Competition. It’s not just something for professional athletes and fitness models. If you’ve ever had your client’s make goals, do a timed workout, exercise in group settings, you may begin to notice that they might be a little competitive. Even the slightest competitive nature of clients could be an excellent tool to encouraging them to reach goals, and overcome barriers.
Competition is usually done in order to receive a reward, or accomplish some end goal. We can describe this type of motivation as extrinsic motivation because there is something outside of one’s self motivating them.
Competitions can be a quick way to boost a client’s motivation to lose that last 5 pounds, to improve on a movement, or to train more frequently, but what you should hope for a client is that they will see continual improvement over the duration of working with you. Extrinsic motivation is a great way to kick start a change in behavior, but intrinsic motivation is vital to developing sustainable health habits.
Knowing that, here are a few things to think about when designing client competitions:
1. Make Competitions/Incentives Specific
If it’s November 1st and your clients are worried about gaining weight over the holidays, start a challenge to maintain weight and don’t gain over the holidays. If your clients are working on getting their ‘first’ of an exercise like pull-ups, or running a mile, turn that into a challenge. If your clients are wanting to run a race of any distance, make that a challenge and an opportunity for them to build comradery. If you have a lot of clients who are lifting heavy weights, you could have a weight goal for them on a certain movement.
Not every client, or client group is the same and if you tailor your competition to them, they will be more likely to be interested and challenged by that. On the other side, if there is a specific incentive that your clients are interested in, tailor your incentives to that as much as you can as well.
2. Make Competitions/Incentives Ongoing
An easy way to turn extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation for your clients is by being diligent in your planning. Sit down with you calendar and decide how frequently you want to have your competitions/incentives. Then look at holidays, or special events of the year when clients may be more excited about a challenge i.e. before Thanksgiving, Christmas, January 1, summer, spring breaks etc.
Making competitions regular will help clients challenge themselves regularly rather than in a one time bout of excitement. This will lead to giving them the confidence to set goals and achieve them on their own accord inside and outside of the gym.
3. Use Rewards that Encourage Healthy Behaviors
When your clients are working to improve their health by avoiding things like sugary desserts and being sedentary, you want to do everything in your power to help them avoid those things. Rewarding their hard work with a gift card to a restaurant or coffee shop is probably not the best idea. This should be a no-brainer, but the kind of rewards you offer to your clients will help to set them up to set goals on their own by using healthy rewards.
It may make sense to most clients that if they choose to make a goal of weight loss, then their final reward could be reintroducing ice-cream to their diet. The problem with that is that they are rewarding a healthy behavior with an unhealthy behavior. You always want to reward their behavior with something that encourages another healthy behavior, and another, and another.
4. Vary the Reward
There’s no rule that says every trainer has to give away a FitBit or pair of Nike’s in every client competition/incentive. Some smaller scale competitions/rewards could be:
- Free or discounted sessions
- Promotional t-shirts
- Promotional water bottles
- Priority for scheduling
- Workout journal
- Beach towel
- Gift basket
- Gift cards to health food stores
If you do want to go big for very difficult challenges though, some larger scale rewards could be:
- High volume of free or discounted sessions
- Promotional jackets/sweaters
- Tickets to a big fitness event
- Paid entry into a race
- Wearable technology
Remember that competitions are meant to be fun and beneficial to clients. Don’t take them too seriously and don’t pressure clients into joining your competitions. Some clients may have a hard time being competitive and would rather focus on reaching their goals individually with their own types of motivation. Don’t let highly competitive clients ruin the fun for other clients either. It’s ok to establish rules and expectations for conduct if you anticipate you may have a highly competitive client group.