Are you frustrated with not getting the OPTIMAL results you know your clients are capable of? When they hit a plateau, what do you do? Do you push them harder, reduce their food more… knowing that this isn’t the right answer; but the only one you are familiar with? Stop right there! I have created a simple, effective CBT plan to help you and your client move past a slump in a healthy, positive way! In nearly 15 years as a trainer, I’ve found these strategies to be the most effective for taking a client from a down month (or two-three down months) to positive progress. In the blog today, we will cover Step One!
Step One: Ask Open-Ended Questions
Start by saying something like: “You haven’t been getting the results you want, so let’s figure out why.” Then ask your client some open-ended questions to dig deeper into what happened in the past month.
- What results have you noticed?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with the results?
- What could be better?
- What have been your biggest obstacles in the past month?
- How do you feel your nutrition/exercise/recovery has been in the past month?
- What goal is most important for you to accomplish over the next month?
- What guidance or help do you need from me over the next month?
Once a month (depending how often you train/check-in together), revisit these questions, asking them again in the same way, and recording the answers.
The longer you do this, the more you can refine your approach. Eventually, you may not need to run through the full list of questions, narrowing your focus to build on what you’ve learned. But try to stick with this script for at least three months so you collect an adequate amount of data.
Encourage your client to give honest answers, even if it’s not what you want to hear. (I like to use some personal stories to help break the ice.)
Search for patterns. Typically, the problem is rooted in any of four main culprits:
- Nutrition (water, food quality, hunger control).
- Exercise (both during and outside training sessions).
- Recovery (sleep, overtraining).
- Life (stress, work, family obligations, support system).
Does your client keep coming back to nutrition? (“After a long day, I usually end up getting takeout”; “I’m keeping up with workouts, but I am not cooking much.”) If so, focus there.
If nutrition is on point and the client complains of stress and low energy, look at life factors.
Now, don’t just run down the questions, ticking each one off as you go; that’s about as useful as handing your client a questionnaire and a pen. Instead, listen carefully and pose follow-ups questions when appropriate.
Help your client open up by keeping three points in mind:
Use follow up questions, NOT statements: I would refrain from telling a client that their diet sucks and it won’t work. Instead, ask leading questions. You are NOT telling them anything; you are helping them figure it out on their own. If Sarah is struggling with her diet, you might follow up with, “What do you feel you have done well when it comes to your food, and what could you improve?” or “Which foods make you feel the best and worst after eating?” You know you are getting this right if Sarah is talking more than you.
Lead with numbers: Numbers do not lie; but they don’t tell the whole story either. Stick to what you know based on the numbers, and do not make assumptions. TRY TO ALWAYS ASK! Just be sure to ask your questions in the data form: “Sarah, according to the food log, you have had fast food five times this week. Why do you think that is?” By doing that, you make the conversation as objective and emotionless as possible. Because numbers do not judge either.
Take responsibility: If Sarah is not keeping up on her food journal, consider:
- Have you made it clear to her why tracking food intake is useful?
- Have you set clear expectations?
- Have you laid out all the available tools (digital vs. journal vs. pictures) and helped find the best one for her?
Remind your client that it is your job to make the game plan work for them (because it is), and ask what you can do to help.
As you continue through this process, it’s important to celebrate small wins; an improvement, a streak of completed workouts etc. It will help with increasing motivation, even while you hunt down the problem.
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