By Kathleen Trotter, PTS

I have been attending the Toronto canfitpro conference for just shy of 20 years, the last ten with my colleague and dear friend Harry. This weekend is something I look forward to every year. I cherish the opportunity to catch up with Harry and my other colleagues, expand my knowledge base, and most critically, become professionally re-energized and inspired. I always leave with extra pep in my step, excited to return to work Monday.

This year didn’t disappoint. Here are a few of my conference take-aways, and two of Harry’s favorite points….

On Motivating Clients

1.Nothing kills motivation like being confused

If you want your clients to eat well and exercise between sessions (yes, you do), set them up for success – give them the tools they need to remember their homework and your recommendations.

You speak the “fitness language” – as you should, it is your job – but most of your clients don’t. You can’t just throw a bunch of information at them and expect them to magically memorize it all. Understanding new information and movement patterns comes through repetition, review and the creation of associations. Some ways to do this include:

  1. filming demo videos or taking photos that they can review at home
  2. when discussing any new concept ask them to repeat the info back to you in their own words
  3. give them AMPLE opportunities to practice exercises within sessions, and
  4. provide useful metaphors and images

For example, teach them the “hand portion control” tool – the palm of the hand is a serving of meat, the thumb is a serving of fat, the fist a serving of vegetables and a cupped hand a serving of grains. If you want more info on how we learn, google Bloom’s Taxonomy.

2. Life is better with friends

Friday of canfitpro was a crazy day. If not for Harry, I might have skipped. Obviously, I didn’t skip – I knew Harry was waiting for me, that spending time with him would be fun, and that the home and work “crazy” would wait till end of day.

The main take-away being, social connection is motivating. Sure, not earth-shattering information, but critical to keep top of mind when trying to motivate clients: suggest clients get a fitness buddy, join a sports team or walk/ run club and /or try a supportive community such as weight watchers.

Kathleen Trotter
Kathleen Trotter

3. Fun is just fun —- interactive elements can be motivating

Our trade show experience reminded me that if you want your clients to get excited and invested in their health process you have to find ways to loop them into the experience. The vendors I found interesting – and will remember – are the ones that made the experience more interactive; the booths that allowed me to demo products, created a dialogue and/or were interactive (loved the canfitpro photo booth).

The main take-away being, get your clients involved in their fitness process: set-up friendly tracking competitions in your gym, create a journaling system that your clients can email to you, set up a gym Facebook group, and/or host nutrition workshops. Never forget that although fitness is your job – and probably one of your life joys – most of your clients don’t LOVE to exercise and eat healthfully. You can’t just expect them to “buy into” your training program and suggestions just because you say “do it”. Entice them, get them involved – make the gym more than simply a place to get on a treadmill.

Nutrition Tips

  1. The tip I implemented immediately – as in, I went to the store directly post lecture – is “add baking soda and cinnamon to your grocery list”. In Strength Smarts – The Protocols That get You Stronger ,Benjamin Siong suggested adding baking soda to food, especially post workout, to improve blood PH levels, and making a tea of baking soda, cinnamon and sea salt. Cinnamon improves insulin sensitivity.

NB: I add cinnamon to coffee. I find it has a rich, slightly nutty flavour and is an excellent replacement for sugar.

  1. A statistic I heard multiple times is that there is a 90% failure rate for weight loss in North America. Meaning, nine out of 10 people who lose weight will gain it back. Body composition is a complex issue, with multiple variables including genetics, environment, lifestyle, knowledge, age and gender. Help your clients understand the various dimensions to weight loss and weight maintenance – help them have a multi-factorial approach to their health. Always tailor your programs and advice to the person in front of you.

Main take-away here: become the trainer/coach who facilitates weight maintenance. Helping your clients lose weight is one thing, helping them keep it off will not only set you apart from competitors, but is a desperately needed skill.

Harry’s Favourite Points

  1. There is a Feedback loop – a giant chicken and egg – between the brain and body. Info does not simply flow top down from the brain to the body, there is also a bottom up feedback loop from the body to the brain. An excellent example is that when you exercise your body “steals” oxygen from the brain, forcing the brain to create new blood vessels.

Main take-away being, motion, especially new movement patterns and activities that require dexterity, helps to keep the brain alive and adaptive.

  1. Sure, tell your clients about the benefits of probiotics, but not at the expense of other digestive information. Probiotics seem to receive almost endless positive hype (I want their PR team!), but never forget that digestion requires the entire ‘system’ (the entire body); we may mostly focus on the gut, but digestion actually starts at the mouth. Talk to your clients about a wide variety of digestive topics such as pre-biotics, HCL (stomach acid required for digestion), proper chewing techniques, stress management and hydration.

A Few Excellent Training Reminders

1. You are only as strong as your weakest link. Sure, bench pressing and/or sprinting will leave your clients feeling empowered and athletic, but if their rotator cuff muscles and ankle stabilizers are disproportionality weak, you are simply setting them up for injury. Identify your client’s weak link(s) then include the appropriate exercises in their training program.

2. Tailor your space to your client’s needs. For example, if you train individuals who have impaired grip strength (MS, Parkinson’s, stroke, Cerebral Palsy etc), make sure you have appropriate equipment such as small squishy balls, bands and possibly Active Hands. I had never heard of Active Hands before Kristy Hoornick’s lecture titled Fitness for Adults with Disabilities, but I plan to invest. This glove type apparatus helps individuals with impaired grip dexterity and strength hold equipment.

3. Speaking of grip, don’t forget to vary the type of grips you use during strength workouts. Too many of us, myself included, are excellent at mixing up/periodizing bench angles, exercises, equipment, reps, sets, time under tension etc, but forget to vary grips. Yes, try different positions – neutral, wide etc – but also literally try different grip diameters. Invest in bars of different widths, use kettlebells and/or try Fat Gripz (these wrap around dumbbells to increase the diameter of the handles).

 “Big Picture” Take-aways

Identify your client’s “primary driver” (i.e. the activities, habit changes etc) that will most impact their success. “Don’t mow the grass if the house is on fire” – i.e. if your client is not sleeping, stop focusing on training minutiae, such as whether they do narrow or wide bench press – instead, get them sleeping.

Whether you are talking about postpartum parameters, weight loss, athletic performance, longevity, and/or exercise selection, make sure to work with the person in front of you. Find their top health dominoes, the changes that will elicit their biggest changes. Make sure the program you design meshes with their goals, NOT yours.

Work to improve how clients manage chronic stress and inflammation. Help clients eat more vegetables, sleep, drink water, form better coping mechanisms for stress, and decrease their sugar intake. The negative cascading effects of chronic stress and the sheer number of diseases associated with inflammation is mind boggling – think cardiovascular disease to IBS. Anything you can do to improve how your clients manage their stress and decrease their chronic levels of inflammation is a WIN.


Kathleen Trotter holds a masters in Exercise Science, is the author of two books including the new book Your Fittest Future Self, and is a Personal trainer, Nutritionist, Pilates Specialist and Life Coach. Visit her at

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