Barriers to Exercise

Avatar for Hadyn Luke Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 14th of November 2023 Hadyn Luke 14/11/2023


Barriers to Exercise

As instructors our role is to help individuals understand the advantages and disadvantages of embarking on and adhering to a regular exercise programme. There are many factors that prevent individuals from participating. We refer to these as “barriers to exercise”. If we are to succeed in enabling individuals to adopt more beneficial lifestyle habits, such as participating in regular exercise, we must first recognise and acknowledge these barriers.

Through consultation with clients via screening, personal profiling and goal setting you will be able to build an accurate picture of an individual. It is important to establish any barriers than may present themselves prior to starting and/or during the maintenance of a training programme. It may be that your client has no obvious barriers at the beginning of a programme but there may, subsequently, be times that a barrier presents itself. It is important to identify it swiftly, and deal with it appropriately in order to keep the programme on track so that your client can achieve their desired goals.

Barriers can be more easily identified if you ask specific questions, write them down and agree a solution. An effective way of doing this is to use a questionnaire before the programme begins and review it at regular intervals during the programme.

Typical Barriers To Exercise


“I have an injury”, “I’m too fat”, “I’m too old”, or “My health is not good”.

  • Age.
  • Ill Health.
  • Injury.


“I’m not the sporty type”, “I’m shy”, “I can’t go on my own” or “I might hurt myself”.

  • Anxiety and fear/out of comfort zone.
  • Pre-misconceptions of the type of person that attends the gym.


“I don’t have the energy”, “I don’t enjoy it”, “I need to relax in my spare time” or “There’s no one to go with”.

  • Lack of support.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Boredom.


“I don’t have the time”, “I’m always busy with my family”, “I have other more important things to do”.

  • Lack of time
  • Work commitments
  • Family commitments


“I can’t afford it”, “There are no facilities nearby”.

  • Finance

Helping People Overcome Barriers

It may mean revising the client’s original goals. The SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realist, Time framed) gives us a logical structure to goal setting that allows us to take the barrier(s) into consideration.

  • Try not to be judgemental or dismissive. The individual may perceive it as a serious problem. Be empathetic, show you care, encourage, show genuineness and warmth and be prepared to listen.
  • Respect their point of view and avoid the “I know better” approach. Show empathy and understanding to the problem. Use positive body language during discussions.
  • Use your listening skills, ask questions, listen and let the client do the talking. Give feedback, support and offer a realistic solution to the problem.
  • Agree an action plan with the client.
  • Establish clients’ expectations and goals, use SMART goals to discuss, negotiate and re-set training aims. Set long, medium and short-term goals, make them flexible.
  • Try to establish a sense of self-responsibility with your client for their own fitness and motivation. Once discussion and agreement have taken place clients must take responsibility for themselves (autonomy). This helps them to become independent and able to maintain their own health and fitness without reliance on others.
  • Encourage client’s confidence by rewards, praise, social support, family, friends and work colleagues.
  • To help with motivation and adherence find an exercise partner/buddy to help with exercise adherence.
  • Take part in group exercise (exercise to music, pure tone), hire a personal trainer, train with a friend, or member of the family.
  • Prepare for situations that may induce relapse, and ways of coping with them so that a complete relapse is avoided. View a relapse as an inevitable part of “work in progress” and not failure.
  • Overweight individuals find it hard to exercise due to their size and this can make exercise unpleasant, painful and tiring. Set realistic goal that are progressed in small increments.
  • Identify the physiological and psychological benefits that exercising can induce, such as enhancement of mood, self-esteem, management of anxiety & depression and weight loss.
  • Use different teaching approaches to suit individual needs, including different learning styles, and address issues relating to equal opportunities (e.g. age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marriage/civil partnership)

Respect your clients’ views and take time to explore the “pros and cons” of their barriers. Listen carefully to what is being said. Empathy shows that you acknowledge their views of the world. Congratulate and encourage them every step of the way. Simply saying “well done” for just turning up can make all the difference.

Incentives And Rewards To Enhance Motivation And Adherence

  • Enthusiasm: whilst delivering a session.
  • Praise: offering praise throughout will keep participants coming back for more.
  • Encouragement: those clients who find the exercises a little harder than others, participants working hard to push a little more.
  • Health benefits of regular exercise: identifying benefits of exercise to new and re-joining participants.
  • External rewards: e.g. Prizes for achieving goals – free t-shirt, massage
  • Internal rewards: e.g. Feel good factor for achieving goals
  • Social events: a group leisure activity e.g. ten pin bowling, a meal out, visit to the cinema/theatre
  • Challenges/competition: be aware that not everyone enjoys competing
  • Taster Sessions: for different disciplines within the facility
  • Review sessions: should be implemented every 6-8 weeks

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