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Top ten ways to improve training consistency in clients

These are ten of the easiest ways to increase training consistency for any client - you can implement all of them within a few hours in your business helping your clients immensely

My top 10 tips for getting clients super consistent

On the left you can see my darling 7 year old - Kate.  This is her face when she gets something right - when she nails it - and this is the face that you and I should make when we are consistent! This teeth over bottom lip, cat that swallowed the mouse, fist pumping face is what consistency brings - the feeling of 'yes, I did it, another deposit in the self-esteem bank'!

So, here are my top 10 tips for getting your clients faces into the same shape as my lovely Kate's! If you haven't read my earlier rant (carefully structured factual blog) about this you might like to read 'the one thing that makes all the difference'

1: Goal setting

Research into goal setting shows the following:

  • Specific goals improve performance over having no goals as they direct attention (focus), mobilise effort, increase persistence and encourage strategy development (i.e. how can I best get this done)
  • More difficult goals, accepted by the client, result in better performance particularly where feedback is put in place
  • Goals that use valid and sensitive measures work best (because a person's expectancy that effort will lead to goal attainment is needed for them to continue their efforts)
  • Meaningful goal setting acts a cue where the goal setter often changes other aspects of their behaviour to increase the likelihood of achieving the goals set
  • Support and attention from a significant other (read; Personal Trainer) affects goal setting efforts and persistence
  • Goals that are seen as independently achievable are more effective - that is goals that don't involve the performance of others are more easily owned by the goal setter
  • Goals set through consultation are more effective than goals assigned by someone else 
  • Process goals are more valuable for creating a sense of progress than single long-term outcome goals as process goals are easier to monitor, give opportunity for regular and prompt feedback and are most likely to show measurable change in the short term

Goal setting is a 'no-brainer' for Personal Trainers and should be done during the consultation.  It leads to long-term satisfied clients who achieve results.


2: Relapse prevention training

Relapse prevention training has a goal of reducing the likelihood of a person lapsing back to less desirable behaviours and reducing the damage if they do.  It involves working through, in advance, how a minor relapse (we call them slip ups) may occur, and creating a support plan which includes a healthy response to the relapse that can be used when it is needed.

Research into relapse prevention shows:

  • Relapse prevention works to reduce the occurrence and severity of relapses compared with no intervention at all
  • Relapse prevention is most effective when significant others are involved and the chain of events triggering a relapse is understood
  • Relapse prevention reduces the severity of relapses when they occur and enhances the durability of the positive changes being made

Relapse prevention should be built into exercise planning processes for Personal Trainers to significantly mitigate the likelihood of habit ending relapses (and the associated guilt, anxiety and frustration that result) and to forward plan for a positive intervention when slip ups occur. 

3: Behavioural programme design

This is a method of focusing programme design practises on the clients decisional balance sheet.  This approach should be used for any client working to establish an exercise behaviour.

Decisional balance sheets consist of two columns. On one side are the pro's for a change and on the other are the con's.  Programme design that creates the biggest list of pro's and, most importantly, the shortest list of con's will be the most successful at helping clients adopt new behaviours (such as exercise).

In practise this means selecting and ordering exercises, and prescribing intensity and duration, on the basis of the clients preferences almost exclusively.  This approach redefines the view of effective programming from one of 'which workout burns the most calories' to one of 'which workouts will my client most likely turn up to do repeatedly for the next 3 months and most likely adhere to entirely'.

Research into decisional (also called 'motivational') balance sheets show:

  • They can effectively predict the likelihood and permanence of future behaviours
  • They increase effort and perseverance for change
  • They can trigger and reinforce goal directed behaviour


4: Manipulate task motivation

There are two types of motivation - intrinsic and extrinsic.  Intrinsic motivation is anything that happens within the person to motivate them to continue the behaviour.  It is the thoughts and feelings they receive from engaging in the task.  Extrinsic motivation is anything that is provided to the person by another in return for them taking part in the task.  It can be the 'object' they receive such as money, a trophy, a certificate, praise etc.

We can either give extrinsic rewards to enhance extrinsic motivation or we can set up environments to enhance intrinsic rewards and therefore intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is a preferable outcome as the research suggests that long-term adoption of a behavior generally requires increases in the positive feelings and thoughts that come from engaging in that behaviour.  As such, setting up environments and engaging in activities that uncover and amplify a person's feelings of mastery, confidence, competence and enjoyment (or any other positive emotion) are effective ways of increasing intrinsic motivation. 

Examples of ways to increase intrinsic motivation;

  • Prescribe exercises, intensities and durations a client finds most enjoyable in setting a client find most engaging.
  • Set process goals (e.g. move the bench press load up, add a minute at level 14 on the Cross Trainer) during the warm-up of each workout that will be achieved during the workout and will give the client a feeling of mastery / competence.
  • Discuss the achievement of the major objectives within a workout - this should enhance feelings of progress for the client
  • Summarise at the end of a workout the achievements attained through questioning - again this emphasises positive feelings related to the execution tasks
  • Turn results into percentage improvements so the client can easily understand their progress and leverage those numbers for further praise (e.g. that 5kg we added is 6.25% on our original 80kg lift)
  • Link the mastery of tasks they are enjoying to the long-term physical results being sought or use compounding calculations (e.g. with 5% longer on the treadmill at 12kph every fortnight we'll have you running 15mins within 20 weeks - a 300% improvement.  That's perfect for your goal of losing 8kg - how do you feel about that).  Both types of motivation are covered in this example.


5: Extrinsic & Intrinsic relationship rewards

One motivating factor for clients is a sense of obligation to you, their Personal Trainer.  You'll find some clients will disappoint themselves but will never let you down because it's rude and not in their nature.  Therefore, the likelihood your client will succeed in their goals has a relationship to how committed to you they are. 

As a consequence the more quickly and significantly you can increase the mutual respect and obligation you have to each other the better your clients chances of success.  To do this you can use both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Intrinsic rewards would be created by what you discuss and explore with your client when they are engaged in training.  

Extrinsic motivation can be enhanced by talking about how much you appreciate them training with you, the work that you've done getting their training organised and the excitement you're feeling in getting them started (yes, excitement is contagious), the people you've involved (their physio, doctor or others), and so on.

I'm also an advocate in very carefully thought out extrinsic rewards that generally celebrate the relationship you have developed with your client rather than their results.  You want to give them meaningful and significant gifts that thank them for committing to their health and fitness goals.  A carefully selected, exquisitely packaged, mindful gift represents a massive boost in relationship obligation and therein motivation. 

Timing is everything here.  Make the gift a complete surprise and make sure there are no major milestones anywhere near the gift giving time.  This is a celebration of the relationship you are developing with your client and the commitment they have made to themselves.

The research into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation suggests:

Both work but for the long-term generally intrinsic motivation is very important (this is why you should always prescribe what clients enjoy as long-term they will need to elicit positive feelings from simply engaging in the activity)

Extrinsic motivation that doesn't fit the circumstances or value set of the client can work against the establishment of the behaviour (for example a big hoopla for achieving something very small can be counter productive)

6: Positive language

Using positive language is a great habit.  It helps to direct your mood and your clients state of mind in a productive way. 

Here are some words you can transplant in your own language and once you've done that, you can pick up on when your client is being a little negative and help them adopt a more positive language too.  Research suggests using positive words and reducing 'negative self talk' enhances motivation.

Positive words to use:

  • Can
  • Shall
  • Will
  • Discover
  • Opportunity
  • Enjoy
  • Challenge
  • Brilliant
  • Bright
  • Celebrate
  • Clear
  • Progress

There are many many more you can search 'positive words' online for a full list.  Search 'negative words' too and then be mindful of which you catch yourself using most often and look to substitute negative words with positive ones in all areas of your life but particularly when you work with clients.

7: Specific individualised feedback

Within goal theory research has shown that specific individualised feedback is far more effective at supporting sustained changes in behaviour and encouraging further effort than general feedback.

General feedback in Personal Training consists of statements like: awesome job, well done, great work, fantastic effort etc.

Specific individualised feedback means: John, that last rep gave you 8 at 55kg.  That's an 8% improvement - how does that make you feel?!

Ritualising specific individualised feedback into sessions is very easy and very powerful.  It gives clients a several touch points in the session where praise for specific progress can occur.  This increases clients sense of progress and competence, enhances 'relatedness' (which is the feeling of how the statement of progress contributes to the overall objective of the client), and improves focus and engagement.

8: Timely text confirmations

It's so simple it hurts.  Recent research into the effect of text reminders for exercise persistence as well as in the treatment and monitoring of disease are showing promising results.

The best results are coming from targeted text messages that are customised to the individual.  This is great news for Personal Trainers as we can assess when key behaviour chains begin, target positive texts for those times and customise the messages easily. 

The timing, tone and the number of text messages required is the key.  Initially I would suggest two text reminders/prompts per session - one a day before and one the night before for an early morning session or early in the morning (7am) for a session after noon. 

The important thing here is that you want to text the client at a time when they may be pondering the investment in time and effort they are making with exercise and give them a positive push right there and then.  You may also want to text your client at a time when they may need encouragement to organise themselves to make the goal behaviour (of attendance) more likely to occur.

Not doing text confirmations is akin to driving without a seat belt. It's there, it's not hard to do and it could save your clients life (and their goals).

9: Training follow up calls / phone messages

I often tell Personal Trainers that the client percieves they pay for the contact time so what happens outside of that contact time is perceived as extra value.  I describe it as the sex and cuddles.  They pay for the sex, the cuddles are a bonus. 

With this value disparity in mind, it would make sense to schedule a number of low time cost, low financial cost activities into the space between sessions to help your client:

  • Adhere to their goals
  • Receive praise
  • Understand their progress
  • Have opportunities to communicate any issues with ease

One significant activity that can do all of this is the follow up phone call which is made during the day after the most recent workout.

All a Personal Trainer needs to do is hit the phone with a call plan that does the following:

  • Congratulates the client on the session with specific information on progress
  • Thanks the client for working at their near-term goal (this is a reminder of what it's all about)
  • Re-emphasises the significance of the relationship to the Personal Trainer
  • Asks the client about what they felt and thought from the workout
  • Asks the client what, if anything, they would like to adapt / change (the way you ask this is key)
  • Lets the client know you are always there for them, how to get in touch again if they need to before the next scheduled session
  • Reminds the client of any self-directed activity they have before the next session
  • Lets the client know the Personal Trainer is ready and looking forward to the next time training together on 'x' day at 'y' time

Because you have a plan in place this will be a short call and even if the call goes to the client's voicemail you can leave a message covering off the above except where it says to 'ask the client what they felt...etc' just ask the client to get in touch with you if there was anything they wanted adapted or if they have any questions or concerns. Note, all the language you use must be positive and you must bring energy into the call as it should brighten your client's day.


10: Client care plans

To pull all of this activity together I recommend generating a 'client care plan'.  A client care plan is not about the training.  It is about all of the work you do to support the client on a weekly cycle.  The care plan gets you to think about how you can guarantee this client is looked after to the point where they will be both pleasantly surprised and entirely unlikely to fail. 

I call this the 'gun is to your head' approach.  Imagine that you must get this client to attend and adhere to their plan or the gun to your head goes off.  Think incredibly carefully about what is going on in this clients life, what is preventing them from being successful, what worries and woes exist, what positive things could be done to help them along both physically and psychologically.  Once you are in this mindset complete a schedule of all the things you should do for them detailing the timing, content of communications and intent.  Put it all down.

Client care plans can come with a baseline of activity already in place - a sort of 'minimum care' level that all clients get.  From there, you should build in all the extra goodness you can and remember tips 1-9 above too.  Once you have your care plan detailed for a client you can load all the activities seamlessly into your personal calendar (I love google calendar for this).  You can block some of the activity together into the sensible parts of the day and you can pre-load text you want in your messages.  I use skype sms to do my messages as it is as easy as cut and paste from the diary entry and it's done.

In a few months in the premium content on this site a full set of client management documents (including the client care plan template we recommend) will be available. 


Get 5 in place or be a super star with 10!

If you want to be massively effective with club members and build a sustainable, profitable and highly sought after Personal Training service you must get at least five of these activities in place.  If you want to be a client super star - try getting all ten in place and see what happens to your business ... consistently

Alicia says:
Sep 06, 2012 01:46 PM

Wow - Without a doubt one of the best articles I have read that will truly help me build better relationships, witness great progress and retention rates with my clients. I am really enjoying your blog posts over the last few months... keep them coming!

Hamish says:
Dec 16, 2014 11:11 PM

Excellent. Informative and clear, I`ll be coming back. Merry Xmas.