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Exercise Starting Point and Progressions

Exercise Starting Point and Progressions | Jonathan Ross | Expert Articles | 3/4/2016


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For many people, exercise is about transformation. Physical transformation. However, physical transformation takes time, consistency and multiple behaviors done well over an extended period of time. The moment when someone decides to stop getting worse and start getting better is significant—it does not mean that change has been achieved, but that the process has begun.

It is often said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” However, so does the short journey that is abandoned in the early stages because it is not going well. All journeys begin with a single step, so ensuring the first steps are well taken is essential.

Start Wrong, Stop Fast

When it comes to weight loss, many people start hot and fast. There’s that moment—that pound-your-fist-on-the-desk moment when a person becomes disgusted and wants a change. So he or she goes all out. Intense workouts often follow, but when things start hurting, motivation begins to wane and, despite extreme efforts, the scale has only moved a little. And so the person stops. Some time later, this cycle repeats when the frustration with a lack of fitness builds.

This is what happens when a person misses the right starting point. No matter how badly people want to lose weight or how much weight they have to lose, it can only happen as fast as it can actually happen (if it happens at all). This is the reason why finding the right starting point is so essential.

The finish line doesn’t matter if you don’t put the starting line in the right place.

If you deliver an experience that improves the way clients physically experience their daily lives, it can generate a sense of hope that real change is possible, and foster a shift in belief that puts results that may have previously been considered out of reach back within sight of the client. The sense of hope generated from early successes often matters more than the larger, long-term goals of the client.

Change Your Head Today, Your Body Tomorrow

A single exercise session cannot deliver the physical transformations that clients seek, but it can enhance mood and shape the individual’s perception of exercise in more positive ways. Ultimately, any client can make significant progress toward adopting a healthier mindset around exercise by paying close attention to the mental shift that occurs when going through a single exercise session. For you, the health and fitness professional, it is essential to praise specific effort. When you praise effort, you generate more effort; when you praise outcome, you generate less subsequent effort. When showing up and making the effort in a single session is what matters, clients put forth more enthusiastic effort.

Many clients perceive exercise as a task or an obligation on a to-do list—they become so focused on just getting it done that they may not stop to note the effects that it has on their mood and mindset.

Here is one sample method (among many) to facilitate this change: Have clients use the voice memo feature on their smartphones to record a short statement about how they feel before and after any physical activity. This method features the added benefit of capturing not only the shift in wording, but also tone of voice.


Collaborate with your clients to decide how best to add a progression to any part of their programs. For example, if a client is into numbers and likes keeping track of things, have him or her add a set amount or resistance, a specific number of repetitions, or a certain amount of time to complete each exercise. For a client who may be more into consistency and less inclined to progress frequently with workouts, specify the amount of time that will pass—in weeks—before the workout will get harder and decide together what progressions will occur at that time.

What Kind of Person Are You?

When your client begins to make some progress, don’t just consider how much progress has been made, but rather how this progress informs the client’s identity. In other words, does the client see him or herself as the type of person who is consistently progressing and in the process of continually improving? Or, is the client looking forward to when he or she has achieved the goal and reached the “end” of his or her efforts to change? The former will typically lead to further and lasting change, while the latter will commonly lead to continued cycles of progress and regress that, unfortunately many weight-management clients find all too familiar.

For expanded study of these topics with CECs, see the ACE Weight Management Specialty course to help you zero in on the most important factors for success with weight-management clients.