How to Coach an Unmotivated Client

Motivating sluggish clients requires communication and a more individualized approach to building relationships.

When you’re coaching personal or group training, you’ve probably come across a sluggish client, or one that doesn’t pick up on exercise cues, or they muddle through their training with no enthusiasm. And, this bothers you because it’s not occasional as they’re almost always like this.

When you’re coaching personal or group training, you’ve probably come across a sluggish client, or one that doesn’t pick up on exercise cues, or they muddle through their training with no enthusiasm. And, this bothers you because it’s not occasional as they’re almost always like this.

If it’s a personal training session, it’s easier to ask if anything is distracting them.

Even if there is, they’re under no obligation to tell you. These people are paying you for the hour, and they’ve shown up, even if it’s half-heartedly.

In a group exercise setting, it’s not advisable to single someone out, and it is probably unethical. All you can do is motivate and encourage the group.

The old me might have ruined this client because of my previous experience with coaching and group training. Push, push, and push harder, but now I know better. Seeing how some kids were ruined by coaches using this method made me see the error of my ways.

Not everyone responds to a hyperactive, in-your-face coach.

Many people see trainers as boot camps, punishment instructors, and it’s better not to feed this stereotype.

So, what do you do?

You could ignore them and hope the problem goes away. But you’re a coach who cares, so this is not an option. The other option is to put into action the following advice in this article.

Is it perfect? No, but using this advice combined with your experience, you’ll be more likely to keep than lose the client. And that’s a win.

Why Clients Resist Change

Even when the client is in front of you doesn’t mean they’re all in. they may flip flop between stages of the Transtheoretical Model (TTM). Remember TTM from your studies? If not, here’s a quick refresher.

The TTM is used in health psychology to explain or predict a person’s success or failure in achieving a proposed behavior change.

Here are the six stages of change:

  1. Precontemplation: Not acknowledging there is a problem behavior that needs to be changed
  2. Contemplation: Acknowledging there is a problem but not yet ready or sure of wanting to make a change
  3. Preparation: Getting ready to change
  4. Action/Willpower: Changing behavior
  5. Maintenance: Maintaining the new behavior change
  6. Relapse: Returning to old behaviors and abandoning the new change

Usually, the client in front of you is either in the action or maintenance stage, but that doesn’t mean they can’t regress.

When the client has a change of heart, they can relapse into old behaviors or slip back to the preparation and contemplation stage.

This regression could be the reason for their sudden loss of motivation and enthusiasm. No amount of encouraging, yelling, or positive talk is likely to help here.

What You Can Do

Now is the time to remind them why they’re here.

  • In a personal training setting, this takes fishing out their consultation form and reminding them of their short or long-term goals.
  • Then, asking them if they still want to reach these goals.
  • If yes, that’s great, and hopefully, they refocus on the task at hand.
  • If not, their goals may seem too ambitious because of a change of circumstances or heart.
  • Then, between you and the client, adjusting these goals to suit them better will help.
  • When the client feels a part of the process, and it’s all about them and not you, this creates more buy-in from the client.
  • Then ask the client if any obstacles affect their ability to reach these goals.
  • Some clients will immediately answer, and some will not.
  • You need to remain quiet and listen while the client thinks and responds. It must be their barrier and not one you suggest.
  • From there, between the two of you, come up with solutions for these problems. Small steps the client feels comfortable taking will help them move forward and regain some pep in their step.
  • In a group setting, between sets of exercise or breaks in the action, remind them of the health benefits of exercise.
  • It is not unusual to have ups and downs, and progress is not in a straight line.

Explain why you structure the class the way you do and the why behind some of the exercises. For example, a hinge movement is a perfect way to pick something off the floor to save your back.

This explanation helps the unmotivated client by adding an extra incentive to stick with it and see how exercise benefits them outside of the gym.

Communication Builds Relationships

Not everyone feels comfortable talking about their issues in a gym setting or with other fit people around.

Therefore, it’s important to open a line of communication with the unmotivated client.

With group exercise, this means making yourself available before and after class to answer questions and concerns. Or providing a business card with an email address so they can correspond this way. Will everyone take you up on this? Probably not. The best you can do is to make yourself available.

The power of knowing that someone is in their corner is sometimes enough.

In a personal training session, sharing something about your personal experiences, both good and bad, as a coach and being transparent might make it easier for them to open up versus thinking trainers are perfect people with exercise and nutrition.

Then the client might be more inclined to talk about the issues which are holding them back.

If they do, listening and not trying to fix it is key.

Knowing what’s going on allows you to tailor your program and your message inside the session. If they don’t tell you a thing, at least the client knows they have a listening ear in you.

Open Lines of Communication

In your career, you’re bound to train the unmotivated client. Would you mind not turning into the in-your-face coach and mistaking their lack of enthusiasm for an opportunity to push them harder? Instead, be understanding, open lines of communication, and remind them why they’re here.

Because then they will be more likely to stick around.