Help Clients Improve and Be Happy!

Help Your Clients Improve and Be Happy

Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

Part 1 – Dimension 1: Stages of Change

Personal Trainers have a unique professional role.  We easily connect with the clients immediate, more tangible goals: lose weight, improve strength, fit into a particular black dress by March.  The larger concept, however, is bigger than dropping pounds.  We need to help them change.  Change is uncomfortable, challenging, and problematic for many of us.  Enhance your ability to motivate and effect change by understanding the basics in Behavior Change. 

Understand first that behavior is learned and deeply engrained.  Identifying bad habits and their consequences is a critical first step toward creating change.  Therefore, the critical first step toward making changes is evaluation.  Utlizing the FiTOUR® Plan of Change will identify specific habits that are blocking your client’s path to success. 

There are Three Dimensions of the Transtheoretical Model of Change (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1997):

  • Dimension 1: Stages of Change
  • Dimension 2: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behavior Skills Which Influence Behavior Change
  • Dimension 3: Level of Change

Dimension 1 

Stages of Change can be broken into five subcategories: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.  “The five stages are expected to be mutually exclusive and qualitatively different. People could make multiple attempts to progress from preparation to action stages. However, relapses could occur at any time, resulting in a spiral-like progression characterised by cycling and recycling through the behavior-change process” (Schwarzer 2008). More often than not, our clients have reached the preparation phase when they contact us.  Our ability to reach people in precontemplation and contemplation is greater if we market ourselves in a traditional sense or with some of the modern tools of social media.


When a client comes to you in the preparation stage one of the first goals is to discuss and resolve the barriers that prevent the new client from adopting behaviors necessary to reach his goals.  What stands in between him and the gym?  What prevents him from cooking his own, nutritious meals?  How can those obstacles be tweaked to allow for new, healthy behaviors to take hold?

There are a million different barriers.  Barriers that we often don’t understand completely.  To truly motivate change, the barrier needs to be resolved – not simply identified.  If your new client can’t come to the gym because she needs to make dinner, try to identify solutions to that problem.  The crockpot is a wonderful thing or prepping several dinners on Sunday and freezing them for the family to enjoy later in the week.  If you encounter a barrier that neither you nor the client can resolve, ask us!  Shoot us a message on Facebook or Twitter.  We are always happy to help crack the barrier code. 

Clients in the preparation stage also need to take a close look at their goals.  Goals need to be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound.  Goals need to be clear and communicated well so that a plan can be set into action.  But, like I tell my daughter when she won’t clean her room because it’s too big of a job, how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  Just get started.  Maybe the long term goal is to exercise five days per week.  Take steps toward that goal: step one, exercise two days per week.  Step two, exercise three days per week.  Being realistic about how behavior changes means understanding how humans adapt.  Humans do not adapt to restrictions – humans follow restrictions.  But when those restrictions are lifted ever so slightly, humans fall off the wagon.  If a client needs to make a change, baby steps encourage improved habits and long-term change.


The action stage is an unstable place to be.  Progress has been made, lifestyle changes have occurred but drop out risk is high.  The trainer and client need to identify situations which may put the client at risk of dropping out and create solutions for those situations.  Develop a strategy to either avoid or overcome the situation so that when it arises your client is prepared.  Is it a holiday?  Is it a work function?  Is it Sunday?  What tools can you provide for your client to beat that temptation to quit and stay on the path toward improvement and happiness?  

There is a client who consistently ruins her week on the weekend.  She is disciplined all week, she exercises, she drinks water, and she maintains her nutrition.  When Saturday morning rolls around, she wants to stay in her pajamas and eat bacon. Ask her to get up on Saturday, put on her gym shoes, and walk for fifteen minutes.  One tweak, makes a huge difference in her ability to cope with “a day off” and altered it to an “active rest day.” 


Once a client has maintained lifestyle changes for more than six months his habits and behaviors are positively altered.  He has made improvement and developed a new level of happiness; happiness that comes with accomplishing goals and feeling healthy.  As his trainer, it is important to encourage him to maintain his new habits and try to reevaluate his original goals.  Has he acquired a new goal that needs a new plan of action?  Does he know how he will maintain his healthy habits if he needs to travel or if life shows up and he can’t make it to the gym for a week.  During the maintenance stage talking about and providing tools for consistency is key. 

Plan of Change

Asking your client to have these valuable conversations and participate in the beginning processes toward lifestyle changes is vital.  Often when a client hires a trainer, he doesn’t want to do all the work.  I think it is critically important to establish the importance of these conversations and the direction they allow.  FiTOUR® has created a PDF icon  worksheet to help new clients identify habit patterns that create roadblocks to success.  Honestly, I like to use this document and share it with clients via Google Drive before our first meeting.  I use the Goal Setting Questionnaire and the Plan of Change as action items for our first two meetings.  Try these tools and be aggressive with your plan to help your new client reach his goals.  


In Good Health,





FiTOUR® Advanced Personal Training Manual

Prochaska, James. O and Velicer, Wayne F. "The Transtheoretical Model of Health Behavior Change." American Journal of Health Promotion, Volume 12, Issue 1, 1997. 

Schwarzer, Ralf. "Modeling Health Behavior Change: How to Predict and Modify the Adoption and Maintenance of Health Behaviors." Applied Psychology, Volume 57, Issue 1, 2008, pages 1-29.