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How a personal trainer can get clients motivated

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Dec 29, 2015 2:50:29 PM

How a personal trainer can get clients motivated

This is the viewpoint of a client with personal trainers that have crossed my path and discussions I overheard in gyms for a decade. I combined this with some of my sales knowledge and hope this helps to get an outside view on things. 

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Know your audience

I think I have been at roughly ten gyms in my life so far and most personal trainers I meet get this wrong in my personal opinion. They take the same approach that they have learned somewhere to get a certain result without adapting it to the audience in front of them / in their local gym. That in itself can already be demotivating.

A mother of two wants to be approached differently than the four young adolescents in the corner messing about. An elderly runner in winter is a completely different ball park game from a young sprinter trying to reach his goals. Even though the science remains the same, the delivery has to change along with it so that you can get the message through.

I think here you can learn a lot from Youtube channels and how they position themselves to their audience talking about the same things.

Mike Rashid is a bodybuilder who talks a lot about bodybuilding and #stupidpump. A mother of two will most liekely get disgusted by that approach. However for the four adolescents it might be just about right to get the message through. 

Chris Duffin specialises in powerlifting and accompanying mobility issues and injuries. You can see that his channel is a bit more leaning towards the all american approach showing off his tattoos, which you would find on more than one biker or trucker in america, i personally presume. He also lifts a lot of stuff.

Bikinibodymommy or Brianna could not be farther apart in her marketing aproach from the two before mentioned. Even though she talks about mobility, hypertrophy and recovery just like Mike Rashid and Chris Duffin, she does it in a way that is appealing to mothers who want to burn some fat after having a baby. 

As a personal trainer, if you want to be long time successful and have the most possible clients coming back to you, you should know how to alter your message to these specific target groups. I personally got the impression, that this is eieher not covered in training or forgotten when brought into the real world.

Look the part

As sad as it may seem, but the fitness industry is ruthless when it comes to this. It is pretty easy to see whether you are looking the part for the advice you are dishing out or not. This does not necessarily mean, that you have no chance without being ripped, but it won't do you any harm to have some results to show for what you are about to teach. 

If you are a physio for rehabilitation, maybe take the jog image down a notch, as clients perceive you as more of a doctor than a personal trainer. Look like a professional in a hospital and go into official terms and clinical studies to proof what you are doing. The person in front of you most likely came out of a pretty nasty incident in their life. Help them to feel secure. 

When you are providing services around getting fit through running / a running club, take part in the local runs around the town you are active in. Keep track of your results and know the terrain. This will go a long way when advising people about running routes and race strategies for the options available in the near surroundings and you can also challenge them to beat your personal best 

Say no

If you know your audience well, you will also know who you can help and who would be better advised to go to someone else. Of course, money does not stink, and we gladly take it. But of what use is it to your reputation if this client turns around three month later and blames their failure on you, because you took on a client you could not really help, even though you knew better.

This is not how you build a long term successful business which will get referrals. This is achieved by assessing whether your strengths and weaknesses fit the goals of your client and being honest about your capabilities upfront. If you already smell a rat or someone who is uncoachable, maybe consider not taking them on in the first place.

This will also free up time for your dedicated clients for upselling and avoiding churn.

Ask questions

"I want to do Stronglifts 5x5" or " I am preparing for a marathon" are usually just means to an end. Ask your clients why they want to lose weight, look better, get ripped etc. and plan your training programs around the deeper motivators as these will keep them coming back for more. 

Let's take "I want to get ripped" as an example. Most likely you are facing an adolescent or young adult a bit unsure about themselves and wanting to get a partner. By asking "Why do you want to get ripped", you might get the answer "Because I would like to impress at our year end show at college / high school. I will have to take my top off and look good". "When is this show exactly taking place?", "Three times before christmas".

With this additional information you

  1. Avoided the scolding "Getting ripped is for retards" speech, which is scientifically absolutely ok, but won't get you that client
  2. You now have a clear timeframe to work with and the motivator

With this background information you can work out a plan that gets your client to peak time around christmas for the high school musical or whatever it might be and you also know how it will be judged. You might be able to incorporate lighting and how to stand to further underscore the results you get until then.

Also, if the show is to close to now, you will be able to give information whether the goal is attainable or not. 

In my case, if my personal trainer had asked me why I am running a marathon i would have answered "Because otherwise my partner will leave me because I have become a fat swine". If you know this about your client how much different and more lasting the relationship can be. Also in my case you would have known that you definetly don't have to give me the monday morning happy clap to get my exercise regime going. 

Pick your timing

Unsolicited advise can kill relationships. Sometimes it can be better for you to wait until clients realise themselves that they are doing something wrong rather than jumping the gun. Even if it is blatently obvious to you based on your training that they got it arseways, maybe they got their program from a good friend who is a professional wrestler and by criticising the program you have just shat over his best buddy. 

If your client is ready to take on advise, the process of coaching will be easier for the two of you. Here it is key to have the right advise, at the right time, for the right person. Just by observing what they are doing and putting it into your map of rep schemes and programs you can have an estimated guess at what they want to achieve. Again ask questions like 

"What do you want to achieve" xyz

"Alright and how did your current program work for you to reach that goal?" Answer

"Interesting, I see that a lot. Maybe if you did abc and xyz you'd see quicker results. Are you willing to try?" Answer

"Cool let's pecil in a check in in 14 days how that feels for you and whether you are getting anywhere with this new approach. Feel free to reach out to me, if you need advise along the way. I'll be around."

Set timeframes

Set timeframes by when you want a certain amount of work to be done so that a specific goal can be achieved. Also hold your clients accountable against it. Judge how much time you spent on each client based on whether they get the work in or not. Deprioritise the ones that don't and spent more time with the ones who do. Those guys will be going around and spread the good word about you. The others will blame their laziness on you. The more you interact with them, the more reason they have to blame their shortcomings on your "bad advise".

Anticipate challenges and have a plan

If you are in the game long enough you will know where poeple are most likely will fall off the bandwagon. For some it is the alcohol, others chocolate and the most common challenge will be "Lack of time".

Lack of time is one I also have constantly to deal with in my daily job. To be honest my personal opinion is that people have time, if they want to. If watching the next new episode of Downton Abbey, house of cards or game of thrones has priority over being healthy and kicking ass, that is cool by me, but don't tell me you do not have time to exercise. Have approaches ready on how and where to save time by knowing your audience and how to speed up the exercises in the gym. There are many little tips on how to get the most out of your gym time. Have them ready.

For diet challenges i would say don't become the food nazi. Usually poeple have lives and other human beings that they live together with. In that scenario becoming a calorie counting, tofu chewing food nazi is an option, mostly not really a feasable one though, except your Gwyneth Paltrow...all i say is leftover quinoa. 

Have alternatives to chocolate, alcohol, bread, milk, butter and olive oil ready for your clients which are still not ideal, but a lot less contradictive to the goals they have set themselves. Progress in steps, not in leaps. Leaps usually result in system shocks and break down also known as jojo effect. 

Make it easy

Whatever program you give your client, dumb it down as much as you can. Leave nothing to chance. If there is an option to get it wrong, they will. That is not their fault but an reflection on your instructions. They were not clear and easy enough. 

Prefilled examples, demoes and easy progressions are your friends for the most common gym member. Only get into the nitty gritty detail of programming, if someone has earned the right by being one of your top performers.

Good phrases to use:

"Look, i have been doing this with multiple clients for years and I think this is a really good approach for you. If you disagree I can't do anything about that. All I can do is provide my insight and recommendations based on that. What you do with them is up to you. So what are our next steps based on this ?"

"What I usually find if we are not progressing on this particular program, assuming you put in the work and stick with a diet that supports this, is that we overlooked something of your medical record. What is your take on this, anything we overlooked here?"


I personally work in sales and I think some personal trainers I have met could have done good with learning the questioning and objection handling techniques which are commonly taught in sales to their benefit and to keep clients motivated. The science is one part of it, in sales this would be the product features, the other part is to put them into context and make the facts relevant to their clients. Change is usually needed to get poeple fit. Unfortunately humans are geared towards avoiding change as this usually puts them at peril ( at least in the stone age moving from one place to another or trying a new berry might have killed you). As a personal trainer you have to cut through this to be successful and I hope this helped.

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