Kelley Vargo by Kelley Vargo

One of my favorite client exercises has nothing to do with weights or a cardio sweat session. In fact, it is more of a mental exercise—setting a goal. Most of us can throw together some mean workout routines and offer great nutrition advice, but how effective will those tools really be if our clients don’t have a goal in mind?

Although goal setting may seem simple, it is actually quite complex. After all, why do people fail at their New Year’s resolutions an average of six times? Unrealistic goals. It is easy to set our clients—and ourselves—up for failure if we are not realistic with goals. Here are four key steps for helping our clients make and stick to their goals.

1. Motivational Interviewing: Common client goals include losing weight, eating healthier and getting stronger. These are a start, but it’s worth taking some time to find out what motivates your clients. Why do they want to lose the weight, eat healthier or get stronger? What makes them feel empowered and in control? What do they enjoy eating or doing for exercise? It is a lot easier to stick to a workout regimen that includes bike riding if a person loves bike riding. And it is a lot harder to stick to a meal plan that includes salmon if the person hates fish. The bottom line: Find out what makes your clients feel great and use that to help devise the plans for achieving their goals.

2. Process vs. Outcome Goals: There are two different types of goals: process-oriented and outcome-oriented. Process-oriented goals focus on the “journey,” whereas outcome-oriented goals focus on the “finish line.” It is best to strike a balance between both types when setting goals, especially if a client is hyper-focused on the outcome goal. Consider, for example, the client who wants to lose 20 pounds. He is so focused on the scale that if it doesn’t move in a week, he wants to throw in the towel. The key here is to pair the outcome goal with a process-oriented goal. In this case, perhaps it is to eat vegetables at lunch and dinner five days a week. So even though the scale didn’t move one week, his nutrition improved. The key is to focus on the positive.

On the other side of the coin, if a client only has a process goal of working out six days a week and no end goal, she may lose motivation to continue with her process goal. This isn’t to say outcome goals are required, but they often do a great job of keeping people motivated.

3. SMART Goals: One of the most applicable tools for setting goals is applying the acronym, S.M.A.R.T. The acronym is spelled out in the table below:












By setting smart goals, the client defines and outlines a goal. Consider the following example: A client says, “I want to get stronger.” What does “get stronger” mean? Increase his bench press, do more full-body push-ups or squat his body weight? Instead, he could make the following SMART goal: “I want to bench press my body weight for 10 repetitions within the next three months” That’s a specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-bound goal.

4. Accountability

Creating accountability is probably the most important role you can play when it comes to helping your clients make and stick to their goals. It is easy to write down a goal, but following through is the hard part. That’s where your role as their trainer or health coach comes into play. A simple check-in text message, email or phone call, weekly photos or review of a food journal can really help clients stay focused and committed to their goals. Find out what works for each client. How has he or she been successful in the past? What were his or her barriers? Once the client and you determine an accountability strategy, be sure to do your part by keeping him or her accountable.

A final word: As we enter into 2015, don’t focus so much on New Year’s Resolutions (outcome-oriented). Instead, focus on the tools and mechanisms you can use to help both you and your clients become healthier over the long-term.