Athlete Consultations: Finding the Right Gym

You’ve decided to make training a priority. That’s great but how do you know where to look for help? There are gyms on every corner, trainers in every rec center, and online apps to help but where do you start?

The most obvious place to start is by deciding what you want from your training. Some gyms specialize in strength training, while others promote a more endurance focused program. This should narrow your search but where to go from there?

Stop Running for a Better Squat

Many coaches fall into the trap of being the “kettlebell guy” or the “sports performance guy” or the “bodyweight training guy”. Specialties in particular modalities are likely fine but the primary concern of any quality coach or gym should be your progress. You’re paying for the results, not the prescription. At our gym you’ll see a lot of barbell training. We like barbells because they are (1) scalable to nearly every person on the planet, (2) utilize exercises that work the entire body in an efficient manner, and (3) provide for a potent strength/hypertrophy training stimulus. All this being said, barbells work best for those that want to use them. Would you run a marathon program to improve your squat? I hope not, why then, would you run a program at a gym that isn’t tailored to your goal(s)? Do you have so much time that improving your undirected fitness is a pastime of yours? Unlikely.

I have written extensively about the importance of this topic (Is Your Gym Programming for You) but for now let’s assume you see the value in participating in a program that address your needs. How do you determine if the gym you’re interested in actually cares? The most obvious clue would be if they asked you what you want to accomplish. Were you allowed to sign up without talking to the coach or owner? Does the training program remain the same regardless of your abilities, goals, and availability? These are clues that the gym might not be offering what you’re looking for.

We offer consultations to prospective clients in order to see if we can help them reach their goals. Any quality gym or coach does too. Here is how we do it.

The First 3 Questions

I once had an athlete ask me if we meet with every prospective client. “Yes, to find out if they’re a good fit” I told him. He looked at me and asked if we spend a lot of time talking to folks that ultimately don’t sign? “Yes again”, I explained but it’s part of the process.

“Why do most folks not sign with you”? I was ready with another quick reply, “because we cost too much, the gym is too far away, or they can’t commit to at least 2 sessions per week“. He nodded and asked “why don’t you just call, ask those questions AND THEN schedule the consultation. That’s what we do now.

  • Where do you live?
  • How often can you train per week?
  • What is your monthly training budget?

Although obvious, this process evaded me for so long. At Brentwood Barbell, our primary objective is to help you reach your goal. We do this through a combination of practical training and nutrition education/implementation. Our resources aren’t incredibly useful if the athlete (1) can’t afford them, (2) lives too far away, or (3) has trouble keeping a training schedule. With experience, I’ve come to realize these questions aren’t about screening out “bad clients”, rather they’re about helping us maximize our time with athletes that can utilize our resources.

Data Collection

Once we’ve set up a time to meet with the athlete, we’ll now begin mining data from their coaching application. Specifically, we are looking at the following areas:

  • Avatar (age, training history, kids, spouse, schedule, interests)
  • Health (injuries, meds, surgeries, supplements, pertinent medical data)
  • Resources (sessions x week, minutes x sessions, equip at home, days and times they can train)
  • Current Efforts (current routine, nutrition work, baseline activity)

This data will be put together in the form a general exercise prescription. After hearing more details from the athlete, we may fine tune the prescription.

Story (re) Telling

Working from our rough outline, we’ll ascribe an “avatar” to the athlete we’re meeting with. This helps us generally organize our thoughts on training, nutrition, etc. However, the most important information has yet to be discussed. We need to hear the athlete tell us their story in their own words. We need to dig a bit deeper on WHY training is important now. We need to hear WHAT they want to accomplish in their own words. Once we have spent a good deal of time listening, we will now begin to fine tune our prescription. We will start by telling the athlete what we heard. Again, simple but effective. The athlete will either confirm what we heard or give us clarification.

The Prescription

Once we are clear about the athlete’s needs, we will now spend some time breaking down how we might want to start working with the athlete. We will discuss items like:

  • training sessions x week
  • training session length
  • exercise selection (and why)
  • program plug-ins (cardiovascular training, nutrition, etc.)
  • program goal(s)

Again, the athlete will either confirm that’s what they are looking for or that we need to discuss the programming further. Here is an example of what we’re hoping to accomplish during a consultation.

Sally is a 44 year old mother of 3. She was referred to us by her friend Bill (already works with us). She has no history of coaching or athletics. She reports no injuries, medications, or supplements. She says that her knees “bug her from time to time” but that’s it. Though she does not currently exercise, she would like to devote an hour x day, 3-4 days per week to doing so.

Current Stats

  • Age 44
  • BMI 34
  • Height 5′ 4″
  • Weight 195 lbs.


  • Lose 50 lbs.
  • Increase her general strength

Upon further discussion, Sally stated she wants to lose 50 lbs. as that would give her a “healthy BMI” and staying healthy for her kids is a major priority for her. Additionally, she wants to “be stronger” so she can be more physically active with her kids.

Sally’s goals may change over time but as of right now, we have more than enough information to get started. Here is Sally’s initial prescription.

Block 1 Prescription

  • Strength Train 3 x week (about 60 min per session)
  • Walk 20 min 3 x week on non training days
  • Nutrition: begin logging food in a tracking app

Initially, Sally would focus on the major barbell lifts while in the gym with her coach. These include the squat, bench press, overhead press, and deadlift. These lifts represent an excellent starting point for strength training and provide an efficient stimulus, keeping her sessions about an hour. We would also ask Sally to log her food. Lastly, we would ask Sally to walk on her off days. This would mostly be to keep her engaged while she isn’t at the gym.

Long(er) Term Training

Later prescriptions might include more general accessory strength work, interval training, and specific macro or portion prescriptions. The plan would evolve as Sally’s needs required it. This is longer term planning but doing so loosely.

Once we have Sally training, our primary objectives would be continued education and progress for her. We would accomplish these objectives by talking with her every 3-4 months about how things are going.

The reality is that there are many ways to accomplish your training and composition goals but you’re far less likely to do so if you’re unclear about what you want or the work needed to get you there. Any reasonable business interacts with potential customers in a way to maximize client ROI, don’t settle for a gym that is just looking for another “member”.

Good luck with your training my friends!

James Harris, MPT