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Maximising behaviour change

Hadyn Luke posted this on Wednesday 3rd of April 2013 Hadyn Luke 03/04/2013

Tags: Client analysis


Maximising behaviour change

The subject of this blog is how a fitness instructor can match their training programmes to a client’s readiness to exercise. This links into our previous blog on the Stage of Readiness, which you can read here. However, this article is more about how a personal trainer or fitness instructor can portray a message to their clients that will motivate them, based on their goals, lifestyle, fitness and state of mind.

Fitness professionals should understand that someone who appears unmotivated may simply not be in the right stage of readiness to work on their fitness levels. A personal trainer should not discount the individual and lose interest in working with them, as they may need help to reach a point where they are ready to commit to a training programme. 

An article in the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)’s Health & Fitness Journal (Vol 17/No 1) entitled “Maximizing Behaviour Change by Matching Your Message to Clients’ Readiness to Exercise” by Sara S Johnson, states:

“…you can help the clients or employees who aren’t ready yet or who are on the fence make progress by using the right messages at the right time”.

A good way to do this is by using the Transtheoretical Model (TTM). This is used in the development of programmes to help a client navigate changes they need to make by tailoring programmes to their individual needs. It takes the form of five stages of change:

  • Precontemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance

Key Behaviour Change Strategies

For each Stage of Change there are Key Behaviour Change Strategies to encourage and motivate an individual into improving their health and fitness.

For example, in the Precontemplation phase, a personal trainer could suggest that the client identifies a Top 10 list of how they might benefit from regular exercise. In the Contemplation phase it’s about overcoming barriers, for example establishing what their barriers are to training and countering them with practical alternatives or challenges.

Once the client is in the Preparation stage, they can be encouraged to make a commitment by setting a start date, having an action plan and telling friends and family.

In the Action stage, a personal trainer can teach clients positive thinking and help them problem solve when they feel demotivated. And in the Maintenance stage they can be encouraged to celebrate their success, and taught how to plan ahead and cope with any setbacks.

Setting goals in health and fitness training

A reasonable goal isn’t necessarily for a client to make rapid or major changes all at once. It may simply be encouraging clients to take the smaller step of moving from the Precontemplation stage to the Contemplation stage.

In the same ACSM journal article mentioned earlier, it is stated that:

“…research shows that helping clients move forward at least one stage of change (such as moving from precontemplation to contemplation) can as much as double the likelihood that they will move to the action stage in the next 6 months. Helping them move two stages can triple their chances of taking action”.

By clearly explaining the stages of change, a personal trainer can help a client see how they as a fitness professional are trying to help and motivate them. The client can then better visualise what kind of routine lies ahead and what kind of progress they are likely to make. A good personal trainer will also help build up clients who are lacking in self-confidence and may even think of themselves as lazy, by showing them that they are simply not at the right stage of change yet.

Assessing a client’s fitness

It’s also important to asses a client’s physical level when looking into their readiness to engage, as the fitness instructor will need to be sure that it’s safe for the client to embark on a gym programme. For example, an individual may feel that they can’t exercise because they have a bad back. It’s the job of the personal trainer to explain the benefits of exercise to strengthen the back and devise a training programme that is safe for them to follow and doesn’t cause pain or discomfort – or equally put them off training altogether.

As a client progresses through different stages, the fitness professional can ask them what stage they feel they have reached and what has motivated them to continue and move forward. This will allow the personal trainer to tailor their delivery to the individual to help them progress further.

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