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What ‘Support’ do Clients Need When Taking Action?

On this page you'll learn how and when to support clients so their 'actions' become healthy habits. This will be more productive for your business than focusing on your advanced prescription skills!

The key to preparing a client for success is to prepare them for learning and doing new things – and that involves getting a framework in place that can provide support promptly when it’s needed, and makes sure that the client doesn’t start to feel negatively about the club, you, them or the situation.

Great personal trainers explain to clients at the start that everything may not be spot on first time, but not to worry because they are there to provide support and clients should expect to receive that support.

The key to providing effective support is to operate in a way that allows the following to happen:

  1. Plan the change
  2. Plan for ‘slip ups’
  3. Monitor what is happening
  4. Act quickly and positively
  5. Limit negative feelings toward the experiences taking place


personal%252520training%252520slip%252520upWhen a member or client ‘slips up’ and doesn’t turn up for their planned workout or doesn’t put the required effort in, the personal trainer needs to do something.  Unidentified, unsupported ‘slip ups’ snowball into drop out (client giving up) and when a client ‘drops out’ it is usually harder and harder to get them back in to try again.

The reason for this is quite simple.  If I don’t do something I planned to do, and said to my trainer I was going to do, then I feel guilty.  Guilt leads me to avoid the situation that makes me feel this negative emotion.  Within days I may have totally given up on going to the club just because to go I would have to potentially;

  •  Acknowledge I’d failed at something
  •  Might run in to the trainer and have to explain why I didn’t train
  •  Possibly go backward in my programme because I didn’t do the work

To avoid this, the quicker the trainer can contact the client and intervene, show understanding, empathy, and then act on a solution – the better. 

Support, particularly in the early time of ‘action’, must be lightening fast and significantly positive. 

Unfortunately the opposite is currently common practice.  In some clubs a two weekly non-attendance list is generated (any member/client who hasn’t swiped their card for two weeks appears on the list).  Any member/client who hasn’t been in gets a call, often from someone they’ve never met, and is asked to explain what’s going on. personal%2520training%2520we%2520miss%2520you

Sometimes, a month later, they will get a postcard or letter saying ‘we miss you’ or ‘where have you been’.  All of this activity is counter-productive.  If you want someone to adhere to their exercise plans you must first have a plan, the plan must have provision for ‘slip ups’ agreed within it, and the intervention of the trainer must be timely enough that any erosion of the member or clients intent to continue is avoided.

Reminding a member/client that they are failing by mail or phone is not smart especially when whoever signs the letter or makes the call isn’t privy to the member/client’s plans, situation, and has very little rapport with them. 


What effect should ‘support’ have?

As mentioned the process of support should actually ‘short circuit’ the client’s guilt, frustration, sense of failure or any other negative emotion.  personal%20training%20can%20doPositives should be emphasized (e.g. so far we’ve got your testing done, you’ve completed four workouts already, and we are still on track), negatives eliminated (e.g. missing one workout wont matter in the long term), and action agreed (let’s get you back in tomorrow and we’ll have a chat, make any changes needed, and get you through your workout again).

This process needs to be relentless until such time as the member is through the action stage of change and into the maintenance stage.

One key reason for this is that anyone who attempts anything is constantly attributing the outcomes to one of four things; luck, effort, planning or support.

This pattern of ‘attribution’ (essentially allocating a ‘why’ to ‘what happened’) is vital in understanding your member/client.

Research suggests that people who successfully set and achieve goals attribute successes and failures in a particular way that allows them to continue to try without losing confidence and self esteem.  Effectively, they attribute things in a way that allows them to feel okay, despite the outcomes, and therefore they display amazing resilience in the face of failures and frustrations.

Further, those with low self esteem and confidence seem to attribute successes and failures in a way that not only causes them to stop quickly, but also personalizes the ‘failure’ further eroding self esteem.

personal%20training%20basketballI remember a stark example of this.  Michael Jordan was renowned for taking game winning last second shots.  More often than not, he would hit the shot.  At one stage of his career he had two games back to back where he took last second shots to win. 

He missed in the first game and was interviewed afterward.  He said that it was his job to step up, he missed, the ball didn’t quite arrive in the right place, at the right time.  He hit the shot in the second game and was interviewed afterward.  He said ‘that’s what I do, I hit the big shots in the big games’.

Michael Jordan took last second shots and attributed the failure completely differently to the success.  In the next five years of his career he alone took more last second shots than anyone else in the NBA.  He hit many more than he missed, often with opposition players hanging all around him.


Effort (internal, controllable)

Support (external, uncontrollable)

Planning (internal, controllable)

Luck (external, uncontrollable)


Each of the areas of attribution has certain characteristics (noted in the above table in brackets). 

personal%20training%20weight%20lifterEffort is said to be ‘internal’ (that is personal), and ‘controllable’.  Effort is put forward by an individual so if success is attributed to personal effort; self esteem (regard for oneself), confidence (willingness to keep trying), and efficacy (belief they can do it) all increase.  Conversely if any failure is attributed to effort then everything goes down.  An example of positive attribution to effort would be ‘I complete my training sessions really well because I am disciplined’

personal%2520training%2520supportSupport is said to be ‘external’ (not personal) and ‘uncontrollable’.  Success attributed to support means that it is essentially contingent upon it.  And, although we can pay for or negotiate support, it’s not guaranteed.  So support is external.  An example of this would be a person who is walking in the park because her friend is.  If the friend stops, what is the likelihood this person will continue?

personal%20training%20planPlanning is said to be ‘internal’ and ‘controllable’.  Success attributed to planning means the person will improve their self esteem, confidence and self efficacy.  They are in control of planning and can plan future tasks.  An example would be ‘that was a great weeks training because I organised my time well’

Luck is said to be ‘external’ and is ‘uncontrollable’.  So success attributed to luck does nothing for a persons esteem, confidence, or efficacy.  An example would be ‘oh, I was so lucky to get to class today’

In practice we have found the following:

  • Attributions to planning occur greater than 75% of the time
  • Effort is very rarely an issue with those in action
  • Support is commonly negative, that is, people who you would think would be supportive unknowingly sabotage change (e.g. buy boxes of chocolate to celebrate their partners first week of training!).  It seems when those close to you are changing you instinctively prefer the ‘status quo’ and sometimes react negatively (e.g. 'oh, good luck with that'.  'Another attempt is it'.  'Haven’t you tried that before'?)
  • Luck is rarely a factor.  Most of what appears in luck is actually planning and over time the client can reverse this view.


One of the key things a personal trainer can do is to ‘tune in’ to clients attribution both formally through a review process and informally by listening to what they say about themselves and how they attribute their progress (or lack of it).

Sometimes a client’s ‘self talk’ will be predominantly negative – ‘oh, I’m such a lazy exerciser’ or ‘I really should get you to look after what I eat’ or ‘I get bored so easily with exercise’.

The key to working with clients and helping them attribute positively to build more success is to:

  • Attribute every positive gain to them and nothing/ no-one else ("well done, you’re such a good worker".  Or, "well done, you always put in lots of effort".)
  • Question them when they attribute gains to anything other than themselves ("was that lucky, or did you organize yourself that way this week"?)
  • Attribute any negatives to external things – luck and support (e.g. "that was just unlucky because we didn’t know that". Or, "I should have thought of that and given you better support there")


In the training delivery folder at ptdirect we show you how to use a ‘client progress review’ form which helps you work with clients to look at what is helping them be successful and what is hindering them.  We’ll also show you how to conduct support calls to clients and use contacts in the club to affect members so that they adhere more readily to their exercise and feel positive about themselves.


How does a great personal trainer naturally support those at a stage of ‘action’ or ‘maintenance’.

Really good ‘club floors’ (usually cardio area and weights room) that are overseen by pro-active and professional personal trainers and exercise consultants have a structure and atmosphere that ensures the following:

  • Rapport is built with all members
  • All members are catered for with care (monitored, approached, have their needs met)
  • All members are invited to give feedback and ask for guidance
  • Any member who needs further assistance and support gets it as soon as possible not by asking for help but by being seen early and helped before they need to ask
  • All members feel connected to the club through the activities and contact made by staff at each point of the visit to the club


Some of the key ways a personal trainer can achieve the above are:

  1. Praise members and clients for attendance, achievements and effort giving specific feedback on each wherever possible
  2. Be positive and build members/clients confidence by showing them what is clearly possible, who has done that before, and what you believe they can achieve
  3. Manage the challenge within programmes so members/clients build their confidence in line with their fitness.  Being sore, tired and ‘out of your depth’ is demoralizing for most people.
  4. Teach exercises until members/clients have learnt them well enough to be safe and make progress
  5. Plan for members/clients success and expect progress – you set the ‘tone’
  6. Be highly organized and prioritise times for talking to and calling members/clients, conducting consultations and designing training for members and clients.
  7. Act wherever a member/client isn’t sticking to their plan.


By doing the above you can really affect the retention of the gyms members and your clients because you are engaging them properly and by doing so are giving them the opportunity to ‘refine and review’ their involvement. 

The frequency of contact, support, guidance and friendship that you can offer as a trainer helps to grow the relationship with clients and helps those in ‘action’ stay in action.  Never underestimate your ability to influence the success of your clients and the clubs members.  A great trainer develops successful clients – they don’t just ‘write programmes.’

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