The relationship a personal trainer builds with their client is based on good communication and teaching skills. Furthermore, there are 4 stages of the client-trainer relationship.
Four Stages Of The Client Trainer Relationship
First, the rapport stage is where a trainer and client meet for the first time, break the ice and develop mutual understanding and trust. We need to be approachable and professional and gain trust and respect from our clients. First of all, new clients will have a “gut response” based on our physical experience, facial expression, attire and self-confidence. As a result, first impressions are extremely important (key concept).*
A client may have negative experience with us if we are rude, indifferent, inept, neglectful, dirty, disorganized, dull, bored, uninterested, uncaring, or distracted. While we can create a positive experience if we show a sense of caring, respect, communicate clearly, are professional, high qualified and knowledgable, helpful in answering questions and have a clean and organized work environment.
Rapport is the foundation of the ACE IFT model and is important in creating a positive first experience with exercise. It is ongoing and an important part of all stages. Sometimes the stages may overlap and some clients may go through all the stages in the first session.
Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
In addition, if our words don’t match our body language, the client will trust our body language over what we say. We need to learn to speak clearly and not talk down to clients. Also we need to define unfamiliar terms and enhance learning with visual information.
We need to pay attention to our voice quality. First, if we are weak, soft or hesitant, we will not inspire confidence. Secondly, when we end our sentences with a higher pitch this communicates indecisiveness. Lastly, loud or tense voices make people nervous. Therefore, it is best to use a voice that is firm and confident.
Eye contact should be direct and friendly as it shows people they are the center of our attention. When we look away they feel unheard and unimportant. Additionally, our facial expressions should convey sincere emotion (smile), concern, thoughtfulness and enjoyment.
Hand gestures should be relaxed and fluid as this makes people feel comfortable. Hence, keep our hands quiet without fidgeting. In addition, don’t use abrupt gestures or finger pointing. Our body position should be open, well-balanced, erect as this communicates confidence. When we lean or stoop we communicate fatigue or boredom. If we stand rigid with our hands on our hips we are communicating aggression. We should lean slightly forward and keep our arms uncrossed. Also eliminate distractions when sitting such as finger or foot tapping.
Finally, when we are late for an appointment, we communicate a lack of respect. When we interrupt with a phone call or perform other tasks, we are showing a lack of professionalism and attentiveness.
Secondly, is the investigation stage where we review health and fitness data, test results, medical clearance information, goals and exercise history. This is the stage in which we complete health histories and utilize lifestyle questionnaires. Good listening skills need to be used to pick up on a client’s likes and dislikes. We need to learn to listen careful to not only the words that are said but also the emotion behind the words. This requires a lot of energy and attention. It is best to listen empathetically and put ourselves in our client’s shoes. Give a client your full attention in a quiet, private space. Ask question while maintaining eye contact, good body language and taking notes.
Encourage by responding with “I see” or “I know what you mean,” nodding your head, and smiling. Paraphrase by restating the essence of what the client said. Question with open-ended questions. Reflect by restating the main points and feelings of the communication. Finally, summarize key points that have bearing on exercise using 1 to 2 sentences.
Always stay within your scope of practice. If someone shares a difficult situation with you, you can respond by saying “I am sorry” or “That must have been hard.” Do not act as a therapist. Additionally, if someone reveals new medical information to you, do no treat or diagnose. Instead refer them to their physician.
Next, is the planning stage where we design the program in partnership with our client. Adherence to a program is better when clients take responsibilities in planning along with their trainers. There are 4 steps to this stage: setting goals, generating and discussing alternatives, formulating a plan, and evaluating the exercise program.
Using the SMART acronym for goal setting is important (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound). Furthermore, err on the conservative side of goal setting as setting goals that are too lofty may lead to disappointments. Always set process goals as well as product goals. Process goals are based on something the client does. For example, doing a certain amount of workouts per week. A product goal is about weight loss or resistance lifted on a strength training machine. Process goals usually occur before product goals.
Set goals for emotional health such as improvements in mood, energy levels, sleep quality, and fewer feelings of stress and irritability. We can also focus our goals on a deceased heart rate during submaximal workloads. Setting goals for muscular strength and endurance can be done by keeping track of the increases in resistance used and number of repetitions completed.
We can set goals for walking tests, flexibility, balance, and skills levels. Medical indicators can also be tested to see what improvements are made. Body weight is easily measured but a poor indicator of body composition changes. A client’s weight may remain unchanged even though changes in body composition are occurring. In addition, body weight can change due to changes in hydration. Consequently, slow, consistent weight loss will yield more long-term weight loss maintenance.
Set goals for term maintenance by: listening carefully and understand what the client wants, helping them define specific measurable goals, suggesting additional goals they might not have thought of, breaking long term goals into smaller short term goals, including process goals, recording goals, workouts and tracking progress, reevaluating and revising goals periodically. The ultimate goal of any program is long-term adherence. The most common cause of dropout is the program is too time consuming.
Use motivational interviewing during this stage. This is a method of speaking to people in a way that motivates them to make a decision to change their behavior. We can show supportive concern while challenging a client’s current behavior. Trainers can focus on creating awareness that a sedentary lifestyle will often cause health problems.
Motivational interviewing can be done by: asking probing questions, listening effectively, provide educational information, keep the conversation friendly, build self-confidence, and encourage clients to generate ideas.
Lastly, is the action stage where we teach new motor skills. First, we can start by creating a system for recording exercise sessions. Second, we can encourage our clients to self-monitor which is one of the most effective ways to support behavioral change. During this stage, it is important for trainers to understand how their clients learn most effectively: visual, auditory or kinesthetic. We should use a combination of all 3 and once we know their style we should emphasize it. Auditory is explaining and answering questions. Visual is watching, where we use longer demonstrations with less talking. Kinesthetic is learning by doing or feeling the movement.
Tell, Show, Do
Success improves self-efficacy and we can improve success by using the tell, show do method. Remind clients that motor learning takes time and patience to improve. Furthermore, motor skills are related to practice and experience rather rather than natural abilities. New skills should be introduced slowly and clearly. First begin with short and clear explanations. Secondly, emphasize safety. Lastly, explain the movement in terms of the skill being accomplished or goal of the movement versus limb positioning. Give clients opportunities for focused practice with little talking in order for them to focus on the movement (key concept).*
Give clients a motivation sandwich. First, provide them reinforcement of what was done well, then correct errors and finally motivate them to continue practicing and improving. A few simple points will do to avoid overloading a client with information. Use positive statements like “Remember to breathe” instead of “Don’t hold your breath.”
Using Effective Modeling
As personal trainers we should always model healthy living. Additionally, we can expose clients to role models who are similar to them to motivate them. The focus should be on modeling exercise for positive reasons such as feeling good, reducing stress and making improvements. Negative reasons such as losing weight or improving appearance will not work as well for long-term adherence. When someone is primarily exercising to look good, that means they don’t feel good enough. We can help them see that exercise is not something we do that is painful but rather something that improves our quality of life.
Behavioral contracts can be used to spell out exactly what a client is expected to do. Setting too high of expectations can lead to frustration and should be avoided. Contracts can be coupled with rewards to increase extrinsic motivation when getting a client started.
Personal trainers should learn about client’s culture beliefs, attitudes and lifestyles. The most effective trainers are those who can effectively work with people rom different cultures and communication styles.
Stages Of Learning
There are 3 stages of learning: cognitive, associative and autonomous. The cognitive stage is trying to understand the new skill. During this stage, movements are jerky and uncoordinated. When a client moves into the associate stage, they begin to master the basics and are ready for more specific feedback that will help them refine their abilities. The autonomous stage occurs when a client is performing the motor skill effectively and naturally. Thus, there is less teaching and more monitoring during this stage (key concept).*