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Creating a Fitness “Family”

Retain clients by fostering feelings of fun, freedom, belonging and power.

I have attended clients’ weddings, birthday parties, Christmas parties and baby showers and shared their birthday lunches and dinners. I’ve enjoyed and celebrated life with this special family of people brought together by a common goal of improving health and wellness. In my struggle to create a strong and lasting personal training business over the past 20 years, I have witnessed the growth of a “family” business. Although clients do come and go, they feel part of a family while they are working with me. It has taught me a valuable lesson as a business owner: if you treat your clients as part
of a team and give them a real sense of belonging, that caring quality may be the thing that keeps them exercising and faithful to your business.

Through my studies as a business and wellness coach, I have discovered a psychology model used in therapy that can provide an excellent framework for coaching clients. William Glasser’s choice theory proposes that human beings have four basic physiological needs: fun, freedom, love and belonging, and power (Glasser 1999). He believes that when people’s needs are not being met, they do something to get those needs satisfied. Is it possible to get those needs met by taking personal training or coaching sessions or going to a fitness facility? Absolutely! I believe that a great trainer, coach or fitness staff can capitalize on these four needs to bring meaning, satisfaction and success to clients’ lives. By focusing on behaviors that enhance fun, freedom, love and belonging, and power, you can create individualized programming as well as a great place to belong.


Every person you ask will describe “fun” differently. It may be playing a neighborhood game of basketball, skiing on winter weekends, cooking, enjoying a glass of wine on the patio as the sun goes down, watching football or spending a day with friends. In general, fun is described as “activities that provide amusement or enjoyment.” I have always enjoyed sessions with clients, joking, laughing and guiding the session in such a way that they have a good time, even though they are pushing themselves hard. When we are really having fun together, the time absolutely flies. To keep clients wanting to come back for more, fun is a vital ingredient. How do you incorporate it into your sessions? Consider these suggestions:

  • From the first session, focus around activities each person enjoys or might enjoy (cardio, weights, flexibility, mind-body, etc.). You can use the MAPS (Matching Activity and Personal Styles) Inventory designed by James Gavin, PhD, to aid in this discovery (Gavin 2005).
  • Try new activities regularly to keep the workout fresh. Boredom in a workout is not fun. If clients have been focusing on free weights, throw in stability ball exercises—that always gets a laugh!
  • Maintain a positive, upbeat and low-stress atmosphere. If you own a studio or facility, provide different areas to meet different needs: a quiet place to relax, upbeat music in the training areas, and so forth.

Understand that it will be difficult to keep people motivated for the long term if they do not enjoy what they are doing. If they hate exercise, they need to love coming to your facility to exercise and/or treasure your company. So, you need to be fun!


Many people today feel so pressured and harried to do all the things on their lists that very few of them experience any lasting sense of freedom. They literally move from one expectation to the next. Freedom can be described as “the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.” In other words freedom = choice! Through my training as a wellness coach, I have learned the skill of freedom. Instead of falling back on the old teaching style of assigning workouts and homework to clients, I allow them the freedom to choose what actions they will take. How do you help incorporate freedom into your clients’ lives?

  • Allow clients the ability to work with you to choose their long-term training or coaching plans. How many days would they like to commit to cardio? What are their top three goals for the next 90 days? Which modes of strength training would they like included in their next 6-week program (free weights, machines, body weight, tubing, etc.)?
  • Invite clients to choose their weekly actions. Ask: “What one or two nutritional changes would you like to commit to this week?” “What do we need to focus on today?” “What more do you want to accomplish in our session together?” “What type of cardio do you want to try this week?”
  • Give clients freedom in accountability. How accountable do they want to be to you and how do they want to provide this accountability: through a weekly food diary or a biweekly e-mail describing action steps they take?

By allowing clients the freedom to choose in all aspects of their wellness programs, they are much more likely to take ownership of their results.

Love and Belonging

People want to belong. They want to be loved, enjoyed and needed. When they skip a class, a session or a week at your studio, they feel good knowing they are missed. “Hey Jimmy, we missed you last week! Are you okay?” Belonging is defined as “being an attribute, part, adjunct or function of a person or thing; warm attachment, enthusiasm or devotion.” How do you provide your clients with that opportunity to feel attached and devoted to your business?

  • Connect with your clients and help them connect with each other through partner training sessions or social gatherings.
  • Attend some or all of your clients’ social functions (parties, weddings, etc.).
  • Host or invite clients on social outings for special occasions—anniversaries for your business, holidays, 5K runs, etc.
  • Keep up with correspondence. Send notes on special days, thank-you gifts or notes for referrals. Consider buying gifts for special occasions.
  • Use client pictures and stories in your facility or newsletter.
  • Keep notes as to what your clients tell you about their daily lives so you can regularly ask them about their lives.
  • Get regular feedback on what your clients need and want from your business services.
  • Start a check-on policy for clients whom you have not seen or heard from weekly, monthly and quarterly. Call, e-mail or write to them.


I have witnessed firsthand the sense of power that grows from physical improvements. Clients who came to me out of shape, weak and insecure have grown more confident and begun expressing a personal sense of control over their lives. I have seen people mentally transformed by the physical strength they acquire through training. Power is described as “possession of control, authority or influence over others.” How can you help clients tap into that feeling of influence and control?

  • Guide clients in taking small, confidence-building steps in behavioral change. With each success, their personal sense of power will grow.
  • Allow clients the opportunity to mentor or influence new members who need additional encouragement from someone who has “been in the trenches.”
  • Question clients on what power in their own lives would look like.
  • Assist clients in identifying and living out their values.
  • Power is closely tied to freedom. If clients experience little freedom in their daily lives, it is difficult for them to feel they have any power in their relationships or environment. Not surprisingly, along with physical discipline and success comes personal growth. And with that growth, a sense of power is born.

All in the Family

Some of the most influential people in my life have been clients who model a life and attitude I admire. People want to belong. They want to have fun, live free and experience that satisfying feeling of making a difference in others’ lives through their influence. Create a “family” business, a fitness family brought together by common goals and bonded through fun, freedom, love and belonging, and power. In the long run, keeping happy clients is as much about building a family as it is about solid business practices. Today and always, relationships matter.


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