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Sustainable Change for Your Fitness Clients

By Karyn Gallivan, MS, ATC, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, NASM-CPT
Contributor, Sports & Fitness Network

The other day, I had a conversation with someone who has been trying to reach the same goal for years.  Not unlike any fitness client, she was frustrated with always feeling like she was just spinning her wheels.  Of course, we discussed her goals, her current habits (including food intake –all of it, and exercise), and whether there was anything else she thought she needed to try.  This led to a discussion about fitness, diet, and supplement fads –you know, the newest, latest, and most exciting things that absolutely everyone is doing…

This discussion got me thinking about just how much we in the fitness industry already know and I wondered, we are all such smart and skilled fitness professionals so why do we still have so many people striving to reach their goals?  It seems like we should 1) get a client, 2) evaluate and train the client, and 3) celebrate with them as they reach their goals.

This is not the usual course of action however, as very often life, illness, injury, and lack of motivation seems to get in the way.  Using a different approach may help us get better outcomes.  In working with someone to invoke a change in habits, it is important to have a framework within which to work.  This helps to keep us on track and gives us a roadmap to follow with our clients.  The Transtheoretical Model, or Stages of Change is a framework that resulted from analyzing the ways in which individuals approach changing their behaviors and helps to explain one’s readiness to change, and their resulting success (or not).

Using stages of change, the TTM is an integrative theory that assumes that people change during a long process that involves a broad range of.  This can be easily understood because change is hard and successful behavior change seems to only come about when an individual is able to intentionally go through the steps (stages of change) to elicit a new behavior pattern.  Using these steps, that include precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance can help you to guide your client to an understanding of how changing their behaviors (habits) can lead to better health.

Someone just doing the same things all the time with no intent to change characterizes the precontemplation phase.  Contemplation is when they begin to think about the possibility that they need to make a few changes.  In the preparation phase, you client may be gathering information and trying to figure out the best new course of action for them.  The action phase is just that –action.  This is the phase when they are actually leaving the old habits behind and beginning something new.  Even implementing small changes is a big thing that will lead to wonderful health benefits if they can be sustained.  This is the maintenance phase and one in which we would all like to see our clients –living the best and healthiest life they can because they have been able to put their old habits behind them.

Training clients is often rewarding, but it can also be frustrating as many folks are not really ready to make the necessary changes.  Keeping the Stages of Change theory in mind will help to guide you as you lead your clients through these predictable changes.

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