Personal training is so much more than holding a clipboard, wearing a stopwatch around your neck, and counting to 10. If you disagree, and you’re a trainer, it’s time for a career change. I believe personal training is about establishing a relationship, building trust, working hard, and growing that relationship around client-specific goals. If we are in agreement, please read on…

This article was originally published on ‘The Personal Trainer Development Center‘ site (an awesome resource for trainers, definitely check them out). The focus of that piece was dealing with the “everyday” or “general population” client. I decided to add to the article and share with you my thoughts, strategies, and comparisons on working with both the general population client and the professional athlete.

Importance Of Goals

Creating goals will help us develop the “road map” that will become our health & fitness program. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you ever know if you get there? Once the goals are determined, you can create the workouts and routines to help your client achieve success. While I think goal setting and programs are both vital pieces, I feel that motivating your client to be the most critical of all. You can have great goals and a world-class program, but if you aren’t motivated and don’t have the right mindset, results won’t happen.

To motivate clients, you need to provide them with more than, “All you”, “You got this”, and “Is that all you got!?”. It’s about connecting with your client and stimulating the necessary triggers to help them reach their goals. I think it’s important to motivate in ways other than simply hooting and hollering. Different tactics are used to inspire different types of people. The two “types” of clients that I work with on a daily basis are MMA athletes and the general pop. There are some tactics I use with one population that I don’t use with the other.

My Motivation Evolution
I had the opportunity to work alongside Todd Durkin for 6+ years. For those that don’t know him, let’s just say he is a mildly energetic (read with sarcasm) and someone who made it impossible to have a sub par training session if you were under his watch. Watching how he would motivate his clients and athletes was impressive to witness. The enthusiasm and energy he would display was contagious, not only to the person or group he was working with, but to the entire facility. From a client’s perspective, you could not help but give it your all because you could see that he was working hard to inspire and motivate you. If you want to be motivated, hang out with Todd.

I consider myself a successful trainer and coach. And I would go so far as to say that I’m a fairly up-beat guy. But I’ll be the first to admit that I have nowhere near the energy and stamina that he has (despite my mild caffeine addiction). Does that mean I can’t be a successful trainer? Can I not help clients reach their goals? Do I have to have an upbeat and “rah-rah” attitude 24/7 in order for my clients to reach their fitness goals? Since I don’t have that type of personality, how do I motivate my clients? What tools or tactics do I employ to ensure goals are being met? As I wrote in an article a few months back, my answer to this, and everything of fitness-related question, is – it depends. In this case, it depends on the client. Yes, we are all human beings and yes, a pushup and a deadlift will help us all get stronger, but when it comes to motivation and mind-set; that’s a unique characteristic in a lot of ways.

I can say that one thing I do have is passion. I truly care about every client that I work with. They have my undivided attention and their goals are my goals when we are working together. I like to think clients can see and feel that I really want what is best for them. I can say that with 100% conviction. When I first started my personal training career back in 1996 (yikes!), I was really timid. I remember being shy and nervous whenever I would work with a member at the gym. I was in school, interning at a local health club, and I didn’t really know a whole heck of a lot. With experience comes confidence. And with confidence comes the ability to be more sure of one’s self. Fast-forward 10 years and I was training at Fitness Quest 10 (FQ10) in San Diego. A number of the coaches there were extremely upbeat and motivating their clients in a more “boot camp” style approach. I feel that I adopted a bit of that “energetic” style early on in my first year or two there. Over time, I began to develop my own style…and the client I was working with for that particular session would ultimately determine my style. I’d say I’m somewhere in the middle as far as verbal encouragement goes. With some clients I will simply give the occasional, “Good job” and with others I’m much more animated and loud. My 72 year old client who’s primary goal is to stay pain-free doesn’t need me blowing my whistle in her face and yelling at her because she lost cervical alignment on the last rep of her wall pushups.

What’s Worked?
General Population
I realize “general population” is an extremely generic term. I’m referring to the client that drives to work Monday through Friday, sits at a desk much of the day, meets me at lunch or after work for their hour-long workout 2-3 times a week, and then drives home after work to be with their family.

Like I mentioned before, so much of training is connecting. If you can get to know your client and know what motivates them and what inspires them and what makes them tick, then you are armed with powerful information that you can use effectively to produce results. It’s fairly common to sit down with a new client to go over goals, rates, history, etc., however, how many trainers sit down with their clients on a regular basis? It doesn’t have to be a weekly meeting. Even just 10-15 minutes every 4-6 weeks just to step off the gym floor, review the goals, and make sure everyone is on the same page. And don’t just sit down and talk about the goals – actually write them out! I love all the latest technology out there these days…but I’ll pick face to face communication with paper and pen over Facetime, Skype, Twitter, smoke signals, etc., any day of the week. Make eye contact, repeat their goals so they know you hear them, and then write the goals down. These little steps will go a long way in terms of success.

  • Face to face time
  • Eye contact
  • Listen
  • Write out goals

Once the goals are established, share them. Clients should be encouraged to share their new goals with family, friends, co-workers, and any other people in their “inner circle”. Studies show that friends and family have a significant role in achieving results. Better yet, get the family or friends involved and have them all train together. Pick an event to train for that will keep everyone motivated as a team. Examples include a local 5k run, a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder event, or any number of charity based events that are offered today…especially if that charity has meaning to them.

Think writing out goals is a quick meaningless step? Quick, yes. But meaningless, no? When it comes to weight loss goals, food journaling and writing out your food intake can nearly double weight loss effectiveness (Hollis et al. 2008). When you actually see your lifestyle patterns, you are much more apt to maintain a healthy behavior.

Some additional simple strategies include:

  • Reach a goal and get a free training session
  • Fill out a food journal for a week straight and get a free t-shirt
  • Write out a thank you card showing your clients you appreciate their hard work
  • Congratulate them for their results in your newsletter or on your gyms “information board”
  • Praise them on Facebook for their new PR
  • Send a text message showing them you are thinking about them on their day off

With the general population, “It’s the start that stops most people”. This is one of my favorite quotes that I first heard from Brian Cain. Just focus on achieving one small step at a time and don’t dwell on the “big picture” goal. How do you eat an elephant? Answer – One bite at a time (perhaps the wrong analogy for this particular article, but you get the idea). If you can get going and take that leap, only positive things will happen.

MMA Athletes
The motivation to exercise for professional athletes is going to differ from the “general population” client. Sure, they appreciate the health benefits of fat loss, muscle gain, improved heart and lung health, etc., but their primary goal is to improve at their particular sport. I’ve trained professional athletes in a number of different sports, however, my passion and focus is MMA. These athletes are “unique animals” and extremely rewarding to work with. They don’t make the 7 figure contracts or have the multi-million dollar Nike & Gatorade sponsorships (Although, for the top guys, that is beginning to change). For the majority of the lower to mid tier professionals, the sport of MMA is how they put food on the table. It’s how they provide for their families and how they put a roof over their heads. They may fight 3-4 times per year and make $10-15k per fight. Couple that with a supplement company sponsorship and an apparel company endorsement, and you can see that they are not making typical “pro athlete” dollars. In no way am I saying that the athletes who do make the million dollar contracts not work hard. I witnessed Drew Brees train at FQ10 for years and he is one of the hardest working PEOPLE (not just athlete) I have ever seen. He’s a true inspiration. All I’m saying is that these MMA athletes do not make a lot of money; yet they sacrifice their bodies every day for their sport.

On top of the pressure of fighting to support their families, is the fact that their actual fight may only last a minute or two. This is a sport where they typically train for 8 weeks for a fight (Commonly known as their “8 week camp”). This is 8 weeks of blood, sweat, and maybe a tear or two (although an MMA athlete would never admit it) for something that could last less than 60 seconds! That’s pressure…and that’s got to be motivating!

I apply many of the same principles you see above with my MMA athletes. Generally speaking, these athletes are already a very motivated group. Their mind is already set. The focus here is more on dealing with the pressures of MMA than dealing with getting off the couch to get a workout in.

We still goal set and write down what we want to achieve. Not only short term but long term as well. I have them write down 30-day, 90-day, and 12-month goals; and then revisit them periodically to make sure we are still on track. If they are comfortable, have them share a few of their goals with other members of the fight team. The more people that know your goals, the motivated you will be to achieve them.

Some unique strategies include:

  • Playing their walkout music during our training sessions.
  • Talking with a professional – A number of the athletes I work with meet with John Boesky, therapist & NLP practitioner, on a regular basis. Here’s our RECENT INTERVIEW
  • In connection to the point above, make sure athletes have their own “anchor” to help get them focused before training or a fight.
  • Competitions such as 100 meter Rower Machine races, sprawl drills, card catching games, and “Tug of war” challenges are great ways to push the guys to give just a little bit more at the end of a workout. CHECK OUT AN EXAMPLE

Start Today
Let me ask an important question – What motivates you? What drives you and is the reason you go to the gym 2, 3, or more times every week? Take a minute of self-reflection and ask yourself that question? Is it easy to answer? Do you struggle to come up with an answer? Regardless of your occupation, accountant or cage fighter, you are a goal-driven person. Tap in to what inspires you to push through the difficult times, work hard when no one is watching, and do whatever it takes to achieve the goals you set forth.

About Doug

Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is the owner of DB Strength, which provides fitness training, education, and resources. He is also the strength and conditioning coach for Alliance MMA where he works with UFC Champion Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Travis Browne, Ross Pearson, Alexander Gustafsson, and more. Prior to starting his own business, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE).

He has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU and has obtained multiple certifications including ACE, NSCA-CSCS, MMA-CC, TRX instructor training, RIP training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, and FMS training. He has produced his own 2-DVD set on strength training for combat athletes, appeared in many fitness videos and articles, and was recently a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show.

For more information please visit