How do you get clients to do what you tell them?

Have you ever seriously thought about it? Some people are so eager to exercise that they hang on your every word. Others will take some convincing. Still another group will go through an on again, off again cycle with you and exercise.

Expert by Association

Since you are a fitness professional, armed with some type of certification or degree, you can rely on your so-called expertise to win you some clout. Think of it as expert by associate. Because you are relatively fit, where a dry-fit shirt that reads STAFF, and are seen training other people, onlookers will automatically assume that you know what you are doing. The club manager did hire you after all.

But, as you will soon find out – if you haven’t already – there’s a lot more to helping a client achieve their goals than programming a workout and setting the pin in the weight stack.

Any trainer can write a workout plan and shout orders. And, almost every fitness seeker will make some kind of progress, regardless of the programming. You’re doing clients a disservice if you only train them in the gym. You need to teach them how to create sustainable wellness habits. Therefore, the overarching goal for a fitness pro should be to make a real and lasting impact on people’s fitness level, psyche, and lifestyle.

But, how?

It wasn’t until I sat back and reflected on my experiences with clients that I realized exactly what I was doing. I had, somewhat unknowingly, developed a process for getting clients to change their behaviors behavior and make their habits stick.

It is Behavior Modification

I think of it this way, people seek out a trainer to help them modify their behavior. Yes, they want to lose weight, build muscle, become faster, or more fit. But, overall, they need someone who can help them identify what they are doing wrong, what they can do to change that, and how they can make that change last long term.

To do that, a trainer has to approach every client with an open mind and a list of questions. The trainer knows the how – as in how to lift, run, train, etc. to get in shape. But, only the client knows why – as in why they aren’t fit, why they want to change, and why it matters.

With that in mind, I begin my process for working with new clients by asking a series of questions – to get to why – before I try to tell them how.

The Questions

  • What do you want to achieve? Why?
  • What are you doing now that will enable you to achieve that goal?
  • What are you doing now that will prevent you from achieving that goal?
  • What have you done in the past that worked?
  • What have you done in the past that didn’t work?

If and when you go down this Q and A road, be prepared for anything. Some people might shutdown and give you nothing. Others will tell you their entire life story. But, don’t be surprised if this simple line of questioning leads to some tears being shed.

This is the information gathering phase. Based on how people react, you will know how to proceed. You’ll know what your role will be and what the client needs from you. Then, as you dig into the physical aspects of the training, you’ll also have to remain true to your clients why.

That’s where the second part of my process comes in – it’s aimed at addressing the long term behavior change.

Build trust/connect

In order to have any hope of tapping into a client’s why, you must earn their trust. That means being honest, genuine, and interested in that individual. Start by becoming a better listener. What do they do, do they have kids, what are their hobbies? Learn their story, and then share yours with them.

Once the groundwork is laid, and you prove your worth, they will become even more committed to their why. And, you will be more adept at helping them achieve it.

Be Practical/Make It Accessible

This part is something that I’ve seen trainers struggle with. When training a client, it is not your goal to make them so sore that they cannot move the next day. You don’t have to impress them with how much you know or how many crazy workouts you can come up with.

Instead, it’s your goal to meet every individual where they are. Then, you increase intensity and difficulty as needed based on how that person responds.

Being practical and accessible is really about creating an exercise experience that encourages people to actually come back. You don’t want to make exercise a chore or terrifying. Give clients what they need, make it simple and effective. Get them in the grove of working out. And when the time comes, give them more.

Promote Responsibility

Here again we are thinking long term. Remaining true to the behavior modification/find the why thought process, we have to get clients to own their actions. Although the trainer plays a role in that, they are only with you for an hour or so a couple days a week. When it’s all said and done, the client is responsible for whether or not they fail or succeed; especially in the long term.

Part of the training conversation should be a continuation of the questions we asked at the onset. What are you doing well, what is hold you back from reaching your goals?


Our next concept is simple, be a teacher. I like to call it the give my secrets away technique. Yes, you are creating workouts for clients, and making sure they perform the exercises correctly. But, you should also be explaining what went into the program design and why certain training techniques work better than others.

You should be trying to make every client into an expert. Give them what they need to train themselves for a lifetime. Otherwise, they come to see you as the gateway to achieving their goals; which is a lie. Remember, they have to own it. Give them the knowledge they need to do that.


As in, can they stick to what you have shown them? Is it sustainable?

If you have hit all of the key points of the process, this last part is done.

Because you know the client’s why you were able to lay out a plan for changing their behavior. You know their story and connected with them. They trust you, so they listen when you present them with their workouts. As a matter of fact, they show up and bust their butts because they know you are just as committed as they are. They are accountable to you and themselves. They understand that they are responsible for making a change. They also know what to do and how to do it, so they workout in between sessions at home and they don’t miss workouts when they go on vacation and or travel for work.

They’ve got it all figured out. You did such a good job that they don’t need you anymore. And that, my fit pro friends, is the biggest reward of them all.

What do you think of this process? What’s your process for helping clients make a change?