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6 Ways to Boost Client Commitment

Attracting new clients is an ongoing challenge for fitness and wellness professionals. Keeping clients motivated long-term can be even harder. A client might begin training with a strong intention to lose 40 pounds, run a 10K or reverse her prediabetic condition. But the best intentions may not be enough to sustain exercise interest and intensity over time.

Even successful clients are not immune. Clients who have achieved most of their initial fitness goal—for instance, losing 30 pounds out of 40—may quit before the finish line because they feel their progress is good enough or they believe they’ll continue improving without one-on-one help. So what should you do?

Studies in psychology and business suggest several effective ways to boost client commitment and rev up your training relationships. Here are some smart ideas.

1. Use Autonomy-Related Words

Subtle messages clients hear (or see) can increase their exercise motivation. Psychologists use the term priming to describe the way that exposure to emotion-laden words “automatically” influences behavior without a person’s awareness. Clients may not know they are responding to cues, but priming can stimulate emotion and energize behavior.

Words that prime clients’ thinking about autonomy lead people to exercise at higher intensity, for longer periods of time, and to report lower levels of exertion (Banting, Dimmock & Grove 2011). In short, priming makes people exercise harder and feel better about it. And you don’t have to prime clients before they work out. Word cues can amp up motivation during an exercise session.

Here are some autonomy-related words and phrases you can use:

  • You have several choices.
  • This should be challenging for you.
  • Which exercise do you want to learn first?
  • I’m curious about how you are feeling.
  • These options could be combined in many ways.
  • Are you willing to give it a try?
  • It looks like you’ve mastered that exercise.
  • Did you enjoy your vacation?
  • Which is most interesting?
  • What did you decide about the running group?

How you can help. In training sessions, use words that emphasize choice, curiosity, learning and freedom. Build these positive primes into your client-focused marketing, literature and physical surroundings to increase the impact. A poster that encourages clients to “Choose healthy options” or a T-shirt with the slogan “I love a challenge” will reinforce your motivational message.

2. Enhance Exercise-Related Imagery

Studies show that regular exercisers, as well as nonexercisers who intend to exercise, use exercise-related imagery as a motivator (Hall et al. 2010). Appearance-related exercise imagery—such as imagining how you look while running—is the most common type. But research shows that appearance imagery can be demotivating. Exercisers who focus on how they look may envision themselves as sweaty, tired and unattractive in workout clothing (Hall et al. 2010). Focusing on appearance highlights extrinsic motives, so people may feel pressured to achieve a culturally desired physical standard to avoid feelings of shame and embarrassment. Extrinsic motives for getting fit tend to be less adaptive than more intrinsic reasons, like being healthy or relieving stress. Energy-related imagery (e.g., imagining how energized, alert and vibrant you will feel during your workout), technique-related imagery (e.g., imagining the correct form for lifting weights, swimming the backstroke or running uphill) and enjoyment-related imagery (e.g., envisioning yourself having fun) are all related to intrinsic motivation (Stanley et al. 2012).

How you can help. Help clients harness the power of imagery that cultivates intrinsic motives. Use imagery throughout a client’s session or tailor it to a client’s specific needs. During preworkout stretching moves, ask clients to imagine an invigorated version of themselves, glowing in anticipation of their workout. Imagery can enhance general motivation and get clients psyched up (Munroe et al. 2000). Before each set, demonstrate proper form, and then ask the client you’re with to envision himself executing the movement correctly. Visualizing specific skills can enhance confidence and competence (Munroe et al. 2000). During cool-down periods, have clients reflect on high points from their sessions, and encourage people to picture their bodies growing stronger, healthier and more resilient.

For more strategies on motivating clients, plus a list of references, please see “6 Ways to Renew Client Commitment” in the online IDEA Library or in the November-December 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD

Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD, is a personality psychologist and former business development consultant who has coached many clients to achieve their personal goals. She writes about health, business, personal growth and people skills.

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