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Motivational Interviewing

Hadyn Luke posted this on Thursday 19th of March 2015 Hadyn Luke 19/03/2015

Tags: Client analysis


Motivational Interviewing, the subject of this blog, is a tool that personal trainers and fitness instructors can use to promote behavioural change among their clients or potential clients.


What does Motivational Interviewing involve?

Motivational Interviewing is centred on collaborative communication between the personal trainer and their client. The aim is to manage and promote behavioural change by encouraging the client to increase their motivation and commitment to specific goals.


Rather than telling the client what they should be doing, the fitness professional uses Motivational Interviewing to help them come to their own conclusions about health, fitness and exercise.


The objectives of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing is not about the personal trainer telling the client what they should do. Instead, the conversation should result in the client stating their concerns about their fitness and health, and putting forward the case for change.


The personal trainer should therefore encourage the client to talk about their own views on the benefits of exercise, so that the positives will be clear enough to outweigh any perceived negatives.


The principles of Motivational Interviewing

These include:


  • Motivational Interviewing involves collaborative communication


  • The client not the coach should present the arguments for change


  • The coach should listen without judgement or criticism


  • Resistance to or ambivalence about change is normal


  • The client’s perceived discrepancy between their goals and how they currently act will motivate change



Motivational Interviewing and change

Many people resist change and can go through several different stages before they embrace it (see our blogs on Maximising behaviour change and Stage of Readiness).


Motivational Interviewing is a way of exploring and strengthening the client’s own commitment to change. In the case of fitness and health, a personal trainer would use motivational interviewing to help clients to look at their own behaviours and habits and understand why change is needed.


Goal setting

While this is an important part of the process, the fitness instructor would encourage clients to set their own goals, rather than prescribing goals for them.


This can be achieved by asking open questions, such as: “How much time do you think you can commit to exercise every week?” or “On a scale of 1-10, how motivated are you to start exercising?”


The language of Motivational Interviewing

One of the key features of Motivational Interviewing is that, like most forms of coaching, it is not judgmental. The conversation should not be confrontational and the personal trainer should listen carefully to what the client has to say and avoid argument or criticism.


Questions should be open ended so that the client gives honest answers rather than being directed by the fitness professional. For example: “Can you describe for me a typical day and how you feel exercise could fit into it?”


As well as looking at the positive side of exercising through questions such as “What do you think the benefits of exercising would be for you?”, the personal trainer should also encourage the client to talk about their concerns through questions such as: “Is there anything you would need to give up in order to fit exercise into your weekly routine?”


The importance of listening

A personal trainer should listen carefully to their client and avoid jumping in too soon with feedback and advice. Among other things, the fitness professional should not lecture or moralise, criticise or judge, argue or blame.


The fitness instructor can also use active listening techniques, such as reflecting back what a client has said with phrases such as: “It sounds like…” or “I get the impression that…” and encouraging futher comment with follow-up questions such as: “Would you like to elaborate on that?”


The client’s conflict

When a client or potential client is considering change, there is usually some conflict between the advantages and disadvantages of each course of action open to them.


For example, the client wants to start working with a personal trainer to improve their fitness levels but they have concerns about the cost involved. Another client might want to join an exercise class to lose weight, but is worried about keeping up with the other people in the class.


Motivational Interviewing is a way of exploring these costs and benefits in a non-judgmental atmosphere so that clients can form their own conclusions.



Using Motivational Interviewing to encourage a client to express their own arguments for change will make change more likely to happen. At this point, the fitness instructor can step in to provide information and help the client develop their plan for change.

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