How to Train the Client that Always “Hurts”

Kevin Mullins | 12 Jul 2016

woman reading

In a perfect world every client loves exercise just like their trainer. They wake up looking forward to their training sessions, google ways to do new exercises, and are always looking for the toughest challenge they can get their hands on. Minor aches and pains are left in the dust as they drive relentlessly towards their goals.

Some clients are just like this.

Most however, are not.

There stands a high probability that every trainer in the industry will encounter someone during their career that always has a nagging injury, or backs down from exercises at the first sign of actual effort.

These individuals are often extremely disconnected with their body and are incapable of deciphering exercise-induced “good” pain, and actual “bad” pain. Their unfamiliarity with muscular tension will make them shy away from heavier resistance exercises, and their discomfort with labored breathing makes harder cardiovascular exercise out of the question.

So what can you do as a trainer?

How can you possibly progress an individual who doesn’t understand what it takes to progress themselves?

You just have to E.A.S.E them into it!

E.A.S.E is an acronym that stands for Explore, Adapt, Surpass, and Enforce – a process that I’ve used to ensure I’m able to meet every single client’s expectations, no matter what their viewpoint on exercise may be.

I created the acronym as I began training other trainers on how to better train clients. Let’s be honest, you aren’t a real teacher until you have a few corny acronyms in your back pocket!

Let’s take a look at what E.A.S.E can do for you and your personal training career.

E - Explore

It is absolutely imperative to explore the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of all clients, especially those who resist challenging exercise.

First and foremost, you need to be able to declare and defend, legally, that the client presents no real injury, risk-of, or symptoms of dysfunction prior to working out. If a client complains of persistent shoulder pain, actually has a torn labrum, and you continue to make them press because you think they are dogging it, then you may find yourself swimming in a tank of hot water soon. Yet, if the client doesn’t present pain or any need to refer out, then you can proceed to the next step.

Built a rapport with your client that allows for them to feel comfortable discussing their mental and emotional issues with exercise.

Maybe they are tremendously out-of-shape and absolutely have no belief in their own body, or they were one of those children who really did get hurt all the time and could never go outside to play with their friends.

Maybe they are recovering from an eating disorder, never played sports, or grew up in a family where physical exertion was not the norm.

Regardless of what the actual discussion contains – it is crucial for you to understand why your client rejects exercise and avoids exertion. Once you hear them speak of their weaknesses, fears, and barriers you’ll find yourself coaching in a different, more caring language, which may be all the support they need to truly commit to exercise.

A - Adapt

Once you come to understand the physical, mental, and emotional being who has signed on to become your client, then you must look to adapt your program to fit their current state.

If they are facing a physical hurdle, then you’ll need to modify, regress, or completely avoid an area until given clearance by a PT.

If they fear heavy lifting or big metal bars, then skip the barbells and work with cables, resistance bands, and soft-handled dumbbells until they feel otherwise.

If they hate cardio because they are so scared of getting out of breathe, falling off the treadmill, or feeling their body sweat, then look to create mini-circuits that spike the metabolism without the intimidation of a fixed machine.

Adapting is the most critical ability a trainer or a coach must possess. There is no “one size fits all” in fitness.

S - Surpass

Always look for ways for the client to surpass their own expectations. Their belief system is wired to assume that they are not capable of doing any more than they have previously done until they have actually done it.

How do you get them to do more without making them feel pressured to perform?

  • Sneak 2.5 pounds onto the bar when they aren’t looking (and you are positive they can handle it).
  • Cover the dials on the cardio machine but sneak the incline up a few notches.
  • Change the unit of measure from repetitions to time and watch them exceed their previous repetition total on an exercise.

As time passes the client will begin to understand that they are capable of more if they are willing to take the small risk of trying harder. This feedback loop will eventually lead to them setting their own goals and tasking themselves with more demands. They will surpass their own expectations of themselves right before your eyes.

E - Enforce

Enforcing positive behaviors, positive attitudes, and open dialogue is imperative to the success of a training program. It is the last phase of the E.A.S.E acronym because it is when a trainer proves their greatest value.

Positive training sessions must be enforced with energy, enthusiasm and a genuine sense of pleasure with the client. Show them that you are fired-up like all heck about a new PR, and soon enough they’ll start to catch the bug too!

Positive news from their existence away from you should met with unrelenting glee, and when in the realm of nutrition or training, absolute pride. Always look your clients in the eye and say, “I’m proud of you.”

When you enforce the behaviors that are necessary for change by being a great trainer, pushing boundaries when necessary; yet, remaining respectful of the human condition, you will elevate your service to a level that will shine brighter than the stars over the Mojave.


Not every client is going to have a type A personality and demand excellence of themselves. Some are scared and some are scarred. A great trainer is willing to dive into these personal places with their toughest clients, search for the answers, and pull out the truth. Once that truth is within grasp it is completely possible to empower the client to succeed by letting them feel in control of the experience. Adapting exercises and surpassing long-held expectations will create a positive environment that enforces change, dissipates fears, and heals wounds.

Change is needed in those who fear it the most. Don’t be the change – be the catalyst.

Subscribe to the PTontheNet blog via Email or RSS feed

      Back to top
Kevin Mullins

About the author: Kevin Mullins

Kevin Mullins, CSCS is the Director of Product Development for The St. James in Springfield, VA. The author of Day by Day: The Personal Trainer's Blueprint to Achieving Ultimate Success is a former EQUINOX Master Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness coach. He has presented for the NSCA, SCW Mania, and contributes content to PTontheNet, other websites, and his own page:

Full Author Details

Leave a reply

Subject: Comment:



Comments (0)