By Claudiu Popa, PTS, OAS
Few natural cycles are as predictable as the January gym rush and its inevitable cooling period a few weeks later. For many professionals, this is a rite of passage. If only there was a way to motivate clients to stick to their workouts for a few more weeks, or spark their interest in adopting consistent activity long enough to enact behavioural change, it might just be the breakthrough necessary to make it through the winter.
In speaking with other personal trainers, the tactics they have employed are as diverse as the excuses presented. From Seasonal Affective Disorder to having to work extra hours to pay off credit card bills, PTs have heard it all, but it comes down to a common refrain: even the most dynamic workouts eventually become a drag.
Don’t think of it as the challenge of helping clients through the drudgery of getting past their own resistance to exercise. Consider it an intrinsic part of the job to incentivize clients and conspire with them to unlock the potential of every exercise session. It should not come as a surprise that you are there to drive towards a positive outcome just as much as to entertain your client-turned-acolyte. To that end, consider the following three notions and immediately seek to adapt them to your own unique approach:
Workouts must never be rigid because humans are rarely in the same condition on two subsequent occasions. Be flexible with the sequence of activities and let one exercise flow towards the next without imposing particular volumes of sets and reps. Encourage clients to feel their way to the end of the set and move on to the next exercise.
Once clients have your permission to explore simply being in the zone, this flow turns into an approach to selecting the next exercise based on what makes sense. The PT’s role here is to work backwards from that day’s objective and to offer no more than two options. The client’s role is to feel the exercise, knowing that it might just be that one set. There is no pressure to leave anything in the tank for the next set. There is no expectation to stick to a cardio session for a full hour when 20 minutes will do.
We live in the age of gamification. There is very little that the science of marketing has not optimized, including the very reason people of all ages take part in physical activity and join gyms. It’s that expectation of having a pleasant experience that drove them to you and it is the anticipation of enjoyment that should keep them coming back. Introduce periodic changes in workout intensity from one day to the next, share daily and weekly objectives then agree on jointly hitting a particular muscle group. It will prime the pump and make it far more enjoyable to earn a more flexible workout after completing an intense one the previous day.
Is it finally time to abandon the obsolete tactic of surprising clients with grueling workouts designed to shock their systems into feeling the effects of military-style interventions days later? Embrace the notions of shared exercise strategies to gain the trust of your clients. The best coaches will always be unafraid of letting go of the accelerator because they know they are still in control of the steering wheel. And that’s where the irreplaceable value of the modern personal trainer is evident, not in the intensity of the pain, but in the calculated effort towards a measurable enjoyment of the resulting gain.