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Whenever you talk to a personal trainer about what they do, you will often get a response that goes along the lines of what they do in fitness. They help people achieve their fitness goals, whether this is losing body fat, bulking up, competing in a competition, etc. But, in reality, what we do is far more basic. Our successes and failures with clients come down to one singular factor—how good are we at inspiring and coaching someone through changing a behavior?
This is the bulk of what personal trainers do because a client who doesn't change their behavior is likely to fail. But it isn't that simple, either. Behavior change is incredibly difficult, which is why most weight loss goals fall short of success. These people haven't changed their behavior. They might have for a short time, but in reality, it became unsustainable at some point.
Behavior therapy has delivered us a lot of great information on the science of what affects human behavior. A lot of times, personal trainers will think, "I achieve my fitness goals by this program," not realizing all of the tiny habits that fitness professionals have already hammered down. There is a common thought process that goes, "if it worked for me, it will work for them." And, in truth, it might. But if this is the strategy that you're betting your results on, your success rate likely isn't as high as it could be.
When you're trying to instill strong behavioral change in clients, you are going to discover the true challenge in finding lasting success with the client. So, let's dive into what aspects you should pay attention to for success.
When you're asking yourself what you're trying to do, it can help to define the "stakeholders" in your client's training. You, as the trainer, have an obvious stake in keeping a positive and engaged relationship with your clients. The client also has a stake in the process, as they are looking for transformation. Identifying this upfront can help to re-frame how you think—less as the trainer who simply gives edicts to your clients, and more as the motivator who coaches clients through a rough period.
Much of this comes from the discipline of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, where a therapist helps coach a patient through re-framing their experiences to improve disposition, mood disorders, and a whole host of other factors. In behavioral science, breaking down a person's actions is essential to build future strategies and coping mechanisms that come from it. Developing strategies to overcome difficulty is new to no one, but so few of us employ these tactics when working with our clients, often to everyone's detriment.
It extends beyond mental health to our physical health. Whether it's finding the time to exercise, making the right meal choices, or even finding time to balance the mind, making positive change starts with evaluating the triggers of certain behaviors, and addressing how to change them. It's helpful in this practice to evaluate who the stakeholders are in your clients' lives. Is it a spouse or children who want them to live longer, healthier lives? Is it the friends who want to be more engaged through physical activity? External and internal stakeholders can help with the first motivational push. Then, it's time to break things down.
First introduced by James O. Prochaska and Carlo Di Clemente, the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change sought to break down the way change occurs in people. It could be anything from smoking cessation to physical activity, or anything else surrounding a person's habits.
Triggering positive behavior boils down to this basic process many of us intuitively know, yet rarely make the time to analyze:
This is the stage before the individual is ready to make a change. They're starting to notice the world around them and their own interactions with it, but they're likely unaware that a change is needed. Sometimes, they could even be in denial about the need for a change.
This is where the individual is starting to realize there's a problem or issue they want to fix. They might be seeing undesired outcomes and start having the desire to change.
In this stage of the change process, the individual is ready to make a change and develop a plan.
At this point, the individual is ready to start acting in the direction of their change and they begin to implement their plan. This might include positive reinforcement, deep interventions into one's life, and a program for success.
In this stage, the actions are having an effect, and the process of change is tweaked to ensure that it can be supported long term.
In this stage, someone's old negative behavior has crept back into their life, and the positive behavior isn't happening anymore.
There are many ways that we can break this down even further for our purposes. For instance, a client seeking your services is already in the Preparation Stage—if not fully in the Action Stage. However, this isn't always the case, and you should be aware of where your client's head is at in terms of making needed changes.
Being aware of which stage of change your client is in is important because it lets you know the degree to which they will be relying on your behavioral coaching techniques. And, make no mistake, whether or not you intend to be a behavioral coach, that's part of the job as a personal trainer.
Once the client is aware of the changes they need to make, you now need to go into the specific situation that causes negative behavior. For instance, are they sticking with their meal planning? Do they have a process with a reward that gives the positive reinforcement to help them through this process? How are they structuring rewards to maximize the effectiveness of their plan?
In terms of creating a habit, it's important to focus on how the client perceives the value of the reward. And we're not talking about something expensive or complicated. Usually for clients, having a food-based reward is counterproductive. But what about other motivating factors?
For instance, when your client carries out a goal, what could they reward themselves with? It could be something as buying something they've been wanting for a while, going to see a new movie, have a spa day, being social at the gym, etc.
But, in the context of a workout, sometimes you can give a little reward that can be food-based following the exercise session. Be very cautious with this, as rewards are used temporarily to create a mental state where the body wants to do the behavior that got them the reward. But eventually, this might phase-out, depending on your plan.
It's essential in your sessions to have an open dialogue with your client. You need to understand what's going on in their head and why they are succeeding or failing. This is the time when you have them face-to-face, so make sure you make the most of it. Not only will this help your overall goal, but it will also communicate to your client that you care about them and their wellbeing.
In this time, you'll be able to break down their failures. This isn't to reprimand them, but to get a better sense of what worked and what didn't. Also, remember to be compassionate during this time. It will not be easy on the client, and this is also where you come in, to help the client when they're in danger of making a mistake.
Sometimes, barriers could be small, like not having fitness clothes ready and thus skipping a workout. Or, they could be huge, like having a client with a poor relationship with food. Either way, finding ways to navigate these waters is what will keep your clients coming back when they succeed.
If you would like to know more about how to keep your clients coming back for more, you should check this article out here on 7 Tips to Keep the Clients Coming Back.
Ready to learn more about how you can help your clients succeed? Check out the ISSA's course on transformation so you can give your clients the right tools to meet their goals.
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