Personal Trainer Factsheet
Exploring Client Exercise Barriers

Recognising and understanding client exercise barriers

Whether you’re relatively new to your fitness career or have been working in the industry for some time the importance of recognising and understanding client exercise barriers is second to none. Your role is centred on helping clients start and maintain a level of physical activity so that they can lead a healthy lifestyle. Your fitness instructor course or personal trainer course will teach you the foundations and principles of human anatomy, relationship building, programme design, exercise application and much more. So perhaps it’s a little surprising that all of this knowledge serves little purpose if you can’t pinpoint you client’s barriers that prevent them from being, or becoming, physically active on a regular consistent basis.

In this resource written with the Fitness Professional in mind we will guide you through how to understand common client barriers to physical activity with useful can do strategies to enable you to overcome them. So dive in and see how many barriers you connect with for your clients and then develop your plan to tackle them head on.

What are Exercise Barriers?

Let’s start by thinking about what we mean by exercise barriers. After all it’s a bit of a funny thing to get to grips with…your gym member or client has signed up and committed to their training and you’re supposed to think about barriers.

To cut a long story short we all put up barriers from time to time. There a reaction to the unknown or something new where we lack an element of self-belief that somehow leaves us holding on to what seems like the safety net of how we’ve always behaved or done things.

Imagine you’re working in a Fitness Instructor role as part of the gym team and your boss asks if you’d like to give a speech at the team meeting on the gym member experience. You might feel pleased with yourself, perhaps delighted that your boss has recognised you but you’re also feeling a bit nervous. Suddenly you start thinking about all the things that could go wrong and convince yourself the best thing to do is decline.

You’ve just presented barriers or reasons not to give the speech and have allowed these reasons to overtake your rational thinking. You allowed this to happen to such an extent that you’re not even prepared to have a go. Instead you revert back to doing the things you’re familiar with.

Rational thinking has been replaced with irrational thought processes – after all what’s the worst that could really happen?

The more you develop self-awareness of your own personal barriers to different life events the better placed you will be as a Fitness Instructor to understand and empathise with your clients who present barriers to physical activity.

Our Top Six Client Exercise Barriers

1. Physical

  • I’ve pulled a muscle / hurt my back
  • I’m not well at the moment
  • I’ve been working extra hours and I’m worn out
  • I think I’m getting a bit old for it

2. Emotional

  • People will laugh at me
  • I don’t look the part
  • I’m too big / out of shape
  • Exercise doesn’t really suit me

3. Motivational

  • I’m too tired
  • I’ve had a stressful day at work
  • I felt sore after the last session
  • I didn’t enjoy it

4. Time

  • I’ve had a hectic week and can’t fit it in
  • There’s lots on with work and the children
  • We’re going away shortly so I’ll leave it for a bit
  • I’m looking after a sick relative

5. Financial

  • I can’t afford it at the moment
  • I’m just waiting to get paid then I’ll resume
  • I’ve some unexpected costs ie car repairs
  • My job is at risk

6. Logistical

  • My working hours have changed
  • I need to look after the children
  • I don’t have use of a vehicle

These barriers to exercise are all examples of intrinsic factors that result in your client not participating in regular exercise. The definition of intrinsic here refers to the reason for non-participation as coming from within your client. There are also extrinsic or external factors prohibiting client exercise which are caused by an event or situation outside of their immediate control. For example; the gym may be too hot or too cold, they may find other gym members annoying or feel the gym facilities are inadequately looked after.

Exercise Barriers and your Clients

Now let’s think about how all this applies to your clients.

They will present and showcase, to differing degrees, a range of barriers that can get in the way of their ability to complete physical activity. It’s up to you to spot, identify and tackle these reasons. Once you’ve done this it’s time to get inventive and come up with practical solutions or workarounds that support keeping your client on track as much as possible.

Barriers to exercise are not static and are constantly changing depending on many other elements that contribute to your client’s overall lifestyle. For this very reason it’s important to not only help tackle and overcome any barriers you encounter, but also remember to check in regularly with your client and be on the lookout for new barriers as they crop up.

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