‘Abs are made in the kitchen, but glutes are made in the gym’.
The industry has long debated the relative importance of nutrition versus exercise when it comes to improvements in health and aesthetics (for the record, both are clearly key no matter what your goals), but there’s one key point that until recently we’ve overlooked:
Those doing the debating are health and fitness enthusiasts.
We’re the trainers, ‘gym bunnies’ and athletes who love exercise and nutritious food. We’re the motivated ones who don’t need any convincing. What about our clients? Or the people that aren’t even working with us yet?
Most people don’t share our exercise and health mentality, as demonstrated by various papers and studies such as uk active’s Turning the Tide of Inactivity report.
I remember reading about a survey a few years ago which reported that, even if they knew it would increase the length of their life, 47% of people in this country would not be motivated to do more physical activity. “Brits would rather die than do exercise” was the rather sensationalist headline, but it illustrates the point - you can be the most technically competent and qualified personal trainer in the world with intricate knowledge of the latest exercise techniques and cutting edge nutrition research, but if you can’t get your client to actually do their programme or follow your advice they won’t get results.
It’s strikingly obvious and we’ve known it all along of course, but too often we’ve wondered why clients haven’t made progress, perhaps blamed them for not being motivated, or been too quick to say ‘well all I can do is tell them what to do’. You can lead a horse to water and all that…
Let’s take a step back. What’s our role as a personal trainer? Isn’t it to support our clients to achieve their goals in the most effective way we can? There is still a perception of personal training being all about ‘tailored exercise plans’ which, although a marked step forward from the stereotypical image of a muscle-bound young man shouting at someone whilst they sweat away on a treadmill, is quite a narrow view. Things have moved on.
The reality is that it’s about addressing all the areas necessary to reach those goals; fundamentally that’s nutrition, other lifestyle factors such as sleep and stress, as well as exercise/physical activity. More specifically, it’s about effective behavior change in those areas.
The key to success is therefore not just technical knowledge in the topics above but first and foremost a sound understanding of client psychology and motivational skills to help your clients actually make the changes they need to. This is why the term ‘coaching’ has become a buzz word in the industry - simply instructing isn’t as effective when it comes to changing behavior.
The ‘fitness’ industry versus the ‘change’ industry
In today’s fitness world then, the responsibility for motivating clients over the long term, not just in the hour you’re with them, has to largely lie with the PT. Indeed, the very term ‘fitness’ professional could be considered a slightly misleading title in relation to what we are trying to achieve – fitness and exercise just happens to be the more visible side of the role.
Behaviour change skills are the key to ensuring the technical knowledge trainers have is successfully translated into results for clients, and this is something the health and fitness industry is embracing more than ever before. PT courses and qualifications should place more emphasis on this vital topic and I believe it’ll be a big trend in 2015.
Behaviour change is all about focusing motivation in the right direction and altering mindset. Nutrition and exercise knowledge is undoubtedly essential, but if you want to help clients reach their goals, help them change their minds – literally!
Blog written by Paul Swainson, Head of School at Future Fit School of Personal Training