1. Three strategies to help clients adopt sustainable health behaviors
2. Brief tips to integrate and explore three strategies with clients
How many times have you witnessed a client decide to join a gym to lose weight and get healthier only to see their initial energy fade? Exercise adherence is about lifetime adherence. As clients act on changing their health behaviors, it quickly becomes clear that sustaining these behaviors is another story. Why is it so hard to change behaviors? The truth is most people want to be well and in control of their health, but are often challenged with the demands of everyday life. Changing a behavior by adopting new ones without first making room for them is demanding even for the most committed client.
All health and fitness professionals can integrate powerful but simple coaching skills to support struggling clients to improve client success.
To become a transformational force, health and fitness professionals should seek new approaches to influence lasting behavior change. Health and wellness coaching (HWC) offers a comprehensive toolbox of strategies for the health and fitness professionals to deliver lifetime, sustainable behaviors. HWC services are delivered by health and fitness professionals trained in applying strategies that elicit motivation, instill positive mindsets, and increase confidence in self-management important to making sustainable health-behavior changes.
All health and fitness professionals can integrate powerful but simple coaching skills to support struggling clients to improve client success. If your goal as a health and fitness professional is to help clients adopt health behaviors that last a lifetime, consider how you could integrate these 3 HWC strategies into your coaching toolbox.
Support Behaviors that Last: A Wellcoach Approach
1) Promote Autonomy
Autonomy is one of our three psychological needs in Self-Determination Theory (an important theory of motivation) where clients feel like they are in control. Yes, it’s true that clients generally expect you to be an expert, however in HWC you learn how to remove the expert hat and let the client lead. This may take some practice! Find opportunities to switch between providing the expert advice the client expects and letting them be in charge of their own choices. In other words, ask! Don’t tell! Let the client find their way on their journey to wellness. When we support our client’s autonomy, they become invested and personally responsible for their health.
Changing a behavior by adopting new ones without first making room for them is demanding even for the most committed client.
2) Encourage Story Telling
Help clients open up and explore their stories by asking open-ended questions. “What” and “How” are the best ways to ask questions that encourage storytelling that move people to change. Open-ended questions allow clients to take an active role in their coaching as they explore both the positive and negative impacts of their behaviors from their own perspective. Open-ended questions encourage clients to process their experiences and talk more than coaches. A few examples may include (how they see the world through their eyes, not yours):
* What would you like your wellness to look like in 3 months, 1 year, 2 years?
* What is holding you back or standing in your way? How is it holding you back?
* How does it make you feel when you do an exercise you enjoy?
3) Mindful Listening
Listening is critical to building relationships and trust with clients. You never know how rare it is for clients to have someone’s undivided, nonjudgmental attention. In HWC, listening provides an opportunity for the clients to find the answers and helps improve the quality of conversations between coaches and clients. A few quick tips for mindful listening:
* Weave the client’s last words into the next steps.
* Listen for emotions as well as facts, and then reflect on them.
* Pause after your client has spoken.
All health and fitness professions can thoughtfully explore the HWC skills discussed in this blog and discover opportunities for applying these with clients. If you find yourself curious about other HWC skills you could use with your clients, it may require a little more research.
Take Home Message
All health and fitness professionals can integrate powerful but simple coaching strategies to support struggling clients to improve client success. It’s one thing to be a certified personal trainer, exercise physiologist, or strength and conditioning coach, but you can have a whole new level of impact
by adding great coaching skills to those certifications.
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Featured 'FIT' Article:
Stanforth D, Weidenheft A. Celebrate Success! ACSMs Health Fit J. 2019; 23(2):41-43.
Sforzo GA, Kaye MP, Todorova I, et al. Compendium of the Health and Wellness Coaching Literature. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;12(6): 436–47. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1559827617708562
Vanessa M. Kercher
, Ph.D., SSC, M.Ed., BESS, specializes in the science, study, and measurement of behavior as a psychometrician at The Summit Medical Fitness Center. Dr. Kercher is responsible for the design, development, and evaluation of new and existing measures related to health behaviors for clinical and performance programs. Her research passion focuses on helping individuals optimize their physical activity experiences to promote sustainable, positive health behaviors. She serves as the digital editor of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal