Exercise Science: 6 Strategies for Reaching Difficult Clients

Published on June 28, 2017 by arothstein

Pair relaxing after workoutChange can be challenging. As an exercise science professional, you know better than most that positive change with long-term benefits often requires a perspective shift as well as an adjustment to schedule, eating habits, and energy output.

In your work you may face clients who are not ready to adopt your research-based health and wellness suggestions. Despite your best efforts and ongoing encouragement, they may not be getting on board with changing their lives for the better. Here are six tips for helping your clients adjust to their new goals and find motivation to succeed.

1. Tie health and fitness goals to external motivation

One way to engage difficult clients to help them visualize the ripple effect of their choices. For example, you may have clients with health needs that require them to stick to a specific nutrition program. If they are less than happy about complying, they may be unwilling to make the change for themselves. However, if you bring to light loved ones who may be affected if your clients choose a negative health lifestyle, clients may be more motivated to explore and execute the steps required. Whether these individuals are their children, grandchildren, spouses, or friends, your clients are likely to attach more significance to their actions if they are able to draw motivation from these external sources.

2. Partner a reluctant client with a competitor

Human nature is an interesting thing. Sometimes, individuals are very comfortable complaining and being non-compliant with their trainer or health coach, but they would never act in such a manner if they were in front of a stranger or with a group of people. You may be able to spark a change in the attitude of a difficult client by pairing him or her with a client who is positive, upbeat, and always up for the challenge. Even just bringing together the two individuals for a short workout could result in you seeing an entirely different (and open-minded) side of your difficult client.

3. Get to the root of the issue

Sometimes difficult clients are worried, fearful, or nervous about implementing changes. This can be a natural knee-jerk response. However, emotional issues may contribute significantly to a client’s unwillingness to get on board with a health or fitness goal. These issues may require the assistance of a mental professional, particularly if your client is depressed or struggling with anxiety. While only mental health professionals should help a client work through such issues, you can play a role in helping your clients identify that they may have a more deeply rooted mental health reason for refusing to improve their lives. Do not hesitate to help connect your client with local community mental health resources if you think they may benefit.

4. Suggest a strategy that is totally out in left field

Two senior women exercising with hula hoops

Clients may communicate to you vocally or through their interactions with you that they are bored with their current exercise regimen. It may be time to suggest they do something “crazy.” These clients often respond negatively to achievable challenges but may respond positively when faced with a challenge that seems so outlandish they are able to stop focusing on their boredom. For example, you could challenge a non-running client to sign up to run a 5K or a non-swimming client to learn to swim—but you could also suggest aerial silks, krav maga, or square dancing.

5. Create a reward (any reward)

Once, a teacher in search of a way to motivate his students spray-painted a plain, dry peanut a sparkling golden hue. He then offered this golden peanut up as a reward to only be obtained by those students who worked the hardest towards their goals and exhibited the most positive levels of change. In just a few days, his students were working harder and achieving more than they had in the months prior. The moral of this story is that the value placed on an extrinsic reward is in the eye of the beholder.

Applying this same technique to your client relationships develops an extrinsic reward that your client can work to obtain. Regardless of the value of the reward, by offering it up and bestowing it publicly on deserving clients, you can sometimes inspire even the most reluctant clients to succeed.

6. Know when to end the client relationship

While it is possible to work with any client, sometimes client relationships reach a point where the client is no longer benefiting. Occasionally, you as the exercise science professional will need to know when it is best that your client tries working with another individual. Don’t be afraid to suggest this option when you know you have done your best to help a client.

Succeed in your career in health, fitness, and wellness

When you earn your bachelor’s degree in Broadview’s online Exercise Science program, you’ll learn from faculty who have real-world experience serving difficult clients. They’ll prepare you to work directly with clients in all levels of physical fitness and at varying levels of motivation.

Explore the B.S. in Exercise Science online program ›

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