Training New Exercisers

Once upon a time, personal training was thought of as a luxury for the rich and/or a service that athletes could use to enhance their performance. Today, clients are from a variety of occupations and income levels. It's no surprise to trainers that many of today's clients have usually been inactive for years.

The key to being successful when working with a deconditioned client goes beyond reps and sets. Knowing how to be psychologically sensitive to the needs and feelings of the deconditioned is what separates a great trainer from the ordinary. Try the following strategies and watch your clients and referrals flourish.

1. Always acknowledge the first step. People sometimes take months or even years to come to the decision that they need help and want to change. To start a client off on the right foot, a trainer should always acknowledge the time and effort a person has spent to get to the point of action-thus, reinforcing that the decision to change his unhealthy lifestyle was a positive one.

2. Dress up, not down, for client motivation. Many trainers have worked hard for their fit appearances, and many have said that they feel their fit physiques help motivate their clients. Yet a survey of more than 10 different personal-training companies that included more than 300 clients indicated otherwise. The deconditioned reported that they felt that no matter how hard they worked, they could not achieve the same results as their trainers. This had a negative impact on their motivational levels. The clients who did report that their trainers rippling abs and bulging biceps helped motivate them were usually moderately to extremely fit. So, if you want to help motivate your deconditioned clients, cover up.

3. Schedule clients during off-peak hours. If a person is out of shape, that usually indicates that he or she has not been in a health club for a while, if ever. These clients are stepping out of their comfort zone and into an unfamiliar environment. With that comes feelings of uncertainty and awkwardness. To help clients become comfortable with what they are doing and their surroundings, schedule these clients during off-peak hours whenever possible, when there are fewer people in the facility.

4. Make the goal of exercise to be the exercise itself and not the results. In other words, make the action of exercising the goal initially, rather than the results. For deconditioned people, the final weight loss or the toned body may be months or even a year away. When clients are educated that consistency is the key to lifetime results, they will be reaching a goal every time they lace up their sneakers.

5. Communicate with positives rather then negatives. If a client is performing an exercise incorrectly, try to stay away from phrases like "You're not doing that right," or "Don't lock your knees," and "That's wrong." These phrases and similar ones accentuate feelings of awkwardness a client may have. Instead, if a client is out of alignment just reposition him and then praise him for the following "correctly" done reps. Or, if a client is performing a exercise too quickly, start counting so he can follow a cadence and smile when he has slowed to match the cadence. When you accentuate the positives rather than the negatives, a client feels capable rather than uncomfortable.

--Susan Cantwell has lectured to more than 30,000 personal trainers worldwide and specializes in professional business coaching fro personal trainers. She is the author of Policies That Work For Personal Trainers and Mind Over Matter: Personal Choices for a Lifetiem of Fitness. She can be reached at scprofit@nbnet.nb.ca.