The personal training model that will transform your workouts and your profits

Dan Duran is a leading expert on behaviour based training, but his training background actually began in a very different field. Dan first spent almost two decades within state law enforcement where he rose rapidly through the ranks to hold multiple training related positions, including Director of a California police academy and statewide training manager.

Having retired early, Dan then began his career in personal training, since which time he has broken financial records at almost every organisation he has represented, first as a trainer and then as Director of Fitness. Dan is now the Director of Business Development for PTA Global, an Ambassador for PTontheNet and has held the positions of PTA Global Certification Board Chairman, PTA Global Faculty Liaison, and Subject Matter Expert/Consultant for FitPro of North America.

We met Dan to learn how he had achieved so much in such a short space of time and where he feels the industry has to change if other trainers are to emulate his success.


When did your fascination with behaviour based training begin?

As with most things in life, unless you’ve been on the receiving end of behaviour based training then it’s difficult to appreciate its full value.

For twelve years I had suffered from severe back problems as well as arthritis in my knees and shoulders. I was unable to run more than a couple miles and they were painful ones. I saw every kind of specialist and received some quite serious treatment, including a spinal tap. Nothing worked, and with each disappointment my lifestyle became increasingly unhealthy while I continued to beat my body up in the evenings with heavy weights and hard punching and kicking in martial arts. By 2009 I was almost 270lbs and in constant pain.

Then one day the COO and co-founder of PTA Global, Rodney Corn, took me on as a client and put me through his programme which combined behaviour based training with redressing muscle imbalances, three dimensional movement and taking stress into consideration prior to every training session and before every movement prescription. Within a month the problems that had burdened me for over a decade had improved considerably and within a few more they had all but vanished.

Since that time I’ve completed two Ironmans, two marathons and in a few months I’ll be competing in another ironman and my first double Ironman is scheduled for October. I am at a very healthy weight and my entire life has been transformed.


How did this approach differ from your prior experiences of training?

For most of my career I served within law enforcement. I held many training related roles including Director of a Police Academy, and the way it worked was simple; you gave your subordinates orders and they carried them out. That was that.

When I entered the personal training I therefore assumed it was the same. Address the client directly and ensure that they perform the exercise precisely as instructed. If the client challenged you for some reason then you would set them straight. After all, you’re the expert and they’re paying for that expertise.

I soon discovered that it just didn’t work. As a trainer in the real world it isn’t about you, it’s about your client. If they’re going to show up, pay for your time and put their heart and soul into the workout, they need to understand it, believe in it, and most importantly, enjoy it.

Rodney Corn has a motto to sum this up; “On any given day, you must always meet the client where they need to be met.”


So how does that philosophy translate into practice?

Personal training is all about having the client perform certain movement patterns based on their goal, style, and level, and most trainers would agree on what the right movements for any given client were. What they neglect, however, is that there are actually many different ways to create the same movement pattern. My job, as I see it, is to find the approach to fit the personality. If I’m dealing with a traditional personality who prefers a controlled, familiar and known movement and environment, then I will prescribe a traditional exercise, such as a back squat. However, if I’m dealing with someone at the other end of the spectrum who needs their training to be progressive, and creative, then I’m still going to have them to perform the same movement, but I might dress it up with more variety or adventure, perhaps even a game. The golden rule is to physically match and emotionally attach movement to a person. And it’s important to add that this is a fluid concept. How a client feels one day will not be how they feel the next and this is where the personal trainer needs a set of tools to establish where the client’s head is on any given day.


So what tools do you use?

There are many tools but the two I always begin with are:

  • The PDQ (Program Design Questionnaire) and DRO (Daily Readiness Observation) – this is a series of questions designed to establish their goals, style, level and motivational factors and the answers form the basis of the workout experience I’ll create that particular day. If they’ve told me that they’re highly overworked, dehydrated and barely slept in the last 2 days, I immediately know their capacity for stress is nearly at its max. I will still ensure we cover all the things that I know matter to them (which may include lifting heavy weights or intensive cardio) but will drop the sets or time spent on those activities to ensure their overall stress levels, including cortisol levels, never become destructive or catabolic.
  • Kaizen 6, (which translates into Continuous Improvement) – after the workout we review my services through a series of simple but revealing questions. For example, I ask them to score my performance out of 10. If it’s an 8 then I ask what I could have done to have made it a 9? Was there something they didn’t enjoy or did I miss something out? Likewise, what would have made it a 7? Every answer tells me something immensely valuable that I can then build in or remove from the following session. What’s more, I’ve completely humbled myself to the client in showing them that I may be the expert but they’re the boss and it’s their workout, not mine.


Are these common techniques among personal trainers?

No, in my experience most trainers are completely unaware of these motivational and behavioural factors. People think it’s about being technical and authoritative, but that only works for such a small proportion of clients.

As Scott Hopson, another co-founder of PTA Global always says, “Keep the smarts under the table.” Above the table just stick to using your client’s language!


So what needs to change in the industry?

It has to come from the top down, so the first step is to communicate to the CEO’s and owners of gyms that this isn’t just good for clients, it’s good for business which means more revenue and more added to their bottom line.

In my first trainer role I used this model to become the highest grossing trainer in the club’s history. After becoming Fitness Director we went on to triple revenue and net profits. Again, all because of behaviour based training. It was the same story in my second Fitness Director role, this time at the Georgia Midtown Athletic Club where we grew revenue by 40% in the first three months.

When the owners and CEO’s of gyms start to realise the commercial implications of behaviour based training, the rest of the market will fall in line.


In the meantime, what would your advice be to personal trainers?

This is all about education and application. I strongly believe that stupidity doesn’t exist, just a lack of learning. Right now the majority of personal training is ineffective simply because trainers have not been given the right systems, sciences and tools. Their intent is spot on, but their knowledge base must be expanded to include the most important factor; the brain. Most trainers have a solid understanding of training the human body, but few understand how to train the human being.

So that would be my first piece of advice, keep learning. Becoming a personal trainer is not about simply achieving your qualification and then churning out the same workout experience for every client for the rest of your career. It’s about constantly getting better, and that all comes from education.

And secondly, it would be to never stop asking your client questions. All the information you need to deliver the perfect experience is in your client’s head, if only you take the time to ask questions, really listen to the answers, and then APPLY them. That way, no matter what the workout, you can always bring it back to what truly matters to your client.


Posted in Interviews, Most Popular Interviews, Personal Trainers, The Fitness Network.