Client retention is the cornerstone of any successful fitness expert’s career — this is true whether you teach group exercise or do one-on-one training. Acquiring a group exercise participant or individual client and keeping that person are two different things. Retention necessitates that every individual feel — in some way — successful. Success requires consistency and compliance, both during and between sessions.

Consistency and compliance necessitate an individualized approach; you can’t expect a client to follow a “one-size-fits-all” program. You have to help your client build a unique health “recipe” — a program based on their individualized realities, their fitness personality, and their unique “why.”

Three ways to help you participants find their fitness “recipe”

1. Help them find their “why”

 Help you participants establish clear (i.e., specific) goals and a strong “why.” With group exercise this could be as simple as asking the class to think of why they showed up and suggesting that when they want to skip a class in the future to remind themselves of that “why.” Or explain as you teach why a particular exercise is important for balance or functional fitness.

With one-on-one clients, don’t assume you know their “why.” Ask them what their objectives are and create specific goals around what they care about — maybe they want to be strong enough to train for a marathon or mobile enough to play with their grandkids. Use metrics to help set clear goals; without metrics the parameters of goals and choices are murky and hard to measure and stick with.

Help your clients align their goals with their values — aligning goals and values is key to long-term success. If family togetherness is most important for a client, don’t aim to get that person to the gym five days a week at dinner time — too often they will just end up ditching the gym to be with loved ones. Instead, harness and respect their value of family. If they can train during the day, great. If not, incentivize them to show up for evening or weekend sessions by connecting their goals to what they value (e.g., being a model of good behavior and strong enough to play with their kids). In addition, find various ways that they can exercise with their family and/or give them moves they can do while they watch their children play a sport.

2. Highlight the importance of convenience

Healthy choices require energy, concentration, and mindfulness. Help your clients make completing their goals easy and convenient — the aim is for the healthy choice to take as little energy as possible. Suggest that they put their clothes out the night before they plan to train so an early workout is relatively easy, that they have a training bag at work so they can always duck out to train, or that they set regular training dates with friends to create accountability.

Ensure the length, location, and timing of their workouts is realistic. Maybe that means giving them Pilates exercises they can do at the office between sessions and/or teaching them how they can do fartlek intervals as they walk home from work.

Also, suggest they disassemble future roadblocks by making unhealthy habits utterly inconvenient. Most of us can be objective about our health when temptation is low. At 3 PM today it might be easy to say you will get up at 5 AM tomorrow and do Pilates, but actually getting up at 5 AM is a whole other story. Tell your clients that instead of expecting their future self to be superhuman and have the ability to resist all temptation, they need to set themselves up for success. Make bad habits as inconvenient as possible so you can’t impulsively deviate from your health plan. Maybe in the mornings they need to make a date to meet a friend at the class so they are less likely to cancel. Or suggest they put their alarm clock across the room so they actually have to get out of bed to hit snooze.

3.  Help your clients abandon the idea that there is one “perfect” program for everyone

Your client’s “perfect” program is the one that they will actually DO. Help your clients match the program location to their goals, life realities, and personalities. In my book Finding Your Fit I outline four fitness “personalities”: the gym bunny, the competitive gym bunny, the home-body, and the time-crunched multi-tasker.

Obviously — as with any delineation — categories are never 100% clear-cut, but the concept is worth noting. Use the “personalities” to help your clients be successful between sessions. For example, if your client can’t get to the gym to do cardio between Pilates sessions, help her be a “multi-tasker” and weave motion into her daily life. Suggest she go for a walk at lunch with a colleague, get off a TTC stop early to walk, walk after dinner with her partner, and/or constantly “forget” something in another part of her home — preferably on another floor. If your participants don’t do their gym workout between sessions because they hate the gym, but you know they are competitive, suggest they join a sports team to complement their Pilates sessions. Find what works for THEM.

One final thought: Try to encourage your clients not to beat themselves up when they fall off their health horse, but instead to commit to always learning why they made the unhealthy choice and figuring out what they can do differently next time. This will help them not let one unhealthy choice — like one missed session — snowball into many unhealthy choices — like a month of missed classes. A win for their health and a win for your career!

Kathleen Trotter, Globe and Mail contributor and author of Finding Your Fit, has been a personal trainer, Pilates specialist, and fitness writer for over fifteen years.

Kathleen is honoured to have completed her Pilates Equipment Specialty certification through Body Harmonics almost ten years ago.

Kathleen makes regular TV and media appearances, is the featured trainer in the Globe and Mail’s Fitness Basics video series, writes for publications including the Huffington Post and Healthy Directions Magazine, and blogs for Flaman Fitness.

Kathleen holds a Master of Exercise Sciences from the University of Toronto and a nutrition diploma from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.

Connect with Kathleen through her website KathleenTrotter.com or on social media. Twitter KTrotterFitness. Instagram KathleenTrotterFitness and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/KathleenTrotter/