How to help others to get in shape – the ones who need it

As coaches and trainers we often write about concepts that will help those who have already made the decision to lift weights or get in shape. In essence we are preaching to the choir by our social media posts and blog entries.

Often we forget about the people who have never touched a weight in their entire lives but need it for health reasons.

I want you to realize this, the vast majority of people in gyms do not train for shows, they don’t compete in meets or they have no desire to compete. They are there to look better, feel healthy or to get in shape for an event in their lives.

If you want to talk about your warehouse gym as an example of this not being true, that is fine, but this is the truth overall.

You will deal with people who have form issues, have bad coordination and who are out of shape where they have a hard time lasting through a 30 minute session with you.

You, as a trainer, have to know how to reach these people if you are really in this to help others.

1. Don’t pressure them by guilt

Number one is getting them into the gym. Let’s assume you have an overweight person who is self-conscious about being in a gym filled with people who are in shape. They want to come to the gym but they are intimidated about it. You can save the self-righteous thoughts like “everyone has to start somewhere”.

That is 100% correct, but imagine how they feel getting the courage to come in when they know they will get glances and some snobby idiots will laugh behind their backs. That does happen, you would be a fool if you think it didn’t.

You, as a trainer, need to make them feel like they belong. You need to encourage them, help them and say things like, “good to see you again, that’s twice this week, keep it up!”.

That is cheesy, but I will tell you that even the cheesiest stuff is going to have an impact on a self-conscious person’s mind.

Once you give them a mental out like, “why weren’t you here the last few days” you are giving them mental permission to make an excuse, you are immediately giving them guilt.

You have to remember these people are out of their comfort zone, they are the new kid in a strange world and will be susceptible to a lot of negative thoughts until they build the confidence to make it a habit.

Erase all excuses and enforce a positive mental outlook.

2. Start them off slow

A person new to the gym is going to get sore with everything you do for them. You have to start them off slow with learning how to move their bodies. That means you want to focus on stuff like:

  • Squat progressions
  • Pushups progressions
  • Deadlift progressions
  • Back work

Everything else is just extra. That doesn’t mean you should never train arms or shoulders, that means you need to plan out how you will take them from not being able to bend over or sit down without support, to being able to pick up weight and squat without holding on to something.

Remember you are dealing with people who need an increase in quality of life, not people who want to enter a show. There is a huge difference between the two with training and recovery.

This is what separates coaches from wannabes. It is real easy to coach someone who is receptive to it all, but it is a challenge to get someone who has been sedentary to move better and keep it going. Programming workouts is a small part of coaching, think about that.

3. Start with one thing at a time as far as nutrition goes

This is arguable with many people, but I can tell you from my experience it works very well to help them eliminate one “bad” thing from their diet at at time.

A large majority of the time these types of clients get to this point because of a complete lack of understand, or care, about the food that goes into their mouths.

They are often eating a diet low in protein with a higher percentage of calories from carbs and fat. Of those calories you can bet that many of them are from sugar.

Sugar, itself, it not evil. Excessive sugar is.

Your first step to to get them to eat enough protein. The whole 1g per pound of bodyweight doesn’t apply to a person who is grossly out of shape. You want to work on them eating more protein per meal. Diet tracking, right now, would be a lesson in futility as they have to change habits before they actually can commit to a bonafide style of eating.

Next step would be to ask them to lesson one “bad” ingredient. That could be refined sugar, flour products, fried foods, etc.

This takes time and they may get discouraged, but see #1 as an example of how to deal with discouragement.

It is rare when someone new to getting in shape is mentally ready to go from 0 to 100mph with diet. If you have that person, you are a lucky son of a bitch. Sit back and smile because your job just got a hell of a lot easier.

You have to chip away at most of them and ask them to write down what they ate so they can hold themselves accountable. Stress to them the importance of that, ask them to tell their friends about their goals, their families, their kids. You would hope those people would help them along the way, but that isn’t always the case. It’s a hard job to change habits overnight, so be patient and change one at a time.

They are already in the gym, so that is one habit. Work on the rest.

4. Goal setting

Give them immediate goals like coming to the gym 2-3 times a week, cutting out that food group you talked about, shoot for stuff like “how does a goal of losing 20 pounds sound to you and when do you want to achieve this goal?” By phrasing it that way you make them say yes and you make them give you a time. Do NOT tell them what they need to do, phrase each question in a way where you make them affirm the goals verbally. This is called Sales 101, if you cannot sell them, you should not be in this business.

With each goal set it becomes easier for them to make new ones and each subsequent goal should be a little more challenging.

How can we do this with nutrition? Here is a good idea of how to get a client to work on better eating habits, each bullet point is a progression:

  • We will add more protein to your diet (and explain how).
  • How about these next two weeks you only eat lunch out two times?
  • How about these next two weeks you only eat lunch out once?
  • Let’s work on cutting sugar out as much as we can.
  • Let’s start tracking protein intake and work on balancing meals out (explain how to create a meal rather than a diet)

I am skipping steps here and every client will be different, but you can see the general idea.

5. This is NOT Biggest Loser

Long term weight loss and fitness isn’t a quick fix, you need to make sure they know this. Most of them probably saw Biggest Loser on TV and are going to expect weight loss like that for themselves. Unfortunately for them they aren’t in a camp with someone cooking meals for them and won’t be able to train 2-3 hours a day while being on a severe calorie restriction.

They have jobs, families and stress. They have a life to live and it is your job to get them to embrace this as a lifestyle rather than a quick fix.

Fast weight loss is seldom maintained because it came about with extreme measures. Slow weight loss, steady weight loss means you are helping them to change habits and introducing them to a lifestyle that will, hopefully, stay with them for the rest of their lives.

I can tell you this worked for me. I remember doing these exact steps with several clients and they stuck it out long after they stopped training with me.

It is a rewarding feeling to change lives.

We are trainers, we will not always have the top tier person wanting to beat down our door. I will be honest with you and say it is more personally gratifying to see someone who is on the brink of a health disaster turn it around over someone who wants to win a trophy.



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