- The trainer will be introduced to 5 rules to follow for an effective goal-setting process with new clients.
- The trainer will be able to explain how each rule in this step-by-step process of goal-setting will help the client achieve the “big picture” (the long-term goal).
- The trainer will be able to form a specific plan based on the client’s goal, break down the client’s general goal into smaller more specific goals and establish a time-frame to reach the goal.
During the first meeting with a prospective client, the trainer’s priority is to make a personal training sale, period. Although the trainer’s ultimate mission is to enhance the health and well-being of the client, while guiding them to accomplish their goals, ultimately the trainer is unable to help the prospect accomplish their goals if the prospect does not become a client. The priority for this first meeting does not make the personal trainer a greedy or disingenuous person, but rather increases the trainer’s chance of helping the prospective client long term, which allows them the opportunity to help change the prospects life for the better.
Prioritizing a personal training sale certainly does not mean lie to the prospect or behave like a used car salesperson. The discussion should be centered on making the client feel comfortable and confident that you are on their side and that you are the professional who can help them achieve their goals. Often, this may involve being selective in the information you are communicating to the prospect in order to generate a level of trust and comfort. This information may or may not include every detail of what the client needs to execute in order to reach their goal, as this may not be the time to discuss all of the specifics.
For example, if a female prospective client is eager to lose body fat and “tone” her lower body, but is unable to perform basic lower body exercises properly, the first meeting with her may not be the time to tell her that extensive screening and corrective techniques are mandatory before she can start performing the lower body exercises that she expects, or the exercises that are most efficient in conquering her goal. Given this information, she may be likely to seek another trainer, or jump right into the “advanced” exercises on her own. Some of the details of the program needed to reach her goal safely and efficiently may not be information that the prospective client wants to hear or perceives as valuable at the time. Unless you have ample time and opportunity to demonstrate the value of all of the techniques and specifics needed to accomplish the goal, you may be decreasing the chances of making a sale or gaining the prospect as a client.
After the prospect has hired you as their personal trainer, it is time to establish a specific plan for them. This plan should include specific details and an explanation of all of the steps you will both have to go through in order for the client to reach their goal. An important part of this plan should involve dissecting the client’s main goal. Research has demonstrated that having one clear attainable goal has increased performance in the area of exercise and fitness - some researchers going so far as to call them “regulators of human behavior” (Locke & Latham, 2006). People make errors or sometimes subconsciously subvert their desires – goals address these human habits and keep the subject directed and focused (Weinberg, 1994).
5 Rules for Establishing Fitness Goals with a Client
The following information details 5 rules to follow when establishing a client’s plan in order to maximize the client’s chance of success:
Rule # 1: Review and Specify
The first thing that needs to be done with the new client is a systematic review of their goal. During this first session, you can be direct and dig a little deeper for specifics. “I want to tone up” is a good start when you first meet them, but now as their trainer you need to know exactly what the client means by “tone up.” Does this mean a reduction in body fat? If so, how much body fat? Does it mean more visible muscle definition in the arms? Does it mean a smaller waist size? If so, what size? Are there specific clothes the client wants to fit into? In order for you and the client to formulate a plan to reach the goal they desire, you will both need to be crystal clear on what the client wants to accomplish. These specific goals are the motivational drivers for the client. In addition, this information will help you explain the procedures you will both follow to get it done.
As an example, if “tone up” means visible arm musculature to your client, you can use this opportunity to explain their program would be comprised of two components:
- Nutrition*: Their nutritional plan will emphasize protein intake to maintain arm musculature, while simultaneously monitoring caloric intake. If loss of body fat is necessary in order to see the muscular definition desired, monitoring caloric intake will help to avoid the excess of calories that would prevent the body fat loss needed to emphasize muscle definition. *Nutritional guidance should only be provided within the Fitness Professional’s scope of practice. Assistance from a Nutrition Professional may be necessary.
- Plenty of shoulder and elbow flexion and extension: You can give a quick tutorial to your new client on the major muscles of the arms and the high volume of work that may be needed in order to enhance muscle definition. Demonstrate some major exercises that emphasize shoulder and elbow flexion and extension. This is also a good opportunity to explain that even though you will both refer to them as “arm exercises”, the exercises selected for the client will be predominantly compound or total body movements. The myth of “spot reduction” can be addressed. You can explain how exercises such as push-ups and dumbbell squat and presses not only create the desired effect within the arms, but also address the caloric expenditure that is necessary to reach the goals as well.
Rule # 2: Don’t Make It about YOU
If you’re going to be a trainer for any extended period, you are going to meet many people whose personal goals are not in line with what you would suggest is best for them. Remember: The people you train do not see fitness the way you do. They probably do not realize that ankle eversion, combined with femoral adduction and internal rotation, is an ACL injury waiting to happen. If they exhibit these movement issues, they may not understand - or even care when you explain it – that the movement issues should take priority.
In instances such as this, the fitness professional needs to remember this process is not about the fitness professional. It’s about the client getting what he or she wants out of their exercise program. The trainer needs to check the ego and allow the focus of the goal discussions to be about the clients’ goal. Using the aforementioned example, giving the client a functional anatomy lesson is unnecessary, and more than likely tedious to the client. Obviously, there are going to be movement issues to address in the workouts, but there is no need to remind them that those movements are higher on the exercise food chain than the ones the client sees as addressing his/her goals. Although you may be correct in your evaluation, the client probably hears the following: “Half kneeling chops and lifts with an exercise band are better for your arms than presses. Because I’m smarter than you, that’s why.” It is important to remember that your intention may be to explain why other moves may be necessary to achieve their results, but they may not be received in that manner.
During parts of the training that may appear irrelevant to the uninitiated, it is better to keep the discussion short and sweet, and direct it back to the client’s goal whenever possible: “One of the things we have to do, Janice, to get your arms looking toned is to burn a lot of calories by working intensely. But we need to make sure we can exercise intensely in a safe manner, so a few minutes with this stuff will pay off when we’re crushing your conditioning session later.” This translates much better than, “We can’t do medicine ball slams yet because you’ve failed to demonstrate competence in your rotary stability patterns.”
Rule # 3: Set a Realistic Goal. “Most people overshoot or undershoot.”
When setting the goal with your client, a very important aspect of the process is often overlooked: In order for the goal to be effective, the goal must be realistic. Recently, Gray Cook, during a presentation noted, “Most people either overshoot or undershoot” when starting out their training programs. For the new client to truly improve the chances of success, the goal must be difficult enough that it is a slight reach (Coyle, 2012), but no so difficult as to be unattainable. Erring on the high side of self-estimation seems to increase performance, but avoid unrealistic (Weinberg, n.d.).
Conversely, if the goal is too simple or easy to attain, then it is unlikely that there will be any corresponding improvement to go with it. If the goal is to do 25 pushups and you can already do 24 pretty well, the improvement in terms of strength, fitness, caloric expenditure will be infinitesimal and therefore, probably pointless. Even the most conservative goal-setters may view a goal-setting process such as this as a waste of time.
Address this tendency of clients’ over or under estimation of their abilities directly, but courteously. If you feel they are underestimating their abilities you can say, “Susan, I’ve done many initial assessments and evaluations, and you’re a little further along than most people who are first starting out. I think we can shoot a little higher here.”
Clients who tend to overestimate their abilities are a little trickier to deal with. Frankly, anytime someone’s ego is in play, things can get tricky. In this case, an effective way to address their over-estimation is to move the discussion away from their capabilities, and toward the aspect of training that they will get the most out of. For example, the trainer can say, “Dave, of course you’re capable of doing “X”, but I’m not sure that’s the best choice for you. I think you’ll get a lot more from your efforts if you focus on “Y”. Doing “X” may give you a sense of accomplishment, but you’ll more accurately address your concerns and goals by doing “Y”.” Don’t make them feel small or incapable by saying they cannot do something. Instead, direct them to a more realistic version of their goal that will yield a better chance for success.
Rule # 4: Reconstruct into Smaller Steps
This is a good time to reestablish the allotted time-frame expected to reach the goal. Establishing a time-frame allows you to estimate for the client the number of workouts that will need to be done and allows you to also explain the extent of the results to be expected. You may need to do some quick math on the spot. For example, if your best guess based on the client’s current level of fitness, schedule, etc. is it will take 12 workouts over 4 weeks to see results, but they are only committed to training with you once per week, you can communicate that some of the exercises can (and will have to be) done on his or her own time.
Once the specific goal and time to reach the goal has been determined, a series of smaller, incremental goals now need to be established.
Delineating these steps for the client does two things:
First, it reinforces that you have a plan as their fitness professional, and that the two of you can follow this plan as a team. This communal, “teamwork” concept increases compliance as it is evident to the client immediately that there will be accountability, even if it is in a passive nature (Duhigg, 2012).
Secondly, breaking the goal into steps also allows the client to have some success along the way. Seeing progress almost invariably begets and encourages more progress. Even a small victory can go a long way with someone who may be starting out with skepticism or a lack of confidence. A huge body of research has shown that “small wins,” as they are often referred to, have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” (Small Wins, 1998). Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach. So much so, that in many instances, this has been shown to transfer to other aspects of the person’s life outside the exercise realm (Duhigg, 2012).
Conversely, if the benchmarks are not being met, it is a good opportunity to discuss the possible reasons with the client. Is it a lack of compliance or a programming issue? Whatever the case is, catching and addressing the issue early in the program is important as there is still time to make necessary adjustments.
Rule # 5: Review and Assess
It is very important for the fitness professional to get feedback from the client about their progress. Make sure the plan is understood – remember that the client does not look at exercise the way you do. Maybe something you assumed was so simple and easy to understand, wasn’t for the client.
According to John Locke, a pioneer in the field of goal setting:
“It is not enough to know that an order or request was made; one has to know whether or not the individual heard it and understood it, how he appraised it and what he decided to do about it before its effects on his behavior can be predicted and explained.” (Locke, 2006, p. 174)
Make sure you ask for the client’s thoughts and how they feel about the process, both initially and as they progress in the program. There are probably things that are going well, which gives you the opportunity to give positive reinforcement. This is also key to their success because if they were overly confident about reaching their fitness goals, they probably would not have come to you in the first place.
It is very easy to set a goal. It is a little more difficult to take step one toward that goal. Sticking to it for the duration with a systematic plan is exponentially more difficult, and therefore is usually where most people go awry with their fitness plans. It is the responsibility of the fitness professional to guide their clients through an effective goal-setting process to help increase the client's chance for success. With attentiveness, education and experience in goal-setting, your success rate with your clients and the success of your business will rise along with your clients’ progress.
- Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal setting theory. Association for Psychological Science, 15(5).
- Latham, G. P., & Yukl, G. A. (1975, Dec). A review of research on the application of goal setting in organizations. The Academy of Management Journal, 18(4), 824-845.
- Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. Random House.
- Weick, K. E. (1984). Small wins: Redefining the scale of social problems. American Psychologist, 39, 40-49.
- Small wins – The steady application of a small advatage. (1998). In Center for Applied Research. Retrieved from http://www.cfar.com/Documents/Smal_win.pdf
- Weinberg, R. S. (1994). Goal setting and performance in sport and exercise settings: A synthesis and critique. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, 26, 469-477.
- Coyle, D. (2012). The little book of talent. Bantam Books.