Fitness Accountability For Personal Training Clients
One of the main reasons why clients seek the assistance of a trainer is for fitness accountability. However, they don’t always realize accountability is what they need, at least at first. Instead, they’ll often mask their need for accountability in something else like wanting a structured exercise routine or a meal plan from an expert. Healthy eating and regular exercise are easier said than done. Therefore, it makes sense that people will put structures in place to help hold themselves accountable to their fitness goals. But, how does a personal trainer really hold a client accountable to their fitness goals? First, you need to start by exploring what accountability means and what it looks like in the world of fitness.
By definition, accountability is the fact or condition of being accountable (or responsible) for something. It’s an act or willingness to accept responsibility. Responsible, then, means the state of having a duty to deal with something. So, when you think of your role as a personal trainer and holding someone accountable it means you are helping them be responsible for the exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle recommendations you offer.
This can be difficult, because you don’t have control over their behaviors. However, you can give them tactics to help them progress and accomplish the goal they set for their fitness journey. Therefore, to help hold a client accountable, you have two methods at your disposal.
The first is to make it part of your ongoing fitness coaching interactions. This method shows up in your coaching sessions. It’s a fluid process that’s more than just providing recommendations. Instead, it’s about being an ongoing influence to truly help someone become accountable for their specific goal. This method is called systematic client accountability. The word “systematic” means it’s part of a methodical plan you include in your coaching services.
The second way to hold training clients accountable is through common strategies that support personal accountability. This includes things like finding a workout partner or attending a group fitness class. If the client applies these tactics, it will help increase their personal accountability.
Systematic Client Accountability
Since “systematic” means part of a larger, methodical plan, you need to learn how to weave it into your coaching practice which is the greater plan. If you follow a systematic approach, then you won’t have to rely on just the tactics (like find a workout buddy or use a fitness app). Just like motivating fitness clients, it will be part of your ongoing coaching practice. Your fitness coaching strategy will keep a close eye on accountability. This can’t happen until you work through the initial coaching stages of education and motivation.
Foundations Of Client Accountability
As you know, when you first start working with a client, you give them foundational education. This is basic information that goes into weight loss programs. For example, the benefits of resistance training, and how exercise fits into a specific goal. Once a client has this foundational information, they begin to know enough to start making healthy decisions. Next, the client needs the drive. They need to be motivated to make healthy decisions. Fitness coaches work on motivation by recognizing what fitness stage of change the client is in, and then aligning the stage with the right motivational strategies. As a fitness coach, you’ll be taking clients through the fitness assessment process and use motivational interviewing skills. This paves the way for you to work together on goal setting and you set outcome, process, and performance goals.
The goal setting process creates a natural segue into how you both will be accountable. As a certified personal trainer, with your fitness education and experience, you should be accountable to the outcome goal. But the client must be accountable to the process goals. This creates a great relationship because you both have accountability in a way that drives fitness success.
So long as the client is accountable for the short term goals (process goals), you are held accountable to get their results.
This is impactful because it also allows you to differentiate your services with a guarantee. For example, you can guarantee your client will achieve their SMART outcome goal, so long as they achieve the SMART process goals you put in place. After you finish your client intake and follow up sessions, you outline these goals. But it doesn’t stop there, the next step is to create clear expectations.
Setting Clear Expectations
This should be a simple step once you and the client outline the process goals. To set clear expectations, you should write an accountability agreement. This formalizes what needs to happen during the client’s fitness journey. The accountability agreement should include a breakdown for each of the ongoing process goals and be written in a “what, so that, when, and why” format. It looks like this:
- What: This is what the client should be doing. For example, maybe you both agree that attending two group fitness classes a week for cardio is doable and supports the larger effort. This is the “what”. It is the basic process goal.
- So That: This part of the statement is the “why” behind the task or activity. In our group fitness example, the “why” is so that they can burn an extra 500 calories per class. This leads to a 1,000 calorie deficit. Therefore, the “so that” is to lose an extra ⅓ pound of body fat each week.
- When: Finally, the “when” is putting deadlines and metrics on the task. So, in our example, we know two classes a week is what the client should do. You can further define it and identify what day of the week it ends.
When you follow this formula, this statement on your accountability agreement will look something like this:
“I will attend two group fitness classes per week so that I can lose an extra ⅓ pound of body fat by each Sunday evening”.
As part of the accountability agreement, you need to have a back up plan or a follow up plan in case the client doesn’t meet their end of the agreement.
Accountability Follow Up Plan
It’s rare that a client will be 100% perfect for the entire time you work together. Life happens, and each process goal won’t always be met. Therefore, part of your coaching service will include following up on the process goals and accountability agreement regularly. This should happen once per week. Even if you train a client every other week, putting follow up systems in place will help keep them on track. Your accountability follow up plan should include:
- Consistent method of follow up.
- Progress tracking or a score card.
- Back up plan to remedy wrong turns
Consistent Follow Up
Your follow up with the client’s process goals should be consistent in timing and structure. For example, choose the same day per week and time during the session to discuss the previous week’s performance. Here are some ways you can structure your follow up discussion:
- Discussing the previous week’s performance at the start of the session
- Having the client submit the progress via email so you can review in advance of the session
- At the end of the session or the week
If you keep a performance card, or score card, of how the client is complying to your recommendations, it removes any judgement from their progress. It also helps them monitor something other than their outcome goal. For example, if the client has four process goals to achieve each week, then over the course of a month, they can achieve a total score of 16. If they don’t hit a process goal twice during the month, then their compliance is calculated as 87%. You should update this scorecard each week, but only bring it to discussion during a monthly re-assessment. This is because it reflects a trend on how they’re tracking toward the outcome goal. A trend requires more data than a week can provide.
Providing A Backup Plan
Life gets in the way for clients. This is realistic. Ideally, the process goals you have with your client give enough flexibility to allow room for the ongoing stressors of life. Over time, you’ll find how much you want to include backup plans as part of your accountability plan. A backup plan, in the example of the group fitness attendance goal looks something like this:
If I’m unable to attend the group fitness classes, I’ll find another means of exercise that challenges me to the same level and burns the same calories so I can stay on track with my goals.
The good part of the back up plan is that it gives the client wiggle room. The bad part is, it doesn’t facilitate the sustainable healthy lifestyle you’re trying to create for them. This means, your process goals aren’t aligning with what the client can do and you may need to revise it. However, if you choose to use back up plans, make sure they don’t encourage problematic behaviors.
Summarizing Systematic Client Accountability
This process can seem excessive. It isn’t excessive. Instead, it requires pre-work, thought, and planning on the coach’s end. This is part of the fitness professional’s job. Consider highly paid professions such as attorneys or financial advisors. They have client documentation and do the necessary pre-work to get their clients the most from their services. Fitness coaches are the same. Once you get into the habit, it becomes quick and easy. It also reduces difficult conversations or client turnover. All of this leads to greater success as a personal trainer. Further, although it seems stringent at first, it’s a fluid process. The agreement can be rewritten based on how the client is performing. When a client consistently falls short of the agreement, it’s a simple revisit on motivational interviewing to reduce ambivalence, update process goals, and reset the expectations for both you and the client.
Common Fitness Accountability Tactics
There are structures the client and trainer can put into place to help increase the likelihood of compliance. Sometimes, these are part of the accountability agreement. This is because they might reflect a process goal. However, it’s important to recognize the difference between strategy and plan. The greatest fitness accountability you can provide clients is part of the systematic client accountability you put into place. This is a strategy. Tactics are simply things the client can do to help them feel more accountability to their own fitness goals. These tactics can include:
- Logging food and meals. The mere act of a client logging their meals will help them make healthier food choices. This is because people don’t like to fail. If a client knows they are trying to lose weight and record in their food log pizza and wings, they see the discrepancy.
- Group fitness classes. The set structure and time of fitness classes help people feel accountable to exercise. If the class is an hour long, the instructor and participants will help the client feel compelled to stay the entire time rather than leaving early.
- Heart rate monitors. A heart rate monitor provides feedback similar to food logging. Assuming you have provided education around where their heart rate should be, it helps the client know if they’re working hard enough. It’s more precise than activity trackers and helpful for clients who don’t have intrinsic motivation to work hard during independent exercise.
- Activity trackers. This is especially helpful for weight loss clients. An activity tracker will help a client be more active consistently throughout the day. It serves as a similar feedback mechanism to logging foods.
- Gym membership. If you’re doing online personal training and a client doesn’t have a gym membership, you should encourage them to get one. Paying for a gym membership will help hold the client accountable to using it.
- Workout partner. On the days where you aren’t training with your client, you should encourage them to get a workout partner. This is especially important if they don’t have motivation to exercise. Even if the workout partner has different goals, simply planning time to exercise together will help increase accountability.
- Social media groups. Either create a closed social media group for your clients, or recommend they join one. If you create your own, you can have group rules such as posting each week one thing they’re proud of and one tip for other members of the group.
- Accountability app. This can be a general goal tracker app or one specific to diet and exercise. It allows your client to use technology to their fitness advantage by having reminders and tracking at their fingertips.
- Workout log. If you use a fitness app with your client, some will have fields for the client to enter in workout data. This helps as feedback and also allows them to see if they’re making progress (as they should) over time.
Accountability is the third pillar in fitness coaching. It works supplemental to education and motivation when you use systematic client accountability. When you make it part of your regular practice, you’ll find it serves as one of the most impactful parts of your personal training services that delivers success. Make regular use of accountability agreements. Over time, you’ll have different templates that only need slight modifications based on what the client is trying to achieve.
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