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Psychology Related to Motivating Your Personal Training Client

motivation strategies for personal trainers

How to Use Psychological Skills to Motivate Personal Training Clients

As we have seen before, motivation is one of the main psychological processes behind exercise behavior. A lot of trainers fail to understand the importance of motivating their clients or take an overly simplified attitude toward motivation. The concept is complicated and there are certain features to be known and understood in order to be not only an effective trainer but also an effective motivator for the client. 

Motivation is a key attribute for personal fitness trainers. The development of the personal training profession has changed over the years, requiring more trainers. Because exercise science has become more accessible to the general public by way of the Internet, personal fitness trainers are being tapped as much for inspiration as they are for the knowledge and information they possess. Being able to act as a motivational figure to your client can take an exhaustive amount of energy and effort. There- fore it’s important to hone your motivation skills to ensure your training methods are the most effective they can be. 

We must be aware that 50% of the clients will drop out of exercise programs after 6 months (Kravitz). We cannot keep every single client, but we should try to reduce the amount of those who are lost through negligence or incompetence from the trainer, or those who leave due to a lack of motivation. 

Should You Personalize the Goals For Each of Your Clients?

Try to avoid basic, generalized goals such as losing weight or gaining muscular size. Instead, goals should be very detailed, and you will want to discuss specific measurable goals for the client to ensure that your client can clearly understand a summary of their precise desires to achieve. Instead of losing weight (general), find out how much weight each client would like to lose (specific). Define personal goals and map out a schedule of activities to achieve those goals in specific periods of time.

Keeping goals personal helps you connect with clients on a deeper, more intimate level. Remain confident and true to your own unique personality. Your natural charisma and energy levels tend to be of great influence on clients, who are typically looking to you as their leader. Understand that clients look to personal fitness trainers for knowledge, and inspiration and for opening doors to enhanced levels of health, fitness, and wellness. Project these attributes always and you will be more likely to facilitate a client’s belief in your leadership and your abilities – and most importantly – a client’s belief in him or herself.

Showing how much you enjoy your job and your client is easily done by using encouraging words, congratulating them on all goals and accomplishments – regardless of whether they are great or small – and continuing to challenge clients to strive to achieve their personal goals. 

Expand the client’s vocabulary. Bring the client up to speed with strength training vernacular. For instance, tell your client the difference between “active stretching” and “passive stretching”. Increase the client’s confidence by explaining strength training phrases and terms and by using this vocabulary in corresponding conversations.

Motivating clients is most definitely an art form that takes practice. Many trainers will make mistakes along the way. Treating the client as the subject of an experiment is one common mistake seen in the field. When this style is deployed, the trainer only punishes or rewards the client, mostly the former. This method can also have some positive effects, but the main problems with this approach are the simplifying effect and the short time frame of interaction. 

Additionally, the biggest concern is remembering that your clients are individuals who deserve the utmost respect, positive feedback, and a positive coactive relationship. The trainer is there to help the client to better themselves. It is very difficult to get positive outcomes from a trainer who is always yelling, punishing, and humiliating their client. Yes, some people do respond favorably to this technique of motivation or treatment, but most clients won’t fit into this category. 

Another very simple, but inappropriate motivational approach is seen in trainers who believe in a particular motivational approach and expect each client to respond to it accordingly. This technique is only about the instructor. But the one-size-fits-all approach disregards the unique characteristics of the client. 

A common belief among trainers that when an exerciser is not doing everything the way the instructor orders, is that he or she lacks motivation and is rebelling. This is not true, as certain clients want to learn in their own way and are very motivated and determined to do so. To consider this as lacking motivation is a great misunderstanding, which can have a detrimental effect on the effectiveness of training and the relationship between the client and the trainer. 

Positive Motivational Strategies

After seeing a few examples of how not to motivate our clients, let’s take a look at how motivation really works. 

First, we need to be aware of what we want to achieve, and what we must do to motivate the client. The basic question is quite simple: How can I compel a client to change their behavior? 

Psychologically, motivation is seen to have two fundamental dimensions: direction and intensity.

  • Direction shows us how much a person actively seeks challenges, how and why they avoid them, and how they set goals.
  • Intensity is the amount of effort needed for the individual to achieve a certain goal, it describes the person’s activity and energy levels.

Motivation has distinct characteristics. These characteristics are easy to understand and every trainer should be aware of these in order to use them as an effective option to bring the best out of their clients. 

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation 

Motivation can have two sources. Intrinsically motivated people have their own innate drive o be better, and to do something. Competence, success, self-determination, and excellence are the keywords for a client who has inner motivation. Extrinsic motivation derives from the feedback of other people, e. g. the trainer. The positive or negative reinforcements from an outer source can reduce or increase the occurrence of certain behavior. It is important to notice that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are working at the same time within most clients. It would be advisable to consider only one and make that the primary focus. 

Good motivators provide feedback to shape the behavior of their clients in the desired way. But at the same time, they try to elicit and strengthen the inner drives and motives of the clients. It is possible to undermine the intrinsic motivation of the client when they feel we are trying to control or manipulate them. This must be avoided. However, extrinsic motivation can act as a reinforcement of intrinsic motivation, when the person feels that extrinsic motivation is a reward for competence. 

Direct vs Indirect Motivational Techniques

The second important aspect of motivation is its directness. Both direct and indirect motivational techniques can and should be used. We can distinguish three basic forms of direct motivation; permissiveness, identification, and internalization. 

The first, “permissiveness” is not only related to praise and re- wards but to punishment as well. For example, “you did an excellent job today, you get a day off” or “you were terrible today, tomorrow you will have to do an extra set.” This method tends to be the result when the client has no solid rules of behavior and has a weak self. Overusing it will be counterproductive because clients are more easily motivated by positive feedback. 

Identification is based on the relationship between the client and the trainer. In other words, “I’ll do (or don’t do) something, because in most cases their performance has clear consequences, either positive or negative. In contrast, a person with an external locus of control is tending to attribute life events to luck, chance, the influence of others or any situational characteristic. 

Age should not be ignored either. Children are less likely motivated by internalized values because they still probably lack them. Adults with crystallized values will not be happy with simple permissive tricks. Indirect techniques do target not directly the client, rather they change or adjust the situation or the environment, both physically and psychologically. The sites of exercise, the attitude of the trainer, and granting greater control to the client are just a few examples of indirect techniques. 

Locus of Control Theory

The next topic to be discussed about motivation is the so-called “locus of control”. Simply put, this means how different people perceive their responsibility for reward and punishment. Someone with an internal locus of control is far more likely to attribute the events of his life dependent on their own behavior. They think that better to identify, internal control with internalization. 

The Impact of Stress on Motivation

You probably have never realized how much lowering stress levels, keeps injuries at bay. Of course, this isn’t a common point of knowledge for a trainer lacking awareness of exercise psychology. Still, three decades of research show that a combination of conditions puts athletes at a greater risk of injury. These conditions include negative life stresses, an increase in daily hassles, previous injuries, and poor coping responses. 

Stress, inadequate coping skills, and personality traits do not just make for a bad mood. These factors create an elevated stress response. What does this mean for a client? People who have elevated stress responses suffer from more muscle tension are more easily distracted and have a smaller attention span. This means your client may not notice that they are not holding their body in the proper form as they execute a movement under your watch as their trainer. Being under stress for long periods of time actually changes the body’s endocrine system, making a person more susceptible to illness and slowing down the healing process when we are sick or injured. 

We all know stress is unavoidable, but how do we help clients manage life stresses and lower their injury risk? We need to promote and develop coping skills for the client to use to deal with stress. If you think about it, what do we know to be the best approach when life hits us with a big stressor — such as the death of a loved one, a move across the country or the end of an important personal relationship? We seek professional help. This is normal if our client’s coping skills are not up to an acceptable level. An exercise psychologist can both teach everyday coping skills and help a client deal with major life stressors. Taking deliberate steps to try and reduce stress can help lower the chance of incurring more stress through suffering an injury. In short, it is not the trainer’s sole responsibility to fix clients in this way. 

The third form of direct motivation, internalization, uses the beliefs and values of the client instead of external sources. How and when these methods work depend on various factors, such as the personality of both the client and the trainer and the trainer’s expertise in all these diverse techniques 

How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer

If you are ready to add exercise psychology to your fitness career, the NESTA Personal Fitness Trainer Course is a great addition.

Check out what it takes to start a career in personal fitness training. NESTA is your most affordable and fastest way to become a highly qualified personal trainer.

There is always something exciting about earning a new training or coaching certification and applying that new knowledge of how you train your clients. This also helps you hit the reset button.

NESTA and Spencer Institute coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.

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