Nonscience Skills Every Health & Exercise Pro Needs

While the work we do in the fitness industry is science and evidence-based, it is — at its core — people work. It is about the people we serve. A professional can be prepared with the scientific knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to do the job, but without those “human skills”, their success will be limited.

Here are the top 5 non-science skills every professional needs to take their career from surviving to thriving.

Interpersonal communication skills

We find ourselves in one-on-one situations with people throughout the day. This might be a meeting with a colleague, planning session with a supervisor, or sessions with clients. Whatever the situation, effective interpersonal communication skills are critical. It is imperative that we learn to actively listen, reflect, and clarify where needed. Too much gets lost in translation when we only listen with the intent to respond instead of to understand. Interpersonal communication happens face to face, virtually, and through writing (messaging, email, etc.). Take time to communicate openly, transparently, and clearly to those you interact with daily.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence or EI refers to the ability to recognize and manage your emotions and the emotions of others. This does not mean to mute or overlook emotions. This means to honor them — yours and those of others you work with (clients and colleagues). EI is also a part of communication. When emotions and feelings are not respected or honored, communication falls apart and rapport is drained. One of the biggest key components to EI is empathy — meeting clients where they are and coaching them in a positive direction forward. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman is an excellent resource.

Adaptability and flexibility

Clients run late, meetings run long, traffic delays us or issues arise at home. A plan is a great tactic to have but an even more valuable approach is to have it be a flexible plan, so you can adapt when called to do so. Similarly, if a client shows up for a session and their energy is low, that is a cue to you to change the plan. Instead of a hard-hitting weights session, maybe restorative yoga is in order.

Time management

In many ways, a fitness professional’s schedule is owned by those we serve. It is not a typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job (necessarily). Learn to schedule your time wisely to still allow for mindful breaks, your own physical activity, and a transition period between sessions. This will help you avoid early career burnout and a waning interest in your job. I like to plan a 5-minute grace period on either side of a session to allow for those days where someone runs late (it happens even to the most organized individuals). Consider also adding a transition period between sessions so you have a chance to breathe, bookend your previous session with anecdotal notes and reminders, and prepare for the next client. Back-to-back sessions are killer on a person’s energy.

Conflict resolution

It is impossible to please everyone all the time. It’s part of human nature to experience conflict and disagreement. But there is an art to addressing concerns and resolving disappointment. As a professional, be prepared to have crucial conversations with colleagues and clients when the need arises.

While you continue your commitment to refining and growing your science-based components and skills, don’t forget to evaluate the softer side of your professional persona and identify areas of growth in the non-science category.

Originally published on the SCW Fitness Education website.

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Erin Dollison Nitschke

Passionate college educator, writer, and health and fitness professional. I am an NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE Health Coach, & Pn1.