We don’t like doing things we don’t enjoy. Sounds obvious, and it is—until we start talking about fitness.

Although it can be hard for health and fitness pros to understand, lots of people don’t like to exercise, but then feel guilty for not doing it. When the guilt becomes too much, they start up again. Then, when the disdain for exercise becomes too much, they stop. And on and on it goes—you’ve probably seen this pattern played out among gym members and clients. Participation rates for exercise are terrible, and this is largely due to people’s perception of the exercise experience.

So many people—including many of our clients—have such a negative perception of exercise that they only do it out of a sense of obligation or guilt, and often exercise for some completely joyless reason while thinking only of the discomfort and difficulty required in achieving fitness. They force themselves to exercise for a while, but invariably stop. As Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, says, “If you’re using willpower to exercise, then you’re doing it wrong.”

How Did We Get Here?

As modern living and technology have advanced, the need for movement has been engineered out of everyday life. In response, humans created the modern notion of “exercise”—going to a separate place at a separate time to engage in physical activity for a specific time and then resuming a largely immobile and physically undemanding life.

In addition, as we fitness pros try to attract customers to our facilities or programs, we often do so by selling intensity and equipment using ill-advised aspirational marketing. Our intensity scares people, our innovations in equipment do nothing to change mindsets about fitness, and our marketing often discourages people by simply highlighting the massive chasm between where our customers are and where they want to be.

How Can You Help People Transform Their Attitudes About Exercise?

What if you could simply deliver fitness in an enjoyable yet challenging way that effectively transformed your clients’ emotional response to exercise…in a single session? Before any physical changes can take place, a change in attitude is required to drive continued participation. A single workout results in little physical change, but it can lead to a different emotional experience. Improve how your clients feel about exercise and you will undoubtedly improve their chances of sticking with it.

Bring some fun to your intensity. Here’s the reasoning behind why you should consider making this subtle yet powerful shift to your clients’ workouts. In his excellent book Play, Stuart Brown highlights the properties of play. As you read the list, note the distinction between this list and how many people commonly think of exercise: 

  • Apparently purposeless (done for its own sake)
  • Voluntary
  • Inherent attraction (you’re drawn to it)
  • Freedom from time
  • Diminished consciousness of self
  • Improvisational potential
  • Continuation desire (you want to keep doing it) 

This list might seem a bit abstract, but you likely recognize these signs if you think about the times you’ve been lost in play or observed children or others lost in play.

Exactly how do you implement these ideas? Introduce elements of reactivity, coordination, interactivity and friendly competition into your workouts. This approach works extremely well for small-group training and boot camp–style workouts, but it can also work in one-on-one settings with you, the trainer, actively participating.

Perform a minimum of two consecutive sets (two to four sets is the goal). This helps facilitate learning from the first to the second set, which enhances the quality of performance and enjoyment. Perform the following exercises in a circuit for time (25 to 35 seconds per exercise), with rest intervals of 15 to 30 seconds between exercises.

The Workout

Water Ski (playful elements: coordination, interactivity)

This exercise uses sliders. Partner A (the skier) stands on the sliders while facing partner B (the boat). They link hands or hold a rigid bar. Partner B moves backward quickly to pull partner A forward, thus creating the water ski simulation. At the end of the predetermined distance, partner A steps off the sliders backward and partner B steps forward onto the sliders to become the skier.

Earthquake Plank (playful elements: reactivity, interactivity, friendly competition)

Partner A performs a plank, while partner B taps and pushes on partner A randomly to create a challenge for maintaining the plank.

Teamwork Wall Ball (playful elements: reactivity, coordination, interactivity)

This exercise uses an oversized medicine ball. Partners A and B stand next to each other facing the wall. Partner A performs a wall ball throw and slides to the left immediately after releasing the ball. Partner B simultaneously steps to the left in time to catch the ball, immediately performing a wall ball throw and sliding to the right as partner A slides to the right in time to catch the ball.

Snake Charmer (playful elements: reactivity, coordination, friendly competition)

This exercise requires heavy ropes. Each partner holds one end of the rope in one hand. Partner A leads and makes waves while walking toward and away from the rope anchor. Partner B follows A’s front and back walking while also making continuous waves. As you walk toward the anchor, the waves get harder, as you have to lift more of the rope's weight to create a wave.

Partner Plank and Squat (playful elements: interactivity)

Partner A performs a plank with the feet positioned wide apart. Partner B faces away from partner A while standing between A’s feet. Partner B squats down and picks up A’s legs by grabbing an ankle in each hand and performs a squat with the added weight of partner A. Switch places each set.

Reactive Qube Flip Box Jumps (playful elements: reactivity, coordination)

This is a solo exercise that features a Qube soft plyo box. Reach down under the Qube and flip it 180 degrees. Wherever it lands, jump onto it from where you stand.

Two Butts and a Ball (playful elements: reactivity, interactivity)

This exercise requires a stability ball. Partner A and B sit back-to-back on the ball. Partner A stands up and sits back down. When partner B feels the impact of partner A sitting on the ball, partner B immediately stands up and sits back down.

Catch and Release Row (playful elements: reactivity, coordination)

This exercise uses a dumbbell or kettlebell. Each partner places the left knee and hand on one end of a bench (one partner at each end). With a weight in the right hand, perform a rapid single-arm row movement. At the height of the pull, let go of the weight and catch it before it hits the ground. Switch sides and perform with the left hand.

Adding some fun to fitness while not sacrificing the intensity of the experience can immediately transform your clients’ and participants’ attitudes about exercise, creating more enthusiastic and consistent participation. Taking the time to design workouts and show people how much fun exercise can actually be is an incredibly effective way of not only creating loyal clients and participants, but also, importantly, lifelong exercisers.

Further Your Knowledge

Looking for more ideas on how to make your clients' workouts more enjoyable? Check out these great articles from past issues of CERTIFIED, which also include opportunities to earn continuing education credits:

Branch Out! 4 Fun and Fresh Circuit-training Formats [Article]


Make HIIT Workouts Fun Again [Article]



Infuse Your Classes and Training Sessions With the Fun Factor [Article]