Getting a client and helping them lose weight or achieve a short-term goal is one thing. It’s an entirely other skillset to create a client base that stays with you for the long term, and being able to provide them with a program and results that warrants needing to focus on the long haul.
I think far too often I see both the trainer and the client get too caught up in the short term wins. Those are great, however the data shows, especially when it comes to weight loss, the issue is keeping the weight off over the next year versus losing it in the short term. Today, I’d like to go over how personal trainers can set their clients up for long-term success.
Create Behavior Based Goals for Sustainability
“I want to lose 10lbs” is an outcome based goal. It’s short, and it's fleeting. What happens once they lose 10lbs? How does one even lose 10lbs? What do they do after to keep those 10lbs off? Outcome based goals don’t address the core issues that allow the client to focus on the journey.
“I want to eat healthier so that I can look the best I’ve ever looked” is a behavior based goal. Now we have something tangible they can focus on to hit the goal.
The difference may seem miniscule, but it is not. Whether you want to add muscle, or lose weight, the changes required to achieve either ultimately mean changing your lifestyle. If you want to lose 10lbs, you can’t just go hardcore for 4 weeks, and go back to the way you used to eat and live and expect the weight to fall off. It’s all of your previous bad habits that got you here in the first place. What this means is as a trainer, we need to teach our clients how to SLOWLY implement behaviors that will not only hit their goal, but demonstrate the importance of building good habits that can be sustained.
The general question I tell all my clients to ask themselves when incorporating a new habit is:
“Can I see myself doing this one year from now?”
If the answer is no then we need to simplify the change until it is a yes. For example, if a person has never worked out a day in their life, asking them to work out 5 times a week is unrealistic. In a month, if they work out 5 times during week 1, then 3 times, then once (cause life got in the way), it will feel like a failure. If instead, you had them start off 2-3 times a week, even if they performed the same exact way over those four weeks, that outcome is still a win in their mind because they still hit the gym requirement. Any workout they get beyond 3 times will feel like a MAJOR win to them.
For helping building a workout program, check out my article on Weight Training for Beginners.
Life gets in the way. Any good trainer knows this and needs to be able to account for this. Maybe your client travels a lot, or can’t make it to all of your sessions. You need to be able to modify their program but more importantly, provide them with the education to know what to do in the event that happens.
I always tell my clients, my goal is for them to eventually leave me. I want them to only spend as much time as they need with me to build and solidify their habits, that they can be self-sufficient, and worst case, have one check-in session a month just to make sure they are held accountable. You are teaching them to fish, not provide the fish. Show them alternatives they can use when they go on vacation but don’t want to stop working out. Show them what regression exercises they can use if they get injured. Show them a quick 20-30 minute workout they can do when they are tight on time. This will allow them to keep the habit of showing up so that they don’t fall off the wagon. Consistency is everything when it comes to long term success.
What Gets Measured Gets Improved
It’s a trainer's job to track and measure everything yet so few clients do this. If the client allows for it, take pictures! It’s so easy to work with someone for 3 months and have them feel like the scale hasn’t changed, even if their strength has gone up and they put on muscle. By taking weekly pictures, you can use those for the days they feel stuck, and show them visually how much their body has actually changed.
This also plays a secondary role to my point before, about being able to show them over the course of their time with you, what has worked and what hasn’t. If their strength does in fact plateau, or something goes wrong, you can look back and see what needs to be fixed. There may be some experimentation that’s required as you get a feel for your client and their preference.
Check out my article on What Should I Eat If I Want to Build More Muscle?
Take the time to get to know your client. All the best trainers have a bond with their client where they’ve spent the time talking to them, getting to know the deeper why of them coming in to work out. Implementing new lifestyle habits is not easy. You might have them incorporate super easy changes that they can’t even keep up for more than two weeks. That is okay! Have a discussion about what the biggest limiting factors are and see what you both can do to get back on track.
Being healthy and finding success in health and wellness also doesn’t mean JUST being in a gym to reach their goals. Exercise can be any form of movement they enjoy. Our job is to create consistency. When women take birth control pills, it is designed for them to take it every single day (even if there is nothing actually in the pill), so that they don’t lose the habit.
We know strength training is very important for overall longevity so they should be trying to get 2-3 workouts a week in the gym. The other days of the week maybe they can play a sport they enjoy, or go for a walk with their family outside. Other days they can do yoga or mobility. We’re looking to find ways they can enjoy keeping them moving. When I talk to most clients about how they succeeded, they all say it was being accountable, and consistent each day. It was when they started to slack off, that things turned the other way. Work together to build slow and steady habits they can continually see themselves doing for years to come. Give them the tools so that the moments they feel they’ve slacked off, that it is okay, and they can bounce back because they know exactly what needs to be done to get back on track.