Rochelle Rice by Rochelle Rice

When it comes to working with overweight clients, how do you know when they are not feeling connected to their bodies and how do you articulate it to help bring them back to the feeling state? I refer to this as the "art of the work" for trainers. It's about more than reps, sets, pounds and inches. Rather, this concept is the foundation for a long-term active lifestyle. Choosing movement and words that are precise in concept and awareness will help your clients learn to live harmoniously in their bodies.

What Is an Energetic Connection?

training overweight clientThe energetic connection is about more than getting along well with your clients or being popular at your facility. It is about the relationship you have within yourself, the relationship the client has within him or herself, and how those two interact.

Are you familiar with the "glazed over" look of a person who is "far, far away?" This is your red flag that the client has left his or her body. He or she is no longer engaged in the physical work at hand and has completely checked out from the workout. He or she has no sense or feeling about what is happening in his or her body. This is the point where some trainers might start raising their voices to keep going, get frustrated with the client, or consider the client lazy or unmotivated. But what is really happening here?

For whatever reason, the client has found it easier and safer to not be energetically engaged in the movement. You need to know this and recognize it immediately. It is not something to be pushed through, but should instead be viewed as an opportunity to help your client re-engage with his or her physical body.

Similarly, your client may be able to sense when you are not fully present or have other things on your mind. The client may not speak up, but the feeling that one's trainer is not fully engaged (physically and energetically) can have massive repercussions. The client may feel deserted, uncared for or think,"This must be because I am fat and lazy." As a result, the client may not return for another training session and you may never know why. The energetic disconnect and dismissal from a trainer can also cause a great deal of harm to the overweight client trying to engage in an active lifestyle. A client's physical body may be finally ready to move, but if you, the trainer, are not fully engaged, the effect will only deepen his or her sense of fat and failure.

Create a Pleasurable Experience with Movement

So what do you do? When an overweight person walks into your facility or enters your practice, your first thought might likely be, "Cardio." Get the weight off. But if the client is extremely out of shape, he or she runs the risk of secondary injuries through movement. For example, if the client's physician recommended walking, the client may experience shin splints, Achilles problems or an increase in lower-back discomfort. This throws the client back into the cycle of failure. Your job is to shore up those muscles that may be affected by movement in general (see  Part 1), and to help the client get a better sense of alignment. The client also will benefit from understanding the reasons why it is so important to lengthen and strengthen those muscles that may be affected by weight.

If you do decide to have your clients do cardio work, ask them which modality they feel most comfortable using, at least at the beginning: treadmill, bicycle or elliptical. Be aware of the  concerns that may arise from using one of these machines. For example, some people are afraid that a treadmill will go too fast and that they might fall off. Others might be concerned that a bicycle won't provide enough of a workout or that an elliptical trainer is too difficult to get on and off, especially if they have balance issues. It is easier to address these concerns if you consider them ahead of time.

Regardless of which modalities your clients choose, here are some cues to look for and key questions to ask to determine if they are connecting with the movement.

  1. Watch and notice if the client's eyes glaze over or have that faraway look.
  2. Listen to hear whether the client speaks incessantly about anything other than what he or she is doing in that moment.
  3. Feel if the client is even with you in the moment.

If any of these things occur, ask your client the following questions:

  1. What are you thinking about right now?
  2. Where are you right now?

Next, use this invitational language to help your client feel the movement, allowing for a reconnection to his or her body.

  1. I’d like to invite you back to your body now.
  2. What is the sensation in your body? (tingly, energized, alive, stretched, etc.)
  3. Is there another movement that may feel better in your body right now?

Initially, the client may not possess the right words to describe how he or she is feeling. Instead, many clients will answer "good" or "fine," which does not give you a true sense of what he or she is feeling. Offer examples of sensations until the client lands on one and can begin to develop his or her individualized list of sensations.

Your role as a trainer is to shift the movement when necessary to create a pleasurable and integrated experience. Be creative—and, of course, safe—in the types of movements you offer your clients. While the numbers on the scale may not move as fast as you (or your client) would like, you will undoubtedly help the client create a more unified, integrated, trusted, peaceful relationship within him or herself. And it's this relationship that will keep your clients from sliding backward in the future.


The energetic connection is the piece that is often missing when trainers work with overweight clients. By combining the principles discussed in sections 1, 2 and 3, you will create a winning environment that will help your clients move out of a cycle of failure, feel more engaged in a size-friendly environment, develop a deep sense of trust with you and their bodies, and ultimately afford them the opportunity to develop long-term, unified, integrated relationships within themselves—relationships that are trustworthy, authentic and whole.

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