Why You Shouldn’t Call Yourself a Trainer

If you “train clients” in the fitness profession, chances are that you call yourself a trainer.

I say the phrase “train clients” loosely enough to encompass anyone in the fitness industry who works with clients towards some fitness goal.

But if you are like most forward-thinking fitness professionals, especially the ones who play in the online space, you shouldn’t call yourself a trainer. Moving away from the trainer/trainee mindset might be the most powerful thing that you can do.

The Trainer, The Coach, and the Designer

What we call a “trainer” is really one of three roles: a trainer, a coach, or a designer. Let’s look at what distinguishes these roles from one another.

The Trainer

The defining characteristic of a “trainer” is the assumption that the trainer’s client will follow orders.

In other words, the client is expected to live in the trainer’s reality, where the trainer has complete control. The trainer directs the client with the complete, utter, unflappable assumption that those instructions will be executed.

trainer and client

Of course any fitness professional worth a dime is spilling their whey in a hissy fit about the fact that – similar to Lyle McDonald’s friends – this only exists in an imaginary world.

But in specific contexts, there are times when client adherence isn’t an issue. Think about fitness professionals who work with clients on the gym floor. During the hour-or-so session that they’re together, that person is a trainer.

One of the implications about not worrying about adherence is that recommendations can be physiologically optimal. Getting a hypothetical 3% extra return in MPS by perfecting a client’s post workout timing or carb-to-protein ratio makes sense.

But what if we can’t assume complete adherence? What happens if you introduce the notion that clients can choose not to obey you. This is where psychology comes into play.

The Coach

When you can’t assume complete adherence, you cross over into the “coach” realm. The distinguishing characteristic from trainers is that coaches have to deal with a client’s psychology.

Coaches have to deal with the fact that clients won’t always do what they say. Even worse, you might not even know if a client isn’t adhering; the client might be smiling and nodding at your recommendations while mentally telling you to fuck off.

This means that a good coach can no longer optimize for the physiologically optimal. Good coaches need to understand things like the limitations of your client’s willpower, the countdown to client activationdisrupting binge eating thought patterns, or why your clients obsess over the scale like a cat with a laser pointer.


It was you the whole time? R U kitten me?

So all you have to do is motivate your client to follow your plan? Simple right?

Not quite. It turns out people aren’t easily motivated. Even worse, the act of attempting to motivate them may push them the other way entirely. I write more extensively about this here.

After a while, many coach/client relationships turn into a tug-of-war over whose version of reality is correct.

nou1 nou2

Let’s use some concrete examples to explain the images above.

The client above didn’t hit her macros, because she was stressed with work, didn’t feel like her macros are attainable, and ultimately felt frustrated with her coach.

Her coach thinks that she’s simply making excuses.

“She could have hit her macros if she really wanted. I don’t understand why she’s even upset with me. She’s paying me to coach her.”

As a coach you will absolutely encounter the scenario above. The temptation will be to tell her to jump off a cliff or join the nearest CrossFit box. (Same thing, right?)

I’ve been there. It’s much easier to write this off as a hopeless client. But if you do the hard thing and understand that this is a very naturally occurring phenomenon, you can turn the situation around.

In order to do that, however, you have to become a designer.

The Designer

In the example above, the client and the coach are “wrestling” over the client’s recommendations.

As explained in Motivational Interviewing, a successful relationship between you and the client needs to look more like dancing, not wrestling.

Fitness designers are different from coaches in that they take into account the client’s environmental factors. By adopting this paradigm, you can elevate yourself to the most powerful of roles and become a “fitness designer.”

Designers takes it one step further than coaches by utilizing their knowledge of motivation, habit design, and nutrition. They then work with the client to describe an objective reality and use this reality to make decisions.

Let’s use a real client story to see how this works.

I have a client (let’s call her K) who typically trains after work. K is typically splendid, but she hasn’t been able to motivate herself to go to the gym lately.

The first thing that I wonder is why her motivation is low. She says that work stresses her and seems to depletes her of mental energy. I see if she can train in the mornings, but her schedule makes this impossible.

After digging around more, I then discovered that she was going home before the gym and the temptation to get off the couch was too much. She was going from a high-stress environment to a low-stress, relaxing environment, making it hard to leave the house afterwards.

Knowing BJ Fogg’s research on changing small habits and knowing how the habit loop works, we worked together to find a solution, which ended up being simple:

Change into gym clothes at the end of work, before going home.

As a designer, you can describe a shared reality that both you and your client agree with, and then figure out the best course of action.


Wearing Different Hats

Notice the thought process at the two different ends of the spectrum.

The trainer is concerned about the physiologically optimal. The perfect squat form and whatnot. The client is in the trainer’s world, and the trainer could care less about the client’s life.

The designer is concerned with the client’s habits, environment, and thought patterns. Understanding these requires knowing as much as you can about your client’s life.

These three roles aren’t mutually exclusive. You’ll need to switch between all three, just like you might need to switch between being a parent, a boss, etc.

One role isn’t necessarily better than the other. It depends on context. For example, Dr. Layne Norton is one of the fitness experts in the world. Because he focuses on making champion bodybuilders, he will most likely be in coach mode.

But if you, like most fitness professionals reading this, are hoping to change the lives of Average Joe and Average Jane, the best thing that you can stop doing is thinking of yourself as a trainer. (Again, this doesn’t apply to all folks, such as those whose clients have strength or physique goals, but it does apply to those who want to reach the masses.)

Once you have a good understanding of evidence-based fitness (this should be a prerequisite) you’ll become a better coach if you spend your time elsewhere. The material that makes the most powerful of these hats isn’t made from fitness. It’s made from empathy.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that the best coaches aren’t just the fitness-obsessed. They appreciate philosophy, art, culture, music, as much as they appreciate science. This is no coincidence; designing around your client’s life means relating to it as much as possible. These are things that you must learn outside of PubMed or the gym.

In reality, you’ll probably still call yourself a trainer. Or a coach. That’s totally fine. It’s the paradigm shift, not the label, that’s important.

Although please don’t ever say “I’m a fitness designer,” because that would just make you a tool.

p.s. If you’re interested in online coaching, make sure to sign up to be a Fitocracy Team Fitness coach where you can connect with a platform of 2-million users.

Get Dick’s blog and Lifehacker posts in your inbox

Let Me Coach You 1-on-1

Why Work With Me?

Have you ever been blown away by a transformation picture? If you’ve ever seen any supplement ad or infomercial, chances are you have.

“Seth” made the transformation above in only 7 weeks.

And, if you’re like most people, you wish you were the person in that before-and-after picture.

But if transformations were common, you’d see them everywhere. Sadly, only a very small percentage of people are able to make them.

… That is, unless you are a client of mine.

That’s because I churn out these transformations like it’s my job (jk, it is). My clients, everyone from celebrities to everyday Joe, have called me a “fat loss wizard.”

Apply to Train With Dick

Why I Can Get These Results

What’s special about me that allows me to help others get results like my client Ben here?

Ben actually increased all of his lifts throughout his transformation.

A major reason is that for most of my life I hated exercise. Yep, if you thought that I loved exercise because I’m one of the co-founders of Fitocracy and a prolific fitness coach, you would be wrong.

Actually, I was obese growing up and had been for a majority of my life. I actually looked like the kid from Up, except much rounder and plumper. I topped 230 lbs at 5’7 (I’m now 5’10) at my peak.


Yep. Even the homeless laughed. :c

The funny thing is that both of my parents were Medical Doctors and had me “eat less and move more,” whatever that means.

I tried eating less and moving more with as much willpower as I could muster, but nothing worked. I loved food and I hated exercise too much. (I’m still actually quite neutral about exercise, to be honest. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either.)

Even worse, no amount of will power or motivation seemed to work . If you’ve ever tried to lose weight before, you know what I mean. Eventually, you give in to your urges. First once, then again and again. (I eventually learned that willpower only plays a small role in making your transformation.)

These days, I am now grateful for growing up as a fat kid. It’s the single most important thing that influenced me as a coach.It allowed me to find the “secret sauce” to a successful physical and mental transformation.

First, I’ve spent thousands of hours reading everything that I can about exercise and nutrition, and believe me, you’d be surprised how little most people know. (Did you know that breakfast is not necessarily the most important meal of the day?)

Secondly, through my many clients and my own self-awareness, I figured out the psychological aspect. This is arguably more important and I’ll tell you about the details in a bit, but let’s fast forward for now.

Four years after the picture above, I looked like this.

Only 4 years after the picture above

Get Started on Your Own Transformation

What’s Different About My Methods

Here’s the secret to why I can produce such amazing transformations with such high accuracy.

Fitness isn’t about willpower, motivation, or “being tough.”

Willpower is finite, motivation is fleeting, and good luck toughing it out on days when life massively gets in the way.

Rather, fitness is a cerebral skill, one that I will teach you. (For more on this, see my article on Schwarzenegger.com.)

jeremiah 100 lbs

Jeremiah lost 100 lbs working with me…and by doing the minimum that he needed to do.

All Programs Work

(…but good luck sticking to them)

Making an amazing transformation isn’t about finding the perfect program. After all, what good is the perfect program if you hate exercise like I did?

A successful transformation is about YOU and YOUR psychology, physiology, and your specific environment.

Denise created an internal transformation to make a huge change in a little more than 8 weeks

How many times have you dieted perfectly, only to be tempted with a slice of pizza or cake. If everyone could say no to cake and pizza all the time, everyone would have a six pack. After you give in, one slice turns into another, until you’re left devouring the entire shebang.

Here are more examples. How many times have you wrecked your diet eating out of boredom? Or because your spouse pressures you into eating something “unhealthy” and everything snowballs from there?

These are the things that prevent you from having an amazing transformation, not lacking the perfect diet and training program. I will teach you how to tackle these things through manipulating your thought patterns and habits.

In the end, you’ll finally make the transformation you deserve.

“Not only is Richard one of the most knowledgable people in the industry, he is tough when necessary, but understanding of life and circumstances. He’s available for questions when you need him and he pushes you to be the best version of you. I looked to Richard on a daily basis for help and encouragement. He was by and far one of my greatest assets as I prepared for Miss America 2013!”

– Mallory Hagan, Miss America 2013

Grab One of the Limited Training Spots with Dick

The Difference Between Me and Most Coaches

If you veer off of your diet, most coaches yell at you and tell you something along the lines of “ stop being lazy” or “just toughen up.” Most people are actually afraid of telling their coach about their failures.

While there is a time and a place for accountability, this technique rarely works for most people.

Rather, I’ll teach you to dissect and manipulate your thought patterns and habits, then work with you to find a plan which you will then practice. (Remember, fitness is a skill.) The result is that you will learn how to squash things preventing you from getting fit, such as binge eating.

I’ll teach you how to develop fitness as a skill.

Most coaches also haven’t had the breadth of clients to understand difficult physiologies. Between looking at client data and data from Fitocracy’s 1.5-million members, I’ve gotten experience with many different types of trainees and have found patterns. For example, it’s much harder for women who are already overweight to lose weight.

Many clients' weight did not want to budge until working with me.

Many clients, like Kim above, didn’t lose weight until working with me.

Why one-on-one with me?

Because you get a world class coach who you have access to 24/7 (you’ll go directly to my phone and have priority with real time help) who can help you with ANY fat loss goals. Whether you want to lose weight for the first time or you want to compete in your first bodybuilding show, I will make sure that you succeed.

The plan is extremely tailored. I might have some people starting off with light weights that they can do in their apartment gym. I might have some people squat every single day.

I also have training groups that you can join, but this is an opportunity to work 1:1 with me PRIVATELY. To make sure you succeed, I learn everything about you, your life, and your physiology and psychology.

[standout-css3-button href=”http://www.yahoo.com/”]Button text goes here[/standout-css3-button]