Helping clients create long-lasting, sustainable change

Personal trainers are known to provide tips and tricks that help clients achieve their fitness and health goals. The process of changing behavior can be difficult, even for highly motivated clients.

Trainers must be able to adapt their approach to each individual. Behavior change can be a complicated journey. They are vital in helping clients to set goals, track their progress, and commit over time. To help their clients achieve their goals more effectively and create lasting, sustainable change, personal trainers and coaches must understand the theories and concepts of health.

Learn more about how to make lasting changes. NASM’s Certified Wellness Coaching Course is a great place to start.

How Clients Struggle with Old Habits

There are many reasons why people have trouble making lasting changes in their lives. You can easily fall back into old habits which do not match your intentions, whether it is sedentary behaviour, poor eating habits or lack of sleep. There may also be environmental and relationship factors that make it harder to change.
Lack of support, social or environmental factors or obstacles can hinder their progress. Ineffective goal-setting can hamper client efforts on an intrapersonal basis. Even clients with a high motivation to change may not know the best goal-setting techniques.
The goal is either too specific and/or too general, or it is not SMART.
Mindset is also a factor when clients struggle with their old habits. First, the client may not have an attitude of growth and become discouraged. It takes time to change and you need to know what works or doesn’t work along the way. It can be difficult to see challenges as opportunities for learning if someone doesn’t have a growth mind-set.
It can be much easier to continue with the old behaviors than to do the hard work required to change behavior for good. A client’s mindset can be affected by negative self-talk and low self-efficacy due to previous unsuccessful attempts at changing their behavior. Self-efficacy refers to a person’s confidence in their ability change their behavior.
According to the Self-Efficacy theory, people often try things they think they are capable of and will not attempt anything they don’t believe they can achieve. Clients can also “get in the way”, which will derail their efforts. Personal trainers and coaches are able to intervene, regardless of the barrier. This can have a positive impact on client outcomes. This can be achieved by using behavior change concepts when working with clients.

Do you want to know how to bring wellness into your life? Our Certified Wellness Coach Course will teach you more.


Start small when introducing behavior changes to clients. Open-ended, discovery-oriented questions will help you gain more insight about the motivations of your clients. What do they hope to achieve by taking part in personal training? It is important to ask clients additional questions to help them narrow their focus on specific actions.
This is a great way to get the client to identify specific behaviors they’ll start or increase in frequency to achieve their goals. This action could be to walk three times per week, do weight training twice a month, or engage in mobility exercises every day to reduce back pain. Before training, as a trainer we want to assist our clients in personalizing these specific actions.
After identifying the details of your client’s goal, you can help them set a SMART goal (specific, measurable and attainable realistic time-specific goal). Set this goal in collaboration with your client to make them feel like they are part of the process. This will help to increase buy-in and accountability. Consider the baseline of your client’s current habits when setting these SMART Goals. Help them set a realistic and attainable step forward. Make sure you meet the person where they are.
It is important that you help your client understand any barriers before working with them. Plan how you will help them identify and overcome these obstacles. Remind your clients to remember that relapses are part of the process. Help your clients understand that relapses are a tool for learning and they can use the information they learn to improve their behavior change plan.
Perhaps an environmental cue or factor needs to be changed to support the newly adopted behavior. Or perhaps more supportive relationships are needed to support them.

How to implement behavior change techniques in training

It is also important to incorporate behavior change concepts during training. Transtheoretical model, developed by James Prochaska, is one of the many theories that can be used to help with behavior change.
This model sees behavior changes as dynamic cyclical phases (pre-contemplations, contemplations, preparation, actions, and maintenance). The stages are not linear, like a staircase. Clients can change dynamically between them at any time. Understanding TTM helps trainers to understand the readiness of their clients for change, and at what stage they are.
Listen to the way they describe their goals, or change talk. Also, pay attention to previous attempts to change behavior. Below are some examples for each of the five stages of change:


In this phase, clients are content with the current status quo. They may not be aware of their problem behaviors and do not want to change. People in the precontemplation phase of change will not sign up for a personal training session.


The client is evaluating whether to change their behavior or not. The client must understand the benefits to changing their behavior at this stage. Trainers and coaches can use this time to provide information about the behavior that is problematic and the benefits of changing it. It can help clients decide which direction to take. When they decide whether to enroll in personal training, this could be the case.


Clients have made a decision to change their lifestyle and plan to do so within the next 30 days. It could be that the client has already purchased a package of personal training, or they are planning to do so within the next month. The preparation stage is crucial to preparing clients for the action stage. Trainers can use this stage to develop rapport with clients, set SMART objectives and create a customized program.

Take Action

At this stage, the client is actively working on completing aspects of their plan. They are also visibly trying to change their behaviour. Here, the support of relationships such as a personal trainer or other social support are essential. It is also important to provide support and accountability to clients, help them identify the right rewards, and replace unhealthy behaviors with healthier alternatives.

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