Most of us preach moderation.

Fitness and diet needs to be a part of your lifestyle, not be a burden, or something that you run your whole life around.

Consistency and moderation over the long-term is far better than getting all hardcore and "engaging beastmode" for a short period, then falling completely off the wagon.

So why not use this mantra with clients?

There's no need to get seriously strict, and there's no reason to effectively be little more than a friend to your clients by not giving them any form of structure and accountability.

Here are 6 "tough" coaching techniques for nailing that balanced approach:

Alison about to kick some butt

1. Use the Compliment Sandwich

Sometimes referred to by a slightly ruder name (ahem, by PTDC head coach Jon Goodman in Ignite the Fire), the compliment sandwich works a treat with clients:

  1. Give a compliment
  2. Advise on what they could have done better
  3. Finish on another compliment or a piece of positive advice

Here's an example using my weight loss client Alan who went out for a meal a couple of Saturdays back. Our conversation went something along the lines of -

Alan: It was just supposed to be a meal with a few old school friends. I knew the restaurant we were going to, so decided I'd go for the chicken burger with some veggies, but when we got there, they'd changed the menu. 

So I went for a cheeseburger with fries and then thought "screw it" so had a few beers and a bottle of wine as well. 

I know I didn't do great, so did reduce my calories a little the day after.

Me: Well it's good you tried to pre-plan, and make a sensible choice beforehand - that's always what I'd advise. 

Obviously you know that if you did have that cheeseburger and the beers and wine though, that probably cancelled out your deficit for the week though, so don't be surprised if weight and measurements stay the same this week. 

You're on the right lines though with checking out menus and trying to be moderate. In future, that place actually offers a bun-less burger too, so maybe go for that and skip the fries? Or even alternate your beers with diet sodas, just to cut a few calories?

In the above conversation I highlighted something he did well, then gave my suggestion for what he could fix, and ended with one more thing he did well.

2. Give Rewards (Sometimes)

Everyone loves getting rewards. It reminds us of when we were at school.

One of my favorite rewards with clients is stickers.

It sounds absurd, but grown adults get genuinely excited when you reward them for a good training session or a compliant diet week with a sticker. I always carry a sticker book in my bag, and will give them out to clients as a treat.

T-shirts with your logo on, as well as stationery, books, exercise equipment and healthy snacks also work well.

One of my go-to rewards is a batch of home-made protein bars or muffins. If clients know there's a chance of getting some of these, you can bet they'll be more likely to work hard. (This depends on how good your baking skills are obviously.)

3. Hold Competitions

If clients are more competitive, they might respond well to something with a little more at stake.

When I worked with more in-person clients before I decided to become an online personal trainer, I found whenever I introduced a contest across my client base, everyone suddenly knuckled down and stayed more compliant.

Total weight loss doesn't work that well, but holding a contest for the biggest reduction in body fat percentage over a month, or giving every client a set number of weeks to increase performance in a certain lift or fitness challenge is an awesome way to get everyone pushing themselves and wanting to work harder.

Note: This may not work so well with clients who are new to the gym and lacking confidence, so don't just tell clients they're now part of a big contest - check they're okay with it first.

Turns out Alison was the one getting her butt kicked

4. Ask "How Would I Like to be Treated?"

This was HUGE for me.

When I was really struggling with knowing how tough of a coach I needed to be, I just asked how I'd like to be treated were I hiring a trainer.

I knew I wouldn't want to be yelled at and berated if I wasn't 100%.

I also knew that if I were paying for a service, I wouldn't want the provider of that service to allow me to get sub-par results, and would want them to be strict enough that I did follow their guidelines.

5. Base Your Approach Around Their Goals 

Does a client want to get shredded for the stage, or do they want to be able to enjoy meals with their family while losing a few pounds?

These goals don't require the same level of strictness and sacrifice; therefore they don't require the same approach from a trainer either.

Should you give Stu, your contest prep client, a little tough coaching love for having that extra beer at the weekend three weeks out from show day?


But what about Judith, your mid-40s single Mom who wants to be able to show her kids how she manages her weight without eating "diet food" for having a donut on Saturday afternoon?

Probably not.

6. Seek Out Feedback

You know who'll tell you whether you're being tough enough coach or not?

Your clients!

I was amazed when I actually came out and asked my clients if they thought I was giving them the right level of accountability and coaching toughness.

Most said that yeah, it was fine. They felt that I did enough to make them push hard and stick to their diet, but without them feeling like I was some kind of dreadful bootcamp instructor, or the P.E teacher at school who they still had nightmares about.

Others said that actually, they sometimes felt like they needed a bit more of a push, and didn't mind working them harder, or me chasing them up between our meetings.

A few however, mentioned that they'd like to ease back a little.

They realized that to get to where they initially wanted it would require more discipline than they were prepared to give, and that when thinking about it, they were perfectly happy just being a little fitter and a little lighter, and wanted to enjoy their sessions.

If I wasn't there, they wouldn't do anything, and so by simply hiring me, they were happy as they were doing SOMETHING.