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How to Help Your Personal Training Clients to Set Fitness Goals

November 29, 2018
tim saye

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Most personal trainers at some point in their career realise that helping clients to achieve their fitness goals isn’t just about exercise programming and nutrition advice. There's a mindset element to the journey that needs to be addressed to ensure clients can make the most out of their programme. Whether you label it or not, a big part of being a successful personal trainer is also being a great coach.

A great way to establish a good rapport is during a goal setting consultation specifically designed to help your clients identify their short, mid and long-term fitness and health goals. Adding that element into your coaching practice will not only help you build your relationship with your client, but it will also give you very clear directions on how to design their coaching and exercise plan for optimum performance and results.

It’s worth including this step after your new clients have completed their fitness and lifestyle assessment questionnaires, so you have something to talk about at the beginning. You can start by asking details about certain areas you’d like to find out more, then move onto exploring their desired lifestyle as a long-term goal.

Once you've established the starting point and you know where they ultimately want to get to, you can move onto helping them break down the end goal into smaller targets, assigning habit and lifestyle changes they need to make in order to hit those milestones. Motivational interviewing is a great approach during this conversation. It’s important that your clients identify the culprits themselves, go through the thought process of realising how they need to act to get where they want to get and whatever plan of action you create will be fully their decision and commitment.

Once you have a framework, it’s best to get them to write down their goals by applying the SMARTER goal setting technique. Personal training course providers emphasise the importance of this method, if you feel you need to refresh your understanding of goal setting, here’s a short recap.

The SMART Method

The purpose of the SMART fitness goal setting method is to provide personal trainers with a set of criteria to create useful goals for their clients. These criteria are contained in the acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Review-based, and Time-defined.


Fitness goals shouldn’t be something blurred or imprecise, such as “I want to lose some weight,” they need to be more concrete. A similar, but more specific version of the goal might look something like “I’d like to lose 4 pounds in six weeks.” Specific goals provide an objective standard which, in turn, generates accountability in a way the vaguer goals don’t.


Quantifying the strategies your clients use to achieve their goals is the second pillar of SMART goal setting. Ideally, you should work with clients to track their progress including regular check-ins and review chats to evaluate if they are on track.


As a trainer and coach, you will need to strike a balance when helping your clients setting goals and manage their expectations. If goals are too easy, clients will not progress and won’t derive the satisfaction of achievement. If they are too difficult, then they may give up before they begin. An achievable goal might be to gain half a pound of muscle every two months or reduce calorie intake by 200 calories per day. When it comes to achievability, time frames matter: the bar for long and mid-term goals will be higher than for those that are short term.

Realistic and Relevant

When discussing and setting short, mid and long-term goals, it’s important that each milestone goal and anything in between are realistic at the time scale that is set, and they serve the end goal. Fitness goals can be categorised as lifestyle, exercise and nutrition goals and you can guide your client to set the targets within a time frame that is realistic but also relevant to the big picture.


Being specific and accountable requires trainers to help clients decide when they will achieve their goals. This will also give both of you an idea for how long you will work together and create a plan accordingly. Timing of certain elements of a fitness program is also important. Someone who is just starting out and never exercised before may not need to start doing 5 sessions a week straight away, but that goal can be relevant 6 months later once they managed to make changes to their lifestyle, build healthy habits to enjoy exercising and an event like an approaching wedding or holiday can boost their commitment to increase their sessions later on in their programme.

Next Level: S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Goal Setting

While the SMART approach is the foundation to achieve any fitness goals, employing a few more principles can increase the success rate of your clients. According to Psychology Today the SMARTER method works well for sports specific goals and we believe applying to everyday fitness clients can only help you deliver a better service.


Finding the goals that your clients feel excited about for themselves rather than trying to meet a target based on perceived or real peer pressure is very important from an adherence aspect. As you dig into their motivation during the consultation, you will be able to identify if a goal is their own idea or they feel they must achieve it to please the family or social circles. Even if the original reason to start exercising is external, a great motivational interviewer will be able to help people see the exciting part of becoming more active.


The last step of the goal setting process is making them tangible and real, both of which can be achieved by putting them in writing. Whether you type them into a document on the computer or note them down on a notepad, they will not only become REAL but the physical act of writing them down will also imprint them into the clients’ psyche.

Wrapping Up

It’s important to remember that although a client’s goals might be personal, they can work with others to achieve them. Smart trainers and clients leverage any resources they can to maximise result delivery.

The goal setting consultation is your best opportunity to get to know your client as best you can, understand their real challenges and identify potential roadblocks that can risk success so you can address them in their exercise programme and lifestyle plan.

From this base you can deliver high-quality online programs and coaching in the worlds highest-rated personal trainer software.

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