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Why Personal Trainers Need To Understand Behaviour Change

The Importance of Behaviour Change

While physical activity is an important part of health and weight management, fitness professionals should understand that someone who appears unmotivated may not be ready to change their fitness habits. With more and more people seeking the expertise of personal trainers in recent years, how do you motivate a client to change their behaviour?

Dr Gary Mendoza is a behaviour change expert, university lecturer and personal trainer. Gary specializes in assessing readiness to change within weight loss clients. Using his techniques, he developed a weight-loss system (the LEAN Man System) which achieved an 86% success rate both in the UK and New Zealand. His programme has since been adopted by the Manawatu Public Health region for use in the community.


Dr Gary Mendoza and Future Fit Training Collaboration

Gary spoke about the important concept of readiness and lifestyle changes and the launch of his collaboration with Future Fit Training:

“In my doctoral research, I used PTs who had trained with Future Fit Training. I asked them if they had any clients about to start work with them that would be willing to participate in my research. I psychometrically tested these volunteers to assess their readiness to change. Twelve weeks later I went back to the volunteers directly and re-tested them. I found that from their initial test scores I could predict who would be successful at losing weight and who would fail and stop training with the PT. This highlights that people will employ a PT even if they are not psychologically ready to change. For the next phase of the research, I asked for trainers who would like to be trained in the psychology of behaviour change.”

“The trainers that volunteered to participate in this phase of the research undertook further training with me to learn the theory of behaviour change as well as how to administer, score and interpret psychometric tests. This theory and the psychometric testing are now incorporated into the new behaviour change course launched in partnership with Future Fit Training.”

“Once trained the PTs had to test new clients and ensure they met an entry criterion; this was a specific set of scores on the psychometric tests. Those that qualified then worked with the PTs for 12 weeks. During this period, they retested their clients every four weeks. Using this screening protocol, at the end of twelve weeks we had an 86% success rate for weight loss and reduction in waist measurement. Clearly, screening was a worthwhile addition to the training programme. I have since repeated this research in New Zealand using the same protocols and tests and the results were almost identical. This demonstrates that this works in different countries and with different cultural populations.”


The Motivational Interviewing

“The one problem with this system was that it presented an ethical dilemma. What do you do with a client that does not meet the entry criteria, and is therefore not ready to work with you? If this system was going to be adopted more widely this needed to be addressed.

A few years later I discovered the solution; the answer was Motivational Interviewing (MI). MI was developed by professors William Miller and Stephen Rollnick and I was fortunate to be trained by them. Another highly respected researcher in this field is Professor Terry Moyles and again I was fortunate enough to complete advanced training in MI with Terry.

MI is specifically designed to help clients who are ambivalent about change move forward. When someone is ambivalent about change, they are kind of sitting on the fence. They can see the pros of making a change, but they can also see as many cons.

This idea of pros and cons is known as decisional balance, a term coined by Janis & Mann, leading psychologists in the field of behaviour change. Decisional balance is one aspect of psychological readiness that the psychometric tests can measure. MI is specifically designed to help clients get over this ambivalence and move forward.”


The OARS

“The great thing about learning the skills involved in using MI is that it enhances a whole skill set that is invaluable to a PT/Coach.

You learn active listening to something that most people would benefit from. From a communication perspective you learn how to use Open questions effectively, Affirmations, Reflections and finally Summaries, or as we know them collectively in MI terms; ‘OARS’.

This enhanced style of communication is really beneficial to both the client and the trainer and certainly improves programme success.”

“The one-day workshop that is an optional part of the Behaviour Change Coaching course teaches trainers all of the required MI skill set. This equips them with a new skill set they can go and use with clients straightaway. In one of the early workshops, I delivered I received some feedback from a trainer the day after he had completed the MI training. He had been working with a female client for six months and she had very much hit a plateau as far as achieving results and being motivated. He worked with the client in an MI consistent fashion on Monday and he described it as a “light bulb moment”.

He said it was like “she got it” (his words) and all of a sudden was keen to press on. After this, she never looked back and started achieving her goals.

It is always great to hear that the theory works well when put into practice.”

“It came as no surprise to me to hear it worked well. When I first learnt MI, it was a revelation to me. At this point I had been a trainer for twenty years and yet here was a bunch of skills that were going to make me a lot better at what I did. I have since incorporated MI consistent practice into everything I do, and it has undoubtedly made a big difference. The one-day MI workshop really helps trainers with their communication skills as well as their own personal growth. Throughout the day we use what is known as “real play”. This is different to “role play” where you make up a scenario. Because of the nature of MI role play would not work so you have to work on issues that are real for the individual. To this end students in the workshop work on either their own personal or business issues throughout the day.

As they are working with trainers who are very possibly in a similar situation to themselves, they gain an invaluable insight which can often be as useful as learning the MI skills themselves.”


How Behaviour Change as an Impact on our Industry

“I believe the new behaviour change course will have a major impact on the leisure industry. We will now be able to produce PTs who have a complete skill set to help clients from any walk of life.

Understanding physiology and exercise prescription have always been a major component of any PTs knowledge. In the past decade, Future Fit Training have also enhanced the PTs knowledge about nutrition; this now encompasses health and wellness as well as sports performance. The Behaviour Change Coaching course provides the final piece of the puzzle for the personal trainer. They will now have the skills to ensure that their client is psychologically ready to make the required changes.

What is more, using the psychometric testing they can continually monitor the client’s psychological readiness and thus be confident that their programme is working. If the assessment results (data) highlight that something is not quite going to plan, by using their newly obtained MI skills they can make sure they get things back on track. This means that their client retention rate increases and so does their overall client success rate. Both these factors ensure the PT/trainer has a successful business”.