ACE just put real structure to a philosophy that for years has been fundamental to our certification study programs. Starting now, it is dramatically easier for ACE certified professionals to put that philosophy into daily practice. I love it because it represents the essence of who ACE is and where we’re going.
Traditionally and often still today, exercise professionals – brimming with expertise, enthusiasm, and eagerness to serve – default to a style of dialogue and engagement with clients that can in many instances be less than optimal. The mindset goes something like this: “I, exercise professional, am the expert on, well, exercise. You, client, are here to receive said expertise.” It’s linear and one-way. It doesn’t reflect as much as it could about how people actually learn, evolve and grow.
The exercise pro’s heart is in the right place, of course. And the client can certainly still benefit. Yet that old way does very little when it comes to what is most important to us here at ACE, which is for exercise pros to help those clients become physically active for the long term.
The missing coaching part
What’s missing is the coaching part, a concept that most anyone today who reads articles on business management sees routinely. It says that we get more creativity and engagement out of people with open-ended, nonjudgmental questions rather than dictated solutions and explicit direction. And there’s ample evidence to back that up.
Well, the same applies for exercise pros working with clients. That the exercise pro creates a safe, fun physical-activity experience for the client is a given! But the richest opportunity is to help that client lower his or her barriers to physical activity as a way of life. (And this approach is particularly essential when the exercise pro gets to work with someone who is not yet physically active.)
ACE Mover Method
ACE study programs have long incorporated the philosophy I’m describing. But now we’ve given it more structure, more applicability, and an on-brand name. It’s the “ACE Mover Method.” It provides exercise pros with a North Star for every client session. And a mental toolkit that’s supremely easy to use.
It’s real, this idea that an exercise pro could help clients alter their lifestyle trajectory, even though it sounds bold. Well-established behavioral science provides the world with sound approaches to helping others explore healthy change. Positive psychology, motivational interviewing, the transtheoretical model of behavior change, and self-determination theory all contain practices that are effective at helping people make important lifestyle changes. What ACE has done is boil down the ones most appropriate and usable for the exercise pro, turning them into a simple philosophy and application formula.
These practices, by the way, can be utilized staying entirely within the confines of scope of practice of the exercise pro. The ACE Mover Method represents the appropriate, just-right use of evidence-based behavior-change principles for the structured, supervised-exercise context.
The ACE Mover Method challenges the exercise pro with three basic tenets. Those are:
- Recognize the client’s expertise. This tenet says that clients are the foremost experts on themselves, which is the expertise that matters most! It challenges the exercise pro to acknowledge that reality in every client interaction. Sit in the passenger seat and offer navigation. Don’t drive.
- Use effective communication. This tenet challenges the exercise pro to use powerful open-ended questions and active-listening techniques with clients. All the time.
- Focus on strengths. The final tenet calls on the exercise pro to treat the client in every word and behavior as fundamentally resourceful and capable of change. No exceptions.
The ACE Mover Method also provides exercise pros with a super simple implementation formula, which we’ve dubbed the “ACE ABC Approach.” That’s an acronym for:
- Ask open-ended questions. Learn clients’ goals, preferences, strengths, and readiness to change.
- Break down barriers. Explore the obstacles clients perceive, the experiences they’ve had, and the circumstances in which they find themselves.
- Collaborate. Work with clients on solutions rather than attempting to dictate, so they gain ownership of the process, and so their basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) are met.
What it looks like in practice
Picture a personal trainer leading a client through a strength-building session using squats. After every set, the trainer adds 10-pound weight to the bar, even as trepidation on the client’s face grows. The trainer may or may not notice the hesitation, but the default is to push the client through the reluctance.
But with the ACE Mover Method, the trainer pauses and says to the client, “I just added weight to the bar, but I see you watching me skeptically. Tell me about that.” In response, the client confesses she’s concerned about the risk of putting on bulky muscle mass that might be unflattering. So, the trainer makes a quick pivot. “I hear you. Well, rather than adding weight, let’s stick with the current weight for this next set. When you’re done, let’s talk about the pros and cons of using increased weight and see what you think.”
During the next break, the trainer explains that there are ways to slowly introduce weight so that benefits are gained, and the body responds appropriately. And reminds the client of the numerous upsides to strength training, and the facts regarding a woman’s actual likelihood of developing bulky muscles.
Then the trainer asks the client what she thinks. The client considers carefully and then responds, “What you’ve said makes sense and some of those benefits are really important to me. Maybe I could try adding a little more weight next time.”
With that, a major barrier to exercise behavior is lowered. It’s lowered through collaboration and connection even more than through the sound advice received. And that client just might consider strength training for the rest of her life and enjoy the health benefits that result.
Why it matters
My super-smart colleague Sabrena Jo, ACE’s Director of Science & Research, puts it plainly, as she reliably does, “If you’re an exercise pro and have never had this type of conversation with a client, you may inadvertently be practicing the opposite of the client-centered approach. You may be using a cookie cutter type of plan. That’s simply not the ACE way. The ACE Mover Method is for you.”
We acknowledge that exercise pros who are brand new to the field can be the least knowledgeable in this area – they might want to show off their new expertise, and it can lead to dispensing advice before asking and listening. As the largest certifier of personal trainers in the world, ACE is in a unique position to influence those people on this topic. With the ACE Mover Method, we’re doing so.
Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, ACE’s President & Chief Science Officer: “I’m very pleased that we’re guiding ACE pros on the best ways to engage with their clients and class participants. Many aspiring exercise professionals are inclined toward exercise science and sharing their educational expertise. So, it can be particularly challenging for them to shift their mindsets toward also using behavior-change science, particularly active-listening and motivational-interviewing skills, in client interactions. With the ACE Mover Method, we’re now making it far more intuitive to put these essential ‘people skills’ into action.”
ACE’s goal is to equip exercise pros to be their best selves at work – to really show up for their clients in ways that are not only qualified, credentialed and prepared but present, respectful and highly attuned to client needs. And help those clients set their own stage for powerful, lasting results. Read more about the ACE Mover Method.