In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the importance of determining the real reasons behind why people seek trainer assistance, how to assess lifestyle issues, how to set and word goals, and how to review progress to achieve maximum motivation and success.
So everything should fall into place perfectly for every client you have, right? Not quite.
Sometimes your clients will offer an excuse to counter any opportunity or suggestion you present to them. This is when you may be required to call upon some more in-depth coaching skills.
RECOGNIZING BARRIERS TO CHANGE
There are many reasons why clients may be resistant to make changes that they know or believe to be good for them. They may try to convince you (or themselves) that finances prevent them from achieving their health goals or tell you how there simply is not enough time in the day to fit things in. But the real reasons behind these and other excuses fall into one of a number of categories:
- Lack of confidence – Many clients simply do not have enough faith in themselves or in their own abilities to succeed at a change in lifestyle. They will list every reason in the book for why they haven’t been able to get things done, usually placing the responsibility for not having done them onto variables or situations out of their personal control. They may also object to suggestions you make as a trainer by telling you they don’t like to do certain activities or exercises. Usually, exercise objections based around “dislikes” are rooted in a lack of confidence about being successful or a fear of attempting an activity that they know little about.
- Negative perceptions about health and fitness – Sometimes you will encounter clients who come to you from the position that nothing they do is going to work. They may have tried several different ways to lose weight or reduce their cholesterol and none of them have been successful for them in the long term. They feel hopeless and unmotivated and may have doubts (that they may not necessarily keep to themselves) that you as a professional know what you are talking about. Their negative perception about the usefulness or overall value of a proper diet and exercise routine has been compounded by each subsequent “failure” they have experienced. This presents a unique challenge for you as a trainer.
- Recognize the signs of depression - When working with this type of client, it is important to keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of depression (intense sadness, inappropriate crying, agitation, feelings of hopelessness, irritability, lack of energy, feelings of emptiness, anxiety, changes in eating patterns, changes in sleep patterns, physical problems like aches and pains, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and social problems such as being withdrawn or having relationship issues). If you notice that a client has many of these symptoms (barring the occurrence of a death or major life change) and they persist for more than two weeks, you should advise the client to seek the advice of a physician or other health professional (American Council on Exercise, 2010).
- Misconceptions about age – You will have some clients who believe that their age plays a major factor in the success of their fitness program. Clients, both old and young, will hold certain beliefs about what may and may not be appropriate for their bodies to undertake. Younger, more fit clients may not see the value in corrective exercise programs and older, more frail clients may not believe they will ever progress past a certain point with their health or fitness.
The one thing that all these types of clients have in common is a mental block to their potential for success.
WAYS TO APPROACH OBSTACLES WITH CLIENTS
The first step toward helping clients overcome obstacles is to determine whether they are “high gear go-getters” or “slow-moving bumps on a log.” You can make the distinction by listening to the way they describe things in their lives. “High gear” people will use phrases like “need to,” “have to,” and “want to.” Your “bump on a log” clients will use phrases like “don’t see how,” “that won’t work,” and “can’t do it.”
Your typical high-gear clients will most likely have issues surrounding misconceptions about age (“I have to keep training so there is no time for rest or a corrective program”) and lack of confidence (“I need to run to reduce stress - what will I do if I can’t run?”). Bumps on a log will typically suffer from all three of the mental obstacles mentioned previously (sometimes at the same time). For example, you may hear things like “I don’t know how to use a treadmill or count grams of protein,” or “I’ve already tried that and it doesn’t work,” or “I’m too old for that new wave stuff.”
The best way to handle either type of client is to create a structured program aimed at identifying and helping them achieve several small, initial, short-term goals (Bandura, 1986). With both kinds of client, you are facing issues surrounding a lack of self confidence and, therefore, it is important to incorporate tasks into their programs that will get results and bolster self-esteem. Use the results from their Lifestyle Assessment Form, gap analysis, and positive goal setting to come up with simple tasks they can be successful at accomplishing to build their confidence and develop long-term adherence to the program. Also be sure to focus on getting these clients to identify the types of changes they would like to see in their lives as opposed to talking about what they want to eliminate.
When clients are open to it, teach them about visualization techniques and use them during your session (for example, have “go-getters” visualize sitting still and “bumps” imagine a specific increased activity). You can also coach them to use positive affirmation statements or mantras (i.e., a client-generated phrase or sentence that has a positive intent such as “I am choosing to eat healthy today” or “I am doing wonders for my knee not running today.”)
As with any client, but particularly those resistant to change, remember to bring the responsibility for success back to the client. Help him/her work toward eliminating excuses generated by external sources by asking follow-up questions until you get to the real source of the anxiety or reluctance.
COACHING STRATEGIES TO ADDRESS COMMON ISSUES
There are three common issues that can exacerbate the psychological barriers discussed above that can make your job as a trainer/coach all the more difficult. They are time management problems, stress, and preparing for an important event (which usually also includes the first two topics).
There are very few people who truly have so much to do that they can’t find time to exercise or eat right. However, you will encounter many people who profess that this is their problem. The reality is that they have plenty of time in the day, but have poor time management skills. There are strategies you can use to talk to clients about being able to fit all the things they want to do into each day when it comes to health and fitness.
One tactic you can use is to have your client come to a session with a calendar or weekly planner. Have him fill in (in detail) his normal weekly (or monthly) schedule of work, family, and social commitments. Now have him look at the times that are left over. This can become the time he has identified as available to accommodate his health goals. In this space you can now help him schedule and develop his goals and plans of action for health and fitness (Whitworth, 2007).
If he protests that the remaining available times in the day will not work for him because he has other commitments during those hours, you can work with him to better manage his time. Have him analyze how he spends his time in the day (how much time on the phone/computer/answering emails, how much time at lunch, how much unpaid overtime at work, how much TV, what he does when his kids are engaged in activities, etc.) Then have him think about ways in which he can consolidate projects (e.g., only have an open door policy between certain hours, go walking while the kids are at swim practice, prioritize work matters for the following day and leave on time, keep healthy snacks in the desk/car, etc.) or delegate responsibilities (have his assistant sort through mail or screen calls, ask his partner to stop and pick up household supplies, let people do their own jobs, etc.).
After he identifies the changes he can make, it is important for him to effectively communicate his desire to make changes to the other people involved as well as making the actual changes (e.g., “I’m only responding to non-urgent phone calls between 2-5 pm so I can start leaving work on time each day” or “I would like you to pick up dinner on your way home so I have time for my workout”). This will help to reduce the potential for misunderstanding that can result from making changes without informing others, especially when the changes may have some impact on those other people. This leads us to our next culprit…
This is the one of the most common problems affecting people today (Sonnon, 2003). However, if you ask people if they feel overly stressed, they will most likely tell you they don’t. So rather than try to convince someone that their chronic back pain or overindulgences are a direct result of stress in their lives, it may be more useful to take a sideways approach to the topic. In your health history assessment (it is likely that you completed one of these during your first session with a client), you may have asked about certain conditions that would be symptomatic of high stress levels (for example, high blood pressure). You can use the information you obtained initially to conduct a “follow-up” state of health assessment. By asking your client about whether she experiences a variety of aliments indicative of high levels of stress, you can help her come to her own conclusion about what contributes to or exacerbates her symptoms (e.g., hives accompany feelings of work pressure). You can then use a modified lifestyle assessment form to determine the source and type of stress she is experiencing (internal/controllable vs. external/uncontrollable). Based on the results, you can then use time management coaching techniques and/or positive goal setting to help her alleviate the cause of her anxiety (Shilstone, 2003).
Download a “Symptoms of Stress” (PDF) form you can use to help you evaluate a client’s level of stress.
People who are in the process of planning an important event may come to you for assistance with reaching a goal in association with the big day (Whitworth, 2007). For example, you may have a client who wants to lose weight for a wedding/vacation or who is planning on undertaking a major sporting endeavor like a marathon or mountain climb. People oftentimes approach the health aspect of their objective from an isolated prospective (i.e., “I need to lose weight” or “I need help developing a training routine”). They overlook the fact that the event that has prompted them to see you in the first place is likely causing disruption and stress in other areas of their lives. As a result, this disruption may be taking a toll on other aspects of their health (drinking too much, smoking, not getting enough sleep, heartburn/indigestion, fatigue, etc.). Therefore, when helping a client prepare for an event, be sure to look at all aspects of her health while helping her to reach her desired goal. You can utilize a tool called an “Event Planning Checklist” to help clients identify areas of their life that may be negatively affected as they try to accomplish their event goals. This tool can also enable clients to recognize opportunities for assistance from others who can help them achieve their goal in a less stressful and healthier manner.
Download an “Event Planning Checklist” (PDF) form you can use to help clients achieve event-related goals with minimal stress.
When planning for an important event, people often succumb to stress brought on by poor time management skills. Therefore, in addition to the event planning steps, you may need to employ time management and stress identification/reduction techniques such as those discussed previously. If you can help clients accomplish their initial goals while maintaining a healthy level of stress during the event preparation stage, you will both see the benefits. Moreover, they will enjoy the process more and you will have fewer cancellations and fewer client mood swings!
Integrating coaching strategies into your clients' health and fitness programs is a relatively simple process if you follow a structured approach. The most important thing to remember is to get clients involved in the process and avoid acting as an authority figure who has all the answers. It's a win-win situation for everyone: Clients who participate actively in programming decisions will have an increased sense of responsibility for the success of their programs and are much more likely to reach their goals. And trainers who routinely incorporate coaching strategies into their sessions will see outcomes that make them stand out as exceptional fitness professionals and drive client satisfaction, retention, and referrals.
- American Council on Exercise. (2010). ACE Personal Trainer Manual (Fourth Edition). American Council on Exercise.
- Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Shilstone, M. (2003). Maximum Energy for Life. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
- Sonnon, S. (2003). Body-Flow: Freedom From Fear-Reactivity. Atlanta, GA: RMAX.tv Productions.
- Whitworth, L. et al. (2007). Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life (2nd ed). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.