You may be educated, experienced, and give great advice — but giving advice isn’t enough.
To be a life-changing fitness pro, you need to take responsibility for both the advice you offer, and your client’s ability to follow that advice. Yes, even those “difficult clients.” The ones other fitness professionals tell you to fire.
Here at Precision Nutrition, we don’t fire our clients. We take a completely different approach.
In this 4 part video series – filmed live at the 2011 Perform Better Summit in Long Beach, California – we’ll share that approach with you. And, by the end of the series, you’ll be better equipped to get unbelievable results with every type of client you work with. Even the challenging ones.
The PN Coaching habits and practices
Earlier in this video series we presented two lessons to help you better apply the principles of change psychology:
- Lesson 1: Coach to both sides of the brain.
- Lesson 2: Introduce only one new habit at a time.
In today’s lesson I’d like to extend the last idea by giving you an overview of the first 6 months of habits and practices we introduce in our PN Coaching Program. Each habit is introduced two weeks after the previous one.
You’ll notice that early in the program (the upper left column) we begin with one simple habit that always yields high compliance: take fish oil and a multivitamin (in specific doses).
Why this habit first? Well, not only is it fairly easy to follow — creating immediate success and a positive momentum — it also helps correct common nutrient deficiencies, boosts motivation centers in the brain, and kick-starts the metabolism. Not bad for a first habit!
After that, we introduce eating slowly and stopping meals when clients feel “just satisfied” (80% full) rather than “full” (100% full). These simple — but not easy — practices help people better tune into hunger and appetite cues (“right brain” activity). And they eliminate the need for calorie counting and nutritional math (“left brain” activity).
In essence, they’re calorie control strategies that don’t involve calorie counting. Awesome.
From there we work on food type, timing, and a host of other practices. Each habit builds on the last, creating a progression produces long-term, sustainable results for our coaching clients.
As they’re presented above, the sample habits are a little vague. That’s why each 2-week habit is accompanied by daily lessons and assignments that better clarify the habit, making each crystal clear and measurable. This way it’s easy for clients to know whether they did a habit or not.
But remember, these habits are just suggestions.
We still have to assess client confidence by asking: “On a scale of 0-10, how confident are you that you can do this habit every day for the next 2 weeks?” If confidence is below 9 or 10 out of 10, we make the habit smaller until the client is positive they can do it.
Confidence is everything.
Lesson #3: Speak to clients in a way that supports change.
Language is more powerful than most people realize. The language you use with clients as they try to change can determine their success.
One big insight I pulled from the book Motivational Interviewing (the books Crucial Conversations and Influence also touch upon this) is the fact that even with the best of intentions — even while deeply caring about client results — if you choose the wrong words, or argue too strongly for change, you could be making clients less likely to do so.
That’s right: Your well-meaning coaching strategies could be having the opposite effect: You could — without realizing — be demotivating clients, creating barriers, and actively pushing people in the wrong direction. Ouch.
Here’s an example: When telling clients that their lifestyle choices (nutrition, exercise, etc) are wrong — no matter how nicely you do it — your clients will feel threatened. The primal, pre-rational, “right brain” consequence of that? They end up defending their habits to explain why they made the choices they did.
This sets up a situation where you (as the coach) are arguing for change, while your client is arguing against change. How do you think that’ll turn out?
When going down this path, most times you’ll end up getting stonewalled. And the client will be less likely to make any changes at all. Not good.
Another example: most experts and fitness professionals speak to clients like authoritarian dictators: “I want you to do this!” “Don’t do that!” “If you want results, you have to do more, work harder, make sacrifices.”
This is a problem because humans — again, on the pre-rational level — don’t respond well to real or even perceived threats to their freedom. So, the more you press forward and demand, the less likely they are to respond positively. (Not to mention withdraw, become defensive, and eventually avoid you.)
From now on, instead of telling clients what to do, try asking. See if they feel confident that they can do what you’re asking. And then find out if they even want to do it in the first place.
Again, the books Motivational Interviewing, Crucial Conversations, and Influence are all great resources for further reading on this subject. I highly encourage checking them out if you want to understand more about change talk.
Lesson #4: Take 100% responsibility for compliance and results.
When I look around the fitness industry I see a lot of really talented trainers spending countless hours learning the latest exercise and nutrition strategies. And I love it. These are the professionals that do everything in their power to give top notch advice.
However, these folks are missing a tremendous coaching opportunity if they assume that it’s the trainer’s role to give good advice, and the client’s role to follow that advice.
For my part, I’d argue that fitness professionals are responsible for both. For giving good advice and for helping clients follow that advice.
No more assuming that if clients aren’t complying it’s their fault. If your clients are struggling with compliance, there may be something that you can do about it.
Sure, we need to be experts in nutrition, exercise, and the other “left-brained” aspects of physique transformation. But it’s just as important to take ownership of their compliance as well.
Now, this isn’t easy at first. You’ll start seeing a host of new problems that you’re not used to having to solve. And you won’t know what to do. However, with practice, you’ll get better. And your love of coaching will skyrocket. Every new client struggle becomes a new challenge for you as a coach.
In addition, your cynicism will diminish. You’ll see opportunities for success everywhere you look. Instead of condescending attitudes like “Some clients do the work, and others just don’t”, you’ll have a more positive view of each client’s struggle and their ability to succeed.
Of course, this last lesson isn’t really a strategy or tactic. It’s a choice — one you can make right now. You can choose to continue taking responsibility only for client results, leaving the compliance up to them. Or you can choose to start taking 100% responsibility for both.
That’s it for Part 4 of The Compliance Solution. We hope you got a lot out of the video series and are walking away with a host of new strategies for becoming a life-changing, research-driven fitness professional.
But here’s the big question: what to do with all this new info?
After all, the thought of shifting the focus away from an exclusive nutrition and exercise focus towards a change psychology focus can be intimidating for fitness pros, especially given the popular industry trend that we should all “fire” our difficult or non-compliant clients.
Yet that intimidation is just your own “elephant” talking. Changing how we coach is scary, especially if we’ve been at this a while and consider ourselves pretty knowledgeable.
So the first step is to take an objective look at your practice and the results you’re achieving with all your clients, especially the “tough ones”. You’ll likely find a huge opportunity for you to get better as a coach, and for all your clients to get awesome results.
And if you’d like to explore this subject more, I strongly recommend taking the Precision Nutrition Certification course.
If you’re a coach, or you want to be…
Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.
If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification.