Trainers and coaches:
12 amazing tips for killing client progress.


12 tips guaranteed to kill client progress and poison any coaching relationship. (Plus, the antidote: proven strategies for becoming the best coach you can be.)

Are your clients happy and doing well? Not to worry; we can fix that.

Just follow these 12 simple steps and they’ll be hiding in darkened rooms and curling up in the fetal position in no time at all.

#1: Don’t involve clients in their own progress

Make it top down. You’re the boss, not them. They do what you say.

Be coercive and controlling. Next to you, Machiavelli looks like Barney the dinosaur.

#2: Make progress (or lack of it) about you

View any lack of progress as a personal affront.

How could they hurt you like this? Now you’re not going to win coach of the month!

Plus, they’re making your business look bad. Maybe you should fire them.

#3: Use a one-size-fits-all approach

If pursuing a universal mathematical standard of perfection was good enough for the ancient Greeks, it’s good enough for you.

Whether it’s an 82-year-old grandparent or an 18-year-old gridiron god, it’s all the same client.

Wait… what was their name again?

#4: Be outcome-focused

The end justifies all means. You want performance, damn it! Move that progress needle no matter what.

To help, dangle rewards in front of them at the outset.

Shift their focus to getting that reward instead of mastering the skills or understanding the process they need to get there.

#5: Especially focus on outcomes they can’t control

Berate them if their numbers don’t add up.

Even better, post their skinfolds publicly.

Peer pressure worked in high school, after all.

#6: Appeal to clients’ brainstem instincts by making sure that they feel pain if they don’t deliver

Avoiding pain is a fundamental animal drive.

Plan marathon sets of burpees, verbal abuse, or humiliation in front of the popular kids if they don’t please you.

As the Spanish Inquisitors knew, the choices for pain are endless.

#7: Reward people for things they should already do

Salute them for showing up on time. Throw them a treat for not complaining. Give them a discount if they eat a green vegetable.

Tie behaviour to rewards so they’ll keep jumping through the hoops, like little doggies.

Especially give them rewards they really, really want. Then they’ll feel extra-sad if they don’t get them.

#8: Pump up the volume

Just like you should speak louder and slower at someone who doesn’t understand English, you should make yelling part of your repertoire.

Maybe the client didn’t get the message. Belt it out. They’ll know you mean business, sergeant!

#9: Put the pressure on

Let them know you have high expectations. Real high.

Shove them out of their comfort zone – hard. And explain to them what’s at stake here: everything.

People learn and perform best when they have a fire under their ass, especially if that fire is a raging napalm inferno full of angry flaming killer bees.

#10: Rush

No time to waste!

Set deadlines!

Clock is ticking!


#11: Make it a competition

As legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

Pit your clients against one another in your version of the Hunger Games.

Loser has to walk through the gym in their underwear.

#12: Use your approval as a bargaining tool

If clients don’t do well, make a frowny face and let them know you are taking away your love and acceptance.

Sigh deeply and painfully during weigh-ins.

Threaten to dump them if they binge again.

If clients please you, shower them with adoration, but make sure it’s clear: you could be displeased again at any moment.

Bad personal trainer

OK…just kidding

Again, the list above is what not to do.

(Although many trainers and coaches are doing some of these things every day.)

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Here’s what you should do

Now, let’s look at what you should do: the opposite.

  • Involve clients in their own progress.
  • Understand that each client is on their own unique journey. You are the navigator, not the ship’s captain.
  • Share the joys but detach emotionally from the lows. Their lack of progress doesn’t make you a bad coach. Make any necessary changes to your process and plan without taking it personally.
  • Be process-focused. Look for evidence that clients are building skills and doing the daily actions that truly matter.
  • If you focus on outcomes, focus only on outcomes (especially daily behaviors) that they can control. They can’t force their fat cells to lose fat or muscle cells to grow. But they can control a simple daily habit.
  • Keep it simple. One thing at a time. Don’t overwhelm them.
  • Set clear expectations.
  • Look to the client to set the pace, even if it seems excruciatingly slow. Push them a little bit when they need to be pushed, but not too far.
  • Avoid competition unless it’s friendly and without consequence — and you’re sure your client will truly enjoy it. (Ask first, if you need to.)
  • Respect and accept them unconditionally. Show them that you’re with them for the long haul. Meet them where they are, giving them their dignity.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

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