Client Motivation: How Trainers Can Help

Dumbbell For Motivation

Who chooses a personal trainer and why? Most always, it’s someone motivated toward improvement. Whether it’s fitness, health, weight loss or an overall self-esteem booster, clients are looking for something. Client motivation is important for a successful outcome in training sessions. How do we find what makes our clients tick?

“People don’t care what we know, until they know we care” personal trainer John Sutton said. Caring and empathy can go a long way with clients. So, can encouragement. Sutton has trained clients for more than 30 years and owns a Fit-For-All training studio in Mint Hill, N.C. “Don’t come to the gym on a ‘weak’ day,” he often says to his clients. “Every workout day is a strong day.”

Sculpted abs and visibly defined muscles come from fortunate genetics and from weight and resistance training. As trainers, we know most of the time, it requires consistent dedication to the latter. Unlike instant gratification or being born lucky, that takes sweat, aches and pains, lots of hours in the gym, training sessions and commitment before the results begin to show. We know that, but new clients may be surprised to find how much effort it takes for results.

John Sutton
“Don’t come to the gym on a ‘weak’ day.” –John Sutton

Gaining Control Through Motivation

What serves as the motivation to endure the grind?

Each of us must find what motivates us. Trainers can help clients find their motivation, which is part of the whole fitness process. Discussions, paying attention, and reflective listening help trainers delve into the motivating factors to keep clients going. And, we can be motivators. We can also help clients gain control by identifying their motivations.

I used to play tennis with a girl who fell on and off the diet and exercise wagon. Whenever she wanted to get back on track, she’d tape a photo of herself wearing a bikini from her more fit days on her refrigerator. Each time she’d reach for something to eat, it served as a reminder of her goals. It motivated her. It gave her a sense of control.

Some clients are motivated by an upcoming reunion, a wedding, or some big event. The key is to keep that motivation going once the event has passed. Help them keep control. Having a convo with your client about their long-term goals can help in finding what truly motivates them.

Internal Driving Forces

It is likely that our clients have an underlying driving force they may not readily share, if at all.

Take the former Homecoming Queen who had four kids, got out of shape, and wants to recapture some of her youth. Or there might be a client going through a divorce who wants to get fit and healthy for self-empowerment. You might have a client whose doctor recommended exercise to gain their health back. Some of these types of reasons might be so personal, they don’t want to openly share them.

Verbal cues can help you detect that something’s going on. These clients are motivated by something they want to control. We, as trainers, can help. That’s where non-judgmental positive reinforcement can be huge.

Focusing on the Positives

As coaches and trainers, focusing on the positives evokes a positive response regardless of the type of motivation. Find something your client is doing right and expound on that. It could be as simple as your client starting to take a walk around the block after dinner. That’s a step in the right direction (pun intended!). A walk around the block could develop into a walk around the neighborhood and then a run around the block. Positive reinforcement builds confidence.

I remember a boss I once had who went the extra mile to praise people for a job well done. Once, she wrote a letter to the housekeeping staff about how clean our offices were and how much she appreciated their work. We never had a trash can needing emptying or a desk needing dusting. Our offices were spotless.

Appreciation, and noticing the little things, helps to encourage and motivate clients to do better, to try harder and to build their own self-efficacy with exercise. If we only point out what they aren’t doing right, the client could get discouraged causing them to throw in the gym towel, quite literally.

I have a metal dumbbell that was my dad’s. He used to lift weights in our garage. When I remember those years, it takes me back so vividly that I can still hear the clanging of the weights as they hit the cement floor. I saved one dumbbell from his collection as a reminder and a positive motivator.

Sutton keeps it positive and uses humor sometimes to encourage clients to lift weights. “If you think lifting weights is dangerous, try being weak,” he says.

As we grab weights to work our clients’ and our own pecs, triceps, biceps, quads, hammies, and glutes, we must remember the innate power to sculpt positively toward goals. Trainers provide the encouragement to push a little harder, a little further, and a little longer with reminders of what motivates each individual client. Old photographs, sentimental dumbbells, humor, or a proverbial pat on the back—almost anything might be the right impetus.


Kim Becknell Williams is a freelance writer with more than ten years of personal training experience. Certified through NFPT, she is a Functional Training Specialist and holds a Master Trainer level certificate for resistance, endurance and sports nutrition. Kim has written two books including Gym Etiquette 101. She enjoys writing a variety of lifestyle articles and fitness blogs.
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