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Effective Client Communication for Health and Fitness Professionals

DeWayne Smith, MS, NASM-CES, PES, CNC 0

Being a fitness professional carries much more responsibility than just designing a stellar, individualized workout program for a client. As you spend more and more time in the profession, you’ll begin to notice your sessions involve almost a small consulting component. Your clients begin to confide in you as you earn their trust and respect. This is by no means encouragement to take on the role of a professional counselor, but being able to more effectively communicate with your clients on a deeper level provides an edge in cultivating the professional relationship and retaining their business. Effective communication is often the difference between sustained success and failure for the relationship between a personal trainer and a client (1).

On any given day, a client can walk in for a session and its momentum could be determined by factors out of your immediate control. Inherently, you want to ask what’s wrong and attempt to immediately resolve the situation, but it’s not necessarily the appropriate approach, and could end up harming your working relationship. Instead, consider using components of the Littlefoot Approach in Athletic Counseling (Table 1) in conversation with your client throughout the session.

This approach is about the process of consultation versus the content of the interactions. You’re not solving the problem for them, but instead, guiding, supporting, and allowing them to work through it on their own. It allows you to strengthen the relationship you have with your client, which relates to better outcomes and client satisfaction (2).

Table 1

The Littlefoot Approach to Athletic Counseling (2)
Understand the problem before trying to fix it

Ask questions and avoid mind-reading

Pace before leading

Encourage but don’t discount

(The following are not addressed in this article)

Listen for the “but”

Put doubts in the doubts

Clients will bring you back to where they believe they need to be

Acknowledge the difficulty of the change process

Plan for plateaus and setbacks

Train for generalization

Understand the problem before trying to fix it…

Often, the go-to solution in any conversation when a problem presents itself is to immediately provide a solution to the problem. Rather than providing a quick solution, actively listen to the client and understand the situation from their perspective. This shows you genuinely care (1,2)

Ask questions and avoid mind-reading…

Never assume you know how your client feels. Instead, ask open-ended questions, reflect their feelings, and summarize what they say to you. By doing this, you allow them to elaborate and express their fears, barriers, failures, and successes, as well as creating the perception of understanding for yourself and your client (1,2).

Pace before leading...

Ensure you address the way your client feels at that given moment before making any suggestions. The consequence of not doing so is that your client does not feel understood which can weaken your relationship. By slowing down instead and demonstrating your understanding, you strengthen your relationship (2).

Encourage but don’t discount...

If your timing is off and you offer encouragement in a situation before establishing an understanding of the situation, it will be perceived as a discounting of feelings. This will also weaken your relationship (2).

Not all parts of the Littlefoot approach were covered in depth in this article. However, by using the initial, easy to understand and implement techniques outlined above to communicate with your clients, you further build rapport and trust, learn to identify underlying problems that may slow progress towards goal achievement, and gain an edge in cultivating your client relationships and retaining their business.



  1. Clark MA, Sutton BG, Lucett SC. (2014) NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, 4th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning.
  2. Andersen MB. (2000) Doing Sport Psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


For more information on helping clients attain long-lasting lifestyle changes, check out NASM’s Behavior Change Specialist

Tags: Certified Personal Trainer Tags: personal training

The Author

DeWayne Smith, MS, NASM-CES, PES, CNC

DeWayne Smith is an MS, a Corrective Exercise Specialist, Performance Enhancement Specialist, and Certified NutritionCoach for NASM.