DIG DEEP: Finding the right motivation mix for your clients

Dean Hodgkin | 17 Dec 2019

There’s clearly a direct correlation between how motivated your clients are and the likelihood of them achieving the results they desire. However, it’s not as simple as just advising them to stick a photo of their ideal beach body on the fridge, but rather motivation is a rich tapestry of varied sources and can often change through the fitness journey. In this domain, one size doesn’t fit all, so here are a few tactics that may help you to find the perfect motivational recipe for each and every client.


At the start of the program, it’s worth ensuring the client understands that they have to take responsibility for the success of the regime and specifically, for avoiding excuses and obstacles in the forms of work pressures or family commitments. Ultimately, it’s them rather than you performing the exercises. So it’s worth pointing out that they can gather all the support in the world around them, but the brutal truth is that only they can buy results – and the currency is sweat.

Because They’re Worth It

A study showed that self-worth is key to exercise adherence (Hubert et al., 2008), which by definition, will predispose results. So it can pay dividends to encourage your client to think of your sessions as their special time - a hour out of their day just for their benefit alone.

Mission Statement

While elite sports performers are well familiar with the value of positive self-talk, it’s not an obvious go-to for most people. So encourage your client to create a mantra. Henry Ford is quoted as saying, ‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right’ so telling oneself ‘I can’ or ‘I will’ every time the alarm goes off early, the last mile seems too hard, or there are no repetitions left in the arms, your client will surprise both you and themselves with the effort levels that can be achieved.

Positive Power

Giving specific, positive feedback to your client is a known motivator (Whaley & Schrider, 2005). So try to avoid the generic phrases that are often heard in gyms, such as ‘great job’, and instead, compliment your client on something much more personal, such as ‘you really nailed the technique on those deadlifts’.


As a species, we have a unique ability to imagine what doesn’t exist yet, allowing us to then create a route to realize that vision. Advise your client to think of their goal and then emphasize that your plan will get them there, but that every workout, exercise, set and even rep are vital steps in the process. This will lead to the subliminal feeling that every element of every workout is moving them closer to their goal. So, it will be pleasurable, which, along with avoidance of pain, is a platform of motivation theory.

Focus on the Present

While goal setting is a crucial element of a successful exercise plan, there’s a danger that longer term health, aesthetic or fitness benefits can feel so distant, that they could actually be a negative influence. A study showed that encouraging your client to recognize the immediate pay-off by appreciating the value of each workout to their quality of life, on a daily basis, is a much stronger motivator than simply aiming for the end result (Sugar, et al., 2011).

Buddy Up

Several studies have shown that support from a relative or friend significantly impacts the chance of sticking to a workout plan (Trost, et al., 2002). So, offer your clients the opportunity to partner with someone else for an occasional session. The easy sell is that it’ll be cheaper for them, but the value of increasing your clients’ support network is a big win for you both.

Join In

Now you might think this crazy - the client is paying for your time and expects undivided attention, right? Well, maybe not, as one study showed that watching others exercise and Trainers perceived to possess a high level of exercise mastery are both extrinsic motivators that can enhance commitment (Sequin, et al., 2010).

Speak Their Language

As obvious as it appears, a great way to motivate your client is to first ask what motivates him/her and then design a program to suit those goals. Then ensure your dialogue when teaching the exercises is always aligned to their goals. A super tool for this is a questionnaire developed by Frederick and Ryan (1993), separating motivation into 5 areas - appearance, social, fitness, competence and enjoyments you can focus on which is the primary driver for each client.


Hubert et al., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2008, Explaining long-term exercise adherence in women who complete a structured exercise program.

Whaley and Schrider, The Sport Psychologist, 2005, The process of adult exercise adherence: self- perceptions and competence.

Sugar et al., International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2011, Rebranding exercise: closing the gap between values and behavior

Trost et al., Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2002, Correlates of adults’ participation in physical activity.Sequin et al., Journal of Ageing and Physical Activity, 2010, Strength training and older women: A cross-sectional study examining factors related to exercise adherence.

Frederick & Ryan, Journal of Sport Behaviour, 1993. Differences in motivation for sport and exercise and their relations with participation and mental health.

Images courtesy of www.pixabay.com

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Dean Hodgkin

About the author: Dean Hodgkin

A truly international fitness ambassador, having appeared at both consumer and trade fitness events in 36 countries resulting in being voted Best International Fitness Presenter at the 1 Body 1 World awards in New York. In addition, he recently received the Lifetime Achievement award at the International Fitness Showcase, Europe’s largest group fitness event. Dean has been teaching sport and fitness since 1981, is renowned for delivering a wide range of master-classes and seminars covering many themes and has accumulated a wealth of experience that reaches into several domains.

He has appeared as a guest expert on a large number of television and radio programmes both in the UK and overseas and in trying to preach the fitness gospel to as wide an audience as possible he has filmed workouts on a boat in the middle of Lake Windermere, on the set of Coronation Street, on the end of Blackpool pier, in Times Square, on the roof of a Mumbai skyscraper, in a busy hotel lobby in Taipei and in an Amsterdam park with a Dutch soap opera star. Leading a mass workout in London’s Battersea Park, standing in front of the accompanying Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, is a particular highlight.

Dean has created two unique products for The Great Courses that combine education and exercise to help the viewer to better understand how the body works and how physical activity can positively affect it in so many ways. He has also co-authored two fitness books and regularly writes features for mainstream newspapers and magazines with a list that includes The Times, Sunday Times, GQ, FHM, Men’s Health, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Health & Fitness, Zest, Women’s Fitness, Slimming and Bodyfit.

His unique ability to create diverse lifestyle programmes also led to him working with major brand names including Reebok, Marks & Spencer, Weight Watchers, RAC, Nike, Remington, David Lloyd, British Dental Association, 3 Mobile, Boots, Aviva and Whitbread.

As a sportsman, he was 3-times World and 2-times European Karate Champion. Coaching experience includes working with basketball, soccer, tennis, golf and American football players.

Dean is currently retained as a consultant by both multi-award winning spa resort Ragdale Hall and Energie Global Brand Management, the leading fitness industry franchise operator.

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