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The Fitness Zone

Goal Setting For Your Clients
September 30, 2020 | by Molly Fabri

Goal setting is absolutely paramount to ensuring your personal training clients reap the benefits of your services and feel like they are progressing along their fitness journey.

Setting goals is usually one of the first things to be addressed with a new client. So, why is it so important - and how can you help clients establish the right goal for them?

The following tips will help you get your clients on the right track with their goal setting.

Why set goals?

As a personal trainer you need to help clients develop suitable goals so that you can design and implement an appropriate training program. Without goals, it would be hard to know what your client is looking to achieve, and how they wish to achieve it. Goals also help you gauge whether your client is making progress: without a destination, how can you measure how far along the journey they are?

If you find that a client is not tracking well towards their goals as you work together, you may make recommendations to optimise their training program.

The effects of goal setting

As a result of setting goals, your clients will perform better, have a greater feeling of accomplishment, improve their self-esteem and have better clarity and direction as they work on their fitness priorities. Goal setting is definitely worth the time and effort for both your clients and you, their PT. 

What type of goals should you set?

Goals fall into two categories: transactional and transformational.

Transactional goals

Transactional goals tend to be more about achieving specific tasks. A great example of this is helping a client train for a marathon or get back to their pre-baby weight.

Transformational goals

Transformational goals have far more meaning and provide longer-lasting benefits. Often we find that these goals are more closely aligned to lifestyle choices and health opportunities.

Turning one into the other

In order to develop a series of more powerful goals, you need to look at turning transactional goals into transformational ones. For example, turning the transactional goal of joining a gym and going to a couple of cardio classes a week into the transformational goal of being able to enjoy physical activity and improve heart health in the process. These transformational goals help the client to focus on why they are training, which can significantly help with motivation.

Small wins along the way

There's nothing wrong with establishing smaller goals that support or lead to the achievement of the bigger ones. In fact, this can be very motivating and keep clients on track, setting them up for little bursts of success along the way.

SMART goals

When helping clients set goals, it is important to ensure the goals are ‘SMART’: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. If their goal is ‘SMART’ it will be easier to track, achieve and tweak.

If your client’s goal, for example, is to drop one dress size in order to fit into her wedding dress in two months, this is a SMART goal. It is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. If your client’s goal sounds something like ‘look fit’, it isn’t measurable, time-bound, or specific, so you need to dig a little deeper and tweak the goal.

What’s the right goal for your client?

As a personal trainer, understanding the drive (the ‘why’) behind someone's goal makes it far easier to help them achieve it.

Extrinsic motivation

Some people believe that external, or extrinsic, factors are what primarily motivate us to achieve objectives. Behavioural experts, in fact, claim that it comes more from external reward and punishment; the carrot and stick approach.

Intrinsic motivation

Most evidence, however, suggests that intrinsic motivation - our self-esteem and belief in ourselves - is what motivates us, leading to more fulfilment and success. It must be remembered, though, that what motivates one person may not be a motivator for another. The key is to determine what motivates the particular individual and use that as the driving force for reaching their goal.

Establishing the goal

The best way to determine a client’s motivation is to talk with them about what they hope to achieve - which can be done in their very first session. Goals will vary between clients, as will the motivation for setting them, which is why goal setting is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Clients may want to lose weight, gain weight, increase muscle mass or work on their endurance. Once you understand what their goal is, you can write a training program that plots a path to achieving it.

Keep it achievable yet challenging

Setting unrealistic goals is a surefire way to dampen a client's confidence levels: achievable yet challenging goals are the way to go. Explain to your client what a SMART goal is so they understand the process and feel confident that they are striving towards an attainable target.

What if the goal isn't achieved?

Sometimes, even when the goal that has been set is a SMART one, it will not be achieved. In these instances it’s important to evaluate with your client why this might have been the case. Then, you can discuss the potential challenges in achieving goals, make adjustments accordingly and ensure priorities are still aligned.

Goals can change

Keep in mind that a goal can change; life changes, perceptions, and people's wants and needs change. Achieving goals is not just about the reward at the end, it’s also about what is learnt in the pursuit of the goals. The discipline, adherence to a plan and openness to trying new things are useful life skills that can be positively applied in many areas of life.

Make success your goal

Make it your own goal to be approachable about goal setting. By building rapport and trust with your client you will help them feel comfortable talking about what they really want in, and from, their life. In this way, you will be able to help them discover what they really want to achieve in terms of health and fitness, as well as unearth their motivations behind this desire. Then, you will be in a position to help them establish SMART goals that will make them accountable and enable you to clearly monitor their progress.


Molly Fabri is the Communications and Partnerships Coordinator at the Australian Institute of Fitness.

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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