The Client Rulebook: 5 Rules to Follow

TAGS: client update, nutritional coach, client coach relationship, The Client Rulebook, personal trainer, Alycia Israel

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Within my competitive history, I have been an online and in-person client to many coaches. I also now coach clients and athletes myself, mainly from an online training platform. From both of these experiences, I can tell you one thing: I fucked it up a lot. After giving this perspective some thought I wanted to write a short series from the lens of both a client and a coach. From this came The Rulebook Series. Within this first article of the series, I am going to discuss some common mistakes I have personally made when I was a client and mistakes that I see clients make on a regular basis. The next article within this series will be the flipside of the equation — The Coach Rulebook: 5 Rules to Follow to Make You a Better Coach. So let’s get right into it. What are the five rules to follow to make you a better client?

1. Stop lying.

At a certain point, a coach is going to know if you are lying, whether they come out and say it or not. So if you think you have them completely fooled, chances are you do not. And quite honestly, hiding things from your coach only hurts you in the long run. But first off, let’s talk about why clients might lie about their nutrition or programming to their coaches in the first place. I also want to state that I myself have been a client to a few coaches and continue to do so, and yes, I have lied to my coaches before (in my early competing days at least). Gasp! So coming from at least my experience, I can dive into why clients might lie and why it is so important not to do so from a coach’s lens as well.


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I think the main reason why clients might lie to their coach is out of fear of judgement or letting them down. This is how it was for me at least. When I first started competing, I honestly didn’t realize how hard it was going to be and the complete lifestyle shift that would need to take place. So I really felt like I was fucking up all the time. Sometimes it was on accident, and sometimes I was just being a baby. Either way, lying to my coach to me was way easier mentally. I didn’t want them to know I was failing or that I was having a hard time. I have trouble expressing vulnerability and I feel more comfortable keeping my “tough face” on all the time, but as I grew up in the sport I realized I was simply doing myself a disservice.

Coaches do not expect you to be perfect. They know you are human and will make mistakes, whether you mean to or not. Just own up to it! If you slip up, grab your humility by the horns and let them know. If they know, that at least leaves room for potential adjustments or even a good verbal kick in the ass. You might just need it to keep moving forward and reach your goals.

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2. Send your updates on time.

For all things holy and beautiful in this world, send your updates on time. For the most part all clients send their coach some type of update, whether it be weekly, bi-weekly, etc. Unless you meet with your coach in person on a regular basis for one-on-one training, you are most likely communicating via email with feedback on how you are doing in some capacity. If your coach gave you update deadlines, at the end of the day it is your job to meet those deadlines.

Personally, if a client doesn’t send me their weekly update on time, I will send them a reminder email within 24 hours. However, I do not prioritize their changes or my responses in this case. So I do think it is a “meet in the middle” relationship here. As a client it is incredibly appreciated when you respect your coach’s time and deadlines. It shows respect not only to them but also to the other clients they work with. I manage a staff of 50 trainers within my full time job, and I express this same concept to them: "There are 50 of you and one of me. Be accountable for yourself and communicate appropriately or I cannot help you efficiently.”

3. Keep your emotions out of it.

When it comes to training for a specific goal, it is very easy to let your emotions take control. Didn’t hit the PR you expected? Didn’t drop weight like you had hoped by now? Boo hoo. It happens to all of us. I see so many clients spend more time being distraught or frustrated than thinking things through objectively with logic and composure. Training is full of hills and valleys; no one on this earth gets better 100% progressively. No one! So stop crying and pointing fingers when in reality you are simply a human being. As a coach, when I see a heavy amount of emotion (positive or negative, actually) through an email, it throws up a red flag. This tells me that the client is approaching their goal from an emotional state, not a logical state.

Now, I am not saying emotions are bad. Haven’t you seen Inside Out? What I am saying is that there is a time and a place. When you think of your goals objectively and know that there are going to be ups and downs, it is way easier for your coach to adjust and help you progress than when you're throwing temper tantrums. So please leave the drama for your mama and be a grownup.

4. Be realistic.

Now, when I say to be realistic, I do not just mean in terms of setting your goals or timeline of expectations. What I mean is to be honest with yourself about your progress. An example would be if you step on the scale the morning of weight check-ins and find that your weight is five pounds up from the week before. So clearly you get pissed off and write your coach a heated email about how you have been working so hard and following your plan to a T. The Taco Bell Craving’s Deal Box you ate last night shouldn’t have been a big deal and being five pounds up the morning after is ridiculous, right?

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Do you see what I am getting at? Be realistic about the work you truly put in and the results that come from it. Be realistic with the fact that if you give your goal 50% effort, you’re going to get half-ass results. So be honest with yourself about your work ethic here and refrain from pointing the finger.

5. Ask questions, without questioning.

I want to start this one off by saying that if you hired a coach to do your programming, by all means you should be asking questions. This is a no-brainer. Personally, if a client isn’t asking me any questions, I assume they aren’t actually following the plan. As a client you should have questions. Questions are always highly encouraged and it tells me that the client cares and is going the extra mile to execute appropriately. However, it is when “questions” become “questioning” that the problem occurs.

For example, I once had a client and I was programming her nutrition for an upcoming show. I think I had some type of salmon-based meal programmed for her at some point. I remember her emailing me with something along the lines of, "Why are you having me eat salmon? My mom said eating salmon gives you cancer,” or something ridiculous like that. So, I responded with something along the lines of, "I want you to eat salmon for the fatty acid profile and health benefits, but there is no magic food. We can always adjust for preference. However, while I am sure your mom means well, in order to maintain your progress and our relationship I am going to ask that you trust me. Salmon will not give you cancer, Susan.”


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As a client, do not do this. Not only is it rude, but you also essentially just told your coach you don’t trust them. Why are you paying someone to do your programming if you don’t trust their expertise and guidance? So I would suggest instead of trusting your mom, who probably saw something made up on daytime television, trust the person you hired who does this shit for a living. Like I said, definitely ask questions, obtain clarification, and pick and prod at every detail. That is totally okay! But if you find that your questions are coming from a place of doubt and insecurity, you should dig into why that is. Maybe the coach you hired actually is full of shit? Or maybe you are just an asshole? Just some food for thought if you have ever found yourself in this boat as a client.

To wrap things up, hiring a coach to help you achieve your fitness goals is a straight up first world privilege. So as a client, be mindful of this in terms of your attitude and work ethic towards your goals. At the end of the day your goal is your goal, and you are the only that can reach it. If you are given the tools but choose not to use them, that’s on you. If you are given the opportunity but choose not to take it, that’s on you. If you are given the guidance but choose to walk in the opposite direction, that’s on you. Be accountable for yourself and show up to succeed. Own up to your mistakes and move forward. These are all very simple objectives, but it is up to you, not your coach, to make them happen.

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