How to Achieve Long Term Behaviour Change for Personal Training Clients

long term behaviour change in fitness clients

Being able to influence long term behaviour change for personal training clients is a key skill of a good PT, and arguably just as important as helping clients achieve their short term goals. 

As a personal trainer, your aim should be to promote a healthy lifestyle that can be continued throughout and even after their time with you. 

Below, we’ve explained 5 methods you can use to ensure your clients aren’t slipping back into old unhealthy habits once their initial motivations wear off. Before we get straight to it, if you’re hungry for more knowledge, why not enquire about an advanced level 4 personal training courses? Find this and many more in our downloadable course prospectus here.

Why is Long Term Behaviour Change Important for PT Clients?

Long term behaviour change for personal training

Feeding into fad diets or quick fixes can potentially do more harm than good, and rarely leads to long term benefits. 

There are so many disadvantages to utilising these kinds of diets, for example, below you can see just a handful of negative side effects when rushing results.

Negative effects of losing weight too fast include:

  • Muscle loss
  • Tiredness / fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual problems
  • Hair loss

Some negative effects of bulking too fast are:

  • It can lead to excess fat gain
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased insulin sensitivity
  • Increase markers of inflammation

Clearly, there are many negative implications of taking the shortcut, which is why the best approach is to do it safely over a longer period of time.

If you truly want to make a difference to your clients well being, you should avoid looking at the immediate future and instead think about how you’re going to impact their way of living in the long term. 

Focusing on long term behaviour changes and prioritising changing a client's outlook on a healthy lifestyle is the most effective way to see changes in the long run and minimising the likelihood that the client will slip back into old habits once they achieve their goals or stop training with you.

the importance of long term behaviour change for personal training

Your goal as a personal trainer should be to change lives for good, not for a couple of weeks. 

Whilst you could make money and help clients achieve their goals by introducing drastic changes and restrictive diets, encouraging things like over-restrictive eating can harm the body both physically and mentally.

For example, crash diets are often a go-to with many people who feel desperate to lose weight and even more so for people who are impatient. It is understandable, since there are even famous influencers promoting this sort of thing. 

However, this is when you need to step in and stress the importance of taking your time and be straightforward with your clients. If you think it’s going to take a minimum of 6-months to reach their goal healthily then tell them that. 

You must do this, even if it means sharing statistics with them so they can understand that being patient with you is much better than rushing it alone and potentially harming their body.

An article that featured a young woman who had been crash dieting highlighted the problems of this habit.

the importance of long term behaviour change for personal training clients

Notice how it says that she wanted to lose weight fast. This is something that you should be communicating to your clients from the get-go as there is no safe way to lose weight ‘fast’. If you claim that there is, they’re never going to have positive long term behaviour change.

You need to do everything to shift this common misconception that it is possible to safely lose weight rapidly and instead relay the heaps of benefits that come with doing it safely and how much more likely it is that their healthy lifestyle changes will continue.

5 Methods to Achieve Long Term Behaviour Change for Personal Training Clients

We’re sure that you’re aware of the importance of long term behaviour change in fitness after our brief reminder, so to ensure that you’re doing everything in your power to achieve this for your clients, here are some methods to include in your practice.

#1 Utilising SMART Fitness Goals can Influence Long Term Behaviour Change in Fitness

why is long term behaviour change important to develop fitness

You may have heard of SMART goals before, SMART fitness goals are no different, they stand for:






By setting this style of goal, you’re able to explain the importance of long term behaviour change in developing client fitness during the process. You can show your client how they’re going to achieve their goal, and this is to make sustainable lifestyle changes.

The most important part of the SMART goal process when influencing long-term change is being realistic. In order to achieve a sustainable change, you need to be realistic about what your clients should expect.

For example, let’s say your client wants to drop 2 dress sizes within 3-4 weeks, but only wants to work out twice a week and has little experience in the gym; this is a bold ask and though it is possible, it isn’t the safe way to do it. 

why is long term behaviour change important to develop fitness levels

You should keep your reputation as a PT intact by only putting your best foot forward and not damaging your clients’ health by slowing down their metabolism and ultimately, making them weaker by reducing their muscle mass all to rush a weight loss journey.

As well as setting realistic goals, you should also be able to measure the progress over time which can help to motivate your client to keep on the right track. Measuring success is incredibly important to avoid disappointment in clients.

By utilising client progress reports, you are actively keeping track of how far your client has come and are sharing all of this information with them. This is a motivational tool that they can use to see that your PT techniques are working and they should continue on that journey.

Ultimately, SMART goals ensure that your client is happy with their progres, that their goals are specific and are taken into account and that they are working towards a long-term change in their lifestyle.

#2 Don’t Recommend Any Quick Fixes, They Can Negatively Affect the Long Term Behaviour Change in Developing Client Fitness

explain the importance of long term behaviour change in developing client fitness

In the technological era we find ourselves in, clients are constantly exposed to diet and exercise fads and trends on social media platforms. These platforms aren’t regulated, which means this information isn’t always coming from fitness professionals and is often personal opinion phrased as fact.

Because of this, you’ll commonly find clients coming to you with unrealistic expectations that you’ll be able to let them in on some kind of ‘secret’ or miracle fix that will see them achieve their goals with minimal time or effort.

As a fitness professional, this is absolutely not the route you should take with clients. In fact, you should distance yourself from such ‘quick fixes’ as they often do more harm than good.

It can not only damage your reputation but also damage your clients health.

There are tons of fad diets out there, from skinny coffees to replacement shakes but this extreme restrictive eating can starve the body of the essential nutrients and minerals that come from food.

Plus, once this quick fix is over, chances are your clients metabolism will have slowed down dramatically since it is having to use reserves of energy due to a lack of food intake. 

This is what makes it extremely damaging to long-term behaviour changes, your clients will more often than not, feel worse than when they started!


For some more information on how to be the best PT you can be, head over to our articles below:

#3 Ensure That Your Client Can Do Exercises Without Your Assistance to Increase Long Term Behaviour Change for Personal Training

importance of long term behaviour change in fitness

So why is long term behaviour change important to develop fitness and actually allow your client to thrive after their time with you?

You want your clients to continually develop and become better and healthier versions of themselves and in order to do this, they need to learn how to stand on their own two feet. 

This means knowing how to perform exercises without your assistance. Some of your clients may be completely new to the gym and will need your help in getting to grips with certain exercises as they can be daunting.

But, your way of personal training needs to be teaching, not doing all the hard work for them. You can do this by asking them to repeat the exercise back to you and helping them to perfect their form and making sure they can do it alone.

This way, they’re able to continue these exercises in the gym sessions that you’re not around. 

importance of long term behaviour change in fitness for clients

As well as your clients being confident in the exercises that you recommend, you should ensure that you’re keeping an eye on their eating habits.

Though as a personal trainer you cannot prescribe meal plans, personal trainers to an extent can provide nutritional advice.  

You can advise your clients to eat well, to keep up with food habits that help them see progress and educate them on how particular foods could damage their results in the long run. 

It might be tempting for clients to binge eat or to return to old bad eating habits, but by communicating efficiently on how this will affect all of their hard work thus far is one way to keep them on the right path.

#4 Ensure You Keep Progress Reports & Images for Your Clients to Reflect On

importance of long term behaviour change in developing client fitness

Progress reports and images are something that are vital for long term behaviour change for personal training. 

They are a motivational aspect that show your clients what you can do for them and why they should carry on sustaining a healthy lifestyle.

Similarly to the progress reports, progress images are a great way to motivate clients to continue on with their behavioural changes. Something unique that you can do to go above and beyond for your clients is to keep a journal of each client.

This will really demonstrate how much you value your clients and how you truly want them to keep consistent. You could add to their file every time you have a progress report and take new images each time you feel necessary or when they have overcome a new milestone. 

For example, you can see below a personal trainer that shares her testimonials of her clients and their progress pictures.

This client now has a log of images that show how far they have come. It is a positive way for the client to reflect on their progress and even more so when their personal trainer has created a spotlight for them on their social media.

importance of long term behaviour change in developing client fitness

It acts as an extra layer of motivation and shows the pride that the trainer has for their clients. By doing this and not just sharing progress pictures with the client but spotlighting them on social media for example, your clients are going to want to make you proud.

Even if your clients aren’t training with you anymore, you can keep in touch with them to check how they’re doing and steer them on the right track. 

#5 Suggest Sustainable Exercise Methods to Influence Long Term Behaviour Change for Personal Training

long term behaviour change in developing client fitness

Something that may go overlooked when trying to implement long term behaviour change for personal training is the sustainability of what you’re asking of your clients.

Try to eliminate any excuses for your clients to not continue with positive behaviour change, but to do this, you must first figure out what the main things are that are stopping the client from continuing their positive fitness behaviours.

These are things such as:


Affordability is a common problem for quitting the gym, and it is totally understandable. Personal trainers aren’t cheap and neither are some gym memberships so you need to ensure that you stress the importance of long term behaviour change for personal training and provide ways that they can continue their lifestyle changes.

This might mean referring free exercise apps to your clients or showing them nearby parks that have free workout equipment to use.

Come up with solutions to your clients worries and make sure you’re asking them if there are any barriers that could deter them from continuing their positive lifestyle changes.

what is the importance of long term behaviour change in developing client fitness

Lack of Time & Motivation

Something else that can potentially damage your clients' continued progress is a lack of time and motivation, but by implementing some of the methods we have spoken about, you can increase motivation.

Actually having a lack of time and not having the motivation to make time are two different things which is why these work hand in hand. 

Implementing what we have spoken about to improve motivation are how you can introduce sustainable exercise methods. Things like progress images to introduce SMART fitness goals that they can create on their own accord can help to promote motivation so they make time for exercise.


Finally, another reason why clients may find their behavioural change is unsustainable is the lack of enjoyment they get from exercising alone. 

This is something that many people struggle with, which is why things like group fitness classes are so popular. If you teach group fitness classes, you could invite clients along, maybe even provide an exclusive discount for ex-clients so they have the opportunity to keep training with you on a more affordable and enjoyable scale.

Suggest they work out with a partner or in public spaces so they don’t feel lonely or share the importance of music when exercising. Get to the bottom of what is making their exercise alone unenjoyable and provide solutions!

Small & Easy Lifestyle Changes for Long Term Behaviour Change in Fitness

long term behaviour change in fitness

Apart from the main tips we have suggested above, there are some smaller lifestyle changes of which their efficacy goes overlooked. We want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to your clients so here are some small yet massively beneficial small lifestyle changes that you can suggest to your clients to implement.

#1 Setting a Step Goal

Step goals  are an incredibly easy way to implement healthy lifestyle changes that can contribute to the sustainability of a client’s progress.

A popular step goal that is achievable yet effective is the 10,000 steps a day goal. 

10,000 steps, depending on weight, can burn anywhere between 250 to 600 calories, this on top of working out and making more conscious dietary choices can make for a great way of maintaining any achieved goals. 

It has never been easier to track either, most phones track our steps daily without the need to invest in any fitness watches.

#2 Healthy Food & Beverage Swaps

If your client has had to change their dietary habits dramatically, they’re probably going to feel some level of trepidation when they have no guidance anymore and have to make this a way of life.

You should give informed advice, without crossing the boundary of actually telling them what to eat. For example, you could suggest easy changes that they won’t notice too much like opting for no sugar in their coffee before work or switching their breakfast choices from carb based meals to protein based meals to keep them fuller for longer throughout the morning. 

These are easy ways that they can not only reduce the amount of unnecessary snacking, but even cut down on costs as increasing meals that will promote satiety (fullness) will help them to avoid consistently buying snacks. 

This is something you should tell your clients as making conscious food choices can impact their lifestyle positively in more ways than just their health, but their wallet too.

long term behaviour change in fitness clients

#3 Making a Conscious Effort to Get Adequate Sleep 

Something else that can dramatically stunt the progress of fitness journeys is the amount of sleep that your client is getting.

There are studies that demonstrate how lack of sleep (under 8 hours) can determine our level or rationality in making decisions. This might mean we become a little less disciplined in choosing whether we want to binge eat or stick to a balanced diet.

Exercising can help in getting a good night's sleep too, so stressing the importance of this to your client can help them recognise if they have any bad habits when it comes to rest.

#4 Planning Meals in Advance

Finally, meal prep. The power of convenient eating is everywhere we look, but for your client to sustain long term changes in their lifestyle, you need to ensure that they know the benefits of avoiding this kind of diet. 

Sometimes, it can’t be helped, we often have last minute plans that means we eat out and that’s okay, you don’t want to completely restrict any form of freedom when it comes to food, particularly when it’s not during a diet as this will become difficult to sustain.

But, if your client has a genuine habit of grabbing things on the go, when they could be preparing in advance, you can stress the importance of meal prepping to them. 

There are alot of hidden calories in food that we haven't prepared ourselves, so it becomes harder to keep track of what we’re actually putting in our body. Not only that, but it is certainly easier on the wallet too if you avoid eating out too much, plus, cooking can be super enjoyable and creating a hobby out of a healthy lifestyle change can be a great way to keep up with it.

Before You Go…

Now, you should feel confident in your clients keeping consistent with their fitness changes that they made with you. It is vital that you do what you can to make their lifestyle healthier, not just the time that they’re with you in the gym, that’s how you’ll make a real difference.

If you feel like you want to go the extra mile for your clients, why not enquire about one of our Level 4 personal training courses? You can also find many other health and fitness courses in our downloadable course prospectus here.


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Written by Kimberley Mitchell


Having gained a B.A Hons degree in Media, Culture and Communications, Kimberley has gained experience in areas of web journalism, website production and marketing.

Alongside this, Kim expanded her knowledge and passion for fitness, by becoming a fully qualified fitness instructuor and personal trainer. Kim has also gained specialist qualifications in yoga, nutriton, spin and many more.

After working in the industry as a PT, Kimberley went on to study an MA in Digital Marketing and continues to expand her knowledge in the industry. Her main focus is to keep up with current trends and communications with a focus around health & fitness, writing and being creative.

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