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Closing Clients Based on How They Want to Feel

Stop asking members and guests how they want to look. We have limited control over that. Instead, ask them how they want to feel by using a technique known as motivational interviewing.

Stop asking members and guests how they want to look. We have limited control over that. Instead, ask them how they want to feel.

This starts on day one with a technique known as motivational interviewing (MI). MI is a technique used by counselors, social workers and other health care providers to elicit "change talk" in their clients. Change talk is about getting clients to identify behaviors they need and/or want to change, as well as assessing their readiness for change. The process has four steps, known as OARS: open-ended questions, affirmations, reflective listening and summaries.

For clients who come to us because they want to change, the size-four bikini body is likely the only way they know how to define their goal due to society’s expectations. We need to find out if their goal is a memory or a dream for them and what feelings surround it. Do they want to feel beautiful, confident, sexy, strong? It’s not just about the look. For clients who come to us because they need to change, we must practice tough love. Despite the need, the client may not want to change. But if we can discover how the client wants to feel, feelings will sell much better than facts.   

One of the greatest lessons I learned while working on a political campaign is that it is much easier to change someone's acceptance of facts than it is to change their feelings about an issue they care about. Additionally, it is important to define yourself before someone else defines you. In today’s world of mass media consumption, it is easy to put yourself in a perceived box. Personal trainers are educators. It has been said that you are only as good at teaching as that which is understood by the student. Take that further. You must be understood and felt by the student, touching head and heart. New science on macronutrients and cardio intervals is published daily. Feelings of happiness, confidence and significance are felt for a lifetime, and it is our job to capitalize on those feelings.

Your trainers need to do a better job of meeting clients where they need to be met. Too often, trainers ask if the goal is to lose fat, gain muscle or get stronger. Sometimes it is just about feeling better, sleeping better and keeping up with the kids. The greatest gift of personal training is changing lives. If someone wants to change how they look on the outside, they can grab a magazine, lift some weights, buy new clothes, put on makeup and do their hair. But if they want to change their lives, how they feel about themselves and the world, it takes a team. Changing how a client feels cannot be achieved by following a magazine workout or by fumbling through a circuit. Helping the client understand that on day one is the key to a successful and sustainable relationship.

Five Steps to Closing

Using the OARS method, as well as applications listed below, personal trainers need to move the conversations forward. The goal at the end of the first session is to achieve a commitment. Too often trainers get stuck in a lateral shuffle of questions around "How did you get to be 50 pounds overweight?" Although this information is important, trainers can move the conversation forward by asking, "What actions can you start to take today to feel happier and more confident?"  

The following are five steps that will help your trainers close on feelings:

1. Assess critical thinking skills in employee interviews. The future of fitness professionals is much more than a certification or exercise science degree. The successful trainer is a leader who can influence change in clients' lives.

2. Stop role-playing PAR-Qs and sales presentations. The mediocre manager will make staff read through their questionnaires in pairs on a weekly basis, often because he or she doesn't know what else to do. The trainer may become so concerned about what question is next that he doesn’t even hear the answer.

3. Spend 10 minutes asking nothing but open-ended questions, questions that do not end in a yes or no, with a partner or small group. Follow up each answer with an affirmation to be sure the answer is understood by all parties.

4. Talk less and listen more. Ask a question and then be quiet. Even when the client pauses, don’t feel the need to fill in the silence. Let it be and just listen. Do this with a partner and don't speak for five minutes after you ask a question. Debrief how you both felt about the experience. Often, the speaker is relieved to have the uninterrupted time to speak his or her thoughts aloud.

5. Dig deeper three times before moving on to the next question. For example, if a client says he does not have time to exercise, your follow-up questions may go like this: "I understand you are busy, so what made this appointment important enough for you to come to?" Wait for client's response. "Great, what other steps can you take today to make more time for exercise?" Wait for client response. "How much time are you willing to dedicate each week to feeling healthier and more energetic?" By the end, you've achieved a commitment.


Christine Hannon, founder of The Art of Strength, is a fitness writer and trainer based in Columbus, OH. She has worked for several national gyms and now advises small fitness businesses in Columbus on program design and communications. Hannon leverages more than a decade of classical ballet with recent powerlifting competitions to encourage women (and their husbands) to lift heavy. Hannon brings to the fitness industry her experience from Army ROTC, living abroad and working on a U.S. Senate campaign. She uses this to not only train her clients, but create grassroots change and leadership for healthier corporations and communities. She puts innovation and customer experience at the forefront of her business. Hannon is a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and through Personal Training Academy Global. She can be reached at [email protected].

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