Articles for Professionals

A Simple Method for Engaging Clients


Welcome to the eighth in the series on Client Retention – A Psychological Perspective provided by psychologist, Kate Swann. Kate is a co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Training Overweight and Obese Clients (available free for FITREC professionals). 

Take it away Kate…

In this article, I’m going to take a leaf out of Sherlock Holmes’ notebook and explore how to become a detective.

Now you might be thinking: what does being curious and listening hard to the smallest of details have to do with fitness training? Everything, people, everything.


As psychologists, when we’re engaging new clients, we like to find out as much as we can about them. It’s like detective work. And it’s great fun!

By and large, most people love talking about their favourite subject – themselves.

And if you’re genuinely interested in learning more about this subject, they’ll be only too pleased to fill you in. It’s a match made in heaven!

Don’t be afraid to be guided by your natural curiosity. If you stomp over any boundaries or step on any toes, your client will be quick to let you know. They’ll shoot you a speedy frown, or brush away your question – your cue to respect their boundaries and back off.

Of course, we’re not suggesting you psychoanalyse your clients – that’s our job. We’re talking about putting on your Sherlock Holmes hat to…

…find out what makes them tick when it comes to their fitness and health.

What’s worked in the past? Why?

What hasn’t worked? Why?

What’s fun? Why?

What are the obstacles going to be? Why?

What’s going to be a cinch? Why?

Short term goals? Long term goals?

The twists and turns the conversation can take are endless. And it will all pull together to help you understand how you can help this client. And that – will engage them.

Let’s take a look at detective work in action.

PT: So tell me what made you decide to join the gym?

Client: Well, I’m a bit thick around the girth at the moment, and my partner is worried about my health and has been nagging me to do something about the weight. I used to work out the gym when I was younger, and I really loved it. But life got kind of hectic . . . I don’t really know how or why, but I gradually stopped going. Anyway, I’ve been driving past your gym every day for years, and finally decided to drop in and join.

PT: Good for you!

Client: (Surprised). Thanks!

PT: But I’m curious. Why is your partner – wife, girlfriend?

Client: Wife. Her name’s Sarah.

PT: Okay. Why’s Sarah worried about your health?

Client: Oh! I’m fine. But there’s a history of heart problems in my family, and she stresses about it.

PT: I’m not surprised! Who has ticker trouble?

Client: (Slowing down, and becoming thoughtful). Well, my Dad had a massive heart attack when I just finished school and died. And his Dad died young too of a heart attack.

PT: God! That’s awful. That must have been terrible for you.

Client: Yeah, it wasn’t great.

PT: How old was your Dad?

Client: Five years older than me.

PT: No wonder Sarah’s worried.

Client: Yeah . . .

PT: And are you worried too?

Client: I am, actually. But I don’t talk about it at home because she gets pretty wound up.

PT: Sounds like she’s got good reason to get wound up. What does your doctor say?

Client: Well, she’s put me through tests, and everything’s fine. But she says I need to look after my diet, my stress levels, and get fit.

PT: Right. Sounds like we’re on a mission then.

Client: Yeah! We are.

PT: Okay, let’s get started with the assessment.

What did we learn?

In this interaction, the PT was confident in letting his curiosity guide him to each question. Keeping the conversation naturally flowing, this experienced PT was able to find out:

  • The client loved the gym when he was younger
  • There’s a history of heart trouble for men in the family
  • The name of the client’s wife
  • The client’s concern about his health and the fact that he can’t talk about it at home
  • He’s been checked by a GP

On top of that, opening the client up and being interested in his world made the client feel like the PT really cared. And just like that – the first steps to engagement have been achieved!

For more insight into the psychology of training, review our full series here.



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