6 Ways Personal Trainers Can Ensure Long Term Client Success

6 Ways Personal Trainers Can Ensure Long Term Client Success

Whenever personal trainers and new clients meet, one of the first things they’ll discuss is the goal: lose 20 pounds, fit back into that swimsuit or dress that used to fit, build a brag-worthy squat, etc.

Understanding what a client's goals are and why they have these goals is critically important. 

Understanding their why is understanding their motivation, their driving force. Sometimes these motivations are intrinsic and other times extrinsic.

Extrinsic motivations might be encouragement from friends and family, or an upcoming event or race.

Intrinsic motivations may look like clients seeking to “add life to their years” by improving physical movement and abilities.

As coaches, we can relate: many of us got into coaching and personal training because we wanted to improve ourselves on and off the court or field. Maybe we didn’t make the football team because we were too small, or like me, too nerdy to keep up with the jocks. We improved our confidence and our abilities through fitness, and now we enjoy helping others discover ways to do the same.

Once we understand the goal but also why that goal is so important to our clients, then we can effectively craft a program that suits their needs and helps push them from Point A to Point B.

But personal trainers still need to ask an important question: how do we keep our clients motivated, engaged, and encouraged to ‘keep on keepin’ on’? Check out these six ways to stoke motivation:


1. Establish both short-term and long-term goals


None of our clients are going to lose 20 pounds in the first week of working out, so it’s important to be encouraging, but also realistic.

Set a short-term goal to improve the quality of food that your client eats or to increase water intake in week one.

In week two, find an unhealthy food and swap it out for a healthy alternative.

In week three, tackle another small obstacle.

So our short-term goal now is to lose one pound of fat each week by making small, simple changes.

A longer term goal might be to compete in an event or fit into a dress that previously wouldn’t have been possible.

Establish both short-term and long-term goals, always keeping them in mind and encouraging your clients along the way by highlighting their small victories.

Every 4-8 weeks, reassess your client’s results, and show them where they were and how far they’ve come.


2. Track progress relative to their starting point


Keeping notes on a client’s progress is imperative to their success. How do we know where they are if we don’t know where they’ve been?

There are many metrics that we can use to measure progress:

  • Lost weight
  • Lost inches
  • More weight on the bar
  • Greater workout density
  • Improved mood and sleep
  • Decreased stress
  • Improved capacity to do daily tasks

Keep tabs on all these things and occasionally remind them of what they were capable of on Day 1 and what they’re capable of today. Because progress is sometimes slow, it might be easy for a client to lose sight of their original motivations or even their ultimate goal. Don’t allow that to happen by showing them how much they’ve improved since day one.


 3. Celebrate successes


Some success happens outside the gym. For example, a client of mine recently described how he was able to not only lift but carry, upstairs, a lamp weighing over 100 lbs. He was excited because the task was relatively easy, and it impressed his girlfriend's father as well. That’s huge

Another client broke her leg. We’ve been working together for years on improving her strength and mobility. Now she’s able to move around with little help from her husband.

Success comes in the form of personal records in the gym as well: the first chin-up by a female client, a bodyweight deadlift or squat, or mastering a difficult exercise that they've been working on for weeks.

Whether the success occurs in the gym or outside in real life doesn’t matter, always celebrate it with enthusiasm.


4. Alter their program occasionally and appropriately


As personal trainers, we can’t ensure that our clients are making progress if we’re changing our programs too often. “Muscle confusion” is a marketing term, not a physiological one. We need a program where we can track progress, make adjustments, and steer the ship towards the client’s goals.

But, it is important to note that our clients might start losing interest if we’re constantly sticking to the same 10-15 exercises. To a coach or trainer, a sumo deadlift and a conventional deadlift aren’t much different (both are barbell hip hinge movements). But for a client, the subtle change might be enough to rekindle interest or provide a new challenge.

Other ways to add variety are to change up grips, vary push-up types, or add new equipment like bands, TRX, kettlebells, and jump ropes.

While the outline of the program might stay largely the same, sometimes the addition (or subtraction) of a new exercise variation, or even a change in pace with warm-up and cool-down, can mean the difference between an engaged client and a bored one.


5. Teach them everything you know


You might think I’m crazy for suggesting this, but educating your client empowers them. While they might not care about the Krebs cycle or conjugate periodization, sharing your knowledge gives them the power and confidence they need to control their destiny and improve their chances of success.

Not every workout needs a lesson plan attached to it, but casually explaining why high-intensity interval training is more effective for fat loss than low-intensity steady state, or explaining why packing the shoulders during a bench press not only improves the lift but keeps them safe, are valuable knowledge bombs that they will carry forever.

But will the client leave if I teach them everything? I highly doubt it. And even if they did, you’ve equipped another person with the knowledge they need to improve their life and their health. At the end of the day, you will have done your job.


6. Engage with them and their lives outside the gym


Our job is personal. It says it right in the title.

You should engage your clients about what they’re doing outside the gym. This is usually relative to their nutrition or homework workouts. But it can be much more personal than that.

For example, if a client has a birthday or anniversary coming up, celebrate with them by buying them a card or gift certificate to their favorite restaurant.

Is their son or daughter getting married? Offer to help out on the day off if needed or buy them a housewarming gift.

Did the cute girl from marketing compliment your male client on his ‘broad shoulders’ and talk about how she’s noticed ‘he’s been working out’?

Celebrate that stuff! Our job isn’t just to write programs and count reps. A kindergartener can count reps.

Engage your clients in their lives outside of the gym walls. Whether that’s a family loss, a compliment from the girl/guy your client has been trying to impress, or that your client was able to play with his or her grandchildren without hurting themselves or getting breathless…

Celebrate it. Your job is to relate to your clients and help them achieve their goals. Many times this will occur on occasions outside the gym.


Wrapping Up


If you’re good at your job and make the personal training experience fun, you’re bound to have life-long clients who will stick it out no matter what.

This job is incredibly rewarding and personal, and you’ll find that you know more about your clients and their lives than you might know about some of your closest friends.

Keeping clients engaged in the training process by occasionally changing some variables, maintaining interest in their personal lives, teaching them everything you know and celebrating their successes are just a few ways to keep your clients motivated and engaged for life.



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Andy holds a M.S. in exercise physiology as well as the coveted CSCS certification. He is a self-employed personal trainer and strength coach based in Nashville. When he's not coaching or working out himself, he's got his nose in a book or walking his dog, Jane, at the local park. He likes lifting heavy things, eating BBQ, and drinking local beer.

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