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by Paul M. Couzelis, Ph.D., FAWHP

Motivating Members to Become and Remain

Physically Active

he front door of the fitness center may be prime determinants of the it medicine, in terms of type,
opens and yet another out-of- long-term success of your career. frequency, and intensity, but when
shape, hesitant person, often This article will not present properly administered, it has the
with great trepidation, has decided to behavioral theories and terminology, power to permanently change lives
enter the strange and frightening world but, rather, will discuss in practical by improving self-confidence, physical
of what they may perceive to be sweaty, terms some of the things that you attractiveness, earning potential,
good-looking, young, spandex-clad, fit can do to facilitate long-term success energy, longevity, and health. What
people. Soon, this person, perhaps among your clients who are new to else can accomplish that? Certainly
hoping to exude confidence and physical activity. Often, teachers or not Botox1, aspirin, Lipitor1, or
enthusiasm, ends up in front of you, coaches tell us that the greatest angioplasty. So why is it that about
the personal trainer (or class instructor, satisfaction they experience is when half of clients who begin an activity do
etc.). The things that you do next can years later a former student tells them not see it through for the long term to
impact this person for the rest of his about the impact that they had on his permanently experience these benefits?
or her life. or her life; there is no reason why an There are many contributing factors,
The answer to the question of effective personal trainer or class a significant one being motivation.
whether this person will be leading instructor cannot exert the same kind of
an active lifestyle next week, next powerful impact. Understanding the Getting Started—Initial
month, or 20 years from now could client in front of you, their motivations, Motivation
easily rest in your hands. The things fears, ambitions, and goals, and being Obesity, injuries, heart attacks, high
that you do, or do not do, over the appropriately responsive to them, blood pressure, appearance, lack of
next few moments, days, or weeks can can be far more important than the energy and fitness, Kilimanjaro,
be powerful and, from a business program that you outline for them. Boston Marathon, health fears,
perspective, your ability to do these ACSM has T-shirts that read, combating depression, budding
things well and repeatedly over time ‘‘Exercise IS Medicine.’’ Not only is relationships, recapturing youth—in
today’s world, the variety and number
of reasons, rational and irrational,
that can inspire someone to begin an
exercise program is greater than ever
before. As the average age of the
population continues to climb and the
overwhelming evidence of the value
and power of physical activity to
improve lives continues to mount,
this list will undoubtedly expand.
This expansion will bring new clients
to trainers and fitness leaders for help.
If the client has completed an
application that asks about personal
goals, those goals can be a good starting
point for a discussion about the reason
the person came to the gym. However,
merely reading and mentioning a listed
goal before launching into sets and
repetitions is far different than


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understanding why and how the goal to understand the things that they to it, provide an occasional reality
was decided upon. The client’s reasons can do to improve the situation. check, and be part of their team.
for showing up, or not showing up, and 3. Improved health. Because any one of
how they feel about how they are doing a plethora of health problems can Motivational Evolution
should be part of your ongoing benefit from physical activity, this For most people, their motivations
dialogue. Let us explore a few reasons motivation can cover any number become more complex and intrinsic
why clients have selected their goals: of short- and long-term injuries and soon after beginning a program.
chronic health conditions. The It is important that you, as their
1. Poor self-image. Some people see feelings a person has can range
themselves as being, in some way, first mentor, seek to understand these
from fear and apprehension that
less acceptable than others. They initial motivations and goals, not only
this is their last chance to ‘‘get
may be quiet and shy and feel that healthy’’ to excitement about on the first day of their program or
being more fit will help to bring getting back into shape after class but also on an ongoing basis—
them out of their shell. Others experiencing some temporary because they will strengthen, weaken,
may feel that the weight they have physical problem. The more change, and evolve as clients strive to
gained embarrasses them among thoroughly you understand the improve and their life changes.
their peers and that getting fit health issue, as well as how the Future articles will address the
will help to resolve the problem. person feels about it, the more this changes in motivation that occur over
Physical activity and fitness can
understanding will contribute to time and the impact that your actions
contribute to improving self-image.
your ability to keep the person on can have on the client’s likelihood of
In the early going, individuals
track. Providing realistic recognition forming a lifelong habit, and, therefore,
with a poor self-image will benefit
of progress along the way will your likelihood of succeeding as a trainer
from your recognition of their
contribute to short-term motivation. and a business person.
efforts and the small improvements
in appearance, mood, and attitude 4. Attractiveness. Looking better can
that accrue over time. Let them be a very powerful motivator; most Paul M. Couzelis,
know that you enjoy their company of us want to look our best, for Ph.D., FAWHP, is
and look forward to seeing them ourselves as well as for others. If a founding partner
at the gym. If the opportunity your client wants to improve his or and president of
presents itself early in their time her appearance, then it is important
MediFit Corporate
at the gym, you might want to take to understand what looking better
Services, Inc., which
a moment to introduce them to means for that person. Sometimes
it is bigger muscles, sometimes a is a diversified
others so they feel more socially
connected to the environment. If thinner body; make an effort to management and consulting company
they are making progress, recognize understand what the person wants with nationwide interests in worksite
that progress with supportive to look like and, more importantly, health promotion, physical fitness,
comments as often as possible. why they desire to look better. You health screening, and worksite physical
2. Lack of energy. In one of the can assist in managing the person’s therapy. Dr. Couzelis was the 1996
seeming inconsistencies that people expectations so that they are realistic international president of the Association
often do not understand or believe, regarding the changes that they can for Worksite Health Promotion
participating in exercise, rather expect through exercise and fitness. (AWHP) and served as chairperson
than leaving them more tired, gives You also can reinforce their progress of its Professional Standards Task Force.
them more energy to enjoy life. through appropriate positive He also served as the 2001 president
If this is the primary reason for comments related to their goals.
of the National Coalition for Promoting
beginning a program, make sure 5. Meeting a physical goal. People Physical Activity (NCPPA). Currently,
that you do not wear them out in sometimes arrive at the gym with a he is an associate editor for ACSM’s
the early going. Plan workouts weight goal or the desire to run a Health & Fitness Journal1 and
that will leave the newbie feeling 5-km race or climb a mountain.
was part of the writing team that
energized, rather than tired after The more that you can ‘‘share’’
those early workouts. Discuss other that goal by becoming enthusiastic revised the ACSM Health/Fitness
energy-sapping issues such as lack about it and helping the person to Facility Standards and Guidelines.
of sleep, poor nutrition, and stress. feel supported and good about it, He received his B.S. and M.S. from
Try to optimize your client’s the better the chance that they will Springfield College and his Ph.D.
opportunities to experience added move forward toward achieving in exercise physiology from Kent
energy by giving them the tools it. Keep it in mind, make reference State University.

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