Struggling to keep your personal training clients motivated? Looking for some different ways to keep them engaged and consistent over the long term?
In this quick guide personal trainers, strength coaches, a world record powerlifter and a yoga instructor stop by share their favorite ways to help you motivate your personal training clients.
Your local personal trainer and strength coaches have seen it all. They know first-hand the motivational struggles that lifters, athletes and casual gym-goers experience in the course of trying to achieve their goals in the gym.
Here some of the top fitness professionals in the industry stop by to kick some knowledge on how to keep your clients (or yourself!) motivated to kick ass in the gym:
1. Emphasize the process over the results.
When we set ourselves goals for our workout routine we tend to get overly fixated on the results. If we have a bad day at the gym today that means our goals of tomorrow are out of reach. This can make for a situation where there is more stress than is necessary.
Ryan Carver, BS, CSCS of Leverage Fitness, recognizes this need when it comes to working with his own clients.
“Process goals are usually more motivating than outcome goals because you are focusing on the process and thereby the progress you are making,” he notes.
When trying to accomplish big things in the gym (and for your clients) it can actually be more helpful to forget about the goals and instead focus on the day-to-day schedule and process that it will take to get there.
See Also: The Routine is the Goal, Not the Results
2. Provide an individualized approach to each session.
If you spent any time as an athlete you know that a blanket approach to the whole team doesn’t work. Athletes require individualized attention, and this is no different when it comes to working with clients.
Addressing not only their overall needs but also taking into account how they are feeling that particular day can help give them a sense of being a part of an individualized program, which can absolutely help in long term client retention.
After all, nobody likes feeling like they are just another pay-check for you.
Carver adopts an approach that addresses both how the client is feeling that day and how he can incorporate their answer into their overall goals.
“Ask the clients how they are feeling and what they feel like they need most that session and work that into their overall goals,” he says. “This way they are making progress to their long-term goals and get exactly what they need that session.”
3. Build confidence with specialization.
One of the common reasons clients (and gym-goers in general) have trouble being consistent in the gym is that they feel like they are no good at what they are doing. This can come from comparison-making (seeing a highly athletic perform the same exercise with extraordinary ease, for example) and feeling like they don’t belong at the gym.
David Larson, MS, CSCS, of Larson Fitness works with his clients to get really good at specific things. The reason is simple: it builds confidence in their abilities and shows them they are more capable than they realize.
“Get them really good at doing something specific,” he advises. “This helps them build confidence that will carry over to everything else we work on.”
The confidence also has another powerful side-effect: it creates a more consistent client, and that consistency is the thing that ultimately gets results.
“If you don’t have any consistency in a program, they will never be able to see their improvement,” Larson adds.
4. Figure out the client’s “why.”
As someone who has been around sport and fitness for my entire life I often forget that not everybody has the same outlook when it comes to being active. This disconnect can mean that I end up trying to push along clients who aren’t necessarily ready.
A powerful way to get a better sense of where your client is at is doing not only the prerequisite physical assessment, but also a mental one.
The starting point?
Finding out their “why.”
“Most people have health and fitness goals but they need help realizing the reasons why they are interested in training in the first place,” says Bobby Best, BS, CSCS and former Division 1 football player with Cal Poly -San Luis Obispo.
Once the “why” is in place it becomes easier to throw together a realistic plan to move forward.
5. Outline the work involved.
Once you have a client’s goal and their “why”, put together an outline of the work that is going to be required in order to get there.
Seeing what has to be done can often feel daunting for a client who walks in with sky-high expectations, but at the end of the day it isn’t our job to tell them it’s impossible, simply what it will take to get there.
“I use a goal setting sheet to help them explore their goals and create an action plan to help obtain them,” says Best.
The next step is key–showing the client a plan that is rooted in action and small steps.
“From there I explain to them the next steps necessary in their training that will apply to achieving the goals that they themselves decided upon. This helps to keep them on track toward their goals and invested in their training by maximizing their internal motivation.”
6. Don’t overhype short term results.
Overblown expectations are a complete confidence killer.
If a trainer promises that the client will see overnight results, when it doesn’t happen the client doesn’t blame the trainer for getting them over-hyped, they turn the blame inwards, leaving them discouraged and heading for the door.
In order to keep his clients motivated over the long term Danny Takacs, BS, CSCS and owner/operator of Takacs Training Systems tries to stay away from placing too much value on the short term gains.
“One of the most effective things I’ve found with clients is reminding them that achieving their fitness goals is a long-term thing,” says Takacs.
Sustaining motivation requires keeping an eye on the long game to avoid the spectacularly quick flame-outs clients with short-term vision almost always end up going through.
“Many clients get discouraged when they don’t reach their goals in a short time frame. Reminding them to stay consistent over time is a good motivator to keep them on the long-term track,” he adds.
7. Involve the client.
Some clients just want to show up to the gym and get yelled at for an hour. They need the drill sergeant. But for the rest, they want to feel somewhat involved in the process. After all, it is their body and their goals (and their money).
Explaining purpose and the objectives behind the way the program is set up and why each exercise is important will go a long way in helping clients “buy-in” to the training plan you set up for them.
“A lot of times as trainers we just tell-tell-tell,” says Amanda Jessop, CSCS, a personal trainer based out of Savannah, Georgia.
She knows that falling into the rut of just instructing the client, as opposed to simultaneously educating them, can lead to disengagement.
“Too often we are only telling what exercise to do, telling them what stretch, without giving the client the why behind it,” says Jessop. “By explaining how each exercise is helping them toward their goal they are more motivated to give that extra effort.”
8. Seriously…what’s the “why?”
Here is that word again: why.
It pops up frequently on this list, and with good reason. Having a solid “why” lends to higher levels of intrinsic motivation, and once a client can keep themselves motivated you’ll have a client for life.
Jordan Syatt, a world record power lifter and strength coach (who also contributed to this guide: 17 Tips for a Better Bench Press) knows that a waterfall comes from understanding those three little letters.
“Motivation comes from finding your ‘why’,” says Syatt, who writes regularly at his own blog, Syatt Fitness.
And while having a why can be easy (I want to look good naked! I want to live longer! I want to run really, really fast!), having one that is profoundly unique to us makes things so much easier in the gym.
“Identify your “why” and keep it in front of you at all times,” adds Syatt. “We all have a why. At least one. And while they might be similar every “why” is unique and different. At least a little bit. Which is why you need to spend time really thinking about what yours is.”
9. Simplicity rules.
If you’ve ever stood in front of a row of different types of peanut butter or protein powder you know that tons of choice isn’t always beneficial. In fact, more often than not excess choice renders us sapped of willpower and less likely to act on something.
Keeping things simple with clients is no different. Instead of bombarding them 45 different goals, pointers and tips for the session, get specific and simple.
“For me, the easiest way to keep clients motivated is to keep things simple. I ask my clients to focus on one to three simple tasks each day that we agree on,” says John Hill, personal trainer and functional exercise specialist.
By keeping things simple you not only remove the feeling of being overwhelmed your client experiences when you flood him or her with info, but you also help ward off the “ah, screw it” moments when they have a bad day.
“The beauty of this is that you can move on quickly if you have a bad day,” notes Hill. “People don’t fail because of bad days, they fail because they allow a bad day to turn into a bad week, then a bad month and then a bad life.”
10. Understand that what is fun for you isn’t always fun for your client.
As a fitness professional we are heavily into the athletic lifestyle. This means that for us working out is part of our lifestyle. We get enjoyment from really pushing and challenging ourselves at a high level. This kind of fun doesn’t always translate to clients.
“Training and pushing myself is fun,” notes Kevin Burgess, CSCS of Total Human Performance LLC. “For many folks, it is not fun.”
For many personal trainers and strength coaches, who often come from highly athletic backgrounds, it can be easy to remember that for the client they usually won’t view working out at first with the same enthusiasm as we do.
“I try to make the classes and training sessions as enjoyable as possible,” adds Burgess. “Whether we are playing a game, or discussing funny training situations, or simply making a small change that shows them success.”
11. Educate and reward the real world benefits of working out.
Perhaps the most motivating aspect of working out for those who are just looking into shape (whatever that means in their particular case) is seeing functional improvement in their movements. Especially those things that happen in their day-to-day life.
“Educating clients on the short and long term benefits of what they are doing is a key part of training,” says Burgess.
When clients see that exercise and sticking to the program goes beyond just aesthetics, and that it can help them in their day-to-day life they will be more likely to stay on track with their workouts.
“I like to point out the “little things” that they notice they are doing that maybe was difficult before. For example, reaching under the bathroom cabinet by squatting rather than bending over and leaning on the sink. A small example but it demonstrates new strength and movement patterns,” notes Burgess.
12. Grow a mini-community.
For trainers and instructors who work in group settings or with classes, strive to build a mini-community within each class.
“We teach classes and find that most participants come at the same time-frame each day/week which works great for accountability because we make sure everyone knows everyone,” says Danielle Crowe, a yoga instructor and owner of Body Solace Yoga Studio and fitness trainer at MacKinnon Fitness of Truro, Nova Scotia.
This sense of collective purpose can help drive accountability.
“We say our names when there is a new person joining us, and we make sure to get to know everyone,” adds Crowe. “When you have friends in class, it keeps you accountable because you know that they’ll be looking for you.”
Personal trainers work hard to grow a roster of awesome clients who they can help with their goals.
To keep your clients consistently coming back just remember some of these simple pointers and you will be well ahead of the other trainers and strength coaches in your gym:
- Have an individualized approach to each client.
- Be realistic about the work it will take to achieve their goals.
- Keep it fun for them.
- Value the process over short term results.
- Encourage confidence by getting them really, really good at specific things.
- Recognize the small wins and practical applications.
- Ask what their “why” is.
- Grow a sense of community and belonging.
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