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Fitness coaching

Exercise Psychology

Written by:
Thomas Ihn Hansen ( www.ihnconsulting.dk )
Master of Educational Psychology, cognitive coach and teacher. Founder of the consultancy Ihn Consulting.

To a fitness coach, the absolute goal must be giving the best advice suitable for the training purposes of the individual client so that he or she achieves the desired results. Coaches are met with a lot of challenges and, not least, questions about training and daily diet which makes it necessary for them to possess relatively much knowledge within various different areas. Typically, coaches know much about a variety of fitness types, diet and health, and they readily share out their knowledge – but what does a coach do if that knowledge is not enough to motivate a client? - And the client does not at all achieve the desired results? What can you do as a coach if your knowledge is wasted in relation to the client you are working with?

As a coach, you make joint efforts with the client who wants training to reach a specific goal; the desire is often of such a nature that it requires big changes in the person's everyday life, conditions of life etc. To many people, the very fact of setting about training is related to many ideas, attitudes and values that can be difficult to handle and change. The coach's role when meeting these people is to create a variety of possibilities for this change to be strengthened and encouraged. To be able to do this it may be desirable to focus on the following few elements:

  1. Create trust – be inquisitive about your client's goals, be open and without prejudice in your attitude to him or her.
  2. Be respectful – your language, tone of voice, use of words and expressions may in many ways attract or repel. Try to reflect yourself in the person you meet - use the same language and expressions as he or she does. Respecting someone who constantly uses professional expressions and speaks loudly about what he or she thinks you should work on, can be difficult, especially if others have the possibility of listening to what is said.
  3. Respect confidentiality. You will often be encountered with problems of a very personal nature that may be of importance to your client's wish and motivation for training, so confidentiality is the Alpha and Omega of a good cooperation. Another important element is the level of exchanging information that can be useful to the training process and especially so to its composition and form.

Once this is in place, there is a basis for achieving a constructive cooperation. The role of the coach is not just that of a centre of knowledge – it is also being able to listen and support the client's efforts. This is the point in the process where the initial work has been commenced and where the actual work begins. For the actual work it may be relevant to set a goal – with a specific time frame.
It may be useful to apply the below model for the training goal:

S: Specific – a goal must be specific to facilitate measuring results.

M: Measurable – a goal must likewise be measurable – for instance in connection with direct measurements of various activities, such as how far the client should be able to run after 3 months of jogging.

A: Attractive – the goal must mean something to your client – help your client to find out what the commencement of training will mean to him or her.

R: Training must always be realistic – if it is not, you will in reality plan a failure. The coach's role here is to ask what is possible, for instance regarding training intensity and time in relation to your client's work and family life. A realistic plan must be clear and easy to follow.

T: Specific time frame – a specific time frame contributes to the motivation – plans must be made for when and how long. Activities with specific time frames may have a positive effect one's ability to focus when training, both in relation to when you finish and as a means to make the results measurement visible. It may, for instance, give your client the experience of actually having trained for 1½ hour, 3 times a week and for almost 1 month.

E: Effect-inducing – that the goal is valuable in other parts of life. You may for instance be able to buy clothes of a smaller size, or your friends and family may notice that your mood and energy have changed etc. The important thing here is to encourage your client to notice these values – and that the coach asks specific questions about it.

The model is called the SMARTE model and is often applied within coaching – especially because it is an effective tool for making goals visible.

When difficulties and resistance arise!

Basically, we are our own worst adversaries when it comes to big changes in our lives. In such a process of change, help and support can be highly motivating for us to continue the process. At other times, it can be truly difficult if resistance is too strong.

Being a coach you have a lot of options if your client gets stuck or is no longer able to find his or her motivation. Here are some options of interpreting resistance, along with proposed actions:
Resistance is often about our daily routines and doings (actions, thoughts and feelings) being patterns that are not easily changed. Being a coach you could profit from remembering that resistance is often expressed as:

  1. Inner, negative thoughts. For instance "I cannot!", "I will never make it!", statements potentially draining your client's energy. Try as the coach to hold on to the importance of what your client is doing for him- or herself – what the reward will be for him or her. Ask for instance to what degree those thoughts are true, is it for instance true that you never achieve anything? The questions are used as a kind of external reflection – where you, being the coach, reflect on the things you hear, thereby bringing the statement into the open. Thoughts and actions tend to be perceived differently when they are put forward in the open – where your client has the possibility of seeing what he or she has actually said or thought!
  2. Actions and habits. Actions and habits often have a value of their own – precisely because they give us something. Ask what they mean to us – what they give us – and for how long we can feel that those actions keep giving us that feeling or experience. Excess eating may, for instance, make you feel calmer and satisfied from being filled – but the feeling will often be transitory only, and in the long run it will present us with a number of other problems such as overweight. As a coach you know that physical training will never produce results right away – but that training may provide us with immediate and positive experiences. Try therefore to talk to your client about long-term goals – and about the immediate experiences gained from working towards those goals. Your client may wish to lose weight or improve his or her physical fitness – which lies months ahead – but heading towards the goal, he or she will experience the immediate sensation of getting more energy, being wonderfully relaxed after training and feeling more happy and content.
  3. Convictions. Convictions are references that you use for interpreting the world around you, for instance that all fat people are lazy etc. You may often be blind to the world because your convictions do not allow you to see the other things that could challenge the truth value of your interpretation. A conviction can also be: "I will never be slim, I have tried so many times before!" In that case, the coach may try and support his or her client in overturning that conviction by offering other forms of training that the client has not yet tried - and by asking if the conviction is helping your client achieve his or her goal or if something about the conviction is preventing your client from moving on. This way you will show your client that training and losing weight is not always about doing something specific, and you will support your client in taking responsibility for his or her own development.

Happy training!

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