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Boost Retention: How to Motivate Personal Training Clients

Reading Time: 6 minutes 60 seconds


DATE: 2019-12-27

You can tell your clients what to do, guide them, educate them, make a training plan, but if you can't motivate them to work out, it's all for nothing.

Motivation is one of the most important skills you can learn, whether you're a seasoned trainer or looking for tips for success as a brand new trainer getting started in the fitness industry.

This is a complex psychological issue, and no one has motivation completely figured out, not even the experts. But, there are concrete things you can do, principles to work by as a trainer, and tools and tips to help you be a better trainer by motivating the clients who most need a push.

The Importance of Motivation and Support - Being a Better Trainer

A good trainer has many important qualities and skills. You're a leader, an expert in fitness and health, and an educator. But most clients come to you for your ability to motivate them when they fail to motivate themselves.

The truth is that anyone can work out, get fitter, get healthier, and lose weight. But so many fail when they try to go it alone without a trainer to guide them. Yes, part of your worth is your skillset and expertise, but you are also needed for accountability. It's part of the work of a coach and leader.

Very few people exercise simply because they enjoy it. And even people with serious reasons to stay fit, like those dealing with severe health issues, still struggle to stick with it. Where you can be the best trainer possible is by doing more than just providing workouts and training plans; you can be the best by truly motivating your clients and keeping them on track so they meet their goals.

As a simple matter of business, if your clients aren't motivated, they may not come back for more training sessions with you. It's important to consider the pragmatic ways in which you can motivate clients and learn tips for retention so your business thrives.

What's Your Motivation?

Before you can be an effective motivator for any client, you have to get to know them. Most importantly, you need to know their motivations. Why have they come to you for training sessions? Only when you really understand their reasons will you be able to keep them working toward long-term goals.

To really dig deep and find out what motivates your clients, ask questions and keep asking them until you get to the root of it. Try a simple but effective technique called "The 5 Questions." Here's an example of what this might look like with a new training client:

Trainer: "Why do you want to work with a personal trainer?"

Client: "I've put on a few pounds over the last few years and I'd like to lose them."

Trainer: "Why do you feel it's important to lose weight?"

Client: "I guess I just don't like how I feel in my body now."

Trainer: "What about it makes you feel bad?"

Client: "I don't really like how I look, but I also feel like I get tired too easily."

Trainer: "What about losing weight will make you feel better?"

Client: "I think I'll feel stronger and like I can keep up with my kids more."

Trainer: "Which is more important to you, being fitter and being able to play with your kids or losing weight to look a certain way?

Client: "Playing with my kids and knowing I'm healthy enough for them."

A conversation like this starts one way, with a complaint about weight, but by asking more pointed questions you can get down to the deeper level of motivation. You can use that to help push this client, by reminding them of how they want to be healthy for their kids, that they feel better about being able to keep up with them.

The surface motivation for this client, weight loss, may motivate them for a brief time. But when things get tough, it's the real reason they came to a personal trainer that will keep them going.

How to Motivate Personal Training Clients with Attainable Goals

Once you know what motivates your client, the real, underlying reasons they sought you out, you're ready to set some goals. If you have ever tried to stick with a New Year's resolution that was vague and ambitious, like "eat healthier" or "lose weight," you know that it's easy to fail.

Goals can be very motivating. And in fact, without goals at all, fitness motivation tapers off pretty quickly. Help your clients set SMART goals to keep them motivated for the long haul.


First, goals need to be specific. Don't just decide to lose weight. Pick a specific weight loss goal, such as 20 pounds or ten percent of current weight. Clients need that specific endpoint to set their sights on or motivation will lag.


Not only do goals need to be specific, but they need to be measurable. For instance, a specific weight loss goal might be to lose enough weight to feel good about my body again. This is specific, but it's tough to measure. Use numbers that you can see on a scale, as a measurement of body fat, or as inches on the waistline.


It's great to shoot for the moon, but if goals are too ambitious your client will lose motivation when it starts to seem unattainable. You can have one major, ambitious goal for your client as long as you break it down into more reasonable, achievable smaller goals to hit along the way. Losing 100 pounds seems impossible, but losing ten pounds, then another ten pounds, and so on, is achievable and will keep a client motivated for long-term weight loss.


Goals need to be meaningful to the person trying to achieve them. This is where it becomes important for your client to set their own fitness goals. Don't do it for them. You can be a guide, but your client must choose their own goals that are relevant and meaningful in their life.


A goal with no endpoint can go on forever, and your client will definitely lose motivation. Help them create one big goal broken down into smaller goals that all have deadlines. For example, a goal may be to lose 50 pounds in one year, broken down in five-pound increments.

How to Motivate Personal Training Clients - Beyond Goals, Measuring Progress

Goals are great for motivation, essential even, but so is measuring progress towards them. As a motivational tool, measure your client's progress regularly. Seeing that they are making strides toward a goal is motivating.

The Tools of Motivation

Beyond goal setting and getting to know your clients' underlying motivations, here are some additional tools every great motivator uses.


You can't get to know your client or their motivations without listening. Don't simply talk at or instruct your clients during a workout. Listen to what they have to say. Ask pointed questions and really absorb the answers. The better you know someone, the better you will be able to motivate them.


Listening has another benefit. It shows your clients that you care. You care about their motivations, their health, and their feelings. When a client knows you care about them and whether they meet their goals, they will be more motivated to work hard for you.

Recognition and Praise

Developing a relationship with a client is how you get to know them and show you care about their outcomes. Your client will want to follow your advice and not let you or themselves down. And when you have that kind of relationship, your praise and recognition will mean a lot and be a prime motivating factor. Praise clients for meeting even small, daily goals. Let them know you see their hard work.

A Variety of Instructional Strategies

You are an educator when you train clients. And all good teachers know that to reach and motivate students you have to work with their learning style. As a trainer, there are a few important types of instruction you should use. Vary it for all clients until you find what works best for each:

  • Visual. A lot of people are strong visual learners. They learn by seeing and by example. As a trainer, this means demonstrating moves and form, guiding classes and making sure everyone can see you, and using visual clues, like tape on the floor for positioning.

  • Auditory. Learning by listening is also important but is rarely enough on its own. Explain each workout and give background information; speak loudly and clearly; provide verbal feedback; give praise and congratulations for good efforts; and engage clients in conversations while you work out.

  • Tactile. Some people benefit from touch and movement when learning. This means you can guide their bodies into the right positions for good form or give little taps as correction, praise, or guidance.

A Variety of Physical Activity

Let's face it. Sometimes exercise is just a drag. It gets boring, especially when doing the same thing over and over again. Motivation is sometimes a simple matter of piquing someone's interest. Suggest to your client that you'll try a new routine next time, that you'll get outdoors in the middle of winter for some fresh air, or that you have a new class for them to try.


Sometimes a little bribery does the trick. Of course, this should only ever be something positive and healthful. For example, if you have a client training for a 5k race, offer to run the race with them if they hit a certain goal in time. Incentives can be powerful, but avoid things like junk food or cheat days and focus on things that support your clients' healthy lifestyle changes and goals.

Motivation is something that everyone struggles with, even trainers dedicated to fitness. Part of your job as a certified personal trainer is to coach and motivate clients. When you understand each client as an individual, what they want to achieve, and show that you care about the outcomes, you can be a better motivator and a great trainer.

Learn more about changing behavior patterns to better motivate clients. The ISSA's Transformation Specialist course teaches you how to help clients meet goals sooner and make lasting, positive lifestyle changes.

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