Relating to Clients with Good Fitness Data

4 Ways to Motivate Personal Training Clients by Making Fitness Data More Understandable and Relevant

By Brett Klika, CSCS and IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year (2013)

I remember sitting in high school calculus, winning my seat in this college-level course merely on early accolades that set my academic trajectory in the “gifted and talented” direction.

Despite my lack of interest, understanding, or affinity for math I was placed in the class due to my success in other subjects.

As the course progressed, my struggles mounted and eventually I had to employ the services of a tutor in order to squeak by with a passing grade.

I remember my twice-weekly meeting with the tutor; his excitement for the world of numbers, both real and imaginary, and my apathetic, confused, “Just help me understand enough so I can pass” level of interest.

As a fitness professional, thinking back to these personal struggles has always helped me put into perspective my relationship with clients. They have this part of their life they struggle with. They don’t enjoy or have much interest in it, but they understand they need it.

They hire us as fitness professionals to help navigate this difficult adoption of a new habit they don’t particularly enjoy, but know they need just enough so their health gets a passing grade.

When this threshold level of interest meets our near-obsession for all things sweaty, it can become an unfortunate disconnect that leaves our clients frustrated, confused, and eventually, absent from our care.

The deluge of information and inquisition we provide on a daily basis can actually work against what we are trying to accomplish if we are not careful to cater feedback and information to make it simple and relevant for our clients. It’s an obvious part of our jobs to motivate personal training clients – but we need to take care that we’re not alienating them with unexplainable data.

Take the recent advances in wearable biometric technology for example.

These wearable devices offer an opportunity to either increase our clients’ personal health awareness, or create an even more drastic disconnect as we track, record, and diagram nearly every aspect of something for which they only have a threshold level of interest or understanding in.

The deciding factor in our ability to use wearables (or any other information) as a tool to shape our clients behavior in a positive way lies within our willingness and ability to step down off of our scientific, semantic, podium and learn to communicate information to our clients in a relevant way.

In my over 15 years of experience in personal training, I’ve discovered a variety of strategies that have helped me communicate more effectively to clients. As new resources, information, and technology becomes available, employing these simple communication tools has helped my clients continue to take advantage of these advances to fast-track their results.

One of the most powerful of these communication tools involves learning how to read different personalities and how this affects a clients approach to a fitness program.

Different clients have different levels of motivation and ability when it comes to the role of exercise in their life. When we are in tune with this as fitness professionals, it helps us determine what information is most relevant for our clients so we can provide enough to spark change, but not so much we intimidate.

Consider the following personality/ability types of clients, and consider some general communication guidelines for them. While this ultimately takes experience and can be different from individual to individual, I have had a tremendous amount of success in creating change in clients by using these as a guide.

The “High motivation/High ability” client:

This is the “type A” client who most likely has an athletic background. They live by numbers. They thrive on a structured, well -planned program that provides constant feedback on progression. These clients often refer to exercise as “training”.

These clients respond to nearly every piece of data a wearable device can provide. Since these are numbers and results oriented people, they have a desire to understand and affect positive change for every data point wearable devices can provide. They WANT to understand, so they often will let you know when something is not clear.

These clients will probably want to upload their data and have you monitor it throughout the week.

The “Low motivation/High ability” client

These clients are often naturally physically gifted and often are only interested in doing what is necessary to get a particular outcome. For these clients, all feedback and data must be tied directly to a very specific desired outcome.

A majority of these types of clients are athletes at a variety of levels (youth, amateur, professional, etc.). When providing relevant feedback, it is important to tie any data directly to the performance outcome they need. For example, an athlete is trying to gain strength and lean muscle, explain how sleep quality is related to growth hormone release and how that contributes to increased lean muscle mass.

Sleep data from their wearable device then becomes relevant to their specific desired outcome. For this clientele, any data that cannot be directly tied to their desired performance outcome is often irrelevant and can interfere with effective communication.

The “High motivation/ Low ability” client

A majority of personal training clients fit this classification. They have learned to enjoy exercising with a fitness professional because for most of their life, physical activity proved to be an awkward, difficult venture. They are now excited to have this new hobby in their life.

A majority of the time the goal with these clients is weight loss, so they will respond best to data directly associated with weight loss, particularly caloric burn. Explaining the accumulated affect of an accelerated daily caloric burn through both exercise and increased movement improves the validity of biometric numbers like daily steps and calories burned.

While these enthusiastic clients may also be interested in sleep, V02, and heart rate data, it’s important to focus on one thing at a time. They are now enjoying something they once did not, so it’s important to allow them to still have fun while introducing a simple metric for tracking progress.

The “Low motivation/ Low ability” client

These clients often seek a fitness professional at the “end of the health rope”. They have been told they need help by medical professionals, family members, etc. and while they know this to be true, they may still be resistant.

A majority of these clients’ biggest hurdles are not physical, they are mental and emotional. Physical activity has often proved to be a difficult, awkward venture for these people, and they have convinced themselves that it will always be this way. Their negative lifestyles have confined them to a closed mindset and they often do not believe they can change.

For these clients, the primary goal of a program is to gain their trust by listening and displaying empathy and compassion. Initially, they may not respond to any data feedback. Merely overcoming their defeatist mindset to show up and exercise is their biggest victory. An attempt to probe into their lives with a wearable device is too aggressive initially and is not recommended.

When a relationship is formed, introduce how simple data, such as steps per day, can improve their mood, their health, and other desired health outcomes. Set simple, attainable goals for this single piece of data.

With these clients, it’s important to focus on how data from a wearable device can empower them to be proactive about their health.

No matter the personality of a client, prior to introducing wearable technology, it’s important to assess their relationship with technology and exercise in general. For some, exercise provides an escape from the number crunching and analysis of the their day-to-day existence. They come to you to play, so let them play!

To improve your clients’ success, and in turn, your success as a fitness professional using wearable fitness devices, focus on listening and reading your clients to determine the most effective way to communicate.

It’s important to remember that YOU are THEM in some other aspect of life. Consider different factions of life that are difficult and/or foreign to you and how you would want to be guided to find proficiency and relevance.

This article is by Brett Klika . The author’s opinions are their own and Gear Update does not take responsibility for content statements and opinions. You should seek expert counsel in evaluating opinions, treatments, products and services. For more info see our Editorial Policies.