What Strategies Help Clients Overcome Mental Barriers to Exercise?


    What Strategies Help Clients Overcome Mental Barriers to Exercise?

    We reached out to a diverse group of fitness and wellness experts, including Psychologists and Personal Trainers, to share their experiences in helping clients break through mental barriers to exercise. Their strategies range from encouraging daily exercise commitments to using positive reframing and realistic goals, offering seven unique insights into overcoming these challenges.

    • Encourage Daily Exercise Commitment
    • Implement a Structured Exercise Planner
    • Redefine Exercise to Match Preferences
    • Build Confidence with Tailored Workouts
    • Set Small, Achievable Exercise Goals
    • Shift Mindset to Overcome Athletic Struggles
    • Use Positive Reframing and Realistic Goals

    Encourage Daily Exercise Commitment

    Without a doubt, one of the common threads among my clients, whether they come to me for life coaching or business coaching, is their interest in improving their health. Obviously, this comes from a need to reduce their stress and make better decisions that aid them in feeling healthy and performing better. The question I get asked the most is, 'What diet plan should I follow, or what exercise plan should I start doing?' And my answer is always the same... Stop focusing on what plan or strategy is right for you and just 'show up!'

    That's the real problem. You're not showing up as the best version of yourself each day. You're not committed to a plan. I then advise my clients to choose a gym or a time in their day when they are going to commit to exercising; then I challenge them to show up every day for 14 days at that time. Don't worry about what workout you're doing, what supplement you're taking, or what diet you're following... just show up, and before you know it, you will earn the desire to want to be better.

    You will want to use your time wisely. You will begin to educate yourself on how to perform better. And now, you've gained the most important benefit from the practice, which is the discipline to do the work. Then you can enjoy testing out new meal plans and gyms or workouts because you know you are going to actually execute them and not simply leave them on a list of things you're going to do (that don't get done!). It's always about mindset. Train yourself to have the discipline, and then you can have fun and explore what inspires you.

    Brett Baughman
    Brett BaughmanBusiness & Life Coach, The Brett Baughman Companies

    Implement a Structured Exercise Planner

    I remember having a stubborn client. She already had a lot of excuses whenever asked about her medication intake, and I could see no improvement in her well-being as a result. So, for such patients, you have to start a non-pharmacological approach and push them into some physical activity to see what works. I knew she would never do it if told verbally, so I made her a planner. I divided the exercises and molded them into a weekly planner with mini-awards in between. For the first two days, it was very overwhelming and exhausting for her. Later, she realized that taking the medications and bearing their side effects would be a lot harder and hence became consistent. Within a few months of physical and engagement exercises, she became a lot better, and her improved well-being was clearly visible.

    Vladimira Ivanova
    Vladimira IvanovaPsychologist, The Diamond Rehab

    Redefine Exercise to Match Preferences

    In my role as a veteran personal trainer, I frequently encounter clients expressing reluctance towards exercise with the common refrain, "I don't like to work out." This sentiment often stems from a mismatch between their preferences and conventional definitions of exercise. My approach involves guiding clients to redefine their perception of movement and exercise, demonstrating that we can craft enjoyable and challenging routines tailored to their current capabilities.

    For instance, I recently worked with a client who initially resisted the idea of traditional workouts. To address this, we began by designing a movement plan that was light-hearted and engaging, incorporating activities that resonated with their interests. The emphasis was on simplicity initially, gradually introducing added resistance to basic movements to bolster both confidence and strength. As they progressed, we seamlessly integrated more load to movement and more complex exercises, fostering a sense of accomplishment and building upon their newfound confidence in their abilities.

    By personalizing the exercise experience and aligning it with their preferences, we successfully overcame the mental barrier associated with traditional workouts, creating a positive and sustainable approach to physical activity tailored to their unique needs and goals.

    Katie Carpenter
    Katie CarpenterExecutive Health and Wellness Coach, Deliberate Directions

    Build Confidence with Tailored Workouts

    One of my clients, Mark, was battling a mental block around consistent exercise due to a past injury. He was afraid that pushing himself too hard might lead to a relapse and further setbacks.

    To address this concern, we began with a thorough understanding of his injury and consulted with his healthcare provider to establish safe and effective workout routines. It was crucial to build a foundation of trust and communication. We gradually introduced low-impact exercises, focusing on strengthening the specific areas without causing discomfort.

    Additionally, I emphasized the importance of listening to his body and recognizing the difference between pain and normal exertion. We set realistic goals and celebrated small victories along the way, reinforcing a positive association with exercise. As Mark experienced progress without aggravating his injury, his confidence in his body's resilience grew.

    Today, Mark not only exercises regularly but has also incorporated a variety of activities into his routine. Overcoming that mental barrier required a combination of understanding, tailored planning, and continuous support. It's moments like these that make coaching truly fulfilling.

    James Cunningham
    James CunninghamSenior Coach, Total Shape

    Set Small, Achievable Exercise Goals

    Establishing exercise goals often proves more problematic than expected. We tend to set plans and visualize outcomes that are excessively ambitious for the designated time frame, resulting in failure to cling to the exercise regimen or sustain the effort. When visible changes in our body are not immediately apparent, it can lead to disappointment and create mental barriers that hinder restarting or staying on track.

    It is crucial to formulate small, achievable goals that are tangible and motivating, such as focusing on components like 'flexibility.' Identifying specific actions you are currently unable to do and aspire to achieve within a realistic time frame can enhance motivation and provide commitment to the exercise routine.

    Priya GuptaOrganisational Psychologist

    Shift Mindset to Overcome Athletic Struggles

    I recently worked with an athlete preparing for a national tournament on his mindset around focus and what he says to himself when he struggles. And he said his coach always says, 'The problem is only in your head.'

    So we shifted that voice to 'The solution is in my head and hand. Next touch.' and visualized the voice being critical on one shoulder to moving him to the other shoulder, breathing and saying 'The solution is in my head and hand - next touch.'

    And he just sent me a message that even though he ultimately lost his competition, he felt amazing and maintained his focus the entire time. He was proud of his performance and his mindset.

    Kim Brady
    Kim BradyBusiness and Life Coach, Kim Brady Business Coaching

    Use Positive Reframing and Realistic Goals

    In my opinion, mental barriers can be more difficult to push through than physical ones. There are two things I like to do with my clients to help them overcome these roadblocks. First, I have them do an exercise called 'The Houdini Effect.' This is for people who get stuck in their head with thoughts like 'everyone is staring at me' or 'I don’t belong here.' Set a timer for seven minutes and write down everything GOOD about that limiting belief. For example, if you think everyone is looking at you, the positives are… they think you’re good-looking, they want to try what you’re doing, they think you’re strong, and they’re impressed. Even if what you write down isn’t the truth, it tricks your brain into thinking they are, and you instantly feel better about the situation.

    The second thing I do with clients who feel discouraged or can’t seem to get back on track is have them set small goals that they know they can achieve. For example, I have a client who has a crazy work schedule, and her boss calls her for everything. This becomes a problem when we have a session, and she has to cancel last minute because 'duty calls.' So instead, we make her sessions 30 minutes, and she sets a daily intention to get some sort of movement in. Some days that looks like taking her dog for a walk; other days, it means doing ten squats before bed. If you set realistic goals, you are more likely to achieve them, which in turn, makes you feel good and helps create a habit.

    Abby SchmidtPersonal Trainer, Soho House Chicago