How to Motivate Clients as a Personal or Athletic Trainer


Get the Basics…
  • There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic
  • Set achievable goals and a reasonable plan that inspires the client
  • Keep workouts fun and interesting and the mood positive
  • Build community in the gym and team unity so relationships and accountability drive motivation
  • Work towards intrinsic motivation so clients experience results past training

Generally speaking, everyone likes a solid plan when it comes to workouts: a schedule with a set of exercises or a specific muscle group; short and long-term goals; regulated intensity, weight, and repetitions. There’s almost a comfort to routine and muscle memory.

Personal and athletic trainers can use all these to their advantage. But the motivation to accomplish even the best-laid plans vanishes when results plateau, jobs get busy, and life gets hard. 

Is there a way to keep clients and athletes motivated?

Of course!

Below are a number of tried-and-true methods, plus a few unique approaches, to keep your clients inspired and engaged during workouts! 

Using’s All-in-One Business Program is an excellent way to tie all of these tips together. Keep reading to find out more and book a demo today!

Table of Contents

What Is Motivation?

Motivation (or lack thereof) is responsible for all of life’s choices and is crucial for sticking with an exercise program. 

There are actually two types of motivation, and it’s important to understand the distinctions in order to achieve the best results from your clients. Let’s take a look at what’s behind motivation. 

— Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation, as seen in the video above, is doing an activity purely because it is satisfactory. A person feels enjoyment when exercising because of their skills and personal achievements. For example, they run a marathon because they love running or completing a new personal record. 

Extrinsic motivation is performing a task or exercise for external reasons besides personal enjoyment. For athletes, this might be money, winning championships, or getting on the front of a Wheaties box. For a gym client, this might be losing weight for a wedding or obtaining bragging rights for how much weight they can snatch.  

External factors can also include things like avoiding a penalty or guilt, or doing what a trainer asks because they want to please the trainer. Extrinsic motivation can even include doing workouts because it’s part of achieving a goal, but there is no enjoyment in doing the activity. 

Most clients are initially motivated to exercise by extrinsic factors. It’s your job as a personal or athletic trainer to change their motivation from extrinsic to intrinsic.

How is that accomplished?

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) suggests that each client has three basic psychological needs when it comes to exercise:

  • Autonomy: The client must make a voluntary choice to exercise. 
  • Relatedness: The client needs to feel included and connected to other members and trainers at the gym in order to experience positive support and community.
  • Competence: The client needs to feel capable, successful, and strong during or after their workout.

If these psychological needs are met, your client begins turning the tide from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation and lifestyle changes are more likely to stick around.

So how do you get your clients intrinsically motivated? 

— Determine the Client’s “Why?”

Every client has an extrinsic reason for walking in the gym doors. Maybe it’s a medical diagnosis that reveals an unhealthy trajectory. Maybe it’s almost bikini season. Maybe it’s a decline in athletic performance or injury recovery. 

But the ultimate goal has a timestamp: once it’s achieved, the client loses their reason to work out. It’s your job as the trainer to help your clients enjoy exercise before they reach their ultimate goal. 

It’s not wrong to start with extrinsic motivation; that’s what got them in the door. You can also remind them of their ultimate goal throughout training, but always be encouraging your client to look beyond their initial reason for working out, because that’s where lasting change is found.

Setting Goals

After performing a fitness assessment, move forward with outlining short and long term goals. 

— Why It’s Important to Set Goals

In the workforce, employees are happier when they know what’s expected of them and can meet tangible goals. It’s even better when these goals challenge their skillset instead of a daily duties checklist.

In the same way, clients are more engaged in their workouts when they have tangible, achievable goals that go beyond simply accomplishing a workout. 

Further, every client is going to have a tough training day, week, or month. Goals remind clients of what they’ve accomplished, how far they’ve come, and how close they are to achieving the next goal.

— How to Set Appropriate Goals

Utilize a few strategies when setting goals that properly incorporate the client’s “why” and set them up for success. Check out the video below for more on setting smart fitness goals: 

– Involve the Client

Listening doesn’t stop with learning your client’s “why.” Continue to listen as you both develop a plan. Clients want to feel like they are a part of the process, and including their opinions leads to better adherence. After all, it is their body, time, and money they’re investing. 

– Get Input from Athletes and Other Trainers

Athletic trainers need to be mindful of their athletes’ needs, desires, and training rituals. What do the athletes feel they need to work on? Do other trainers have ideas for practices, travel, or game-day preparations? Are there better ways to train the same muscles?

Remember, if you ask for suggestions, incorporate at least one into practice!

– Make Sure Goals Are Attainable

Make sure goals are realistic and appropriate. If your client is shooting for the moon (like unrealistic muscle bulking or a medical condition that hinders dramatic weight loss), gently redirect to a more appropriate goal. There’s a distinct line between providing challenging goals and false assurance.

– Set Short and Long-Term Goals

Clients usually seek out trainers to achieve big goals: wanting to run a 10K, get back to their pre-pregnancy weight, or prevent a medical diagnosis. While it’s good to know what your client ultimately wants to accomplish, don’t underestimate the power of short-term goals in getting them there! Watch this video to learn why:

Especially for clients who have never (or rarely) set foot in a gym, short-term goals are your best friend. Short-term goals get your clients over the hump of initial routine change, fatigue, cravings, sore muscles, and questioning their investment.

The client can contribute, but you lead the way in setting short-term goals because you know the process to reach their long-term goal. Choose plenty of short-term goals so there’s more success to recall when motivation fades.

Long-term goals are important as well, but there should be fewer long-term goals than short-term goals. Aim to have your client meet a long-term goal every three to four weeks. This keeps your client engaged, always reaching for the pleasure of accomplishing the next goal.

To round out your goals, consider including “Enjoying my workout” or “Enjoy eating healthy foods” as a long-term goal. This will help develop intrinsic motivation. 


Leaders across vocations use the acronym SMART to set goals, and fitness trainers are no exception. See the video below for an in-depth look at SMART goals:

  • Specific: Well-defined goals with clear expectations.
  • Measurable: Establish when and how much change is needed for achievement.
  • Attainable: Consider your client’s life demands and schedule. Goals should be a challenge but not burdensome or seem impossible.
  • Relevant: The goal must stem from and impact the client’s “why.”
  • Time-bound: Set enough time to achieve the goal without giving too much. A sense of urgency keeps the client focused. 

Holistic health and fitness coach, Elly McGuinness, adds two more elements to encourage intrinsic motivation and take your goals from SMART to SMARTER:

  • Exciting/Enjoyable: The goal must interest the client, otherwise there is little motivation to complete it.
  • Reward: Pick a way to celebrate the newly-achieved goal!

Taking all of these components into consideration will create short and long-term goals that inspire and excite your client and keep you both accountable!

– Write It Down

Don’t let goals be a verbal agreement! Write them all down. Let the client take a copy home to put on their fridge. Some trainers even suggest making a “contract” so the client stays committed and motivated.  

If necessary, you can break goals down into even smaller steps. Short-term goals can still be overwhelming for a gym newbie. Giving the baby step version of goals can encourage commitment and adherence because the client fully understands how to accomplish the goal.

– Set Up Rewards

Set appropriate rewards for meeting long-term goals. If possible, avoid having rewards like food cheat days or a day off from the gym. These reinforce the mindset that junk foods are more enjoyable than healthy foods and exercise is a punishment and not enjoyable

Instead, consider having other motivating rewards, like work out gear, water bottles, or discount codes for fitness apps or competitions. Gym paraphernalia are also fun rewards and a great advertisement for your company!

Regardless, make sure the reward is actually motivating to the client! 

Formulate a Plan

Goals are only attainable if you have the right plan to achieve them. Setting up your goals first will excite your client so they’re involved in the planning phase.

— Provide an Individualized Plan

If you’ve trained for any amount of time, you will have trained many clients with similar goals. But this doesn’t mean the process to achieve the same goals is identical! 

No two clients are the same. Consider the diversity of each client: personality, lifestyle, family support, health knowledge, stress level, medical complications, and dozens of other factors. No matter how similar the goal, each client deserves an original and individualized plan

Athletes acknowledge that some training strategies work for one athlete and not another. This may take some creativity to meet the needs of every athlete, but it can make the world of a difference for your team’s performance.

Learn how about how to design a personal training program for your client’s specific needs by watching the video below:

—Educate, Motivate, Educate

Watch this video for tips on motivational education:

Before writing out your plan, educate your client on the hard work needed to cultivate a healthier lifestyle, develop a new routine, and the ups and downs of training. Give preparation for the inevitable tough mental and physical days and how to overcome them. 

Make sure you’re fitting the program into your client’s day, not your client’s day into the program. Get their input and work together on their plan. If your program isn’t easily adherent, your client will struggle from the beginning. 

This can be overwhelming for a newbie to take in! Keep empowering and encouraging them for making the right choice to get healthy and reassure that you’ll be there every step of the way.

— Motivation From

One of the best ways to motivate and plan with your client is using’s All-in-One Business software

You can design workouts, track progress, and communicate with your client through the web and your fully customized app. Both you and your client have easy access to their goals, steps, and action plan. This increases adherence and compliance because clients can workout anytime, anywhere!

It’s an easy and fun way to stay connected with your clients!

Grow and manage your fitness business better with

Starting on the Right Foot: Initial Workouts

After your initial session, client motivation is usually pretty high. They buy new workout clothes and shoes, tell friends they’ve signed up with a trainer, and want to achieve their goals. 

Embrace and match their enthusiasm! Your attitude towards exercise will dramatically mold theirs. 

— Offer Fun, Effective Workouts

Miserable clients don’t stick around. Creatively vary your exercises so clients aren’t bored. Aim to have a good peak and good ending for every workout. This video gives some great tips to consider when adding variety to routines:

It’s important to remember that what is fun for you may not be fun for your clients. Get feedback from your clients while keeping their best interests and goals in mind. If they don’t like an exercise, find a way to modify it, educate on its importance, or give a rewarding exercise afterward.  

— Help Clients Become Good at Specific Things

It’s common for clients to feel out of place when they begin training. It’s easy to compare and feel inadequate when seasoned members perform the same exercises with stellar form and are hardly sweating.

Build your client’s confidence by helping them become really good at a certain exercise. Everyone is great at something, and it’s your job to help them find it! Finding that one special exercise inspires intrinsic motivation.

Their newfound confidence then carries over to other aspects of their workouts. Clients won’t be as fearful or anxious to try new exercises and challenges because they’ve experienced success.

— Plug Them In

Have you ever shown up to a party and known only the host who invited you? For an interval of time, you talk exclusively to the host and follow them around until you warm up to the other guests. 

It’s a similar feeling for the gym newbie. Clients may feel uneasy being in the gym and may stick to you like glue. Embrace the awkwardness and make them feel welcome. Watch this video to see how a gym community retains customers and helps clients get better results:

Like a good host at a party, introduce your client to other staff and frequent flyers. Invite them to participate in gym events and social gatherings. It will not only make their workouts more enjoyable but will build a sense of community and belonging. 

Cultivating this sense of belonging is essential to retaining clients. Accountability for lasting change goes beyond the personal trainer to friendships and workout buddies. Your client will continue to show up after formal training is complete because of a deep support system.

As social media advances, more people are finding that virtual fitness partners are helpful with accountability. Consider having an exclusive group for gym members and clients and promote regular involvement on social media pages.  

Utilize the messaging software to interact with your client regarding workouts, questions, and modifications. Encourage further community through by signing up for one of the many fitness challenges, workout groups, and more through!

— Stay Positive

When clients are whiney, weak, or fearful, it’s easy to get frustrated. But giving way to annoyance, disappointment, or frustration will be detrimental to your trainer-client relationship. 

Focus on what they’ve accomplished before listing ways to improve. Encourage mental stamina using powerful positive phrases. Even when challenging your client, go about it in a positive way. Remember, your clients feed off your energy and positivity! Watch the video above for more tips on how to develop a positive mindset. 

Keeping Clients Motivated

Motivation is usually not a problem during the “honeymoon phase” of personal training (it’s hard but still exciting and new). After the first few workouts, however, clients experience a huge reality check. 

Sore muscles, low energy, time spent in the gym, and budget and dietary changes can make clients dread or resent workouts and healthy habits. How do you get back the good momentum? 

Don’t panic when client motivation wavers! This is a necessary process in transitioning from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. Long-lasting change happens when the client wants to workout, and you both should expect some bumps along the way. 

However, try some of these steps to get back on track and gain the loyalty of your client.

— Check In

Take a direct approach and talk it out with your client. Ask about their motivation level. If they agree that motivation is low, ask respectful questions about their job, relationships, injury recovery, or other stressors that might be the cause for low motivation. 

Checking in, as discussed in the video above, avoids further de-motivating your client. They could leave their workouts deflated and discouraged if unspoken stressors are stealing their focus. You might be tempted to push them too hard or show frustration. 

Instead, lending an empathetic listening ear fuels client motivation. It boosts their mood and lets you help problem-solve ideas to regain their motivation.    

— Celebrate the (Small) Wins

This is where those short-term goals come in handy! Celebrate how far your client has come by seeing their accomplishments in black and white. Your enthusiasm and approval can be the greatest motivator for some clients. 

Reward clients with one of their prizes they named at the beginning of training. Or incorporate the gym community by posting their photo on an “Achiever of the Week” bulletin board.  

Inspire your client to notice the real-world benefits of working out: climbing stairs without getting winded, decreased sugar cravings, and/or having more energy to keep up with their kids. Although not a tangible reward, this personal awareness will inspire and motivate your client to keep going.

— Shake It Up

Grab your client’s interest again by completely changing up their routine. Try kickboxing, teach all new exercises, or try circuit training:

For your client who trains one-on-one, encourage a group fitness class to catch the energy of others. Arrange your own small group workouts or pair up clients as workout buddies.   

— Use Social Media

Almost everyone is on multiple social media platforms many times a day, so use social media to your advantage to motivate your clients! Your opportunities are endless!

Form an online support group where you can post motivational messages and clients can post encouragement and fitness accomplishments. Create a fun hashtag for those double-tap workout photos. Ask your management about starting social media promotions to keep customers engaged.

— Get Them Around Good People

Motivation is contagious! If your client is struggling to get their head in the game, introduce them to a few enthusiastic gym members. Building relationships with people who love exercise (and maybe didn’t before) will encourage your client to follow in their footsteps. See the video below to learn how to teach your clients to make friends with other gym members:

— Be a Good Example

We haven’t yet talked about the most influential person to your client — you! 

Clients model what they see. If you love what you do and how exercise helps people live quality lives, they will adopt this same passion. Your clients learn just as much from your mindset as your words. 

This means you must bring your best every day, too!

— Give the Good… or the Bad

While some clients need constant encouragement, others need the facts spoken directly to them. If your client likes to scrape by on minimum effort and is apathetic about change, then it’s time to speak truthfully about their lack of diligence. 

Avoid shaming or being overly harsh, and approach the client with a caring demeanor. Explain that you care about them enough to not let them get by on half-hearted commitment. Use the timeline laid out on their goal sheet if applicable. 

— Hold Regular Fitness Challenges

Tap into your client’s competitive nature by holding regular fitness challenges. Your athletes may especially appreciate this motivational tactic!

Some popular fitness challenges include running and cycling challenges, as well as overall calories burned and improving personal best by 10%. Don’t forget to reward the winner!

— Keep Them Accountable

Plan regular check-ins with your clients. Review any food journals, homework, goals, and timelines. Discuss what’s working and what isn’t. Find ways to improve their program and problem-solve current challenges. 

While check-ins provide accountability, it also weans your client off of your services. Ultimately, you want your client to be self-motivated. Give your client more personal responsibility during check-ins while keeping the communication channels open for questions and accountability. Learn more about keeping clients accountable by watching the above video. 

— Give Homework

While you should be able to answer a gamut of questions, don’t be the easy and convenient source for all your client’s inquiries. As time goes on, it’s appropriate to make your client work a little harder for their answers.

Have your client find the answers to their questions and then check with you. For instance, have them research ways to eat healthily or how to work out while traveling instead of giving them all of the answers upfront. Then, talk about what they found to help their analysis skills.

Motivation for Athletes

While all of these suggestions could be adapted for athletes, there are some extra motivational tactics that can be applied for professional athletes.

— During Training

Tweaking a few practice dynamics can facilitate team bonding and improved performance.

– Team Up

Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your athletes. Create teams of two where each can help the other grow in weak areas. Make it even more of a competition by setting goals and rewarding the team who reaches the goal first.

– Ask Daily Questions

Get your athletes in the habit of self-evaluation. Take time before each practice for athletes to ask themselves what they can do today to become a better player. After each practice, have athletes reflect if they did everything possible to improve. If not, players should make note of necessary changes for the next practice.

– Keep a Training Diary

Encourage athletes to maintain a detailed training log as they prepare for competitions. Record physical, technical, and mental training. Seeing training patterns can help identify causes of overtraining, illness, injuries, and performance slumps or streaks. 

— Focus on the Individual

Remember that while you may coach a team, your athletes are individuals. They need to be treated as such. Every individual has different needs, different stressors, and different upbringings that all affect how they train and how they respond to training.

– Avoid Comparisons

Even though competition is about comparing athletes, avoid comparisons to other athletes during training. Instead, have your athletes compete against their own past performance. This way, motivation is more intrinsic (How far can I push myself?) instead of extrinsic (I’m still not as good as that other athlete).

– Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness in sports is when athletes use meditation-like methods to reduce internal and external distractions so they can enter the optimal “zone” of performance. 

These techniques take skill and must be practiced as noted in the video above. Make sure athletes log their mental training in the training journal!


Help athletes find a phrase or two that calms and empowers them to get through the next high-pressure play in the game. 

— Motivate Accordingly

Athletes want to know that their hard work and commitment matters to the team. If possible, give each player a role on the team that makes them feel needed. Have players who have mastered a technique demonstrate the skill for others. Recognize effort and growth during practice, in the locker room, or a private conversation. 

Athletes are each motivated differently. Some will be motivated by challenges, others by recognition; some by appreciation, others by performance quality. Make sure that each athlete feels appreciated and motivated in a way that encourages them the most. 

— Game Time

Obviously, one of the greatest motivators for athletes is winning. Easier said than done, but the challenge and reward of winning is intrinsically motivating. The more you win, the more your athletes will be motivated to work hard in practice. 

But what happens when you just can’t come out on top? Remind your athletes of their love of the game. Connect them back to why they got into the sport and why they’ve continued to pursue it. 

There is a strong connection to successful athletes having fun performing their sport. So if your athletes are burdened and downtrodden over losses, help them fall in love with their sport again. Enjoyment of the game will fuel motivation. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

— How many times a week should I train with a personal trainer?

Your reasons for choosing a trainer and goals will determine how often you should utilize a trainer. Most people see a trainer two or three times a week.  

— What motivation tactics achieve good results?

Each client is different, but trainers must be positive and encouraging, discover the reasons clients are motivated to exercise, set achievable goals, and build a gym community. 

— Why is it important to form an effective working relationship with your client?

Clients generally perform better when they value their trainer, seek to please them, and trust their guidance. 

— What questions should a personal trainer ask during an assessment?

Primarily, it’s crucial for the trainer to know why their client wants to achieve their specific goals at this time. They should also ask about medical complications, support systems, and other stressors. 

— How do you get your athletes motivated to train?

Athletes who feel valued and appreciated work harder. Building team unity helps teammates want to see each other succeed and promotes motivation. 

If you’re inspired to try some of these tips, don’t forget to check out’s All-In-One Fitness Business Management Software! It makes your job easier and improves your client experience and adherence. Book a demo today!


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