The topic of body image and embracement is incredibly difficult for many women. Much of these body image issues stem from traditional mass media (i.e. television, movies, and magazines) and advertising portraying a narrow version of what a beautiful woman or perfect body looks like. With the recent explosion of social media (specifically Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), it seems to be getting worse.
These social media outlets allow carefully crafted over-sharing that leaves us comparing our “behind-the-scenes” with everyone else’s “highlight reel.” Couple all that with the awful “real women” memes (i.e. real women have muscle, real women have curves, real women do pull ups, etc.) that have been floating around, and no wonder we have issues! Everywhere that we look, we are being told that we are only a “real” woman if we do “x” or look like “y.”
As fitness professionals, how can we combat this? We work with clients on a daily basis, and we are the first line of defense against perpetuating unrealistic expectations for our female clients. At the same time, we are often forced to market “extreme fat loss” or “drop a dress size in 21 days” to even get clients in our door. Quite the conundrum.
To be honest, this is a difficult topic for me. Are you a sellout if you focus on fat loss just to get clients in the door or sell them your program, even if your program is extremely well balanced with many benefits that will give them exactly what they need to be successful? I’m not sure, and it’s definitely not my place to answer that for other trainers and business owners. However, I do know that first and foremost it’s important to recognize what our clients want so we can help them achieve their goals while cultivating positive body image.
Clients generally come to us with the following requests:
- “I want to lose weight.”
- “I want to tone up.”
- “I want to run my first half-marathon.”
When you get to the core of what they are looking for, the overwhelming majority of people simply want to look better and feel better. They want their clothing to fit better, they want to feel confident in themselves and their bodies, and they want to do it in a sane, manageable way.
But one thing a lot of them don’t realize is that reaching a certain body fat, size, or weight goal, won’t make them happy. They need to love themselves and appreciate all of the glorious aspects of their body right now, even if they want to make some physical changes. Those are not mutually exclusive.
So how do we do this? How can we help these people set realistic goals, achieve these goals, and then feel good about achieving them? How can we help women recognize how amazing their bodies are even if they aren’t exactly where they want to be aesthetically? I have three tips below that can help:
Educating your clients is crucial in helping them set realistic goals and expectations for themselves and their bodies. If a woman strolls into your gym to participate in your “drop a dress size in 21 days” program, and she is incredibly fit and muscular with veins in her abs, well, it’s probably not possible (or healthy) for her to drop a size, and certainly not in 21 days. In this case, educating this woman on the possible repercussions of having extremely low body fat levels or on the extreme measures she used to achieve these body fat levels is critical. Otherwise, this woman will not be happy with the results of your program, and she will think that your methods don’t work.
On the other hand, if someone comes in to your gym and she’s been sedentary for the past ten years and she wants to participate in one of your advanced training programs, you must educate her on the importance of building a foundation, using the minimal effective dose of training to improve, and teach her that consistency is the key to long-term success. You also must educate her on taking care of herself outside of the gym (i.e. nutrition, sleep, stress management) so she can earn the right to push herself inside the gym.
Finally, it’s important to educate your clients on the difference in fat loss versus weight loss, the difference in training purely for aesthetics versus performance versus health, and how to set up their training to help them reach their end goals.
2. Emphasize Positive Goals
One of the many reasons I strongly encourage women to strength train, is because it gives them goals beyond just fat loss. It allows them to set positive goals for their training and have positive associations for going to the gym, beyond “feeling fat.” One of our core mantras at Girls Gone Strong is, “Train because you love your body, not because you hate your body.”
And it’s so true.
So often women go to the gym because they feel fat or gross, instead of going to the gym because they’re thinking, “Yay! I get to go heavier on squats today!” or “I think today is the day I’ll finally be able to do my first pull-up!” As a trainer, it’s up to you to point out the positive goals your clients should be setting for themselves, both in and out of the gym. A few of my favorite goals to help clients set are as follows:
- Increasing weight or reps on an exercise
- Perfecting your exercise form
- Decreasing the time required to complete a task
- Changing the water jug at work
- Carrying multiple heavy bags of pet food
- Move furniture without assistance
- Reducing your blood pressure
- Improving your fasting glucose levels
- Decreasing your dosage or usage of certain medications (under doctor supervision, of course)
- Making it to the gym three days per week
- Walking on your lunch break for twenty minutes twice a week
- Taking ten diaphragmatic breaths first thing in the morning and at night before bed
- Going to bed at a consistent time every night
- Cultivating a more positive attitude throughout the day
- Decreasing your cravings for junk food
Of course these goals should be goals that your clients actually want to achieve, and not set just for the sake of setting them. Have them choose one or two goals they would like to achieve, and show them how working with you can help them get there.
3. Facilitate Healthy Competition Amongst Members
A little healthy competition is a fantastic thing to get people excited about training and motivate them to be consistent. However, instead of weight loss goals, which can lead to dangerous and unhealthy behavior, figure out action- or performance-based competitions.
A few good examples are as follows:
1. Create a “leaderboard” at your gym keeping track of members and how they rank in certain categories. A few ideas are deadlift-to-bodyweight ratio, number of strict pull ups performed, or number of repetitions of barbell back squat performed using your bodyweight as the external load.
2. Have a club that clients can join once they’ve achieved a certain feat, like the, “twenty perfect push ups club,” or the, “1.5 bodyweight squat club.” You can have multiple clubs so that clients with different strengths will still have a chance to achieve a particular feat. Once they achieve it, their names can go on a plaque, they can get a t-shirt, or you can recognize new achievers with a feature in your email newsletter. This serves two purposes: it highlights the client’s achievements while simultaneously making you look good for getting your clients results.
3. Have a “consistency contest” where clients who don’t miss a single training session within a given time period, say eight to twelve weeks, are all entered into a contest to win a prize. The prize could be fifty dollars cash, a massage, a foam roller and t-shirt combo, or whatever you think will encourage clients to participate. You can do the same with creating good habits at home. Each month give clients a form where they can track things like eating protein with every meal, getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep, or drinking enough water for the day. At the end of the month, every client who has achieved a certain level of consistency, say 90-95%, is entered in to win a prize.
Teaching clients to focus on habits that will create their desired outcomes (looking better and feeling better) is much more motivating for most people than simply focusing on the outcome itself. Like I said above, you are the first line of defense in helping women achieve a healthy and realistic body image as they move towards their health and physique goals. Hopefully the tips above will help you help them!
Oh, and if you’re so inclined, you can have your clients participate in my 28 Day Love Your Body Challenge. It’s free, self-guided, and only takes ten minutes a day. Have them start with this blog post and then this blog post if they want to participate.
Photos 1,3, and 4 courtesy of Shutterstock.