Motivation is a key ingredient in a personal training client’s program adherence. If a client is motivated to adhere to a program, he or she is more likely to achieve lasting behavior change. That said, what motivation looks like and how we engage with clients may vary between a face-to-face, “on the ground” setting and a virtual or online experience. Here are some ways in which you can keep all fitness clients connected and motivated.


Before tackling the construct of motivation, remember the principle of rapport. The foundation of any solid practice includes rapport and empathy. If a client does not feel connected to you or feels judged, a commitment to behavior change is lost. Put yourself in the client’s shoes – empathize with their journey and offer supporting guidance.

Your clients will appreciate your attempts to personalize their experience. Engage in caring conversations with your clients throughout your work together. Be mindful of your verbal and nonverbal communication skills and consistently seek client feedback. Finally, keep in mind that rapport building is not a single or isolated event rather it is a process that continuously unfolds throughout the relationship.

Types of Motivation

As self-determination theory suggests, there are two types of motivation: extrinsic (or controlled) and intrinsic (or autonomous). When a client is intrinsically motivated, he or she is performing exercise because they want to. In contrast, individuals who are extrinsically motivated are performing a behavior due to outside pressure or tangible reward. Fitness clients usually do not display a single type of motivation but experience a combination.

A personal trainer must seek to understand the source of their clients’ motivation and further respect the notion that the trainer is the exercise expert while the client is the expert on her or himself and is in charge of their own process of behavior change.

Building a Motivational Climate

Ultimately, and regardless, of the source of motivation your clients want what everyone wants – to be cared for. Your clients must feel that the environment in which you are training them (virtual or otherwise) is safe, supportive, caring, and collaborative. According to Jo (2020), fitness professionals should focus on “creating a caring, task-involving climate”. This type of environment includes the following elements and principles:

  • A perception of a safe and supportive setting (caring)
  • A sense of belonging (caring)
  • Leaders display genuine concern for clients’ wellbeing (caring)
  • A focus on best effort and self-improvement (task-involving)
  • Learning from mistakes (task-involving)

(Jo, 2020)

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Related to the core elements of a caring, task-involving climate, the same author offers simple strategies fitness professionals can immediately incorporate into their daily practices.

First, always greet your clients enthusiastically and warmly and in a personalized manner. Jo suggests revisiting a comment a client noted during the previous session. For example, “I loved your idea of incorporating more dynamic stretches at the beginning of the session, so today we will work on some hip mobility movements to prepare for our lower body session.”

A second approach to creating a motivational climate is to “foster a sense of belonging”. This might include introducing clients to other like-minded clients or establishing virtual chat groups in a virtual space. Clients want to feel as if they aren’t alone in the pursuit of their goals. This is also a way to foster social support for clients who may not know many people or who do not have a strong social support network initially.

In addition to enthusiastic greetings, conversations, and fostering social support networks, remember to continue to celebrate and praise clients’ efforts. For a face-to-face interaction, simply note what your client has accomplished or highlight something you observed from a food or exercise log (i.e. “I see you did an extra hour of activity this week. Great job!”).

In a virtual space, you could record video messages to your clients and send them or post them (depending on the platform you use). But acknowledging clients’ efforts isn’t the end – remember to ask for and use client feedback to make program changes. You can do this by saying something like, “You mentioned you’d like to see elements of Yoga incorporated into your weekly plan, so I made some program adjustments.”

Jo (2020) further notes the importance of focusing on process rather than outcome-based goals (accomplishing a behavior versus losing a pound), observing immediate positive effects (better sleep, increased energy, etc.), celebrating progress while not comparing to others, and learning from mistakes (if mistakes are made, we use the information to establish next steps).

Successful personal training transcends beyond the science it’s founded upon. A fitness professional’s success (and his or her clients’ success) is rooted deeper in the quality of the environment in which the act of training takes place. Implementing these strategies, among others, can elevate your practice and enhance the client experience.


Jo, S. (2020). Creating a motivational climate for behavior change. Presented as part of the ACE Mover Academy Online Webinar Series. May 15, 2020

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