I recently had to cancel three days of clients because of some vile stomach illness I wouldn’t wish upon my fiercest of enemies. I hate canceling on my people, but the primary reason for my reticence to send that apologetic text may surprise you.
I know from experience that once I cancel on people, I’ve sent a subtle signal that canceling our training sessions is okay. I fight hard to stay healthy, not just because it feels better for me—but ultimately because my clients’ success depends upon me being there. Every. Single. Time.
The personal training world gets a bad rap in part because it seems this don’t cancel on your clients policy practiced by every good coach I’ve ever known isn’t the standard it should be for many fitness practitioners. Sometimes I’ll take on a new client who’s used to working with a less than professional trainer, and they’ll begin the relationship with several cancellations. I have to have the conversation with them about how I will almost never cancel on them and in fact I expect the same courtesy in return.
Am I being prickly? Nah, because the truth is people know I have a 24-hour cancellation policy. So if they cancel on me late, I can still charge them for the session. I get paid for doing nothing.
What’s really going on is I know just how important establishing the fitness habit is, especially in the beginning of change. If you hire me to train you and I cancel on you rather than keeping our appointments, I’m failing at a significant part of the job—which is literally just showing up for you.
Life happens, and some canceling is inevitable (as my three-day stomach bug vacation proves), but a successful trainer/client relationship depends upon a mutual culture built on keeping appointments. You have to show up for each other.
If you’re working with a trainer, here are some signs that you need to find someone who takes you more seriously.
1.) Do you have set appointments with your trainer, or are you consulting your calendar every week? For the most part you ought to have a slot that’s yours unless your travel schedule or shifting work schedule dictates moving appointments from week to week. What shouldn’t happen is that your trainer texts you on Sunday night every week attempting to squeeze you into slots.
2.) Your trainer should never—and I do mean never—no show you. I heard from a former client in another city recently who had to give up on his current trainer because of incessant canceling and no-showing. This is simply unacceptable, and it shows that whomever you’ve hired to help you on your fitness journey really doesn’t much care about whether you succeed or not.
3.) Last minute cancellations should be a rarity. I used to work with a guy who would text his early morning clients and check in just to make sure their 6 AM was still a go. This is ridiculous behavior that you shouldn’t tolerate. If you said last week that you’re training this week on Wednesday at 6 AM, well that’s exactly what should happen unless an act of God, family emergency, or illness intervenes.
But it’s not all on your trainer. This is a partnership and the responsibility for your success can’t be all on her. Here are your responsibilities:
1.) Show up on time ready to work out. If you have a 12 PM session and you show up at 12:10 consistently, you’re sending subtle signals to the trainer that you’re not really invested in your own success. Early on in my career I used to show up for a 6 AM client at 6:03—until she rightly called me out on it. Frankly I was too grown to be acting in such an unprofessional and careless manner, and I’m glad she had the courage and self-esteem to say she wouldn’t stand for it. (She ended up being a good friend and one of my favorite clients). She was always on time, ready to work, and I’m a little embarrassed to think back on how I didn’t automatically reciprocate her behavior until she said something.
2.) Never no show, almost never cancel late, and rarely cancel at all. You’re not going to improve if you don’t show up. And again, the way you act toward your trainer sends subtle cues about how you want to be treated. The person who shows up a little early, ready to work out, always keeps appointments, and appears to be respectful of their trainer’s time is the person who will be rewarded with extra effort, extra research, and extra attention to detail.
My industry has failed a lot of you countless times because of a lack of basic grownup behavior. Early on in my career, when I still viewed fitness as a means to other ends (I’m going to be a writer or a journalist or an actor!), I was as guilty as the very people I’m criticizing today. You shouldn’t stand for this because your body is too important. But remember always to hold up your end of the bargain as well. A relationship this critical, this intimate, is based on mutual trust, respect, and professionalism.