Every interaction you have with a client offers a unique opportunity to utilize your coaching skills to help build rapport while positioning the client as an active partner in their behavior-change journey. This is the founding principle on which the ACE Mover MethodTM and the associated ACE ABC ApproachTM were created. These tools, which are featured in The Exercise Professional’s Guide to Personal Training, are essential because your job as a health and exercise professional entails far more than an understanding of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness exercise programming. Asking questions helps clients identify their goals and solutions for breaking down barriers, which in turn leads to collaborating on next steps.

Last year, we reported exciting preliminary findings from an ACE-supported study demonstrating that the ACE Mover Method is a successful strategy for facilitating behavior and lifestyle changes. This article expands on that earlier report and identifies some of the important individual lessons we learned that you can use to enhance and support your work with clients.

A key element of using the ACE Integrated Fitness Training® (ACE IFT®) Model to empower clients to make behavioral changes to improve their health, fitness and overall quality of life is the adoption of the ACE Mover Method, which is founded on the following tenets:

  • Each professional interaction is client-centered, with a recognition that clients are the foremost experts on themselves.
  • Powerful open-ended questions and active listening are utilized in every session with clients.
  • Clients are genuinely viewed as resourceful and capable of change.

The way in which health and exercise professionals apply the ACE Mover Method is through the ACE ABC Approach:

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Break down barriers
  • Collaborate

Step 1 of this process involves asking powerful questions to identify what the client hopes to accomplish by working with a health and exercise professional and what, if any, physical activities the client enjoys. Open-ended questions are the key to sparking this discussion.

Step 2 involves asking more questions to discover what potential obstacles may get in the way of the client reaching their specific goals. Questions such as, “What do you need to start doing now to move closer to your goals?” and “What do you need to stop doing that will enable you to reach your goals?” can lead to insightful discoveries.

Step 3 is all about collaboration as the client and professional work together to set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals and establish specific steps to take action toward those goals. Allowing the client to lead the discussion of how to monitor and measure progress empowers them to take ownership of their personal behavior-change journey.

Examples of case studies for the ACE Mover Method and ACE ABC Approach from The Exercise Professional’s Guide to Personal Training can be found here.

The ACE Mover Method: What the Research Shows

The ACE Mover Method is a simple instrument that can be employed systematically to optimize your interactions with clients and empower them to make behavioral changes aimed at improving their health, fitness and overall quality of life. Among participants in our ACE-supported study, positive changes were seen across all the behavior and lifestyle categories that were evaluated: less sedentary behavior time, reduced stress and improved healthy eating habits (see Figure 1). These results were driven purely by purposefully employing client-centered and empowering discussions that follow the ACE ABC Approach of asking open-ended questions, breaking down barriers and collaborating.

The challenge of designing this study was to combine a research approach with how the ACE Mover Method would be implemented in a real-world setting, considering the client-centered and personalized approach at its heart. These sessions were embedded within a normal exercise routine and personalized to each participant’s unique goals and needs. More specifically, these conversations were collaborations aimed at positive lifestyle change in one or more of three areas (i.e., reduced sedentary behavior time, healthy eating and stress reduction).

In addition to the above-mentioned findings, several other important individual lessons emerged from our study, which are detailed below.  

Scope of Practice

The ACE Mover Method outlines the foundational skills for communicating effectively with clients, but it is not the equivalent of a health coaching certification. It is critical that you work in concert with other qualified allied health professionals, such as health coaches and registered dietitians, whenever appropriate, and take a team approach to improving a client’s health and wellness. This issue came up regularly throughout the course of the study, as we asked numerous open-ended questions surrounding positive behavior and lifestyle change. To ensure we avoided violating our scope of practice as health and exercise professionals, we strictly refrained from providing specific non-exercise-related recommendations. When participants sought specific recommendations, we referred them to the relevant allied health professional.   


Improvements in technology have brought about marked reductions in the physical work required of daily life. In fact, technological advancements in the Digital Age (the past two generations) have almost eliminated most previously required physical activities. The systematic displacement of a physically active lifestyle in a natural outdoor environment with a sedentary, indoor lifestyle has been linked to increasingly prevalent chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. That said, we found the use of technology to be extremely helpful in that we were able to provide participants with frequent reminders about individual goals and next steps that had been agreed upon. For example, we encouraged participants to set alarms on their smartphones to remind them to get up and move intermittently throughout the day to interrupt prolonged sedentary behavior. Additionally, texting was done regularly with numerous participants to encourage and remind them that they were capable of successfully acting on their goals.

Individualized Approach

Previous research demonstrated the effectiveness of the ACE IFT Model and its individualized approach in helping clients achieve positive health and fitness outcomes. For this reason, we knew that an individualized approach was required for the ACE Mover Method intervention. Our general approach was to offer the ACE Mover Method group an intervention consisting of weekly client-centered sessions featuring the principles of the ACE Mover Method philosophy and ACE ABC Approach in addition to the personalized exercise program. However, there was considerable variability in the time required to complete these client-centered sessions. For example, some participants completed the entire weekly ACE Mover Method session in a single 5- to 10-minute conversation. For others, the sessions were more in-depth and lasted closer to 30 minutes. Despite requiring more time, we always strived to ensure that the Mover Method intervention overlapped with exercise to ensure that we offered a time-efficient program. In a few other scenarios, the ABC components were covered across multiple exercise sessions. For example, when asking about barriers to achieving goals, some participants needed to think about those barriers prior to the next exercise training session. The key takeaway here is that it’s critical to personalize behavior-change strategies to the same extent as exercise programming to carefully align with client goals.  

Variability in Lifestyle Goals

We observed considerable variability among participants’ focus on lifestyle goals. In general, we made a concerted effort to discuss stress, nutrition and sedentary behavior with all participants, if only briefly, because each of these were study outcomes that were being measured. However, we found that some participants needed only a single session devoted to talking about strategies for limiting sedentary behavior. In contrast, other participants felt that this topic was a higher priority and wanted to spend multiple weeks (and even months) focused on that specific lifestyle goal.

Additionally, in some weekly sessions, a few participants wanted to discuss multiple lifestyle goals at the same time. Initially, this proved to be challenging, as we didn’t want to overwhelm participants with trying to positively modify too many goals at once. In these scenarios, our tactics were twofold:

  1. When our impression was that participants needed to focus on only one behavior-change goal at a time, we gently encouraged them to set one goal aside for a brief time until they had made adequate progress on the initial goal. We also assured them that we would return to the second objective at an appropriate time.
  2. When our impression was that participants could reasonably balance working on multiple behavior-change goals (e.g., nutrition and stress) at the same time, we tried to adjust the ACE Mover Method intervention accordingly to make this possible.

The Benefits of Group Settings

Despite the personalized nature of the ACE Mover Method intervention, we also utilized group settings to communicate and/or reinforce consistent messages. For instance, most participants need to move more throughout the day. As such, group balance classes were great for sharing quick tips with participants on how they could take quick movement breaks throughout the day to limit their sedentary behavior. Additionally, during group exercise classes, we reminded participants to continue identifying individual barriers to their personalized behavior-change goals. This approach proved quite effective, as participants were able to share and offer each other great suggestions on barriers and various approaches to breaking them down. This group messaging also enhanced peer support, as participants realized that they weren’t alone on their behavior-change journey. Though each participant was unique, they frequently had comparable goals and challenges.       

Translating Research Into Practice

Although evidence-based practice requires a sustained commitment of time and attention, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated or restrictive to your professional relationship and typical day-to-day interactions with clients. On the contrary, incorporating evidence-based practice translates into better outcomes for clients, who reap the rewards of effective coaching and training practices. By looking deeper into the research, we identified several individual lessons that can be applied to your work with clients. Your ability to apply these insights will undoubtedly enhance your ability to make a profound impact on the lives of your clients and assist them to positively change health-related behaviors.

Expand Your Knowledge

The ACE Integrated Fitness Training® Model: Program Design for Every Client

The ACE Mover Method: Empowering Clients Through Behavior Change

Exercise Programming Toolkit – Course Bundle