When new clients hand fitness professionals their credit card, they are ready to change. But too often, our clients do not have the necessary tools for behavior change, resulting in these clients becoming frustrated at their lack of success. This frustration can eventually lead to their non-adherence or even losing them as personal training clients or as health club members, impacting your and the health club's revenue streams. The fact is that reaching the pinnacle of behavior change requires a broad and strong foundation. By offering the tools to build this foundation, you can offer your personal training clients more value with your services,  therefore, retaining these clients as your customers and members of your club while increasing your reach to potential clientele.


The Theory of Change

The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983) recognizes that people range across a continuum of readiness, which covers a span of five stages. The earliest stage is Precontemplation (PC), where a person is not even thinking about changing themselves physically. The client proceeds to the Contemplation (C) stage, deciding whether or not to change and eventually makes the decision to change, which is the third stage, Preparation (P). Then the client concentrates on doing the behavior needed to make the change in the Action (A) stage, and this behavior becomes more automatic by the time he or she reaches the Maintenance (M) stage. Focusing on PC, C and P stages of readiness will help build the foundation of behavior change needed to push forward into the later A and M stages.  


Why Do We Need to IDENTIFY Stages of Readiness?  

Appropriate strategies to encourage your client are productive in one stage and counterproductive in another, since people can change stages rapidly and frequently. If you are working with a contemplating client to watch his or her weight, demanding the "C" to act like an "A" or an "M" is doomed to failure, since this might be too behavioral a task for the contemplator to take on. What you do not want is to set up a series of failures that might result from pushing the client into a too advanced  readiness stage. But if you instill self-efficacy, or confidence, into your clients by making them to believe that they can complete the task, you are more likely to succeed at bringing them into the later stages of readiness. When you accomplish this, these clients will believe that they will be able to advance into the later stages.

The opposite is also true. When your clients don't believe they can succeed, they will more than likely fail, and once they fail, these clients will not believe they can do it and will fail yet again. One of the most important things a coach does is help a client set goals for which he or she is more confident in reaching. In fact, an exercise that I always find useful is to ask a client when he or she has set a goal, "On a scale of one to 10, how confident are you that you have accomplished the goal you set?" If I hear anything below a seven, I am concerned that my client is in danger of not accomplishing the goal. You do not want clients to set themselves up for failure, dread your return call or want to avoid telling you the truth. I would suggest saying, "I am concerned that you won't have success with your goal. What can we do to change this goal so that you will feel more confident? Should we scrap this goal completely? Maybe my energy influenced you to set this goal, and you are not yet ready to do this."  


Foundational Tasks

To ensure that you encourage your clients to set goals they are confident they can accomplish, focus on three foundational tasks before attempting to adjust their readiness stage:

  • Help your clients come up with strong, personal, positive motivators.
  • Recognize the client's major barriers and obstacles.
  • Strategize with your client and come up with solutions to overcome these barriers.


  • PC "I WON'T" people are not interested in coming up with a motivator or discussing possible solutions to overcome barriers because they are not interested in change at the moment. Treat them with respect so they will not connect you with the emotionally negative experience of being judged, and leave open the door of possible change down the road.
  • PC "I CAN'T" people are fixated on their barriers and have a litany of reasons why they can not change their behavior. It is natural to praise these clients for knowing their barriers and accomplishing one of the three foundational tasks. Their obstacles include excuses, real barriers that require the passage of time in order to change and barriers that can be overcome by a strong enough motivator. For example, there was a young executive determined to make a name in his company by working 18 hours a day, leaving him with no time to go to the gym. He learned that a very attractive young woman who came to work for his company worked out regularly, and he made time to meet her at the gym, which shows that the woman was a strong enough motivator for him to make an effort to overcome his barriers and work out regularly.
  • C "I MAY" people can not articulate a strong motivator, including even negative health experiences, do not recognize their major barriers or have not come up with possible solutions. So let's talk a little about negative health motivators versus positive health motivators. Many, many people come for help when they have been scared by actual or potential health issues. Fitness pros have found that the impact of these negative experiences as a motivator can dissipate, as the human body does not like to constantly pour catecholamines into its system. Since it is exhausting to the system, we humans find a way to distance ourselves from the emotional impact of these issues. We do not sustain these strong feelings long enough, so they dissipate and no longer motivate us as they had in the beginning. An important role for the coach is to help the client translate these possible negative experiences into something positive. Let me give you an example: I knew a woman who had been told that she was diabetic and had been scared by a lecture of all the devastating outcomes that could happen if she did not change her ways. She came to me to work on changing her habits but was getting nowhere until she realized that in order for her to go on an Outward Bound-like experience, she could not be on insulin. She had been saving up to go on this adventure for many years, and when she realized that she could only go if she changed, it gave her the motivation needed to really commit to make the necessary changes. So, any time you have a client with a negative health consequence, explain that concrete, positive motivators are better at sustaining change and help them figure out if there is a positive aspect that they want connected to the negative motivator.
  • P "I WILL" people have a strong, positive motivator, know their major barriers and have come up with some possible solutions. As they have accomplished the three foundational tasks, you can move on to the behavioral end of the change continuum by encouraging them to set small behavioral goals, knowing that they will have a good chance of accomplishing them.

If your training has not stressed the importance of giving your clients enough time to find a motivator, figure out their barriers and come up with some possible solutions, you may have to make a leap of faith and allow your clients whatever time they need to accomplish these tasks. Once you have seen the difference it makes in the long run, I know you will use and reinforce this foundation for building behavior change in your client. Remember, your clients will never value this foundational work unless you value it first.  

            Dr. Gabrielle R. Highstein, is a consultant and serves as a faculty member of Wellcoaches Corporation. For more information, email her at gabe.highstein@gmail.com.