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cat not motivated to exercise or play

As a fitness coach or even friend, it can get frustrating when working with those that don’t share the same enthusiasm for exercise, or even their own health and wellness. And that’s ok… it’s taken me a while to realize this but you, as their health and fitness coach, may feel more invested in their health than they do! Again, that’s ok because it means you care. Even though your clients may not share the same enthusiasm for their own health that you do, it's ok because their priorities are different. And that just means they’re human.


Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 535 and Episode 975 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.


But here’s the amazing thing: the fact that they are standing there, in front of you, ready to work, is pretty tremendous. Think about all of the steps they had to take just to be standing there in front of you.

  • They had to first contact you (that first step alone is a huge barrier for most people–many never even get to this step!)
  • Then they had to schedule a session
  • Wait until the day of their session (and not cancel)
  • Then they had to dress in their exercise clothes
  • Drive over to your gym or office
  • Mentally prepare for the hard work they’re about to do
  • Place themselves in your care.

All of this is no easy feat! When you really think about it, your clients are motivated–just look at all of the steps they had to take just to meet with you!

The key is to tap into that initial motivation and then keep it going. Your clients will say things like, “Oh, it’s easier for you because you enjoy working out,” or “You’re younger than me,” or “You don’t suffer from such and such ailment,” or “You have more time”… I have heard all of these excuses.

The trick is this: don’t get defensive. Don’t engage in and say things like, “You don’t understand, I’m busy, too…” Instead, let them vent. Listen to them. Ask follow-up questions. If they say, “Well, of course you see results because you actually enjoy all of this healthy stuff”… you can respond with, “You’re right, I do enjoy this. But, what can I do to help you enjoy this, too?” They might have a witty response and say something like, “Well, you can let me sit in a hammock and drink a martini.” Of course you can chuckle at this cheesy joke, but then bring them back to reality and ask, “Is there an exercise or move you’ve been curious about and want to try?”

Here’s why this is so important: you’re giving them the choice. By giving them a choice, you’re making it clear that you care about them as a person; you care about their goals and their motivations for being there. This starts to break down any resistance they may be feeling.

What if they say, “Sure, I’ve always wanted to try deadlifting. Can we do that?” In your head, you’re probably thinking, “Uh… well, since this is your very first time with me, I don’t think that’s safe…” but here’s what you can say instead: “That’s a great exercise, but I do have a suggestion, may I share that with you?”

Notice that you don’t go right into all the reasons why you think this would be a terrible idea. Instead, you ask permission to share your thoughts. This empowers your client and makes them feel like you really care about them. After they give you permission to share your thoughts (and they will almost always say, “Yes”), you can then say that you love the idea of showing them how to deadlift, and want to show them a different exercise first so that when they execute a deadlift, they’ll look like a pro.

Think about how this message differs from what they’re likely to hear from other fitness coaches. In my experience, many trainers go through the motions and outline the same routine with the same warm-ups, cool-downs, and exercises for the majority of their clients. They tell their clients what to do and for how long and to just “push through.” But if you ask them about exercises they’ve always wanted to try, you motivate and empower your client. In this case, they’re not just taking orders from you, they’re involved in the process. You show that you really care. That will keep them coming back.

Some of the exercises you have your clients perform need to be enjoyable, but realistically we know that it’s simply not possible for EVERY move to be fun. The way to get around this is to involve them a bit. You of course are the expert, so they may suggest exercises that are dangerous, or even ridiculous. If that happens, roll with it and ask if you may offer a suggestion and, after they say yes (which they almost always do), that’s when you provide your expertise. Then watch the magic happen!

The bottom line is this: turn the traditional training session on its head. The fact that your client didn’t cancel and is standing there in front of you means they ARE motivated and want your help. By involving them in the process and asking about what they hope to achieve and which exercises they’ve always wanted to try will motivate and empower them. And that will keep them coming back.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 535 and Episode 975 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") has a Doctorate in Public Health with emphases in disease prevention and nutrition. He is also a Registered Dietitian and Certified Health Education Specialist. He is currently an assistant professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Dr. Neal has published peer-reviewed scientific research and been featured as a nutrition and wellness expert in over 70 media outlets including Parade and The L.A. Times. Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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