Self-efficacy for Motivated Clients

personal trainer

Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in his or her own abilities to learn a skill or reach a goal. Self-efficacy can be a strong determinant in motivating behavior change. Psychologist Albert Bandura has found that people with a strong sense of self-efficacy are more likely to put forth greater effort into completing a challenging task compared to someone with a weaker sense of self-efficacy. More self-efficacious individuals are also more committed and more persistent when working towards a particular goal.

A major part of your job as a personal trainer is to help motivate and encourage your clients towards success. What you do and say can have a big impact on your clients’ beliefs about their own capabilities. Here are 4 ways to foster self-efficacy within your clients.

  1. Help them experience success

    The most important factor in determining self-efficacy is mastery. Having experienced prior success gives individuals more confidence in future tasks that are similar in nature. To ensure that your clients experience success, you must make sure you program the proper exercise progression that suit their current capabilities.

    For example, starting with pushups at an incline is a great way to progress people towards doing full pushups from the floor. If you do them in a power cage that has numbered markings, it is an easy way to show your clients that they are progressing.

    “Hey, last week you did 10 pushups at level 15. This week, I set it a little lower at level 16 and you were still able to do 10 reps. Great job!”

    Knowing that they are getting stronger provides further motivation to keep progressing and helps fuel the belief that, over time, a full pushup is well within their reach.

  2. Provide positive role models

    Showcasing successful past client transformations can have a positive effect on your current clients. This vicarious experience gives them hope and can spur the belief that they can do it, as well.

    Modeling is most effective when the models are as similar to your clients as possible. For instance, a 67 year old woman coming off of hip surgery is not going to gain any confidence hearing a story about a 21 year old male soccer player who was able to score the championship-winning goal after knee surgery. She could, however become more assured after hearing you talk about guiding a similar-aged gentleman through shoulder pain.

  3. Social persuasion

    The simplest form of enhancing self-efficacy is through the verbal encouragement that you offer during the actual training sessions. It is important to note that you should try to keep positive acknowledgements to good behavior (bringing own lunch for an entire week) rather than good outcomes (losing 2 pounds). Their own habits and behaviours are something that is under your client’s own control. How much weight they lose is not.

    Focusing on behaviours that are under your clients’ control reinforces self-efficacy because they have a clear plan of action towards reaching their goals. If too much importance is placed on outcome without any support in direction, it can become frustrating when change does not appear to be happening. Applaud the maintenance of good habits, but remain neutral when assessing progress with outcome-related goals.

  4. Explain normal physiological responses to exercise

    For those who are new to exercise, normal physiological responses to exercise, such as sweating, raised heart rate, and heavy breathing can be an uncomfortable state to be in. These feelings can be misconstrued as negative to those who are not used to it.

    Helping them understand these natural responses can go a long way towards making them feel more competent in the gym. For example, heavy breathing and elevated heart rate can be seen as not being in good enough shape. However, you can praise them for their ability to work hard and push themselves to an uncomfortable state. Putting your body in some discomfort is how it grows, adapts, and becomes stronger.

Most people aren’t good at something after their first try. Help give your clients confidence by allowing them to achieve success. Introduce models to provide hope that change is possible. Offer regular encouragement to reinforce their competence. Finally, normalize physiological responses as a positive to put your clients at ease in an uncomfortable state. Following these steps will give your clients the self-efficacy they need to stay motivated and, ultimately, reach their goals.

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