I tried to post this a few days ago, but I think the internet gremlins stuck it in an inaccessible part of the cyber-closet. So, here goes again.
If you’re a personal trainer then you should support the idea of Universal Basic Income, or UBI. This is especially true if you are an entrepreneurial personal trainer who is self employed.
As someone who has owned a couple of gyms, trained tons of people, coached athletes and competed myself, I understand why the idea of having to “work for” or “earn” everything is commonplace in fitness.
You don’t get the physique you want, you get the one you work for. You have to earn, through effort, the ability to do certain things. This is true. I get it.
But, that idea doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t extend to, a base level of financial safety. In this blog I’m going to explain exactly why UBI is something EVERY personal trainer should support, both from a client program efficacy standpoint, and from an entrepreneurial success standpoint.
If you’re a “pick yourself up from your bootstraps” kinda trainer. This might rustle your jimmies. Stick with me, though.
It is arguably more important to understand coaching psychology than exercise science from a client success standpoint. Most people can have a fair amount of success with a shitty program they stick with. But if they can’t be coached to adhere, then it doesn’t matter how awesome your exercise selection, rep scheme, and periodization are.
One of the most fundamental concepts in psychology is Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. You’re probably familiar with it. But just in case, here’s a brief overview.
According to this model, there are layers of human needs that need to be met to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. Each layer requires the ones beneath it to be met in order to be able to truly work your way up this hierarchy towards self-actualization.
Here’s a picture, to help.
You see, at the bottom, our needs are fairly primal. We need food, shelter, and clothing. Beyond that we need safety. Then we have belonging and friendship, esteem, and self actualizataion.
Maslow’s Heirarchy and Fitness
Here’s the thing, most of us are coaching from the middle to upper parts of that hierarchy. BUT, many of our clients are entering our programs from lower on that hierarchy. And this matters.
If you have a weight loss client who is struggling with food insecurity, or housing insecurity, it’s going to be very difficult for them to adhere to any fitness or nutrition program. And if food is their stress coping mechanism, then all of the nutrition coaching in the world doesn’t solve the problem that they are stuck at the bottom level of the hierarchy.
Now maybe they have ascended, as most people have, to the second level. Safety. Most people are one bad paycheck away from financial ruin, bringing them back to the first level. Again, this is not an ideal place to coach from.
And it can be argued that physical fitness and nutrition help to make one safer in many ways. It absolutely can. But, most of our clients come to us and when we dig deep into the “why” of their goals, that rests more in friendship and belonging, esteem, or the self-actualization levels.
This is true whether someone wants to lose weight to attract a partner (which many people feel they need to do, like it or not), or if they want to feel good about an athletic accomplishment, or if they just want to succeed at something challenging, like a marathon.
So, MOST client goals are motivated by the middle to higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. But the truth is that many of the folks we work with are really inhabiting the bottom levels.
And if each level below is a pre-requisite need to be fulfilled before we can work on a given level, we have a problem.
How UBI solves the problem.
We live in an age of abundance. There is no reason why we cannot, regardless of what a person’s labor production is, provide for the very basics of the physiological and safety levels for EVERYONE. There simply isn’t. Everyone has a right to live. Everyone has a right to safety. We have the resources.
Now, I’m not saying everyone should get steak tartare for dinner and live in a 4 bedroom house. But, if everyone is cared for with the basics, then they can focus on the higher leves of Maslow’s hierarchy. (And truly, in the future, that’s where all valuable contribution to society will come from anyway. Automation will see to that.)
From a coaching standpoint, I know that if someone isn’t worried about having to collect couch coins for instant ramen, then we can start talking about broccoli and chicken. If they aren’t worried about working 3 jobs just to stay in debt, then we don’t have to have the awkward conversation about “prioritizing your workouts.”
Honestly, if you’ve ever told someone with a family and 3 jobs to prioritize their workouts, I get it. But fuck off. We’re moving beyond that today.
So, taking care of those basic needs frees someone up to actually adhere to a program that can be life changing enough to move them up the hierarchy a little bit. And you can feel good about helping them. That is, after all, part of your own self actualization, esteem, and sense of belonging. Isn’t it?
How UBI Benefits Fitness Entrepreneurs
If you’ve ever had a client who was otherwise fantastic and doing well just up and quit suddenly because of an unexpected car expense, or family emergency, then you will understand this. Their lack of financial safety has directly and unexpectedly impacted your own.
This is something that EVERY personal trainer who isn’t dealing exclusively with celebrities deals with. It’s just fact.
And now you’re left with your own financial problems, maybe a little bit of anger, maybe some of your own fear. There’s a lot of emotions involved when you lose a client who you feel you’ve worked hard to help. And that’s going to impact your coaching in addition to your bank account.
Shit, it might even make you do something stupid like trying to sell Herbalife to your clients. Don’t do that. Really.
But, if that client didn’t have to choose between food and paying you…
If that client didn’t have to choose between getting the car fixed and paying you…
Then you could continue to work hard to help them improve their fitness without distraction. And this fulfills your needs on the hierarchy as well by letting you focus on work that brings meaning, and also ensuring your financial, housing, and food security.
It’s a win / win.
Again, we live in an age of abundant resources. Everyone can be taken care of. And once everyone is, then everyone can work on thriving. And that’s where your role as a personal trainer comes in, helping people to thrive with exercise and nutrition and community.
But if folks are busy focusing on surviving, then the business of helping people thrive is going to have a very, very hard time.
So, UBI helps us move towards that helpful space where we all benefit.
And if you’re a personal trainer, or other movement coach, I challenge you to explain why UBI doesn’t help you in your career, or your clients with their goals. Let me know in the comments.