The fitness and wellness industry is thriving! Innovation abounds, as evidenced by the ever-blossoming array of classes, techniques, methods and state-of-the-art equipment, complete with every motivational gadget imaginable.

Yet, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition reports that more than 80% of adults do not meet standard guidelines for cardiovascular and strengthening activities (President’s Council 2016). How do we win over the four-fifths of adults who don’t exercise? While it’s important to continue expanding our offerings and providing new programs, we can also broaden our reach by borrowing three simple techniques from the field of professional coaching.

1. Curious Questioning

The hallmark of good coaching is the ability to ask powerful, open-ended questions. In her book Coaching Skills, Jenny Rogers says effective questions

  • are short;
  • begin with the word “what” or “how”
  • provoke learning;
  • encourage the client’s ability to take responsibility for themselves; and
  • provoke thinking and challenge (Rogers 2012).

We still need to communicate our expertise as exercise professionals; however, through coaching conversations we can also engage clients and get them to co-create strategies for long-term success. Imagine how much more powerful a 5- to 10-minute warm-up could be if, instead of giving the client a piece of advice, you reframed it as a question: “How might you make this a daily part of your life?” This approach serves as a doorway to a more meaningful interaction and sets the stage for real change.

2. Deep Listening

In this age of smartphone-induced attention deficit disorder, deep listening is becoming increasingly rare. In the book Co-Active Coaching by Whitworth et al. (2007), the authors describe three levels of listening. Level one is basic. My young daughter used to describe it this way: “Mum, you’re doing that thing with your hair. It means you’re hearing what I am saying, but you’re not really listening to me.”

In level two, you focus on making eye contact and using gestures such as nodding your head. However, you often still have thoughts such as “oh-yes-I-remember-when-something-like-that-happened-to-me’” running through your head, or you might be thinking about and formulating your response.

Level three, global listening, involves being wholly and completely engaged and immersed in what the other person is saying. Your client, in that moment, becomes the center of your Universe. In yoga, we call it being fully present. It takes practice but when it happens you can recognize it across a room. Active listening is a gift and the recipient often feels it deeply. Use this connection to build even more trust so the client feels safe under your guidance and instruction.

3. Self-Management

When you upgrade your listening skills, you deepen your presence with clients so that your sessions and classes become completely about them (Whitworth et al. 2007). You’re more grounded, steady and present. It’s important to set high standards for yourself and show up focused for every session. I’ve borrowed some pre-session breathing exercises from yoga to help me clear my own thoughts, feelings, opinions and, most importantly, judgments. If I find my mind wandering during a session, I come back to the breath and become fully present for my client.

My favorite easy-to-learn breathing technique, which I use before a session or class and teach to my clients, is the three-part breath:

For details about the three-part breathing technique, plus more information and complete references, please see “Using a Coach Approach” in the online IDEA Library (September 2016 issue of IDEA Mind-Body Wellness Review). If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.