Motivation & Personal Trainer Tips

Motivation Strategies For Personal Trainers | EMAC Certifications

Motivation & Personal Trainer Tips

Fitness coaching is more than just great workouts, instead you need to use motivation & personal trainer tips. Motivation isn’t a personality trait trainers have to hope to possess. Instead, you should be using specific tactics with clients to help them hit a goal. This involves breaking down the fundamentals that drive their client’s behaviors to assist in making long lasting change. This includes knowing when to use intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivation depending on the readiness to change of a client. It also means establishing a communication style grounded in motivational interviewing. Here, you’ll learn:

  • Definitions of Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation
  • Stages of Client Readiness to Change
  • Principles and Processes of Motivational Interviewing
  • 3 Types of Goals
  • Applications to Increase Client Motivation

Especially in the case of online personal training, you need to apply motivation with clients. Because you won’t be seeing them go in and out of the gym, these strategies become even more important for a client to see results.

Defining Motivation

The simple definition of motivation is the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. So, if you’re good at motivating clients, it means you are able to provide the reasons to get someone to make change. There are different types of motivation and they work better in different situations. The two basic types of motivation are extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation

This type of motivation is driven by rewards or incentives. Things like praise, fame, or money are the easiest examples of extrinsic motivation. These examples are all external, thus the name extrinsic motivation. Therefore anything external that’s driving a client’s behavior is an extrinsic motivation. Common examples of fitness extrinsic motivation you’ll see in fitness coaching relationships include:

  • Cheat meal
  • Day off from working out
  • Fun activity instead of a tough workout
  • Free smoothie
  • Massage gift certificate 
  • Badges or trophies from winning a challenge

You might notice some of these rewards can be counterproductive for a client’s goal. This is correct. However, not all extrinsic motivation is problematic. Extrinsic motivation works well for a short-term goal or to get a behavior to begin. Additionally, extrinsic motivation will only keep driving your client’s behavior for as long as the reward is still “special”. Therefore, if you applaud a client, or give them a social media shout out each time they finish a workout, the effect wears off. So, you should only be using extrinsic motivation sparingly, but enough to get a client to continue a behavior. Additionally, you should aim to use rewards that aren’t counterproductive. For example, if your client is following their meal plan all week just so they can have a cheat meal, you may have a problem. Even one cheat meal or cheat day can ruin an entire week’s worth of creating a calorie deficit. 

Intrinsic Motivation

This form of motivation comes from within. This means, your client engages in an activity for the sake of the experience itself. For example, a client may enjoy how it feels after a tough workout. Or, perhaps they feel better when they’re eating a diet rich in leafy greens and nutrients. Intrinsic is internal and initiates from feelings of achievement, satisfaction, and accomplishment. Or it might arise out of activities a client finds fun, interesting, or challenging. Either way, intrinsic motivation is ideal for long term goals. When working out and eating healthy become a habit, the client is on their way to transforming it into intrinsic motivation.

A great personal trainer uses both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Further, you should strategically decide when to use the different forms. For example, are you trying to get the client to do something new that’s completely foreign to them? Or are you trying to get an existing, positive behavior to continue? To make these decisions, you should look at what stage of change the client is in.

Stages Of Change

Different clients will be in different stages of their readiness to change at different points in their lives. Knowing where a client is allows you to meet them there, and use the right type of motivation. It doesn’t just depend on their current fitness level. Instead it’s about how they’re thinking about making a change. A well known model is the Transtheoretical Model of Change. It explores the stages of change a client is in and how to work with each stage. The stages are:

  • Precontemplation. Here a client isn’t even thinking about making a change. They might know they’re overweight but don’t have plans to do anything about it for at least 6 months.
  • Contemplation. In this stage, a client is aware of the behavior and is just starting to think about making a change. However, they haven’t taken any steps like joining a gym or even researching a gym membership.
  • Preparation. Here the client is getting ready to change the behavior. They’re exploring what healthy eating and physical activity might look like. But, they haven’t taken actual steps in making the change.
  • Action. In this stage, the client is doing the behaviors needed to make change. They’re going to the gym, reading food labels, logging their foods, and wearing an activity tracker. They’re in the midst of their fitness journey.
  • Maintenance. This is a great place to be in. Here, the client is doing what they need to lead a healthy life and have done so for over six months.

Extrinsic motivation will be most useful in the first three stages because it’s about initiating a healthy habit. You’ll be using intrinsic motivation starting at preparation and through maintenance. However, you should always be reaching for the development of internal motivation. This work is done during your sessions with the client and is part of motivational interviewing.

Motivational Interviewing

This is a counseling approach with a heavy emphasis on collaboration between the client and coach. It also centers around the client, with the goal of resolving ambivalence. Ambivalence is the state when a person has mixed feelings about changing a behavior. For example, a client might want a 20 pound weight loss, but the idea of sticking to a nutrition plan and fitness routine sounds uncomfortable. Therefore, motivational interviewing is the interactive style a trainer should approach to get the client to resolve the feelings and do the desired behavior. 

The key ways trainers will use MI include:

  • Open ended questions to get the client to describe and explore.
  • Reflective listening to make sure you’re hearing the client correctly.
  • Reiterating statements back to form a team approach to commitment.

5 Principles Of Motivational Interviewing  

There are five principles of MI, four of which are emphasized in motivating clients. These principles are key behaviors for you and your client interaction style. They include:

  • Express Empathy. Here, you’re working with the client to develop trust and a sense of teamwork. It’s part of establishing rapport.The goal is to make them feel safe, unjudged, and positive about the fitness journey ahead of them.
  • Develop Discrepancy. Here, you’re helping the client explore the differences between behaviors of their current self and future self. It’s especially helpful to look at their responses in their client paperwork and take notes as they’re talking.
  • Avoid Arguments. This means keeping the client from getting into a place of being defensive or resistant. For example, if a client tells you they saw weight loss on a Keto diet, it’s not the time to express your concerns over this trending diet. Instead, the trainer should ask a question like “What was it about the keto diet that helped you be successful with following a nutrition plan?”.
  • Support Self Efficacy. People tend to participate in things they feel like they can accomplish. Therefore, your goal is to help the client feel as though achieving said goal is possible. You can do this by having them talk about other times they were successful. Or, you can point out small wins they might not be noticing.

4 Processes In Motivational Interviewing

The principles demonstrate what you should aim for in your client interaction style. The four processes of MI outline the steps you should go through as you work together. These line up well with how a fitness professional conducts a client intake session or initial fitness assessment

  • Step 1: Engaging. At this point, you work to get to know the client and their history with motivation, nutrition, and exercise. You are building trust and working together to form a good rapport.
  • Step 2: Focusing. During this step, you uncover exactly what the client wants to change. You look for what’s most important to the client. Is it numbers on a scale? Or, is it to fit into a wedding dress?
  • Step 3: Evoking. This incredibly important step can only happen after the first two. You’re learning the “why” behind their goal. Why do they need to make this change? It also can be called a root cause analysis. 
  • Step 4: Planning. This is when the two of you work together on how you’ll be able to change the behavior and achieve the goal. It’s the goal setting process and should be done together.

Goal Setting

The next important element a trainer needs to know in motivation is goal setting. Although this is part of the planning process in MI, it’s a standalone concept in personal training. Knowing the types of goals to set and the impact on motivation is critical for you and your clients.


The acronym SMART goals is common in the fitness industry. It’s a quick and easy way to know how to structure fitness goals for clients. All the goals you set with your personal training client should be:

  • Specific. 
  • Measurable. 
  • Attainable. 
  • Realistic.
  • Time Oriented. 

3 Types Of Goals

Training goals aren’t just short or long term. Instead, a goal can fall into one of three categories: outcome, process, and performance. The personal trainer who uses all three will enhance client motivation more than just one. 

  • Outcome Goal. This type of goal is what most often comes to mind. It is what the client gets at the end of the training period. Common examples are changes in body fat, weight loss, increase in muscle size, winning fitness challenges, and more.
  • Process Goal. This type is usually short term and includes mastering the steps it takes to achieve something else. Examples include consecutive days logging food, attending a training session, doing exercise independently, or drinking more water.
  • Performance Goal. This is most common with an athlete client, but works for all client motivation needs. It relates to what is happening during the workout or exercise session. Examples can include running a 10 minute mile, doing 20 pushups in a row, etc.

At this point, you should know the best way a trainer can provide motivation is to:

  • Use extrinsic and intrinsic motivation
  • Recognize a client’s stage of change and current-fitness level
  • Apply motivational interviewing to create rapport and a trusting relationship
  • Collaborate on the goal setting process

Now it’s time to look at the specific tactics a certified personal trainer can use to increase motivation.

Motivation Applications And Strategies

Now that you understand how motivation works and the role a trainer plays in it, it’s time to look at the specific strategies you can use to enhance client motivation. The following is a list of different ways you can enhance intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

  • Social media shout outs. These can be random (which also work) or specific to achieving a goal or milestone.
  • Inspirational or motivational quotes and stories. Try to post things others can relate to or will find influential.
  • Fun activities or workouts. For example, take a group to the park and have them play a game or run an obstacle course.
  • Incorporate a new task to master. Even if it isn’t directly in line with their goals, it will give something else to aim for. For example, a handstand pushup is something they can work up to.
  • Use a fitness app for workouts. Some will allow members to track progress and set goals for their next gym visit.
  • Closed supportive group on social media. Create a safe space where your clients can interact and help each other out.
  • Ongoing goal setting. Each month you should do another fitness assessment and work on goal setting together.
  • Tangible incentives. Things like a smoothie gift card or branded shirt can go a long way.

To be a great personal trainer, motivation is part of everyday coaching. Instead of relying on charisma and high energy, make motivational efforts part of your regular practice. Have a focus on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and meet your clients at the stage of change they’re in. This will help you gain their trust and eases you into the assessment and motivational interviewing process. 

You can learn more about becoming an EMAC certified personal trainer. Or, if you’re already a personal fitness trainer and want to start your own online coaching business, you can do it in less than a month with our EMAC online coaching program

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