Mar 26

Keeping Your Clients Motivated: A Practical Approach

Dave and trophiesLast time we talked about the new image of the professional personal trainer. You know, having knowledge, experience, being a good communicator, loving what you do, and having professional, appropriate attire. My clients said, “That’s all fine and dandy, Dave, but what good is all of that if you can’t keep people motivated?” “Good question,” I mused! How do you motivate and keep clients motivated? Six key points come to mind: Setting goals with clients, keeping your own motivation high, questioning them, challenging them, adding variety to their workouts, and providing feedback. Read on, and learn some simple techniques, which have helped me, and can help you, keep clients enthusiastic about their training.


Dave and Maria with wo bookFirst and foremost, to keep your clients motivated, you must help them in their goal-setting process. A goal is defined as “Attaining a specific standard of proficiency on a task, usually within a specified time limit.” When a goal is defined, and a time constraint placed upon the individual to achieve the goal, this can dramatically help clients stay motivated. They know that they have to be on task, otherwise they won’t reach their goal. That, in and of itself, is a great motivator. Several points of interest are used in the goal-setting process when applied to weight training. Let’s look at each briefly.

Specific goals direct activity more effectively and reliably than vague or general goals. Rather than let a client set a goal of “I want to drop a few pounds, get in shape, etc.,” be specific. Help the client set performance goals, such as “Let’s lose 10 lbs. of bodyfat and/or gain 7 lbs. of muscle in a 90 day period.”

Difficult or challenging goals produce better performance than moderate or easy goals; the higher the goal, the higher the performance. As long as your client’s goals are realistic and attainable, make them as difficult and challenging as they can handle. The easier the goal, the less focused they are to attain it. Challenging goals push and keep the clients on track. You already know the end result – the question is, are your clients willing to put forth the effort to attain their goal?

Short-term goals can be used as a means of attaining long-range goals. Breaking your client’s 10 lb. fat loss over a 90 day period into monthly goals of roughly 3 lbs. per month places less stress on them to achieve their long-term goal. Further breaking the monthly goals into weekly goals of about ¾ lbs. per week now becomes realistic and attainable. You can apply the same concept to gaining muscle mass.

Goal setting only works if there is timely feedback showing performance or progress in relation to the goal. Provide your client with positive, constructive feedback during and after each set, exercise, or workout. Use a goal-setting feedback chart or form, which plots performance across time.

Terrence on Hack squatsGoals must be accepted in order to be effective. Make sure your client knows what’s expected of him/her, and that he/she readily accepts the challenge. Actively participate in the goal-setting process. Usually two things will happen when clients initially start setting goals. Either they’ll set the goal too high (unattainable), or they’ll underestimate their own potential and set it too low. Ensure that your clients listen to you, as you are the professional trainer and can help them achieve their goals.

Goal attainment is facilitated by a plan of action or strategy. Know what you want your client to accomplish each time he/she enters the facility. Bodyparts should already have been chosen, the workout order is known, the time spent training has been established, and the weights have been tentatively selected. Use a workout card to keep the client on track. There’s no way you can remember a client’s exact workout 2-3 months ago, but if you’ve got them recorded, then it’s easy to see if progress is being made.


Dave P spotting Mike M DBSPYou must be motivated as much or even more so than your clients. You are their initial inspiration, so you’ve got to be “up” and “on” every workout. When your clients walk in, greet them with a cheery “Hi, (name), how are you doing/feeling today?” Follow that up with an enthusiastic “Are you ready to train, because I am. We’re going to have a great workout today, because we’ve got to reach those goals that we set.” Sometimes they’ll even respond back with a slight smile and say, “Then I sure hope that ‘we’ can share this pain!” Notice that I use “we” a lot. Believe me, it works, because the clients feel that you’re right in there with them working out.

If you’ve had a bad day, don’t bring your clients down by telling them about it. Don’t complain about your own lack of progress, how hard your food plan is, or how difficult it is to get all of your cardio in. Your clients will hear all of that, store it in memory, and throw it back at you when they don’t feel like pushing hard. The clients aren’t there to listen to our problems. They’re there for your help in achieving results, so stay professional. Continually remain upbeat during the training sessions. Encourage, cajole, and push your clients. Many times my clients will finish a killer set or workout, and I’ll give them a little pat on the shoulder and say, “That was AWESOME! A few more like that and you’ll reach your goals in no time.”


Sometime within the first few minutes of a client arriving, question him/her on what he/she did the previous 24 to 48 hours. Ask questions such as, “Did you get all of your cardio in? Was it intense enough? How were your foods? Did you get all of your meals in? Did you eat everything you were supposed to at each meal? Did you take all of your supplements?” Asking enough questions about a client’s lifestyle outside the gym accomplishes two things. One, it let’s you know if the client is on task. Two, the client feels that you really care about him/her, and that can be motivation enough to work harder to please you. This, in turn, will help the client achieve his/her goals.


The Dr Buff Experience workshop5A great way to keep clients motivated is to challenge them. Create short-term mini challenges, such as a challenge per month, week, workout, or even per set. For example, many times my clients marvel at how fast I can change when dialing in for a show (hint – I follow the Parrillo Principles and nutrition program). They wonder if they too can change that fast. I challenge them to “live in my world” for up to one month. If they don’t change, the month is on me, or other incentives are offered.


Along with challenging them, adding variety to their workouts can keep clients motivated. Knowing what bodyparts, but not knowing what exercises, or what order the exercises are going to be in can generate great excitement for a client every time he/she walks in the door. My clients routinely ask, “So what do you have in store for me today?” I just slyly smile and say, “We’re going to have a little fun today!” For those that buy into this mindset, they have absolutely fantastic workouts.


Finally, provide immediate feedback, both positive and constructive, to your clients to keep them motivated. Correct their form rep-by-rep and set-by-set. Tell them what they did good and not so good. I use the “Big Mac” approach when offering feedback, i.e., sandwiching the bad between two positives. I tell them what was good, correct the bad, and finish with a positive comment, such as, “I liked the way you kept your elbows down and back, but we need to make sure the low back stays arched and chest high. Other than that, it was a great set.” Remember, everyone thrives on positive feedback, but will only take so much negative criticism, so don’t go crazy on the not so good stuff. Praise your clients for a set or exercise well done, as well as a good week on their foods, etc. Let them feel good about themselves, and watch their motivation skyrocket!

Using some or all of the above techniques in your clients training is an effective way in enhancing their performance and belief in themselves. Get them to understand that what they’re about to begin requires hard work, discipline and perseverance to be successful. If done correctly, the above methods can help your clients achieve their optimal look and functionality, along with making you look like a great professional personal trainer!




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