The majority of our clients come to us because they want to improve some physical characteristics they deem “imperfect” or “unacceptable”. A large part of our job is to help our clients identify, establish, and achieve realistic and individualized health and fitness goals.

We also have an inherent responsibility to do so while encouraging a positive self-image and perception. It’s much easier to construct a safe and effective exercise program than it is to mold and shape the psychological aspects related to self-image.


The Power of Influence

As personal trainers, we hold significant power in our ability to influence our clients’ perceptions of themselves.  The question is – how do we harness that power in such a way that it aids our clients in courageously overcoming their own distorted perceptions of their bodies? It’s a question that cannot be answered with a simple “This is how you do it”. However, there are red flags to watch for and effective tactics you can employ to help clients build their body pride.

Indicators of Poor Body Image

According to National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the following are common flags related to a negative body image.

  • A distorted perception – a person perceives parts of his/her body unlike they really are.
  • An individual is convinced that only other people are attractive and that his/her body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.
  • An individual often feels ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about his/her body.
  • A person may feel uncomfortable and awkward in his/her body.


If you have a client who consistently presents these signs, pay attention and document and take action as is appropriate. When an individual displays these types of behaviors or perceptions, a cascade of consequences result. NEDA highlights the fact that individuals who possess a negative body image have an increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder. Further, they are more likely to suffer from depression, feelings of isolation, low self-esteem and a preoccupation/obsession with weight and weight loss.

How to Promote a Positive Body Image

I feel everyone from every walk of life can relate to the occasional feeling of self-dissatisfaction. Who wouldn’t with as many body shaming messages we are exposed to on a daily basis? I can confidently raise my hand and say – “Yep. My mind has said awful things to my body.” We need to stop this and start spreading a positive and loving message of body pride.

We, as health and fitness professionals, do have the power of influence and can use that power to help our clients embrace themselves for who they are – not what they look like. We can tackle this in two ways which work in tandem. First, model positive body image. Second, provide clients with encouraging suggestions and steps to develop a positive body image. In fact, you can make this part of your practice as a trainer.

For You

  • Examine your inner voice. What is it that you say to yourself and say out loud around other people (clients included) that could be interpreted as negative self-talk?
  • Take an inventory of your beliefs and attitudes toward body image. Does something need to change?
  • Do your research. If you aren’t familiar with this topic or those related to body image and self-esteem, research it. Be a well-informed trainer in addition to being well-intended.
  • Find a resource. We all have referral networks, does yours include a mental health professional? If it doesn’t, add that individual to your list of professional contacts. If you need to make a referral because you suspect a client needs a more serious intervention and/or is suffering from disordered eating, you’ll need someone to call.


For Clients

  • Speak in whole-person terms. In other words, don’t just focus on the physical changes – talk about changes in energy that you see or in the overall attitude and demeanor of your clients.
  • Promote a less weight-centered approach and celebrate non-scale victories (how the client feels, how much their sleep has improved or work-related productivity increases, etc.) often and with flair.
  • Encourage clients to keep a top 10 list of what they like about themselves. Keep a copy in their chart and reinforce its contents.
  • Create a support group network for clients and use that as a platform for building healthier perceptions using social support.


For other ideas and resources, visit NEDA and learn more about their work and efforts.

How do you help build your clients’ confidence and self-esteem?


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