“How do I keep clients motivated? No matter how much I preach to them that they’ll lose weight and sometimes inches they just won’t hear me out. I’m in my 5th month as a trainer.”
This is a very common issue - one that even seasoned trainers sometimes struggle with. So be encouraged - we’re here to support you!
I conducted a poll on my Facebook page at one point, asking personal trainers this exact question.
The nearly unanimous answer: ‘give them results.' That’s all well and good, and I agree that results are very motivating, but if a client isn’t motivated to stick with you long enough to see measurable results, what do you do then?
What is Motivation?
Let’s explore the concept of motivation as it applies to exercise and fitness.
First, we know that there are intrinsic and extrinsic motives. Intrinsic motives are those that fulfill a person’s needs for belonging (acceptance by society) and self-esteem (an action that makes the person feel good about themselves).
Extrinsic motives fulfill more basic needs such as physiological needs (food, water, rest), safety, and also belonging (peer pressure or social status). As you see, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations have some overlap.
Some examples of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are:
- Winning the ‘Biggest Loser’ contest at the gym and getting a $500 gift card.
- Earning a 1st place medal in their age group during a 10k race.
- Completing their hour-long workout so they can run to the smoothie bar and get their favorite smoothie.
- Having the energy and stamina to enjoy climbing to the top of Half Dome with their spouse during their anniversary vacation next June.
- Learning more about how muscles work and grow.
As we explore this further, it is important to note that ‘controlled’ extrinsic motives (indicated when a client says, “I have to go to the gym”) typically motivate one to get started with an activity, but do not create lasting change. To understand this, let’s dig into a theory in psychology that is relevant here.
What’s Behind Motivation?
Self-determination theory (SDT) states that people are more likely to engage in a behavior if they feel confident and/or competent that they can be successful and if they value the outcomes of the behavior.
SDT goes on to say that clients have three basic psychological needs1:
- Autonomy: The trainer can empathize with the client, supports their choices, and doesn’t pressure them to perform.
- Relatedness: The client is part of a group or feels a connection with other gym members. They feel supported and encouraged by these relationships.
- Competence: The trainer limits the amount of negative feedback given and provides challenges in which the client can be successful.
Therefore, we need to consider both intrinsic and extrinsic motives and how we provide opportunities for our clients to fulfill those three basic needs. When we change the client’s mindset from “have to” to “want to” (or “get to”) then your client is working on intrinsic motivation and will likely sustain the behavior.
Now, according to Teixeira et al., “Controlled forms of motivation, which by definition are not autonomous (i.e., they lack volition), are predominant when the activity is perceived primarily as a means to an end and are typically associated with motives or goals such as improving appearance or receiving a tangible reward.”1
Many of your clients will come in with these controlled extrinsic motives, and it will be up to you to capitalize on them during your intake process, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
Before we dive into your new client processing, there’s another model I would like to introduce here called, the Fogg Method. This is a method for behavior change that goes hand-in-hand with self-determination theory and will be very beneficial for you to consider during your intake process.
Motivation and Behavior
The idea behind the Fogg Method is that behaviors can only be changed when the client feels sufficiently motivated and capable of handling the task. Additionally, they must be “triggered” to perform the task. This is represented by the equation, B = m a t (as demonstrated below).3
As you can see, when a client is sufficiently motivated and finds that an activity is challenging but manageable, they fall within the activation threshold or the point in which a trigger is needed to stimulate the behavior. (You act as the trigger.)
However, if a client is motivated, but finds an activity to be outside their comfort zone or capabilities, it will be much more difficult to motivate them to engage in the behavior, even with a ‘trigger.' Likewise, if a client finds an activity that is easy for them to do, but which they are not motivated to do, they won’t engage in the activity.
As you’ve discovered, simply “preaching” to a client that they will lose weight or inches is not going to motivate them. The way you greet, interview, and assess new clients is a key component to shifting your client’s mindset about exercise and motivating them to stick with their routine.
Drawing Clients Into a Fitness Program and Lifestyle
The ISSA Drawing-In Process is an essential part of motivating your client. Here, we’ll apply what we’ve just discussed to the Drawing-In Process so you can see how it all fits together.
Click image to view full infographic or download PDF here and print for your clients.
Stage 1: Establishing Yourself as a Professional
When a client is ready for a change, they’ll walk through your doors. But don’t think for a second that this will be an “easy sell.” They may have certain health conditions which they perceive to be barriers to success or they may feel discouraged having tried and failed with several other programs.
As you walk through this stage, you ease their fears by demonstrating that they can trust you and your expertise to help them achieve their goals, therefore fulfilling their need for confidence in this decision.
Don’t “preach” here. Educate and demonstrate.
Stage 2: Data Collection
In this stage of the process, you discover your client’s current medical conditions, past medical history, current diet and motivations for seeking out a fitness professional. The ISSA provides some valuable forms for you to collect this information, so you get to know and understand your client better.
You’ll also conduct fitness assessments and record the results.
Keep a journal for each of your clients and maintain these journals in a safe place in your office or facility. (If you send the journal home with a client, you may never see it again.)
This is a great time to create short- and long-term goals and discuss your client’s motivation for achieving those goals. Although clients will say, “I have a class reunion,” or “I’m going on vacation,” or “I’m getting married,” as their motivations, you’ll find that if you dig a little deeper, you’ll uncover those intrinsic motives.
Try asking probing, open-ended questions like:
- “Once you achieve this goal, how will you feel?”
- Another great question is, “Why is this goal important to you?”
- If they still don't divulge the real underlying reason for their desired goal, ask them, “If you could achieve this goal tomorrow, what would you do then?”
This will often lead you to a better understanding of what they hope that goal will accomplish for them.
Often a client’s desire to lose 20 pounds has only a little bit to do with social pressure, but mostly with their self-confidence and desire to do activities which will be easier or more comfortable once they lose the weight. Focus on the deeper issue as you progress through the Drawing-In Process and tie-in your exercise choices to the ultimate goal.
Stage 3: Guided Discovery
During this stage, it is important to establish an open line of communication. Tell your client that you are discovering activities they enjoy and that will serve the overall objective. Note the exercises your client seems comfortable with - maybe they are comfortable on the treadmill, but not on the stair climber. Keep detailed notes in your client’s journal, perhaps rating each exercise from 1 to 5. A ‘one’ indicates that they hate the exercise and will curse your name if you include it into their routine and a ‘five’ indicates that it was an activity they enjoyed and they would like to challenge themselves to do better in the future.
- Allow them to work in their comfort zone as long as it achieves part of the goal.
- Celebrate the completion of each set and repetition and educate them as you move through the routine.
- Correct them as necessary, but sprinkle in praise for their hard work. This goes a long way in fulfilling their needs for autonomy and competence.
- Introduce them to facility staff, other members and clients to increase their feelings of connection and belonging.
Stage 4: Testing the Water
During this stage, you and your client will work together to create a program that will ultimately become a lifestyle. It is very important to fit your program into your client’s day, not try to get them to fit their day around the program.
For example; if your client eats fast food five days a week for lunch, it is much more reasonable to provide them with healthier choices at their favorite fast food restaurants than to expect them to do a meal prep day and pack their lunch. If they get up at 4:00 a.m. to get ready for a 90-minute commute to work, it would be unreasonable to ask them to get up at 3:00 a.m. to exercise. Rather, help them fit exercise into their workday, either during their 15-minute breaks or their lunch.
As we teach in our Certified Fitness Trainer course, there are two reasons your client will comply with your program:
- Public compliance pressure.
- Private acceptance of the regimen you and they decide upon.2
Public pressure to maintain a fitness lifestyle will only last a short while; the ultimate goal is to get your client to buy-in to the concept of fitness as a lifestyle choice for quality of life and longevity.
Again, keep track of how well things are going in your journal. You’ll begin to notice patterns in your client’s behavior and will be able to plan a program that will fit naturally into their daily routine and help them achieve their goals.
Stage 5: Establishing an Integrated Fitness Lifestyle
At this stage, you and your client know each other well. You have taken the time to discover the activities your client enjoys and that fit into their lifestyle. You understand their extrinsic and intrinsic motives and have set short- and long-term goals.
During this stage, you can increase your client’s dedication to fitness by giving them “homework.”
- You might send them to a yoga or Zumba class (to increase relatedness).
- Suggest that they dust off the ol’ road bike and take a short ride (increasing competence and autonomy).
- Encourage your client to keep up with their fitness journal to demonstrate, in concrete numbers and data, just how much benefit they are getting out of their fitness lifestyle (increasing belief and autonomy).
From this point forward, make sure your client’s goals are achievable and encourage your client each step of the way. The more success they achieve in the program, the more committed they will be to following your instructions and developing a lifelong love of fitness.
You’ll find that when you follow the Drawing-In Process and ask the right questions of your clients, you’ll discover their intrinsic motivations and be able to talk to them using language that gives them hope that by working with you, they will achieve their goals.