This Could Be the Most Important Thing You Teach Your Clients


What a pretentious title, huh?  What could possibly be so important that it is the most important thing to tell your personal training clients? Is it to keep their backs straight and in a neutral position for deadlifts and squats so that they don’t injure themselves? That the kitchen is where changes to the body are truly made? Or is it maybe that time under tension represents a better measurement of what will result in progressive muscle growth than the weights that they may have previously been haphazardly throwing around?

While these are good and important things to tell them since they fall under the category of safety, let’s focus for a moment on overall gains and progress. How can you help your client make improvements outside of the gym and your sessions with them without having to make an extra effort in the working out department?

Sound almost too good to be true? Or maybe you are worried that this thing could put you out of a job? No need to worry–your clients will still require coaching and guidance in the safety and execution of their fitness program even after you tell them this:

Their everyday activities absolutely count toward their fitness and exercise goals.

This may seem like common sense to those of us in the fitness industry, or perhaps even so elementary that we blow past it. You burn calories in excess of your basal rate essentially any time you get up out of bed. Some studies even suggest that chess players and other intellectual athletes burn a greater amount of calories doing those mental activities than some of us do daily in the gym, which makes sense when you consider that your brain consumes 2/3 of your glucose every day.

However, one major study looked at the everyday efforts of two groups of hotel housekeeping staff.  The only difference between these two groups was that one was told that their daily activity exceeded the recommendation for daily exercise to sustain healthy living. This hotel staff (as compared to their control counterparts) managed to lose on average 2lbs, lower their blood pressure by 10mmHg, reduce their BMI by 1 point, and body composition by half a percent, just by acknowledging that their jobs were exceeding the average recommendation for a daily workout for the population!

A simple shift in mindset resulted in measurable changes in their physiology.

This is what I would consider a force multiplier to your job as a trainer: not only is your client getting a good workout in while they are with you, but reminding them of this periodically may help them achieve the gainz (or more literally the losses) outside of the gym as well- and hopefully improve their overall happiness and satisfaction while they are doing it.

Placebo effect, or just “effect”?

Now, since this may seem to be too good to be true, let’s talk about the WHY. This study hypothesized that the placebo effect would have more power than the experimental effect, but I do not believe that this explains the mechanism of action for the placebo. Sure, telling the housekeepers about the payoff of their activity is technically the placebo, but why did it work?

What was this placebo’s mechanism of action?  In terms of elementary psychology, this may be explained by the process of cognitive appraisal, which, according to some theorists, helps in determining our physiological response to any given stimuli.

The model that I am most familiar with is the Lazarus Transactional Model of Stress, which states that a stimulus affects a person. This person then makes a rapid determination (primary appraisal) of whether it’s positive, dangerous, or irrelevant.  A second look is given after this to determine if the person has the resources to deal with this new event (think, “surprise bill” and checking your bank account right away to make sure you have enough to cover it). Deciding that you or your resources are insufficient to overcome this new obstacle is what causes distress.

Distress vs Eustress

So what is distress? Is there a better version of this? I am glad you asked! Distress represents the things in our life that are causing what we consider to be disfunction. Such as the 125lb log being in the way of our path while we are trying to get to work. Ironically, we may either get up early or go to the gym late to move the exact same amount of weight, even repeatedly in order to better ourselves while listening to our favorite gym tunes; we see the exact same task differently depending on the situation we’re in when we perform it. Perceiving something as a positive challenge in our lives that spurs growth and development is eustress.

In this example, is the difference the gym tunes? Nope, it is our intent regarding the work done.  So, what can we do better? Rather than viewing the log blocking your path as a frustrating problem to solve–try viewing it as an opportunity to better yourself as you do in the gym, and see how these “frustrations” better your life both physically and mentally for you and your clients!

This idea is central to stoic philosophy. While I have not yet read all these books in their entirety, I have included their references below if you are interested in the history, philosophy, and applications of stoicism, as well as the studies to support the central arguments here. (Suffice it to say, stoicism is approaching life with less emotion, more rational thought, and adherence to particular virtues, all of which is believed to contribute to a happy and balanced life.)

Finally, there has been some talk of confounding variables regarding this study, but I’d like to propose the idea that perhaps recognizing their work as a part of a healthy lifestyle served as an anchor for identity change and reform. Even in recognition of the complex and multi-faceted nature of this study, with probably confounding variables- a simple explanation and re-appraisal of a normally “stressful” activity led to positive change for this staff.

This is a tidbit worth sharing with your clients as it’s something they might keep in the back of their minds as they go about their day performing tasks, possibly with more pep in their step, more enthusiasm and intention, and helping them get just a little bit closer to a health and fitness ideal.



Stoic Books:

  Meditations by Marcus Aurelius 

 The Obstacle is the Path by Ryan Holliday