The Core of Motivation

13058619 s

There’s nothing better than that “I can do it, I’m excited” feeling.  We all want to feel this way about everything we do in life.  School, family, work, hobbies, etc.  When you naturally love an activity or person, motivation seems to come easier.  This is called intrinsic motivation.  When you inherently enjoy doing something just because, that’s the most natural form of motivation.

Then, there’s the evil twin, extrinsic motivation.  It’s not really so evil, but it’s the motivation we crave and search in times of desperation.  There are activities we want to do and should do, but just can’t muster up the deeper desire for them unless there is an incentive dangling before our face.  Rewards include seeing a friend, watching the scale change or getting praise.

Exercise happens to be one of those activities requiring extrinsic motivation.  Personal trainers get into a fitness career because they usually have intrinsic motivation for healthy habits.  Clients on the other hand, hire help because they’re on the other end of the spectrum.

How can we get on the same page?

For the personal trainer, it’s first crucial to understand why your client has hired you.  If it’s for motivation and accountability rather than creativity and safety, then you’ve got a job cut out for yourself.  Keeping them on track can be a challenge when you’re the main source of motivation for them.  Tap deeper into what their needs are with these two tips.

Don’t assume that you know what motivates them and don’t even assume that they know!  Put on your investigative hat and start exploring their thoughts.

#1 Find the Why

Almost every client comes to you with a goal, whether they know it or not and often we take it for face value and move on.  They say they want to lose weight, get stronger or get in shape.  The personal trainer smiles and moves forward.  Stop right there!  Ask more questions.  Be like the curious child who keeps asking “why?”.  Some people aren’t even quite sure why they want to get fit, they just know it’s good for them.  That won’t support them for the long haul.

They say: “I want to lose weight.”Thumbs Up

You say: “Why do you want to lose weight?”

They say: “I want to fit into my high school skinny jeans.”

You say: “Why do you want to fit into the jeans you wore in high school?”

They say: “I should be able to get back to that weight.”

You say: “You should?  Why is that?”

Keep the conversation going…

Every time the client responds, ask a follow-up question.  (unless they seem to be getting annoyed with you)  Practice this with a friend or family member to try it out first.  The more you get them to think about the deeper reasoning for staying fit, the more connected they are toward exercise.  This will also help you gear their programs and your choice of words to keep them on track.

If a client reveals that they’re a better family member when they’ve gotten a workout, you can ask questions about what meals and activities they’re doing with their family on the weekends because you know that’s important to them.  When they miss a few sessions you can nicely ask if it had an impact on their mood at home and remind them that they mentioned that to you once.

Another client might thrive on competition and progress.  You would approach motivating this person differently than the one who exercises for endorphins and family reasons.  Exercise isn’t one-size-fits-all and neither is motivation.

#2 Make It Social

You’re the accountability piece in many people’s fitness lives.  They know they’ll have to fess up to you if they don’t behave during the week.  That’s not always enough.  Psychological research demonstrates the power of social support.  Whether it be a partner who they hike with or a group fitness class they attend – your client will have more success if other people are cheering them along and participating in similar goals.

You could host a monthly walking or hiking group to facilitate this amongst all your clients.  Having a time when your clients can be with other like-minded people and invite friends is a win-win for everyone.  Your clients have increased commitment to their fitness, you get time off the clock to get to know them all better and the potential to meet new clients if anyone brings their friend.

Not everyone wants their exercise program to be social.  This is when you have to go back to their why.  Perhaps exercise is their time to get away from other people.  This is also important to know.  The more we can tap into people’s underlying reasons for exercise the better we can help them achieve healthy goals!

What’s your take?

What motivation strategies work well in your fitness community?

Which ones don’t seem to pan out?

Share with us in the Facebook Community Group.


Lox, C., et al. 2003. The Psychology of Exercise: Integrating Theory and Practice. Scottsdale, AZ: Holcomb Hathaway, Publishers, Inc.
Buckworth, J. & Dishman, R. 2002. Exercise Psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinestics.


Beverly Hosford, MA teaches anatomy and body awareness using a skeleton named Andy, balloons, play-doh, ribbons, guided visualizations, and corrective exercises. She is an instructor, author, and a business coach for fitness professionals. Learn how to help your clients sleep better with in Bev's NFPT Sleep Coach Program and dive deeper into anatomy in her NFPT Fundamentals of Anatomy Course.
Get 35% off certification packages

Celebrating 35 years

We’re celebrating 35 years with 35% off!

Our biggest discount EVER!

Get 35% off certification packages.