Being a personal trainer is always tough – especially when you’ve got a difficult client on your hands. You know, the one who always seems to give up at the first sign of struggle. The one who keeps falling off the wagon no matter how many times you try to pull them back up. They frustrate you to no end, but you still want to see them achieve their fitness goals, so you keep trying again and again, until you feel like you’re running around in circles and not getting anywhere with them.
The problem is, no matter how good a personal trainer you are, keeping your clients’ motivation is a war, not a battle. You can win some, but you’re never going to win them all. And once you accept that actually, it may not be down to what you’re doing with them, but more about how you’re doing it, you may be able to keep them motivated for longer until they actually fulfil their goals. With that in mind, we’ve put together some of our golden rules for how to keep your clients motivated when you’re in the heat of one of these battles. Buckle up – it’s going to be a bumpy ride…
Set both short & long-term goals
Though it may seem obvious to some, setting goals is one of the most important steps in ensuring your clients stay motivated during their sessions. It’s something that we often do, but also often overlook. Goals should follow the SMART formula; they should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely to ensure our clients don’t get discouraged from trying their hardest. Turn their goal of wanting to lose a little weight into something like “I’m going to lose x pounds of scale weight by x date”.
The problem is, just setting this long-term goal isn’t enough. Your clients need shorter, intermediate goals or steps in order to keep them motivated on the journey ahead. If you break that goal down into smaller goals, or create a daily checklist that they can check off as they go along, it can help keep their motivation for attaining their goal alive over the longer term. Be sure to write their goals down for them too, and remind them to put their goals in a place where they’ll see them daily. This will help to make their goals more set in stone and serious, and will constantly remind them of the direction they’re heading in.
Be sure to emphasise the process over the results
Unfortunately, when you set yourself a goal for your workout routine, you tend to get obsessed with the results. This means that one bad day at the gym can push our goals for tomorrow out of reach and, thus, can create a very stressful situation for your clients. And if this happens to your difficult client who’s hard to motivate already, it just means they’re likely to fall off the wagon all over again.
To this end, it’s better to focus on your day-to-day schedule rather than the overall goal. If you can convince your clients to think about the process it’ll take to get there, this takes the pressure off a bit and re-focuses their energy into an area they have far more control over.
Remind them of how far they’ve already come
When your client is along the path to a big goal, they can sometimes lose sight of where they started their journey. They might have already lost 15 pounds, but what if they still have 60 to go? This is the point at which they’re most likely to lose motivation – and fast.
It’s important at this stage in the process to remind them to think of how far they’ve already come. Sometimes, even just reminding your clients about where they began their journey can help keep them along the right path. The smallest bits of motivation can be the difference between giving up and pressing on and smashing your goals.
Perhaps you show them their “before” picture compared to a current one. If they’ve managed to increase the weight of their lifts, remind them of the weight they started at and how much closer they’re getting to their long-term goal. If they were looking to work on their endurance, remind them of the time they could spend running continously at the beginning, compared to now. Sometimes, a little kick in their rear is all your clients need!
Try an individualised approach for every session
Doing the same thing over and over is not just repetitive, but it’s also tedious and mind-numbing. It’s the same for everybody. So, you can’t expect your client to continue doing the same thing every single session – you have to put yourself in their mind and spice things up.
It’s important to adapt your approach to a client’s session based on how they’re feeling that particular day, and then incorporate their current mood into their long-term goals. This will keep them making progress towards their long-term goals and ensure they’re getting exactly what they need out of each session. After all, no client wants to feel like they’re just a number.
Get your client’s confidence up by specialising
A constant complaint of many clients, and gym-goers in general, is that they feel they’re not good at what they’re doing – and this, in turn, leads to inconsistency, which causes your client to give up. It can come from your clients drawing comparisons from other people in the gym (like seeing someone really athletic pull off an exercise extraordinarily easily), which makes your client feel like they don’t belong in the gym.
A good trick to keep their motivation up is to get them really good at doing something specific. This helps them to build up confidence in what they’re doing, which they can then carry over into anything else they end up doing during your sessions. It, in turn, helps your client to become more consistent, which helps them stick with the programme and get the results they’re looking for.
Keep it simple
It’s important to remember too much choice can actually be overwhelming. Whether you’re choosing from a row of peanut butter or protein powder, excess choice can often render us less likely to act on something and drain our willpower.
That’s why you need to keep things simple when trying to keep your client motivated. Don’t bombard them with 40-odd different goals, pointers, and tips for the session – make things both specific and simple. Ask them to focus on one to three tasks each day that you agree on, and you’ll remove the feeling of being overwhelmed and stave off the moments where they want to throw in the towel after a bad day.
This whole approach helps greatly to keep your clients motivated because it means that your clients can continue moving on quickly even if they have a bad day. Remember, your client won’t fail because of a bad day – they’ll fail because a bad day will turn into a bad week, then a bad month and then a bad life.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that what’s fun for you is fun for your client
When you work as a fitness professional, you can sometimes forget that while you live and thrive on an athletic lifestyle, for many of your clients, this doesn’t come naturally. While the challenge of physical exercise and pushing yourself may be exciting to you, for the majority of your clients, this is not the case. It’s important to remember that your clients probably won’t view working out with the kind of enthusiasm you do.
With that in mind, try and make your classes and training sessions as engaging and as enjoyable as possible. Play games, make small changes to the way you approach your sessions, and you might see a notable change to your clients’ motivation very quickly.
Educate your clients & reward the benefits of working out
One of the biggest benefits of working out is your clients actually being able to see a functional improvement in their day-to-day lives. It’s this very fact that keeps them going and keeps them motivated to achieve their goal, so it’s important to educate them on the short and long-term benefits of what they’re doing to help them stick at it. When your clients see that the exercise and sticking to the programme goes beyond the aesthetics and can help with their daily lives, they’re much more likely to keep on track with their workouts.
Point out the little things that they’ll notice they are doing that may have been difficult before – for example, if they can now reach under the kitchen counter by squatting rather than bending over and leaning on the sink. It’s a small thing, but it shows how much their new strength affects their movement patterns.