Learning how to speak to personal training clients is an important part of your role as a fitness professional.
Every trainer has their favorite go-to cues and phrases. Whether you learned them from a fellow trainer, overheard them at a continuing education class, or came up with them on your own, these phrases are the ones you frequently use to motivate your clients to give the workout their all.
But recent evidence reveals that not all cues are beneficial for clients. In fact, some forms of communication and cueing can be detrimental to how the client perceives their body, you as their trainer, and the future relationship your client has with exercise.
In short, personal trainers have a huge influence on their clients’ psyche! This is a privilege that should be wielded carefully and not taken lightly. Below we have a complete list of tips and tactics dedicated to communication skills for personal trainers in order to improve your client’s satisfaction with your cueing and comments, which ultimately leads to better client results!
As you journey with your client, both of you will benefit from using the Exercise.com Business Platform to maintain a constant stream of positive communication. Book a demo today to learn more!
Why Is Communication Important in Personal Training?
You might be shrugging your shoulders at the notion that certain comments and cues are damaging to both your clients’ progress and their perspectives of their bodies. You might be wondering why can’t you be your authentic self as a trainer? Or, how will your clients learn essential mental toughness if they aren’t told the honest truth, called out on lack of effort, or yelled at a few times to make it through their reps?
While noteworthy concerns, this approach fails to be empathetic towards the client. The reality is you shouldn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to personal training.
So, why are positive communication skills imperative when dealing with clients? And why are there certain communication skills every personal trainer needs? Below, we’ll highlight the best way to approach clients based on their various needs, conversation starter ideas for personal trainers, and which methods of communication will help you to motivate your client.
Essentially, in this guide to communication skills for the fitness industry, you’ll learn the importance of communication in fitness and will be able to walk away with better communication for better client results.
Let’s dive in.
Self-Objectification and Fitness
Similar to objectification where individuals (unbeknownst to them) are degraded by others to an object devoid of feelings or preferences, self-objectification is the phenomenon where an individual sees themselves as objects to be viewed and evaluated primarily upon appearance. The individual’s feeling of value, approval, and positivity then comes from another’s perceived judgment and not upon how the individual feels about themselves. Watch this video to learn more:
Between magazines, advertisements on television, social media distortion, and countless other marketing schemes, both men and women experience self-objectification (although women tend to feel the pressure more than men). This creates the potential for body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, excessive dieting or exercising, and much more.
Society’s creation and glorification of unhealthy and unrealistic fitness expectations find its way into the gym when your client walks through the door. Whether hopeful to lose weight or bulk up, many times clients’ primary motivation is meeting society’s expectations of weight or fitness level in order to feel accepted. The motive might be explicit (“I want to have a toned bikini body for spring break!”) or a subconscious driving force that is more difficult to trace.
Losing weight or bulking up aren’t bad goals; what’s important is the motivation behind the goal. As a personal trainer, you know that the lasting fitness changes your clients desire doesn’t come from obsessing over their appearance, but from an inner enjoyment of exercise and connection to those around them.
For this reason, it’s crucial to examine the motivational cues you give your client. Appropriate cues, comments, and encouragement will transform client motivation to personal enjoyment, avoid the ever-moving target of appearance, and lead to greater client satisfaction.
Communication Comes in Many Forms: How and When to Communicate With Your Fitness Clients
There’s no shortage of reasons for personal trainers to avoid appearance-based comments and motivational cues. In fact, there’s no need to reinforce your client’s appearance-focused goal. Evidence shows that such reinforcement increases body shame, which has a negative impact on weight management, exercise adherence, and perpetuates the distortion that body weight is the true indicator of overall health.
Your client will most likely provide all the self-objectification motivation without your assistance. It’s your job to help them find enjoyment in the exercise and realizing the benefits of fitness, such as improving their quality and functionality of life.
How is this done?
We must first remember that communication comes in many forms.
How to Communicate as a Personal Trainer: Verbal Communication
When we think of communication, the first thing that comes to mind is the words we say. Words can be powerful and should be used carefully during personal training sessions. While instructional cues should also be worded thoughtfully, motivational statements have tremendous power and influence over how clients perceive their bodies and fitness changes. Personal trainers can confirm self-objectifying anxiety or help clients overcome it by their choice of words.
One recent study equally divided two hundred college-aged women–the age range that holds the highest percentage of body dissatisfaction–into two fitness classes. The first class’s instructor used motivational cues directed towards appearance and weight (“blast that cellulite!”) while the second used function-focused cues (“think of how strong you’re getting!”) for motivation.
Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of participants in the first group left the class feeling ashamed and more self-conscious about their bodies. Self-objectification increased substantially during the fitness class as women compared their bodies to others and saw themselves in the mirrors. However, the participants in the second class felt empowered, strong, and expressed greater body satisfaction after their class. They saw a purpose in their exercise and were excited about participating.
From these groups:
- Who is more likely to achieve and retain their goals?
- Who will enjoy exercise?
- Who would even come back to the gym?
The results of this study should cause all personal trainers to pause and examine their cue vocabulary. Some clients thrive off the in-your-face trainer. Some clients are most motivated by the brutal truth. These approaches are not necessarily wrong. But until you know for sure that your client wants you to give appearance-focused cues, consider an approach that focuses on the enjoyment and functionality of exercise instead of appearance.
How to Communicate as a Personal Trainer: Nonverbal Communication
Most of us know that words are only 7% of communication: tone accounts for 38% and body language accounts for 55% of communication. While carefully-worded cues are crucial, we can’t forget about how we deliver the cues. Watch this video to learn more:
Eye-rolling, a hasty or frustrated tone, crossed arms, an annoyed facial expression, or a dissatisfied demeanor is off-putting to a client. A client-trainer relationship thrives when positive cues are consistent with the tone and body language used.
Many of us aren’t aware of our facial expressions, body language, or tone while speaking. But trainers must be cognizant of how cues and comments are delivered! When words, tone, and body language match, your clients will develop a greater trust in your professional skill and experience higher client satisfaction.
In essence, communicating effectively with personal training clients is the ticket to making them feel like they matter and you should always be looking to fine-tune your personal training communication skills, even your nonverbal ones.
Tips to Increase Your Client’s Satisfaction
Now that we know how crucial it is to be mindful of using appropriately-worded motivational cues and nonverbal communication, let’s get into the tip list so you can learn how to adapt communication to meet clients’ needs!
The following sections will describe how different communication skills can be used to assist clients with motivation.
For the Trainer: What You Can Control
It’s a fact that you can’t make every client happy. But it’s worthwhile to periodically reflect on your personal training style and see if there are areas you can change to increase client satisfaction.
#1 – How You Perceive Body Image
What are your beliefs and attitudes toward body image? How do you interact with a client who struggles with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, or other body image issues? Does anything need to change? Your beliefs and attitudes on these topics will influence your comments, cues, and perceptions of your clients that will either increase or decrease their fitness experience satisfaction.
#2 – How You Talk About Your Body
Personal trainers can struggle with self-objectification, too! It’s easy to compare yourself to other trainers (or gym members!) in your workplace. But as the trainer, you must be aware of the comments you make about your own body and set an example of positive self-talk for your client.
In order to encourage your client to practice positive self-talk, you must do it yourself. Examine your own body perception and the comments you make on your own body. Are they wrapped up in appearance and impressing others, or about strength and what you can do in your body? Chances are, whatever you believe about your own body will spill over into your comments and cues directed at clients.
#3 – Be Informed
A client will trust and confide in a trainer who is reliable and well-informed about body image and fitness-related topics and exercises. That’s a lot of information to accumulate!
Take the mindset of “never stop learning.” Don’t shy away from harder continuing education courses, follow and read fitness blogs or magazines, observe other trainers’ cues and approaches, and become buddies with Google by doing lots of your own research on unfamiliar topics. You will be a better trainer and more prepared to help your current and future clients. Watch this video for some tips on being a reliable source of information:
#4 – Communicate Clearly
Clear communication comes in two forms. First, think about what you’re going to say before you say it! This should be a no-brainer but is commonly overlooked.
Is there an exercise or technique where you frequently stumble through the explanation or confuse clients? Are your cues lacking effectiveness? Take time to think and rehearse a better explanation before working with your client. (Independent research will aid comprehension and give ideas for a clear explanation.)
Secondly, don’t get stuck in autopilot. Slow down to notice the words you choose. Be aware of the message your words convey and if they are appropriate for your individual client.
#5 – Listen Attentively
We all appreciate friends who are good listeners. Extend that same pleasure to your clients! A client knows when they are being heard and listened to, which leads to better rapport, trust, and relationship. Further, a listening trainer is more apt to solve a client’s physical woes. Attentive listening to a client’s health history, work environment, lifestyle, family circumstances, and more, gives clues to solve ailments and alignment issues. Employing active and attentive listening skills will boost client satisfaction.
#6 – Outsource Help
If you have a client with a particularly challenging mental health issue regarding their body image, it’s vital to recognize if you are advising beyond your professional scope of practice. The biggest help you can be to your client is referring them to a trusted mental health professional. Learn more about mental health professionals in this video:
Be prepared by keeping a record of several mental health professionals on file, as such a referral shouldn’t be a hasty decision from a quick Internet search. This extra concern shows your client that you care for them as a person, not a paycheck.
#7 – Change the Environment
If you’re able, choose an alternative environment to the gym or classroom with mirrors. Studies have shown that exercising in a gym or in front of a mirror leads to increased body dissatisfaction and higher self-objectification. Consider performing training sessions in another non-gym setting or outdoors (plus, exercising outdoors has greater health benefits to exercising in a gym!).
Group class fitness instructors can cover up mirrors with a sheet, move items in front of the mirrors to minimize the reflection, or have the class face the back of the room instead of the mirrors. If possible, remove or reduce posters that may increase self-objectification.
These measures encourage clients to enjoy and find purpose in their exercise, which leads to greater client satisfaction.
#8 – Choose Group Class Names Wisely
In one study, researchers found that participants in a group class with an emphasis on exercise enjoyment experienced greater pleasure and competence in their exercise, while participants in a group class with the emphasis on altering appearance experienced greater tension and pressure while exercising.
The study results confirmed the importance of wording in marketing group classes, but the same principle could be applied to personal trainers, as well. Take time to carefully choose three or four words that accurately describe your niche, passion, skills or certifications, and interests as a trainer. A client who has accurate expectations with your services will be more satisfied with the conclusion of their training period.
While there is undoubtedly clientele seeking fat-blasting, ab-toning, or weight-shedding group classes and personal training, there should be equally as many class and trainer opportunities that focus on how exercise allows people to do the things they love more effectively and how exercise helps with stress management or increased energy.
#9 – Foster an Encouraging Training Space
Especially if you have your own training space or classroom, remove the posters that might trigger self-objectification, such as athletes in tight-fitting or revealing clothes. Change it up with encouraging posters and quotes that encourage body satisfaction, endurance, and overall health. Client performance and satisfaction increases in a space where they feel comfortable and confident.
#10 – Use the Latest Technology
When there are dozens of gyms around town and independent personal trainers to choose from, you need every advantage to wisely market yourself to clients. In fact, many clients are now expecting their gyms and personal trainers to meet their fitness needs through technology.
With Exercise.com Business Software, you get state-of-the-art technology that takes the brunt of managerial duties so you can stay engaged with your clients.
Our comprehensive software platform allows you to design workouts, introduce new exercises with videos, track client progress, moderate paperwork, billing, and scheduling, and communicate with your client through the web and app, and much more!
It’s an easy and fun way to stay connected with your clients! Everyone wins because your clients will experience greater satisfaction with their fitness experience and it increases your profits!
Schedule a demo with us today!
Communicate with your clients more effectively.
For the Client: The Support They Need
Now that we’ve covered ways to change your personal training style and perception to better accommodate your clients, let’s discuss specific ways you can support and encourage your clients.
#11 – Know Your Client’s Needs
Every client is different, even when they have similar goals or medical histories. This means every client deserves a personalized fitness experience with a tailored program, approach, and relationship.
You can discover your client’s needs through a careful fitness assessment and attentive listening. While this takes extra care, it pays off in the end because specialized service increases client satisfaction and client loyalty.
#12 – Help Your Client Develop New Attitudes and Behaviors
A question you may have is, “How do you deal with difficult personal training clients?” Sometimes, a difficult client is simply one that needs to adopt some new habits.
After you know the specific needs of your client, you can accurately offer your guidance by encouraging the development of new body perception, transformed attitudes towards health and fitness, and healthy behaviors and patterns to achieve their goals. Watch this video to learn more:
This will look different for every client, so don’t be afraid to get creative! Have them keep a food, thought, or exercise journal. Recommend books or resources to aid in their understanding of health and fitness. Use Exercise.com’s app to stay in communication throughout the day to hold them accountable.
#13 – Redirect Negative Body Talk
Clients might seek out a personal trainer for reasons besides altering the appearance of their body, like increased running endurance or bodybuilding competitions. But countless clients want your professional help because they don’t like something about their bodies.
It’s crucial for you to be prepared on appropriate approaches to redirecting negative comments your client makes on their body. Studies show that ignoring or brushing aside these comments will further amplify the negative effects on a person’s thoughts, spilling over into poor motivation, decisions, and consequences.
So what should you do instead of downplaying negative thoughts?
Modern psychology has a plethora of suggestions, and it’s worth doing your own reading and research to find methods suitable for your clientele. However, several are worth mentioning:
- Recognize and retreat from negative thought patterns. These repetitive, unhelpful thoughts involving anxiety and worry, self-criticism or self-beating, regret and guilt, or dwelling on circumstantial difficulties leaves us stuck in the rut of discontent. But realizing that these thoughts are just thoughts and not reality frees your client to appropriately view their body.
- Rarely use appearance-focused comments to encourage or motivate your clients. Instead, praise their effort and their choice and commitment to exercise. Encourage them to be proud of themselves, to make every minute of their workout count, and to reflect on their progress. Point out their increased energy, exercise enjoyment, or exercise comprehension. If it’s not weight-related, remind them of their “Why” for exercising.
- Have your client choose a phrase or mantra to repeat to themselves when negative thoughts strike, like “strength is beauty” or “just keep swimming.”
- Have your client incorporate daily gratitude practice with gratitude meditation and gratitude journaling. Both of these involve contemplation and active gratefulness for things in their life.
How you handle negative body talk could be the biggest factor in whether certain clients feel satisfied with their personal training experience. Hastily brushing aside body image concerns or not knowing what to say can permanently damage your relationship. But an appropriate, encouraging approach that challenges the client to move out of a negative mindset can solidify client satisfaction.
#14 – Connect Clients Through Support Groups
People have three basic psychological needs when it comes to staying motivated to exercise: autonomy, or the need to choose for themselves to exercise; competence, or the need to feel capable and strong in their exercise; and relatedness, or the need to feel connected to those around them.
One of the best ways to increase your client’s satisfaction is to connect them to other gym members or clients through social media! Having your clients participate in your personal or fitness center’s social media pages helps them stay connected, motivated, and improves their overall fitness experience. They can observe how you support and encourage other clients, which increases their satisfaction with your personal training.
If you have a personal page, post a weekly exercise, topic, or struggle that gets the conversation started between clients so they can experience mutual support. If your fitness center has a page, stay engaged with your clients by liking and commenting on their posts and encouraging interactions between clients.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the factors affecting client satisfaction?
Verbal communication (the comments and cues personal trainers use) and non-verbal communication (the delivery and body language of the personal trainer when cueing a client) are crucial to client satisfaction.
How do personal trainers achieve high client satisfaction with their comments?
Personal trainers must be constantly aware of their word choice when cueing, as off-hand comments can lead to client dissatisfaction and increased self-objectification. Personal trainers should also be as reliable and informed as possible to build rapport and trust with the client.
What’s the best way to speak to your client?
Every client is different, so the best trainers are the ones who have an individual approach to each client. Ask your clients how they are best motivated (this can even be done on assessment paperwork) and honor their preference. In general, focus your comments and cues on health or function instead of appearance unless requested otherwise by the client.
Learning the best way to speak to your clients increases their satisfaction with your personal training services. It’s a win-win situation, as your client will experience better, long-lasting results and is more likely to recommend your services to their friends and family!
Don’t forget to check out Exercise.com’s All-in-One Business Platform for the best way to stay engaged with your clients! Book a demo today to learn more!