3 Ways for Personal Trainers to Motivate Their Clients

Personal Training

3 Ways for Personal Trainers to Motivate Their Clients

Motivating people to do things like cut salt from their diets or start exercising on a daily basis can be a challenge. Some clients come to personal trainers after they've already been hyped up by a television show, a close friend, or a therapist. Other clients arrive with no more motivation than it takes to get them through the fitness center doors.

As tricky as getting, and keeping, clients motivated can be, it isn't impossible by any means. Here are three tactics that use concepts and skills based in social psychology to help get people excited about moving toward better health and fitness.

Positive Reinforcement

"What's in it for me?"

Positive reinforcement is all about giving people rewards for their efforts. People in positions of authority have used this method all throughout their lives, from kindergarten to full-time jobs. Positive reinforcement offers something for someone to work for that isn't quite as far away as their goal weight might be.

When trying to get others healthy, positive reinforcement examples might look like this:

  • Earn a dollar toward a free workout session for each set of reps completed without pausing or whining.
  • Earn permission to drink one diet soda for every extra set of a difficult move.
  • Earn a gift card to a fitness apparel store by breaking a personal speed record on the treadmill.

Positive reinforcement can do double duty when it comes to getting fit.

People are working harder than they would without the incentives, so they are shortening the distance between their current state and the level of fitness they're striving for. At the same time, they are feeling more in control and are receiving nearly instant results. This may help people stay on the path toward the fitness goals that may be weeks, months, or even years away.

Negative Reinforcement

"Make it stop!"

Negative reinforcement means taking something away from the client when they achieve a goal. Usually, this will mean taking something away that the client doesn't like. For example:

  • Performing 100 push-ups in two minutes will result in the entire workout session being cut short by five minutes.
  • Beating the trainer to the top of a large hill will result in no further sit-ups (or other hated workout) that session.
  • Holding a difficult yoga pose for 15 seconds will result in the trainer talking in a normal voice instead of yelling for the rest of the workout.

Negative reinforcement ties into people's fears and anxieties. This can often fuel their motivation to train harder and adhere to diet plans because they don't want the consequence that may be coming if they don't (heart disease, diabetes, fatigue, etc.). They also may simply want to do a tiny bit less work or have a little more diet freedom.

Cognitive Dissonance

"I want to lose weight, but I also really want those chips!"

Cognitive dissonance is a phenomenon that takes place when a single person holds two contradictory views to be true. These opposing viewpoints are exactly what lead people to run for 30 minutes and then grab a few donuts afterwards. They believe that their health is important, but they also believe that it's okay to eat unhealthy foods. Here are some specific examples:

  • "I want to lose 10 pounds this month." versus "It's okay to eat chocolate cake a few times each week."
  • "I want to have a firm butt." versus "I'm not going to use the standing desk I bought for myself."
  • "I want to live longer than my mother did." versus "It's okay to get drunk a couple of times each week."

You can use cognitive dissonance with people by calling to their attention the incongruities. If they say they want to get into their two-sizes-too-small wedding dress in three months, ask them why they haven't been running at home like you've assigned. If they say they want to impress their old classmates at their high school reunion, ask them why there's a box of Oreos in their gym bag.

In the moment that you confront them about their conflicting views and behaviors, you force them to make a decision. They have to choose one line of belief over the other. And the more often they choose healthy behaviors over unhealthy behaviors, the more likely they are to make the same decision outside of the gym and away from your presence.

Employing one or all of these methods can help increase the level of motivation you see in your clients. Once a client is adequately motivated to make and sustain changes to his or her lifestyle, they will find faster, long-lasting, significant success in their fight to become the healthiest person they can be.