Clients’ motivation: Ally of the personal trainer

Personal Trainer: Find your clients' motivation as a design element of your fitness program
Motivation: Ally of the personal trainer 123RF – Copyright: Phartisan


A very good friend of mine joined Free Form Fitness this winter. Over fifty, he had seldom seen the inside of a gym. But he is a passionate golfer. He thrives on playing the game, watching the game, understanding the game. Winter is a very difficult time for him; he leaves his golf course in November and remains in a holding pattern until it opens again in the spring.

As we were planning a golfing trip, I highlighted the benefits he would gain from exercising under the supervision of a personal  trainer.  He agreed to give it a try, but certainly not because exercise was his passion…..  His real passion is golf.

Understanding clients’ real motivations to exercise is a key element in the tool kit of a personal trainer when designing a fitness training program.

A good starting point is to choose the right definition of the word “motivation”, one that fits the context of personal training. “Motivation” can be defined as the expectation of pleasure or of a measurable benefit. This definition is helpful in the fitness context because it offers two ways of defining the gains that clients can expect to obtain from their training program: an emotional gain, and an objective one.

Relying on the definition we are proposing, my friend’s personal trainer can present a picture of him feeling energized, strong and better equipped to compete with his golf buddies because of the training he is doing. This creates an emotional image of well-being. The trainer can also present a picture of my friend being able to gain a specific number of yards on his golf shots, which is an objective result of gaining strength.

When building a training regimen for your clients, here are some considerations that may guide you in your program design:

  • Probe the underlying motivation of clients

    If they tell you: “I want to be fitter”, it tells you very little.  Probe for more. If they tell you: “I want to lose five pounds”, it gives you a bit more but ask why also. The idea here is to get to the true motivations of their presence in the gym;

  • Establish a timeline 

    Find out if there is a specific date associated with clients’ motivations to join a fitness club: It may be that they want to lose weight because they are attending a wedding in three months. If a specific time frame is not part of their motivation, establish one in consultation with them. This has the added benefit of managing clients’ expectations if they are joining a fitness club for a set number of training sessions;

  • Create images in the clients’ mind

    Once clients’ motivations are better known, create images that fit such motivations and use these images in your conversations with them. Try to create images that cater to feelings as well as to objective results;

  • Check, and check again

    Constantly check for evolving motivations or changing ones. This is part of building productive and lasting relationships with your clients, and always responding to change.

I played golf with my friend, during and since our trip. He is thrilled about his improved golf game. I witnessed those improvements by losing money to him on small bets….. And he has lengthened his golf shots by measurable distances. Best of all, he is still going to a gym….

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