Dr. Erin Nitschke by Dr. Erin Nitschke

As personal trainers and health coaches, we’ve all been there. The schedule is set for the week and someone cancels. We can and should expect periodic cancellations from clients. Kids fall ill, work deadlines interfere, family emergencies occur—all of these events are normal and typically do not derail a client’s intended goals. That said, it is also common to have one or two clients who struggle to commit and remain engaged with their training programs and focused on goal achievement. These individuals—the ones who seem to be caught in a back-and-forth battle between the preparation and action stages of change—are the ones who need our help the most.  How do we keep these individuals from slipping through the proverbial crack? Further, how do we keep ourselves motivated and engaged with these types of clients? 

As with any client and program, a one-size-fits-most approach is not effective. All clients are individuals and require a tailored approach based on factors such as personality, goals, likes/dislikes and budgetary constraints. As health and fitness professionals, however, we must seek innovative ways to keep our interactions and experiences with clients fresh, rewarding and engaging. A client invests in the services of a trainer or health coach for a variety of reasons. For the relationship to “click,” the health and fitness professional must make a reciprocal investment in the client as an individual person and find ways to connect with him or her in such a way that the client not only attends scheduled sessions, but delights in the experience. Try some of these “hacks” for getting your clients to consistently attend scheduled sessions with you.


getting clients into your personal training program

  • Leverage technology. Who doesn’t appreciate receiving a “thinking of you” message? Text, email or Facebook your clients motivational messages, reminders or interesting article links. Let them know you’re checking in on them and looking forward to the next session.
  • Regular check-ups. Outside scheduled training and workout sessions, set up brief five- to 10-minute “Just checking in” meetings via phone, Skype, FaceTime or other medium. Training sessions are limited in both time and quiet space. This approach allows you to gather information you may not otherwise obtain during the session itself.
  • Homework. Our duties as personal trainers extend well beyond assigning reps and sets; we are, at heart, educators. At the end of each training session (or some other identified interval) “assign” your clients a small task or activity to complete before the next session. This may include having them listen to a podcast or read a short article; at the next session devote a couple of minutes to discuss what they learned and answer questions the activity may have generated. As an alternative, you can also provide your clients with reflective questions ahead of time and have them email you during the week prior to the next session. Other ideas include assigning a five-minute yoga routine that can be performed throughout the day or asking them to practice exercises they seem to struggle with during sessions. Homework for clients should not be arduous or lengthy, but it can be a great way to maximize the use of the asynchronous time with client.
  • Boost client loyalty. We all need a little “carrot” sometimes. How do you reward your clients? Yes, in theory, progress and goal achievement is the reward. In reality, however, people appreciate a pat on the back and acknowledgement for a job well done. Examine what incentives you have in place for your clients—perhaps it is a free training session, a “client or member of the month” spotlight or a “coupon” to bring a friend to the next session. Or you could “gamify” the sessions by having clients earn points toward a fun book, a seminar or a class (or other idea—be creative).
  • Social support. By nature, humans are gregarious creatures (there are exceptions, of course). Finding ways to offer social support to clients can be a predictor of success. This model is used in several professions, so why not offer “special interest groups” in a personal-training setting? These types of gatherings are low cost and provide an outlet for clients to mingle with others who are pursuing similar goals. Leverage the social aspect of the experience.
  • It’s personal. There’s a reason why we are “personal” trainers. Yes, we lend expertise to our clients to help them set and achieve individually identified health and fitness goals. However, clients are people and they appreciate acknowledgement from their trainers for more than just a hard workout session. Take the time to remember birthdays, special events, enrollment anniversaries with your club, work-related accomplishments, kids’ events, etc. Also, celebrate client progress. While we keep records and SOAP notes for professional and liability purposes, why not share some aspect of it with the client? Show them the accomplishments and milestones. That’s one secret you don’t keep to yourself.
  • Put a spin on it. Humans are creatures of habit, which is one reason we need to keep clients guessing. Infuse the warm-up with new moves, liven up a circuit by playing a version of a “poker run” (again, “gamify”), introduce a new piece of equipment regularly, and be armed with progression ideas before the session.
  • Promote elements of self-direction. Give your clients the opportunity to invest in their own training beyond the swipe of a credit card. Continually ask your clients what went well, what they would change, and what they would like to see more/less of. Ask them for ideas of what exercises or methods to incorporate into their programs. Let them do some research (with your guidance to quality sources) and apply what they learn.

Whatever tactics you employ, do so with high energy, creativity and a love for the game. Personal training isn’t an hour-by-hour job; it’s an investment in the health and well being of those who seek your services. That means it’s a 24/7 commitment. Be on the lookout for new findings, ideas, and methods to share with your clients. Keep them engaged. Keep them moving. Keep them coming.