If you’re in the fitness business, you know that clients’ traits, personalities, and abilities vary as much as the styles and philosophies of personal training.


That being said, a common (perhaps the most common) type of client we see is the low compliance, low results individual. This individual, although interested in making a change and may have some loosely defined goals prior to seeking your services, struggles to stay committed to a program.

Before you purge this person from your schedule, you might be surprised if you look a little deeper into the why’s of your client’s struggle to commit or remain focused.

What is a low compliance client?

Barardi and Andrews (n.d.) define low compliance clients as those who follow 80% or less of their coach’s recommendations, which yields little if any results.

That said, low compliance clients aren’t always “unmotivated”. It may simply be a lack of confidence and low self-efficacy – both key ingredients in the success formula. Some clients may, in fact, suffer from a general lack of motivation and interest. However, experience says that if someone seeks your services and guidance, the individual is not unmotivated.

This type of individual more than likely contemplating a change or preparing to make a change. Knowing what motivated a person to seek your services is part of your job and investigative efforts. You can leverage that motivation to up the success factor.

What the low compliance client needs

Besides patience, the low compliance client needs to connect with his or her “why” of change. Why is the pursuit of X goal important? What motivated him or her to take the first step? Apply motivational interviewing techniques to tease out the truth and help your client connect to the importance of seeking a chance.

The second need this client has is confidence building. Part of pursuing a goal or remaining committed to one is the belief that we can do it. Build their confidence. Have the client be the co-creator of the behaviors they want to engage in instead of using “do this” in your recommendations. Periodically ask them how confident they feel in performing or executing a recommendation or new habit.

Third, start with small changes the client can live with. Yes, your client may have many lifestyle behaviors that need addressing, but help them identify one or two. Have them follow the habit or change for a couple of weeks and check progress. As healthier habits become solidified, confidence blooms and the likelihood of success exponentially increases.

Finally, be specific and check for understanding when giving guidance and recommendations. Instead of saying “choose a healthy snack”, give examples of what that means. If you advise a client to stay hydrated throughout the day, provide a specific guideline. In other words, take the guesswork out of change. Make it easy.

Put it into Practice

Throughout your career, you will meet clients who struggle. Be careful not to write them off too early in the process. Make a conscious effort to uncover the organic reasons for the desired change your clients come to you to make. In doing so, you will learn the best way to encourage meaningful change through tailored confidence building techniques.

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Erin Nitschke

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at belivestaywell.com