Effective Goals for Personal Training Clients
The term “fitness goals” is used a lot in discussions about personal training, usually to refer to things a client foresees as marking the completion of their fitness journey. While overall goals are always the most important to keep in mind, it’s also very useful for PT and client to set smaller goals along the way, as measurements of progress and to give the client something closer to aim for at all stages of their fitness journey…
A goal needs to be clearly defined with a specific condition. You don’t want there to be any doubt in either yours or your client’s mind about whether they’ve actually achieved one of their goals. Examples of specific goals are: “lose twenty pounds” or “do ten straight pull ups”. Avoid vague goals like: “return to a normal weight” or “get strong enough to compete at power-lifting competitions”.
A trainer needs to be able to measure at all times not just whether the client has achieved a specific goal, but how much closer the client is to achieving that goal compared to where they were when the work began. Some goals, like weight reduction goals, are easy to measure, while others, like general fitness or strength and conditioning goals, are more difficult to measure.
If you want to set some of the more difficult types of goal to measure for your client, make sure you set them in the form of some quantifiable variable, like: “be fit enough to run for x minutes at y kilometers an hour on the treadmill without stopping”.
And make sure you always measure and record a client’s performance during each training session, so that if they haven’t achieved one of the goals the two of you have sent by a specified time, you can still point to their most recent performance data as evidence they’re improving on previous performances.
Be advised that if you begin a new fitness campaign of which the aim is to help a client lose weight, and you set them some early goals of losing a certain amount of weight in x weeks or days, you may need to explain to them what’s happening and reassure them they are off to a good start if they appear to have gained a bit of weight after your initial training sessions.
This can often happen in the early stages of a fitness campaign, especially one that involves weight work as well as cardio, as some of the fat on a client’s body is replaced by muscle, which is denser than fat.
A personal trainer should always measure the progress of their client throughout a fitness campaign
This sounds like an obvious one, but there’s no point setting a goal for your client unless it’s something they have a fair chance of doing. Make it challenging, but not very difficult. The very difficult fitness goals should be the client’s long-term ones. You only want the short-term ones to be challenging. In fact, you might want to think about making the initial goals of a fitness campaign easy ones, just to give the client a confidence boost starting out.
If the client continuously fails to meet the short term goals they are set during a fitness campaign, they’re more likely to become disheartened and give up altogether. This tends to be especially true of clients with weight issues. Goal setting is something that should be used to help keep clients interested and motivated, not discouraged.
The goals you set in the short-term need to be relevant to the overall fitness goals and personal desires that caused the client to hire you in the first place. Clients hire personal trainers for different reasons; some want to lose weight, some want to get bigger and stronger, others just want to improve their general fitness and endurance levels, and some want to train to help them compete at a sporting activity like marathon running or powerlifting.
As their personal trainer, if you want your clients to reap the psychological benefits of goal setting, such as feeling that they’re making constant progress and therefore staying focused and motivated to achieve their long-term objectives, the goals you set need to be relevant to their areas of interest and overall fitness ambitions.
Clients interested in strength and conditioning or bodybuilding are perhaps the easiest clients to set goals for, because you can look at how well they perform exercises, set goals over a short period of time, perhaps even only one session, and soon get clear feedback on how well the client has coped with the goal.
For example: “go away and rest, don’t do any lifting for the next four days, then one-to-two hours before your next session eat one of the meals I’ve written down there and drink half a pint of water, then we’ll try benching two hundred pounds next time and see if your energy levels can hold out for three sets of ten reps over the hour.”
Clients who have come to you for help with serious weight issues are perhaps the hardest kind of clients to set goals for, because there are many factors that can come into play to interfere with a client’s weight loss efforts, and because such clients usually have bad nutritional habits they revert to when away from a trainer’s supervision. Goal setting for this type of client is also trickier because, as discussed in the previous section, their confidence tends to be more fragile, so if you set them goals which they fail, they can easily give up.
It’s also important to take into consideration whether the fitness campaign will last long enough for your client to achieve the goals you set them. If your client has booked ten personal training sessions over ten weeks, for example, this gives you a fairly good window in which to set some significant short-term goals that will either lead to the client achieving their main fitness goal during your time together, or else being equipped with motivational tools and exercise knowledge that will carry them to their main fitness goal after their training with you has ceased.
If, however, a client has only booked four sessions over the course of a month, then you’ll obviously have less time in which to work with them and will have to come up with different goals to set your clients which they can achieve every week to make them feel at the end of your time together like it has been a journey of learning and improvement, so they hopefully consider booking some additional sessions or at least recommend you to other people.
Whatever you do, don’t try to manipulate your clients into staying with you for longer than they intend to by setting them goals that can only be achieved in a longer time-frames. They’ll usually feel that they’ve been given unrealistic targets and will think less of you as a trainer, meaning even if they do decide to continue with personal training, they’ll probably leave you and find another trainer.