Although there’s a wealth of research to support the fact that regular exercise brings a huge menu of health and aesthetic benefits, according to a 2015 study from the British Heart Foundation, 44% of adults do no moderate physical activity. And in the US, the Center for Disease Control suggests a corresponding figure of 49%.
So what is it that prevents so many people from taking a dose of medicine that is clearly good for them and what can we do, as fitness professionals, to help ensure they continue to do so in the longer term?
Sedentary people often harbor negative feelings towards working out, viewing it as difficult and even in some cases, pointless. The likelihood is that this is due to their experiences of physical education during school years. Commonly, when talking fitness, most beginners are happy to declare their goals but they also quote the anticipated difficulties, creating barriers to change. The key to motivation here is to help your potential clients to focus on the upsides of working out and to weigh these against the negatives, so the value of committing to regular activity is self-evident.
I believe there is also a gender factor in play, e.g.:
- Women are less likely to participate in sports pursuits so walking, cycling and small group training are more suitable pathways into regular activity.
- Women are more inclined to cite the carer role so providing online workouts and advice on purchasing and using home exercise equipment are ideal answers.
- Work pressures are anecdotally given as a reason by more men than women and so helping your client to find a way to slot a time efficient HIIT session into their day would be perfect.
- Historical injury issues tend to affect more men so sound advice in these cases is to avoid high intensity activities, no matter how in fashion they may seem, in favor of more moderate options to reduce wear and tear on the joints.
For some, just the idea of joining a gym fills them with dread but through your initial personal needs analysis and ongoing discussion you can uncover the primary issues and address them as follows:
- Too difficult – a common sense approach to program design should lead you to avoid single leg squats on the BOSU on day 1 but more importantly, mastery of the workout has been shown to be a vital factor in client retention.
- The unknown – stick with what they know at the start as there’ll be plenty of time to be adventurous later. Results are based on attendance and allowing clients to choose a few of the exercises within their workouts leads to increased adherence.
- Too much too soon – begin at a comfortable speed, resistance, etc for your client and allow for a gradual progression in frequency, duration and intensity. Adherence is inversely linked to workout intensity so save the HIIT sessions until further down the line and use them sparingly.
- Fear of technology – talking in sweeping generalizations, this may well be the case with your older clients. Since the ultimate aim of a good fitness professional should be to lead a client to be able to exercise alone, introduction to the quick-start option on cardio machines and initiating a conversation about basic wearables would help greatly.
- Overdoing it – it’s not easy to monitor your own pulse, particularly when you’re on the move doing cardio so familiarize your clients with the rate of perceived exertion method of monitoring their effort levels.
Loss of Momentum
In my opinion, it’s important to address the elephant in the room early on, i.e. the likelihood of your client dropping off. With over 50% of exercisers quitting within the first 6 months, it’s good practice to help your clients to plan for it so it doesn’t grow from a temporary relapse into a permanent collapse.
There’s the possibility that work pressures, injury, family issues and holidays can derail your clients’ best intentions. Advise them to accept that they happen, to not let it get them down, to reflect upon the positive fact that they’ve already made a start and have seen some progress and then to move on. Even the best fitness professionals can’t prevent the festive season, but a wise word in your client’s ear will ensure damage limitation.
Maybe one of the most challenging, yet crucially important concepts for your clients to appreciate is accountability. You could design the perfect progressive workout plan and offer the utmost support but the truth is you can’t do the hard yards for them. This is why it’s essential to help them with the most basic of starting points, i.e. setting clearly defined goals. Then, if their enthusiasm begins to wane, instead of trying to bully or guilt them back into action, simply ask them to read these again and take a quiet moment to try to imagine just how they’ll feel when they achieve them and what those around them will say.
Despite how incredibly valuable your knowledge, support and motivation are to your clients’ health and fitness aspirations, it’s this focus on how they will feel when they reach their goals that will make their short-term effort worthwhile, so by you prompting this you’ll help ensure that they stay with you for the long haul.