Interview with Lori Thomson, owner of 3rd Coast Athlete Lab in Chicago, Illinois. Lori chats with us about starting a business, mentors, client expectations, assessments, and so much more!
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Lori! Looking forward to this interview. What’s new and exciting for you now?
The thing that excites me right now is that after 10 years of personal training I finally took a step outside of the corporate training world and started my own company August of 2016. With doing that I realized that I feel like the people I have trained, the experiences I have gone through and the education I have at this point as led me to feel very confident in being a strength coach and taking a risk by starting my own company.
Even though it is at the beginning stages I already see what the next 3 years will look like.
Congrats on the leap to your own company! What was something that was unforeseen or that you didn’t account for in starting your own business and how did you handle it?
How much business work needs to be done on a daily basis. If you do not know where your numbers are as a business it is hard to see how you are doing and what needs to be changed. So I set 3 hours on my calendar a week sometimes more to just get business items done.
Nothing else can be planned during those hours. Normally my calendar for my clients is booked up for the month which makes it easy for me to put my 3 hours in weekly so I know I am getting work done.
Prioritizing and knowing what is important to you and your business is very important so you are not overloaded.
Prioritizing and knowing what is important to you and your business is very important so you are not overloaded.
What advice would you give to a trainer asking you if they should make the move from corporate trainer to entrepreneur?
Know where you are and know where you want to go when you leave the corporate world. I know when you first start training you learn the ins and outs of the world and long hours and programming and how to communicate with clients but you really are not taught the business side as an entrepreneur.
So my advice would be to explore what you really have to do marketing, advertising, finance and so on before you leave and want to do things yourself.
How did you get started in this profession?
My career in personal training started when I was in college playing soccer. I was studying exercise science at Robert Morris College of Chicago and that’s when I was really introduced to strength training and lifting and plyometrics training. I went from just always doing conditioning in high school to lifting and gaining 5-8lbs of muscle in college and could finally keep girls off the soccer ball when I was playing.
I felt the benefit right away and knew I really wanted to know the ins and outs of lifting. I helped write the conditioning program for my college soccer team the last year I was there so that started my itch for training. I was in grad school while training at a corporate facility in Chicago.
I also started an internship at core fitness enhancement where they were studying Poliquin strength and nutrition principles, and also Paul Chek principles. I realized there was more science behind training and not just lifting weights so I wanted to keep learning.
After I finished my graduate program at Robert Morris I go offered a scholarship at Arizona State University for nutritional science degree so I moved there and started training at Life Time Fitness, studying, and became the assistant Varsity coach to Chandler High school soccer girls.
I moved back a year later to Chicago and started working at Equinox and was there for 5 1/2 years. I became a Master Instructor with 8 other Chicago instructors where we would teach between 4-8 hours a month to the new trainers coming to work for Equinox.
The education would range from anatomy, advanced anatomy, program design, advanced program design and so on. I started getting every certification that would apply to me; Exos Performance, Precision Nutrition, trigger point, Biosignature Modulation, PICP level 1 and 2, corrective exercise, FMS Level 1.
I left the corporate facility in August 2016 and went on my own and never looked back. I made a name for myself, I built a foundation of education to see my clients get success working with me. My business is now growing and my experience is expanding.
I was also just offered to strength and conditioning with kids at Chicago Fire Pitch. I am a person that I am always looking for more..that’s why I am always listening to podcasts when I get a chance, I am coming home from my clients and writing or rewriting programs for the week.
There is never a down time when you own your own personal training business. After training for almost 10 years in Chicago I feel that I have been privileged with being able to do something I love and have found something I love dedicating my time to and having fun doing it.
I wrap my head around education because I believe that is the foundation to working with people and as a coach you just need to be good at applying it and knowing when to use it for the right person.
What is something in the fitness industry that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Find a mentor– someone that you look up to based on where you want to go with your career. Listen to them, follow them on social media. They don’t have to directly be by your side but you will learn a lot from them from experiences to education that will help lead to your next steps in training.
And never stop reading.
Great advice and often overlooked by many of us! What do you look for in a mentor?
Passion and experience. If I am not reading a new book or studying for a new technique or certification out there I am listening to a podcast to develop maybe 1 more thing or enhance something better as a coach.
My life for the past 10 years has been training, coaching, learning, wanting to be better, and I want to be mentored by someone who has done that and is still doing that.
Speaking of never stopping reading, what’s one book that changed your practice or mindset? What’s the one thing you took away from it?
The book is called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He defines how we can create optimal experiences in our life. How can one make life more enjoyable every day. This book made me realize that I put to much pressure to get to many things done in one day. Then I was tired at the end of the day even though I loved what I was doing it didn’t make me feel good.
I changed my viewpoint on a lot I stopped packing my days in so tight… I made time for the personal items in my life that were missing my attention. I knew 8 hours of sleep made me feel energized for my clients so I stopped my days early on specific days to make that happen.
We always say I would really like to go on a vacation, I need to start a gym membership—- well why? What will this do for you that will make you feel good about yourself? The answer is always right in front of us we just don’t act on it enough. This would start creating happiness everywhere.
Someone just told me last week we have more negative people in this world than positive people. I partially agreed with this in which I think we have people who think negatively more often than positively.
Flow is a very recommended read for sure and you gave great insight. What are you reading right now?
I’ll have to check those out! Can you talk about a breakthrough with a client, and what led up to it?
I had a new client come to me 2 years ago that has been running her entire life and use to teach aerobics classes. She came into me with multiple aches and pains from heel pain, lower back pain and so on. She never weight trained prior to meeting with me.
The thing she didn’t realize that was creating most of these aches was her posture. Kyphosis, anterior pelvic tilt, achilles, and soleus extremely tight, and hip flexor tendonitis.
After the first 6 months of educating her on posture and training 3x a week she had no heel pain and the hip flexor tendonitis went away. After another year went by she realized that she started breathing better during her runs and the kyphosis was going away.
It took educating to get a client to realize that what she was doing day in and day out was causing her pain.
What’s one way you helped that client become aware of her posture in her daily routine?
I take before and after pictures all the time. I also video movements my clients are doing during their sessions. I show them what they do all the time. When they see if they realize right away in the picture that it doesn’t look good because of posture and form and they change it up right away.
It starts to make them realize wow how much do I do this during the day not even paying attention and they automatically start to be conscious of their daily movement habits.
Recording clients with video is starting to become a theme here! Take note everyone! What are your top 3 favorite questions that you ask a new client? Your top questions for someone you’ve been training for a while?
Why are you doing this now?
What triggered you to want to do this?
What expectations do you have for yourself going through this training?
How have you felt the past couple months with our training overall?
“What expectations do you have for yourself going through this training?” I love this, you flipped the script and put the focus back on them. How do you find your clients handling this question?
They have to commit to something for themselves. There is always the SMART goals you set which is directly correlated to the end result and is that goal reachable for that person. But when I started having them set up expectations for themselves it put them in a place where they are having to keep themselves accountable for daily commitments.
In the end, they realized if they didn’t meet their expectations the were still 1 step behind reaching that end result. It keeps them committed to the program. The coach oversees 2-3sessions a week (so 2-3 hours committed to training) but the rest of the time the commitment has to be focused and that relies on them.
That’s going to go into my assessments, I love it. How has your programming changed since last year?
I have studied so many ways to program for clients that I have it down pat with any client that comes to me. This is how it goes:
Every client runs through an assessment with me encompassing Biosignature Measurements, before pictures, cardio assessment, FMS Test, Strength / Muscle testing (passive movements vs active movements — some functional), goal setting, and finishing with coach/athlete expectations. Then I begin to write my program for them.
Then I begin to write my program for them.
You totally have this down to a science. What is some recent continuing education that you really enjoyed?
I just finished EXOS performance specialist and I am currently studying CSCS and about to go through PICP Level 1 and 2 in April this year.
What’s one thing that you think is really easy, but works well with many of your clients or athletes?
Communication is really easy but also really tough. For example: In relationships, people say the key thing to success is communication… because you want to know what they are thinking, you want to know how they felt about something that is making them upset so you know how to react and move forward.
Sometimes easier said than done.
It is the same thing between a coach and an athlete. You two have a relationship and if you don’t communicate with them frequently on things such as sleep habits, food habits, stress habits, maybe even sore after a previous workout this could lead to a disaster eventually down the road where the athlete just burns out.
All good coaches want to know this kind of feedback from their athletes and clients so we can adapt accordingly.
Can you give me an example of a coach/athlete expectation you go over with your client?
Yes so I designed a very easy weekly workout plan and then I go over it with my client to see if it is doable. This plan normally shows the focus of the 2-3 workouts they do with me. So on the other days I ask them how many other days can you do something on your own — “ok 1x, GREAT”.
So they have committed to 1 other day to work out on their own on top of the training with me then we discuss what that workout will be whether I put it in their remote training log or they write it out themselves but by asking them what they can commit to for the month on a weekly basis.
BOOM! I have had them set an expectation for themselves… then we look at the ratio of compliance at the end of the month and normally it directly works with them feeling good and moving 1 step closer to their goals.
Lori, this has been awesome and very educational giving us a glimpse inside how you work. I’d love to ask you if you have any parting advice for us?
Always have fun. As a coach or an athlete, there are serious moments where there needs to be focus and attentiveness but also have fun with what you are doing.
How do we get in contact with you?
Books to check out: