Motivational Coaching Increases Exercise Compliance

According to new research, clients are still motivated by their coaches even when they meet infrequently and don’t actually do workouts. It’s easier and less expensive, and still gets results.

One aspect of exercise and sport science that needs ever more attention is the area of motivation and compliance. Just getting the work in is the most important part of exercise. I dare say, even more important than what you are doing for exercise is simply doing exercise at all. The problem is, getting our clients to exercise regularly is sometimes the hardest part. I know even I am chock full of excuses to not exercise when my motivation levels are low.

Any experienced coach or trainer knows that social influences are a major factor for encouraging exercise. Having a workout partner or working directly with a trainer at each session is probably the biggest motivation booster. However, workout partners and trainers aren’t always practical, especially from a cost perspective. As a trainer myself, I often wonder if meeting a client less often or not for an actual workout session could save them money while still being effective. According to a recent study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity it does help.

In the study, participants were assigned to either a control group or a group that received some motivational coaching from both a trainer and a dietician. The second group could get up to five coaching sessions spread out over the course of six months.

Now, that’s pretty minimal. Averaging less than one session of coaching per month is so infrequent it seems difficult to imagine that it would have much effect. And no workouts were involved. Not only that, but the coaching was described as “low-intensity,” meaning that the coaches discussed roadblocks, and what the participants wanted out of exercise, rather than really talking about exercise or proper diet itself.

But wait, that’s not all. The researchers wanted to see if these few sessions over six months created changes to health and behavior twelve months later. And yes, there were some positive changes, namely the cholesterol of the participants improved and they still did light exercise more often.

While these changes aren’t huge, they are statistically significant – meaning that the results were a direct result of infrequent coaching that ended a year prior. That’s pretty important, I think. While the sessions were face-to-face, with modern technology I think remote coaching could be practically the same while saving time and money. In fact, such coaching could be of a higher intensity and greater frequency while still costing less.

In modern economic times, justifying the cost of a good trainer is practically impossible for most people. However, it seems that alternatives to traditional personal training might well be effective for those looking to have their cake and it eat it too, so to speak. Low cost, effective training options are available, and as technology improves this type of coaching might well be a big part of the future of training.


1. Sarah Hardcastle, et. al., “Effectiveness of a motivational interviewing intervention on weight loss, physical activity and cardiovascular disease risk factors: a randomized controlled trial with a 12-month post-intervention follow-up,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:40

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