode, Ben Pickard joins me to talk about the 4 pillars of trainer development.

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend on today’s episode, I’m speaking with fellow business unicorns, coach Ben Pickard, and we are talking about trainer development. We talk about how to onboard trainers into your training philosophy and how to think about their ongoing education over time, specifically, we give you four pillars of how to think about your ongoing education system.

So if you’ve got a training team and you want to develop them, it’s a great episode for you. Keep on listening.

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. [00:01:00] Welcome to another episode of the business unicorns podcast today. I’m here with my fellow B4U coach, Ben. What’s up, my friend. Hi everybody. So good to have you back on the podcast, my friend. And I think it’s been probably a minute since they’ve heard your voice.

When I look at our list of released podcasts. Welcome back. I hope you’ve been having a good summer. Before we dive into today’s topic, we just want to give a quick shout out to all of you that you should be following us on social media, specifically. We’re pretty great on ed Instagram. We put out some really great content.

Not only put out our podcasts from this, this podcast, we put out Mark’s YouTubes and his subsequent podcasts, but also put out other great content from Pete and Ben and share cool things that we have going on. So if you’re not yet following us specifically on Instagram, do that. And if you haven’t followed Mark over on YouTube, do it just like this podcast.

He puts out short little pithy videos that are on topics you care about as gym owners that have really. Actionable tips and advice you can use immediately. So go follow us, friends. Let’s dive in Ben. You want to tell us, tell everyone what today’s topic is going to be. Today, we’re going to [00:02:00] talk about trainer development.

Yeah. And maybe just give a little context what this comes up a lot in our calls with Prince Heidi members. Can you just talk a little bit about why this comes up so often? Yeah. My kind of the suspicion for why this comes up so often is because as people move through the phases of gym ownership from it’s me and another trainer as the owner and another trainer and then I have a few more trainers and then I’m not, maybe I have an admin and I’m less connected to every single little thing that’s happening.

It’s far easier for the, there to be missed expectations or probably more accurately expectations that were never set in the first place. And it’s something that to maintain that quality of standard as you’re not moving away, like you’re going to go just drink mojitos on a beach for the rest of your life.

But as you’re not the one who knows every client intimately, and you’re not the one who does every rescheduling, and you’re not the one who knows. Literally everything about the gym, it makes it even more important to develop your team because for most of most gym [00:03:00] owners, the system for trainer development is just that they’re fucking in the gym a lot and they catch everything.

That’s not a system. Yep. Yeah. 100%. I think you’re right that this really matters to a lot of our clients because you’re right that the system they first have is follow me, shadow me, be like me. Right. As the gym owner, it’s just, that’s it. And so I think really what I did. Yeah. 100 percent and I’ll say this, I’m joking about it now, but that’s not a bad place to start is give them a role model.

Give them an example. You are the standards, the owner for what good training looks like. If you’re opening the gym as a training owner, then you are the standard. I think that’s fine for your first employee. And after that, you probably need to start developing some systems so you can train people with some consistency, train them, not only on the principles and philosophies that drive your decision making as a trainer, but train them on what that actual delivery of training service looks like in your gym.

And specifically the preferences you have that help distinguish you from your competition. So we’ll get into, I think, how we do this. I’ll say one more thing. I also [00:04:00] think this is important, like on a deeper, maybe even philosophical level, because in many ways, I think a lot of training gym owners that are trainers, think of this a little bit as really attached to their legacy.

I don’t know if you agree with this, but the idea that the thing that they’re passing on to their team, the thing they’re going to be known for is like their approach, the style of training that they do, the kind of programming they design is really attached to the kind of their identity as someone who, you know.

is a fitness professional. And so I think their ability to pass this on is a little bit, I think, a little bit like parent and child passing on, right? There’s like a legacy of, I want you to live in this world in my image so you can carry the torch of my passion, right? I’m being traumatic for purpose, but does that resonate with you?

Does that feel, I don’t, I’ve never lived this experience, so I’m totally guessing based on conversations, but does that resonate with you? Yeah, the word that was coming to mind for me was identity. And I think most gym owners, myself included, our training philosophies are a function of what we. [00:05:00] Deep and purposely believe in like our heart of hearts expressed through fitness and when a trainer does something that we don’t love She’s your words.

It makes her fucking skin crawl. It’s not just that’s okay. They did a lunge a bit differently We’re like that is not okay. It’s like seeing someone kick a puppy. Yeah Yep. Yeah. They have a real visceral reaction to, that is not how we do things. Yeah, totally. Let’s talk, now that we’re pretty clear, at least we’re on the same page of why we think this is often important.

And, and I think you already hinted a little bit why people often get it wrong as I just don’t set clear expectations. And so let’s maybe give a few examples of ways we’ve seen gym owners, including in our own gyms, do this. What’s a place you would start if you were going to start setting expectations for kind of the training experience to develop your team.

The place I think I would start is to get clear on. Um, not overly whelming, overwhelmingly huge list, but a list of here’s the fundamental things that we believe. So for, as an example, [00:06:00] my background is working with Stu McGill for low back rehab. He’s arguably number one on the planet, depending on your beliefs.

We don’t do crunches. We don’t do sit ups. It’s an absolute no go. One of the principles that we follow is we believe in creating core stability and being able to control movement before we create movement. And that’s something that if I saw a trainer doing sit ups on a. Exercise ball with a client and be like, like I would have that visceral, I’m imagining it now and I’m still getting the response, even though it’s a hypothetical situation.

Um, but if you don’t have them documented of here’s how we do things, it really makes it hard to teach because otherwise you’re going to end up saying in passing, Oh yeah, just make sure you do it that way. And you’re going to think you told them hyper clear, this is a thing we do. And they’re going to be like, okay, cool.

So sometimes we do that. Yeah, I think it’s a great first step. And we were talking a little about this before we started recording that so many people go right into the minutia of treating their team about. the exercises. And I think your suggestion here [00:07:00] is spot on, which is you got to start a level higher.

You got to start talking about principles, right? What are the pillars of your beliefs as a training team? And I think you can ground them in real science. You can ground them in just like personal preference. But the first thing is to train your team, the why before the what, like here are all the beliefs that we hold as trainers that then wind up driving our decisions about the exercises we choose, the way we approach.

Progressions, regressions, the way we approach, fill in the blank. So that’s, I think that’s fantastic. I’ll plus one that. And I’ll also say that so often the fundamental beliefs that I’ve seen our team learn at MFF as part of their initial development are all about alignment of the body. They’re about biomechanics.

They’re about like, this is how we think about how the body functions. In space and I think there’s a lot of people on this call. They’ll probably agree on a lot of them And there’s probably a good we probably all as an industry problem I’m guessing I’m not a trainer as everyone knows but I’m gonna guess and y’all can Sound off in the comments if you think I’m wrong I’m gonna [00:08:00] guess the industry at large agrees on maybe 75 80 percent of the science on biomechanics I don’t think yeah, maybe higher but even generously maybe there’s 20 percent that we all are on Different pages about, and then I have some background.

I was a massage therapist for a while, so I have some idea, but my background is about bodies lying on a table, not moving in space. Well, I guess I was a dancer. I’m short changing myself today, Ben. That’s what I’m doing. Thank you. This is really a podcast about. Therapy for me. So anyway, my point being that I think that’s a great place to start.

I just wanted to like really plus one. Yeah. Start with principles. Start with the beliefs you have about how bodies move in space, about how the, how the body should be in alignment, how it’s coaches, we cue those things. Yeah, cool. So then once you’ve got that down, once you’ve developed, people understand the why before the what, then where do you go?

Um, I think I’d be, of course, sharing that with them and making sure we’re on the same page, actually more accurately getting curious about where we’re not on the same page. Cause let’s just go with your 80 [00:09:00] percent agree, 20 percent don’t agree. Yeah. We’ve got 20 principles. It’s probably going to be four that.

We should discuss. Yeah. And I’ve heard many vigorous discussions at MFF over the years on our training team for like things that the minutiae they, they disagree about. And those are useful conversations because it helps surface where are we not aligned that we can agree, at least in front of clients, we’re going to appear aligned.

Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. What else? So you’re going to get curious with them about where all the, where there’s alignment, where there’s not get on the same page and then where do you go once all the principles are aligned? How do you develop them next? Yeah. That’s a great question. Part of me wants to.

Part of me feels like I’m skipping some steps, but I think it’s now showing your team. What do those principles look like in practice? What are the behaviors that you could demonstrate that show how you’re doing that? And that could be from, we believe that your knee should never go past your toe as a made up example that I’m sure the fittest people are going to fight about or light up in the comments.

But it’s, here’s what that looks like in a lunge. Here’s what that looks like in a squat or a deadlift or a whatever, because. [00:10:00] Principles are something that it’s, everyone, you say, Hey, do you care about your health? And everyone’s like, of course I care about my health. It’s like values. Everyone just like nods in agreement, but there’s something in the back of their head.

That’s what does that actually mean? And if you can show, here’s how we demonstrate that in practice through the exercise selection, maybe that’s a reflection of our programming templates and exercise database. If you have one, it’s also reflected in here’s the cues that we use because we believe in giving external cues instead of internal cues.

You can also be reflective in like how you have conversations with clients about, I don’t know, I’m going to be a little bit extreme just for the sake of argument. Let’s say you’re just like, not a fan of running. How do you empower your team, provided they agree to have conversations with clients when a client says, Oh, I think I want to do more jogging.

So you want your trainers to show up and be like, that’s fucking stupid. You need to be like, Hey, what are you, what’s the purpose of doing more running? What are you looking to get out of that? Because then you’ll be able to have a better understanding of where the person’s coming [00:11:00] from, but it’ll also show the trainer.

What that looks like in practice. Yeah, I think that really makes a ton of sense. So let me just repeat what I think I heard, which is once you have the pillars and the principles in place about the beliefs we have around training, then it’s about demonstrating for them what it looks like in practice.

And I think you named a bunch of really great tools for that, which is we have an exercise library, a list of exercises that we’re all on the same page about using. And what’s not in the library are shit that we don’t use, right? That’s, it’s like, it doesn’t get more clear than that, right? The things in this library represent our beliefs about exercises that we just, then it’s a little bit about cues, right?

Teaching them the coaching cues we use for the exercises that are in the library. It’s about how we put those together in programming, hopefully using templates that help discern, help us articulate even more expectations about what a training program looks like. Yeah. Those are the three tools I really heard.

Did I miss one? Those are the main ones. It’s a deeper rabbit hole, but like how your trainers also communicate that with clients. ’cause a lot of, well clients who have a lot of [00:12:00] experience, even if it’s experience with Beachbody type stuff, not like functional training gyms. Sure. They tend to ask a lot of questions and they wanna know the why.

They don’t want a science degree, but they’re curious about why is this better? Or I want more shoulder mobility. How is this helping? And as we all know, being able to get buy in is going to be drastically more beneficial for results and therefore profitability in your business. You’re right. I think that’s really key, Ben, because your trainers as you’re developing them are your students as they learn your way of doing things at your gym, but you’re also teaching them to be the teachers.

You’re also teaching them to, to be your apostles, to go out and share the good word of your beliefs with other people, right? There’s a little, there’s a little bit of evangelism going on here and, but I think that’s useful, right? Cause if you really are affirming those beliefs about this is how we think about getting healthy humans to move better and feel better and look better, then yeah, then you want to scream those principles from the rooftops and your team needs to know.

How to inspire people with those same beliefs. So I think that translation, [00:13:00] I think is really huge. So these are all, I think, a pretty good list, in my opinion, about how you first onboard people and develop your team to really understand how, where you’re coming from as a Gen O or with training philosophy.

But when people often talk about training and development, the place where they often get stuck is, okay, what about after that, let’s just say that they do have a good onboarding. They made clear what their principles are. They have a good exercise library. They’ve. Trained and tested people on their ability to demon to create programs and deliver the appropriate coaching queues.

The trainers are all pretty good in practice that articulating why people are doing what they’re doing, but then long term. How do you think about trainer development? That’s a tough, I think about it a lot, mostly because it’s something that I don’t feel that I have figured out at my gym. I’m probably not giving myself enough credit because it’s not like it’s a burning house by any stretch, but we’ve tried different stuff.

We’ve tried. I feel like we’ve tried everything. And I guess the principle that I’ve always come back to with this is that there needs to be some sort of ongoing [00:14:00] trainer development that has buy in from the coaches, whether that’s doing a monthly in service or talking about it at your weekly or bi weekly team meeting, or you have a stipend for continuing education that you.

Try to force them to spend. It’s like, how does it stay somewhat consistent? Because I would love to believe that every trainer on the planet is as committed to I was in my first decade of getting better. And the reality is. They aren’t always, and that’s, depending on who you train, that’s totally okay.

One of our best coaches ever came in with such little experience. And when we asked the interview question of like, where’d you get your training education from? She said, Instagram. I’m like, that’s a minus one on the answers, but she also showed she was the fastest learner we’ve ever had. We’re like, Hey, instead of doing it like that, keep them like this.

And she’s got it. And we never had to say that again. So there has to be this. The system for trainer development, whatever that looks like, and I think that also involves a lot of curious questions with your team to get them on board [00:15:00] because if you’re just like everybody’s doing this course on March 1st, and it’s got to be done on April 1st.

That could actually be a huge negative for some of your team, even though you’re like, I spent all this money on you and I gave you this thing I want you to learn. And they’re like, I’m not interested in that, but I’m afraid to tell you because you’re my boss. Yeah. Yeah. So I think you really hit the nail on the head about why this is important and why it’s tricky.

Yeah. And I’ll say a few things that I think are just going to be echoing what you said, which I think part of the reason why this is so hard is that a lot of times as. Small business owners and leaders, we fail to recognize that different people learn differently. And so we can’t have a system of developing our team that’s the same for every person on our team.

Different people learn differently. They learn at different paces. They care about different things. They have different styles of learning. And so making everyone on your team always read a book every quarter, it’s going to leave a lot of people behind. Even if you pick great books and buy it for them and give them lots of time, it’s just going to leave some [00:16:00] people behind.

So for me, if I was to create a formula for ongoing training and development, and this is not very scientific, but I’ll say it anyway. It’s, it has to be, the formula for good ongoing development has to include a little of what they want to work on. A little of what you think they need to work on and, and ultimately it has to be immediately impactful to how they do their job.

Like those are the three pillars for me again, just like you, after many years of MFF of trying many things, we’ve tried all the things, right? The in services, the books, the online courses, the certs, the, you name it, we’ve tried it all the stipends. But I think if for listeners, the three things I think are always going to be useful is, as you said, then being curious about what they want to work on, what they think.

What they’re genuinely curious to learn about a little bit of what you want them to work on and you think they need to improve on. There’s a mixture there. And then at the end of the day, it has to be applicable to their job. It has to be something that makes an impact on how they show up the next day.

It can’t be [00:17:00] so tangential that it’s not related to. Them getting better at their jobs. No, nothing that’s pure theory based. It doesn’t. No, not at all. And frankly, we learned that several times at MFF, or we learned from our team when we would do in services and things, and we asked for feedback. They would often say, I like that we’re learning together, but so what?

What do you want me to do with this? How does this apply to what we’re doing on the training floor every day? And we would sometimes fail to make that connection. And so for me, at the end of the day, if the reason we are all doing this ongoing education is to literally get better at our jobs, then the education has to immediately tie to how we perform.

On a daily basis, maybe not 100 percent of the time, like, sure, there can maybe be some fun reading or some fun learning or something just improves our, our general sense of being as a human. Like I’m all for those things, right? But most of the time, there’s gotta be a tie to you getting better at your job or it’s getting better as a team.

Anything you would add to those pillars? For me, those are like the three that are so obvious. I had to say it. [00:18:00] Anything you would add? Yeah. I’d like to maybe suggest a fourth pillar to it, to put it into practice is. Create a system that makes doing it non negotiable. The what the it looks like is up for discussion and there’s probably a lot of right ways.

It’s not like there’s one way to do this, but as an example at my gym, we use actually basically those three pillars in a document that we’ve prepared for. Here’s how you do continuing education, but then we’ve set it up in a structure where we have three coaches. So every third month, one of the coaches presents and we’ve given them a really wide sandbox and plan.

It can be a PowerPoint. It can be a practical in service. It can be, we had a coach do like cue cards and matching stuff up about communication, but every third month you’re presenting. So that means you probably want to have your topic picked about a month before. And let’s be honest, three months to present for 45 minutes to people who it’s okay to screw up with.

It’s not like you’re. It’s relatively low stakes, not super high stress, hopefully, because otherwise you might give those three things and they’re like, what are you working on? Oh, I’m just not [00:19:00] sure. So you haven’t done anything. And it’s because I didn’t give you any structure. That’s my fault. Yeah. I love that idea, Ben.

I think listeners, I think you all should run with that idea, which was not only do I like the pillar of once you decide what it is, you got to be holding them accountable to doing it. And one way to hold them accountable is to make them share it. Make them share, uh, a presentation about it, an in service about it, an article about it, a social media post about it, anything that creates a product, like an outcome of their learning, uh, something that demonstrates that learning has occurred and ideally share that learning amongst the team if it’s valuable to others.

That’s amazing. I love that idea. Let’s leave it there. I think we can keep talking about this topic for at least nine more hours, but, but I think that we covered a lot of ground today in terms of the principles that really matter when you first get started, the beliefs about training, how to really make that, um, Clear how it happens in action on the training floor with great libraries and templates and coaching queues and teaching them how to talk about what we do.

And then I love here, the pillars we came up with, which is get clear about what they [00:20:00] want to learn about genuinely. Insert a little bit, what you want them to learn about, make sure that you’re holding them. Accountable to it. And, and I already, I skipped it. It has to make them better at their job. Has to make them better at their job.

Yeah. Thank you. Has to make them better at their job. Yeah. I love it. We just solved all of trainer development in 20 minutes. So good job us. Awesome. Thanks for the conversation, Ben and listeners. If you found this podcast valuable and you like hearing more conversations like this, please make sure that you share this podcast with all your friends and leave us a five star review.

Anywhere you listen to the podcast and email us, email us, or leave a comment in social media, let us know what he wants to talk about next. You can ask us questions, suggest guests. We really do follow all of your suggestions and wind up talking about almost every topic that’s suggested. And so by all means, we want to hear from you.

Thanks much, Ben. See on the next one. Thank you.