Fitness, Top Story

Where Motivation Comes From

Cary Register

Fitness and Leadership Editor

Shortly after graduating college, I took a side job as a personal trainer. I worked with two clients, a man and a woman. Both of my clients were at very different places physically, with different motivation levels, and both required a tactful approach to their training. I was able to push both towards a healthier outlook on fitness and health, and I did it without resorting to yelling or manipulation. I used clear leadership principles that guided them towards attaining their goals.

Different People, Different Motivation

The man needed a simple boost to get back into shape. He had been in shape before and was no stranger to hard workouts. The woman was post pregnancy, and she needed some motivation to move and get through a workout (regardless of what it was). Going into it, I decided to forego diet and nutritional advice. I mentioned to each of them several times that results were diet oriented followed by the workouts, but I knew that an hour was all I had to get them into shape, so I focused on the fitness aspects.

I started each client with a few simple moves to gauge where they were at in their fitness levels. Both clients needed work, as I expected, and from there I modified workouts to build upon their base level of fitness. My workouts were tough, but not impossible to do. I try to motivate people during strenuous periods, and I never yell or belittle them. My perspective is this, build them up, don’t tear them down. Everyone starts somewhere and no matter how weak or out of shape they thought they were, I impressed upon them that they were doing more than the people on the couch and to be happy for their progress. It wasn’t a competition. It was simply improving. We were constantly improving upon their fitness.

Teach Them to Fish

Within a few weeks my clients were feeling stronger and healthier than they had in a long time. We had developed good communication that helped me to push them as far as they were willing to go. I enjoyed the feeling of watching one of them go from zero push-ups to five. The trick was consistency, and a willingness to listen. When they were legitimately too tired, I’d change the exercise, but if they were being lazy, I encouraged them that they could do it, and remind them that they had in the past.

It wasn’t always easy though. One of my clients really excelled, while the other was afraid of pushing themselves and began spacing out our meetings more and more. I didn’t judge them, but it was also a reminder that you cannot help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. Eventually the client stopped using me and I hope they were able to stay motivated with fitness going forward. My second client really wanted to be helped and was very interested in improving.

We were able to build off that confidence and determination. A few months after we started working together, I had helped give them a base that allowed them to work out without me. Eventually they stopped needing me to train them. I was glad for this. It was never my intention to work with them for longer than a few weeks, and my philosophy is akin to this old Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” When my client and I parted ways, it was as friends. I had taught them all I could, and they wanted to embark on their own fitness journey. My work was done. And I was genuinely happy that they were taking charge of their own health.

Empowerment is Key

I learned through personal training that empowering your clients is the goal. In any leadership role, your goal is to give those who follow you the tools to work the tasks themselves. I also learned that positive reinforcement is far more effective than negative reinforcement. From my perspective, if I can help you push just a little further and high five you at the end, then I did my job. I’m not here to yell scream or force you into anything. If you want it, we can do it. If you don’t, we can’t. It’s that simple. When two people work together for a common goal, they can do anything. Leadership is all about guidance. When you are guiding you are succeeding.

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  1. So true—people perform at peak capacity with they have a positive team of accountability around them. They have to have a desire to be part of the solution, and then willing to put in the work.

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