While clients come in different shapes and sizes, the vast majority are focussed on getting fit to lose weight or to manage their weight.
Yes, we grant you, it may be presented to you as their Personal Trainer as a desire to get fit and strong. But in our experience, underneath that will be a driving need to be fashionably slim and muscular.
And importantly, a fear of gaining weight, or of being fat.
As we’ve discussed here before, many of your overweight clients will feel desperately ashamed of their appearance, and will even loathe themselves as a result of the extra weight they’re carrying.
Let’s take a look at what happens psychologically for a client when they decide they want to lose weight?
For many clients it means the drudgery and hopelessness of yet another diet. It means focussing on eating healthy meals, and denying themselves foods that contain fat. It means adding up each calorie and keeping a running tally for each day. After all, they want to eliminate all fat from their bodies so they can look like their favourite role model.
It’s nigh on impossible to get a client who wants to lose weight to stop focussing on fat. They watch the scales often at an unhealthy frequency, and the tone of each day is set by the number they see in the morning. If their weight hasn’t decreased, they grit their teeth and batten down the hatches, or start to feel hopeless – “everyone else in the entire universe can lose weight, why can’t I.”
But what if we changed the focus from losing fat, to gaining muscle?
Reframing the aim of the game is a subtle yet highly effective way to shift the focus from what the client isn’t doing (ie. losing fat), to what they are doing (ie. gaining muscle).
This is particularly true for women. Women’s magazines and girl-oriented media are flooded with talk of calories and food intake and slimming down, but rarely of strength and muscle and power.
When a dieter sees celebrities on the front of magazines, they think they’d like to look like them. Let’s face it, we all aspire to look like the beautiful people. And our minds then turn to what we won’t eat to achieve that slimness – “right, tomorrow I’m going to skip breakfast, have a spoonful of no-fat yoghurt for lunch, and a lettuce leaf for dinner.”
But what we are really looking at isn’t how many calories the celeb has eaten (or not eaten), it’s muscle.
Celebrities look so great because they work damn hard to build up muscle. And what we focus on is the toned shape, the healthy muscle mass and the firmness.
When you look at men’s magazines by comparison they talk about weight gain and strength, adjectives like power and strong are used. The idea is clear, muscle is the end result not weight loss.
In our experience people often forget that it’s not always about what you weigh, it’s about how you feel and look. Muscle is a lot denser than fat and therefore takes up much less physical space.
As a result if your clients work out they may actually stay the same weight but look slimmer.
Encourage your clients to stop fixating on goal weight and beating themselves up about it. Help them understand they can shift the focus from fat to muscle and work to be healthy and strong.
Another great thing about muscle is that its mere existence takes up calories. Muscle requires a lot more energy than fat even in a sedentary state. So just by having more muscle your clients will find they are burning more calories.
How fast can we gain muscle?
It’s different for men and women but on average a woman can gain just under half a kilo per month and for men it’s almost double that, up to a kilo per month. This is with regular work outs especially weight lifting. What you’re also doing in this time is losing fat.
Weight loss should be a slow process at least over a couple of months and sometimes years. Going slowly and building up muscle over a long period of time is not only healthier, it will also help your clients to keep weight off.
So focus on empowering your clients to be strong and healthy rather than fat-focussed.
By Kate Swann and Kristina Mamrot
Psychologists and Authors of The Ultimate Guide to Training Overweight and Obese Clients