American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

By Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D., and Lawrence Biscontini, M.A.

Yelling personal trainerEnglish is the most widely spoken language in the world and yet we still haven’t mastered the art of using it to motivate, offer hope and improve results for our clients.  Undoubtedly, the loop of positive and negative language habits reflect our internal self-talk, influence and label experiences, create impressions, define reality, make psychological connections and reinforce our thoughts. 

Given all that, do you think you’ll gain many new clients telling them, “This insane workout will kill you” or “I’m going to push you past your physical and mental limits”? While telling clients that you’re going to get them chiseled, shredded, jacked, blasted and cut may boost your testosterone, it may also turn off clients who don’t really believe “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” or “hard is what makes it great.” These same clients may not understand terms such as “fire those glutes,” relax the traps,” or “engage your core.”Because your language sets the tone for what you communicate and how you establish rapport, these terms and phrases may inadvertently be turning off more clients than you attract.

Obese and overweight clients, in particular, may be sensitive to terms such as a “war on obesity.” WAR on obesity? Yikes! How about focusing on“getting healthy” instead? Think your overweight and obese clients really care about getting a “beach-ready” body? Most likely, they don’t appreciate that approach any more than your baby-boomer clients enjoy being referred to as “senior citizens,” “grandmotherly” or “so sweet.”

Working out is not a military enlistment, war or soldierly challenge. It’s about relaxing, taking care of oneself, becoming healthier and fitter, living better and happier, and making a commitment to personal lifestyle change. How and when did fitness professionals coopt the idea that to build a book of clients, a training session has to be an ass-to-the-grass, fire-breathing, macho, skull-crushing, body-whipping gun show?

Connecting with others—communicating with them, entering their world and making certain they feel understood—is deeply embedded in humanity. Without trust and mutual understanding built into the interpersonal connection, the likelihood of a relationship being impactful, helpful, enduring, sought after and successful is minimal, at best.  Trainers, like successful business leaders, need to focus on powerfully communicating a can-do, hopeful vision and energizing through words and body language—not frightening off or creating an internal belief within the client that says, “this is too much for me.”

To illustrate these points, consider adopting the following positive cues when teaching group exercise and working with personal training clients:

Instead of saying….                                     Consider substituting…

“Don’t,” such as in “Don’t forget to breathe.”

“Keep,” as in “Keep breathing.” Such cues will always point to the solution, rather than the problem, eliciting a faster behavioral change in the most positive environment possible. So, “Don’t let the knees go past the toes in the squat” becomes “Keep your knees behind the toes.”

“If you can’t do it this way, here’s a modification…”

“I’ll always show you a middle level of difficulty, called ‘level 2,’ and then I will always show you a ‘regression,’ called ‘level 1,’ and then a ‘progression,’ called ‘level 3.’”  Another way to teach to some is to use a coffee analogy: “If you want the decaffeinated version, doing the exercise this way adds less stress to the lower back,” versus “If you want to add more caffeine to your cup today, here’s a progression to add more of a resistance and stability challenge.”

“Did you get a great workout today? “Did I work you out hard enough today?”

“Did you take responsibility by choosing to work at the intensity appropriate to your needs today?”

“What kind of workout are you going to do today”

“How are you going to enhance your cardiovascular, strength and flexibility needs through appropriate movement patterns?”

“Were you good or bad today with your DIET?”

“Since the first three letters of the word DIET spell something negative, I’d rather ask you, ‘How did you nourish your body today?’”

“I’m going to teach senior fitness.”

Because some organizations like the International Council on Active Aging defines this population as above fifty years old, consider referring to this  population as the ‘chronologically enriched.’

“Fire those glutes.”

“Concentrate on contracting the muscles down your backside and feel the muscles get tighter as you bring your focus to this area.”

“Relax the traps.”

“Try to lower your shoulders away from your ears so they feel heavy. Think of trying to tuck your shoulder blades into the back pockets of your jeans.  In fitness, the ears and the shoulders are inhabitants of different countries and therefore don’t speak the same language; therefore, they are not very close.”

“Engage your core.”

“Contract the navel in toward the spine” or “Imagine that you are on the beach with your friends and someone is taking a photograph of all of you. Draw in your middle for the photograph, and keep breathing.”  Or, “Whatever your waistline is, try to make it one inch smaller by squeezing in your circumference.”