“Ready, get set, go!”

Does this phrase excite you or make you want to crawl under a rock?  Some people love competition.  Others run from it (which could be a competition of it’s own).  If you’re the competitive type, you may have a hard time understanding the apprehensive exerciser and vice-a-versa.

At the core of every human being is the smallest bit of competition.  It’s called self-efficacy.  It’s the perception of ones abilities and how successful they feel they are at a given behavior or activity.  Self-efficacy can be low, medium or high.  It’s different than self-esteem, which describes perceptions of self-worth and emotional evaluation.

Low self-efficacy could be present in someone who is lifting weights, using an elliptical or in a seasoned athlete competing at altitude for the first time.  It might be hard to imagine that using an elliptical could be intimidating to someone, but it could be!

Self-efficacy changes from one behavior/activity to the next for each individual.  This requires us (fit pros) to hone in on the subtle signs and signals.

Recognize self-efficacy

What’s this got to do with you?  Improving self-efficacy creates a sense of accomplishment and makes an individual more likely to repeat a behavior.  As a personal trainer, you can help facilitate this growth.

Believe it or not some people don’t exercise simply because they don’t feel they could be successful at it.

Walking into a fitness class for the first time or meeting with a personal trainer who is really fit and healthy can be intimidating.  Keep this in mind as you get to know your new clients or class participants.  Read their body language, they probably won’t tell you that they’re nervous and some are really good at hiding it.

Questions to ask:Efficacy Level

  • Have you done this exercise before?
  • Do you have any questions or hesitations about it?
  • Was this exercise easy or difficult for you?

Competitive athletes have self-efficacy also.  Theirs is usually pretty high.  Yet, they still experience low self-efficacy when it comes to running on a new course, biking at altitude or facing a successful opponent.  Depending on personality style, they too might hide their feelings.

Improve self-efficacy
Understanding the level of self-efficacy someone has about an activity helps sport psychologists, health coaches and personal trainers guide the individual in setting goals and achieving them.  Start with each client where they are and help them improve from there.  Be an adaptable guide.

Create challenges small or large that fit into the clients specific goals.  The art of personal training is figuring out the sweet spot.  What will challenge the client and not too easy for them?  With beginners there usually is no challenge too small.  If you have a hunch that someone is weary about trying new exercises, keep it simple.

On the other hand, if you recognize the seasoned athlete in someone and high self-efficacy – be ready to push the limits.  This doesn’t always mean a harder exercise, it sometimes means smarter.  Using biomechanical assessments to identify specific weaknesses in their strength can lead you to the missing link in their training regimen.  This requires a keen knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology.  Check out this NFPT CEC course.

Adapt to self-efficacy

Create a continuum of exercises you do with new clients and pay attention to their reaction.  Ask them how challenging each one is on a scale of 1-5.  For example, you could start with single leg balance and then add some arm or leg movements to it.  Take note of how the person does.  If they struggle, take a break and make note so that you don’t make it harder than that until they’re ready.

Another example is starting with a partial squat and advancing to a full squat or holding a plank on the knees before the toes.  Always be ready to make an exercise easier or harder.  It’s the mark of a skilled fitness professional.

When you recognize the person has mastered an exercise, feels confident and reports that it’s easy, you can progress to harder exercises.  It’s like those placement exams.  You answer a question and if you get it right, they give you a harder one.  If you get it wrong, you get an easier one.

Personal training is indeed quite personal and the more we can tune into the clients behavioral needs, the better we can guide them forward and keep them committed to a healthy lifestyle.

Beverly Hosford

Beverly Hosford, MA teaches anatomy and body awareness using a skeleton named Andy, balloons, play-doh, ribbons, guided visualizations, and corrective exercises. She is an instructor, author, and a business coach for fitness professionals. Learn how to help your clients sleep better with in Bev’s NFPT Sleep Coach Program and dive deeper into anatomy in her NFPT Fundamentals of Anatomy Course.