Giving Your Clients Motivation by Getting in their Head: The Psychology of Training


Getting clients in the door is sometimes only half the battle. While coaches and trainers have a clear understanding of the benefits of exercise and training, our clients don’t always feel the same way. You need to find a way to start giving your clients the motivation to come back to you. 

Retaining clientele, whether for your gym membership or private training, is imperative to your business. Though it has to be expected for people to come and go as circumstances change, a higher retention rate usually means happy, satisfied customers.

Understanding what makes people come back to workout, and specifically to that one particular location or person can tell us a lot. What motivates and drives your clients to show up week after week? It may have something to do with your programming, but it usually isn’t. And when they fall off the wagon, what brings them back?

External vs. Internal Motivation

There are two types of motivation. Internal is the kind that drives you (the reader) to workout, and ultimately, a longer-lasting motivation. The desire and passion for exercise/health/fitness that we have. Ultimately, if our clients can form and hold onto their internal motivation, they are more likely to stay in the game.

External motivation, as you can imagine, is the opposite. It is short-lived but can be very intense in the beginning. Suddenly feeling ‘fat’ and searching for a gym is a good example of this. These are the clients who come in, determined, because of their perception of themselves. We know that they often start motivated but have a low retention rate.

Getting clients to find that internal motivation is a skill, and we will discuss more on that later on.  To start, simply pointing out other benefits the client will feel can add to their motivation. Setting SMART goals is also a great way. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based goals are proven to be some of the best.

Research also shows that goals born of intrinsic motivation are more likely to be followed.

Performance vs. physical goals

As a trainer, I am acutely aware of how much more frequently we have women walking in looking for private sessions compared to men. For this reason, I’ll use examples of women. Every lady comes in and says she needs to lose weight. On occasion, some women come in and say they need to improve their level of energy. What we know is that by having them focus on a performance based goal with a secondary outcome which is physical means they are more likely to stay.

A great example is that I always remind them of how much weight they are lifting “this time” compared to last time. In squatting, for instance, the client doesn’t often come in with the goal to squat more, but when they go from 15lbs for five reps to 45lbs for 10 reps, I remind them that they are getting strong! It feels so great to be told that, and it’s a measurable feat! Remind your clients of their successes in performance as frequently as possible to keep spirits up and keep them motivated to come back!

Health vs. Performance Based Goals

In the example above, “Sally” came in looking to improve energy. I like to bring back their initial health concerns at the beginning of each session to see if they recall feeling any different. Allowing them to reflect once or twice a week means they are becoming aware of their success (if your programming is working!). They will take notice of their success and be grateful to your for bringing them down this road. Even though asking a client “do you have more energy?” is a subjective topic, you can still try to measure it by asking questions and pointing out progression. For example, “are you able to have more energy between putting the kids to bed and putting yourself to bed?” or simply, “How frequently are you waking up feeling rested? I want to make sure you’re getting enough sleep!”

Loyalty and Compassion

Finally, having loyalty and compassion for your clients is a key to getting your clients motivated. Showing them that they are more than dollar bills for you is so underrated. Don’t fake being excited to see them, but instead, show compassion when they say this or that hurts. Understand when they lose motivation, check up on them, and be as loyal to them as you want them to be to you. Send a text now and then between sessions to show you care.

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