By Elisabeth Kristof & Lee Vallely, AFS Community Experts

As fitness professionals, we know consistency is key to lasting results. Honestly, most of our clients know that too. But there’s often a disconnect between understanding this at an intellectual level and implementing this knowledge for lasting change. In order for our work to be meaningful, our mission achievable, our retention rates high and our businesses thriving, we must arm clients with the right tools for behavior change.

The first thing to understand when it comes to motivation is it doesn’t come from the trainer. A coach’s job is to help clients understand their WHY and change their own internal dialogue about fitness.


Numerous studies have found that because the voice inside our heads plays non-stop, 24/7, we are more likely to listen to ourselves than anyone else. This is why it’s crucial to get clients to articulate why they need to make a change, instead of hearing it from you.

Motivational interviewing is a powerful technique to facilitate intrinsic motivation to change behavior. Ask a client to rate, on a scale of one to ten, their motivation for making a change and their confidence in their ability to make that change. Whatever number they give, ask them why they said that number—and not a lower number. For example, if the client says “six,” ask them, “Why a six, and not a three?” This technique pushes clients to state their own reasons for being motivated and leads them to express their belief in themselves to achieve their goals.

Stay Positive

This technique helps clients frame their WHY in a positive mindset. According to Harvard Health Publications, changes made from a place of fear /guilt are less effective than those coming from self-motivation and positive thinking. Stay grounded in what you want - not just what you want to avoid. 

Get Specific

Harvard Health also states goals are easier to reach if they're specific. Rather than saying “I’ll get more exercise,” make a plan by answering specific questions: “What are you going to do? How long are you going to do it for each day? At what time?” Have clients put it on their calendar. Being clear and focused about what a goal looks like on a daily basis cultivates a routine. ​

Make an Emotional Connection

Once the client has a clear, positive goal and understands their why, help them to feel it through visualization. Have the client write out what they will feel like each morning once they’ve achieved their goal. For example: “I wake up feeling excited and energetic. My body feels supple, without pain. My skin is glowing. I’m well rested. My mind is clear. As I get dressed I feel comfortable in my clothes.”

Continue daily to visualize the emotions and sensations of goal achievement.

Create Community

Lasting change comes from something larger than you. This is why creating a community is vital to behavior change. Whether it’s by training your staff to greet each new client, making sure teachers use names in class, organizing community events or using social media to connect clients – creating a community that supports and inspires is key to maintaining client motivation. When the ambition to realize a goal falls short, clients continue to show up because they are connected to one another. It’s through those connections that they will re-find the inspiration to show up for themselves.

Understand Change is a Process

To avoid frustration – help clients to understand that change is a PROCESS, not an event. One of the most widely applied behavioral science models that examines this process is the transtheoretical model (TTM). TTM states that change comes in stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Each stage is preparation for the following one. Stages mustn't be skipped and different strategies are needed at different stages. A final stage of the model often includes relapse. It’s almost always true that your client will, at some point, slip off the beam. Studies show that those who understand that this is part of the process are more likely to quickly bound back than those who view this as failure. Change is not all or nothing. Create a culture that helps your clients to understand that the beauty of having a beam in the first place is that it is always there - waiting for them to get back on. 


Elisabeth Kristof and Lee Vallely are owners of RedBird Fitness LLC. RedBird is a movement education method based on 35-years-experience in the industry and includes a premier fitness studio in downtown Austin, a national Pilates teacher training program and an online platform

RedBird’s distinct, science-based methodology emphasizes precision movement, proper alignment and a deep mind-body connection. Women and men who immerse themselves in the RedBird method grow progressively leaner, stronger, more agile – and even more courageous – as their commitment deepens. To learn more about our programs, visit

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