As personal trainers and health professionals, we tend to have exercise routines that we habitually complete each week without even thinking twice. We enjoy exercise or at least the post-exercise endorphin rush and understand how regular exercise can affect much more than our waistlines. For many of your clients, this may not be the case. They may have preconceived ideas that exercise is for “fit people”, it is too hard for them, they’ll never achieve or enjoy it and being healthy is out of their reach. They may have been in and out of exercise programs but never really stuck to anything long term. In my experience, beginners or “all or nothing” people are the ones we can make the biggest difference with, but only if we can tap into their mindset and create sustainable, lifelong habits. These clients can also turn into regular weekly bookings and become excellent word of mouth referrals, giving you a larger client base so it’s a win, win for all. So how do you get your beginner clients to exercise week after week, year after year?
- Get them to focus on non-scale victories
Many beginner clients will come to you with a weight loss goal. They tend to focus on the number on the scale alone and forget about all the other adaptations that happen to the body. The first step is to educate them on all the other ways exercise will benefit their life. Studies have shown regular exercise has many more benefits than losing weight. The American College of Sports Medicine states[i] that 150min of moderate-intensity exercise every week can reduce the risk for heart disease, type II diabetes, obesity, avoid stress, depression, aid anxiety, maintain healthy body weight, boost immunity, combat bone loss and improve cognitive function. It also puts us in a better mood, our skin and hair look nicer, we sleep better, have more energy and in general are happier. Beginner clients expect results overnight so it is important to remind them not only that true weight loss takes time but also the wonderful benefits that exercise can create.This can motivate them to continue and exercise routine until the body composition changes start to happen.
- Avoid making scale related goals
As mentioned above many clients will struggle when they don’t see instant results. As fitness professionals, we understand the number on the scales can remain the same if a client loses 2kg of fat but gains 2kg of muscle.Although clients will have reduced girth measurements and their clothing will be fitting better, to them, when they see the number on the scales remain the same they become frustrated and can believe they have not made any progress. This can often lead to them giving up before any real results can be achieved. That’s not to say we cannot make weight loss goals for our clients though! We just need to step away from the scale. So, what other ways can we track weight loss? We can use girth measurements, calliper testing or hip to waist ratios to accurately track their fat loss without the scale being the only victory. Once a client can see the progress in their girth measurements and body fat, they will feel motivated to continue with an exercise program regardless of what the number on the scales says.
- Educate clients about progressive overload protocols
Most clients will train with their personal trainer 1-2 x per week and chances are they will need to do some self-directed workouts. It is easy to prescribe and demonstrate a program for a client to do in their own time and forget to educate beginner clients about progressive overload. Studies have shown that periodized strength training programs demonstrate greater outcomes compared to non-periodized programs[ii] so it is important to educate them on how they can make each workout harder so they continue to succeed and see results in the gym. Remind them that being able to lift 25kg instead of 20kg or doing 12 reps when they could only do 10 last week is another non-scale victory and something to be celebrated. Ways you can progressively overload include
- Time under tension/ tempo
- Sets + reps
- Rest periods
The best options for beginners are to first add load and then add volume. Educate but try and avoid giving clients too much information at once and overwhelming them with too much information.
- Help them engage with the gym community
When you train around like-minded people you are more likely to enjoy the gym and stick with it for good. Introduce your new clients to other clients, trainers and owners of the gym. Make sure your new client feels welcome and like part of the family. Go with them to a group fitness session or introduce them to a group that train at the same time as your client is intending to, get creative and think of ways you can help introduce your client to your gym environment.
- Help them schedule realistic workout times and days
There is nothing worse than feeling like you have failed. Ensure when you have initial consults with your clients that they set realistic goals around how many days and how long they will train for each week. Get your clients to sit down and make a weekly schedule of times they have free to workout. They may realize that the 5 workouts they agreed to do are going to be near impossible between after-work meetings and kids’ sport. It may be more realistic for the client to train 3 x per week instead. Setting an unrealistic number of workouts to do each week will make clients feel like they have failed when they don’t manage to achieve them. They are better to feel confident they can achieve their weekly training goals and do extra than fail to get all the sessions done. Explain to beginners that once they regularly are doing 2-3 sessions a week, they can easily add a 4th or 5th if they have the time.
- Set behaviour-based goals
Behaviour-based goals are small goals you create to get a step closer to your outcome goal. For example, if your goal is to lose 5% bodyfat some behaviour-based goals may be going to the gym 3 x per week and making your lunch to take to work Monday – Thursday. It is important to help your client set behaviour-based goals that they feel they can achieve easily. This may sound too easy but most beginners try and overhaul their entire life following an “all or nothing” approach and quickly burn out as their new habits are unsustainable long term. [iii] Once the client has achieved 1-2 behaviour goals successfully for multiple weeks you can get them to add a further 1-2 goals on top of these. The long-term goal is to keep building these smaller goals until the outcome goal is achieved. How you train a beginner in the gym can determine if they create new habits for life or “fall off the wagon” after 5 weeks. Be careful with your approach and remember that not all clients will be as passionate about the gym and exercise as trainers or more experienced clients. It is important to have empathy and put yourself in the beginner shoes, it can be easy to scare off a beginner client. It is much easier to go on the easier side and adjust programs to be more difficult than backtrack and try and regain a client who may avoid you after a session that was too tough for their current level of fitness.
Disclaimer: The exercises and information provided by Fit Futures Learning Institute (T/A Fit Futures Academy) (www.fitfutures.co.nz) are for educational and entertainment purposes only, and are not to be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific treatment plan, product or course of action. Read the full content disclaimer.