How to overcome boredom and keep your clients engaged

If there’s one thing that will hamper a personal trainer, it’s client boredom! Being bored is kryptonite to a client’s adherence, results, and retention – and your bottom line.

So why do clients become bored? Because attention is not fully engaged – in other words, when your clients don’t have a deep focus on the task at hand. When attention is spread thin and wide, distractions or thoughts of preferred activities can creep in.

The good news is that this is easily overcome. Attention is a finite resource, and can be directed with conscious effort. By narrowing your client's attention, you can distract them from elements they don’t enjoy, leading to higher adherence, results and retention.

There are four principles that are frequently shown to keep clients engaged with their programs. So, let’s explore them now!

1. Focus on specific elements to improve

When clients are focused on very specific progression, it brings their attention down from wide (i.e. the whole workout) to narrow (i.e. this one set or rep). This progression shouldn’t be their long-term goals, because that would still require a wide focus. Instead, focus on very short-term progressions that capture their focus in the moment.

Ask your clients to focus on specific principles that can be related in some way to their overarching goals. Doing so will not only increase focus and lower boredom, but even improve safety and performance.

Some examples (this is in no way an exhaustive list), could be:

  • Stabilizing their spine during a squat.
  • Keeping their head up whilst cycling.
  • Keeping their hip in a neutral position during a bent-over row.

All that matters to make this approach work is that the client is spending a large amount of their finite attention on the chosen progression, which reduces the likelihood of thoughts of boredom surfacing.

2. Track progress

Humans have a basic psychological need for competence – feeling they have a decent level of capability in what they do. When this need is met, clients very quickly begin to focus on what they can do, rather than what they need to do.

So how do you get clients to feel competent? By recording progress and displaying it in a way that makes analysis obvious. The first part of this is easy, as you just need to consistently collect good data. There are many applications that make this especially easy nowadays, such as Trainerize and My PT Hub.

The second part is the essential element however. Seeing numbers written down is often visually boring  and hard to engage with. So, display progress in a way that is going to catch your client’s attention! Graphs are an amazingly easy way to do this, and modern technology and applications such as those mentioned above make doing so very easy.

Track progress in graphs

Make sure to track several aspects of your client’s ability. That way, if one doesn’t improve for whatever reason, you have other achievements you can point to, allowing your client’s feeling of competence to remain high.

3. Distract your client

Distraction is an especially useful strategy. It helps clients not only to overcome boredom, but also to take their focus away from the discomfort of exercise. If we encourage the client’s finite attention towards something they enjoy, there is less attention for them to spend on thoughts of boredom or discomfort. This is called associative versus dissociative attention strategy, and is very commonly used in athlete psychology, to help them dig deeper. But the exact same principle applies to anyone.

What you use to distract your client depends on them, but options include music, television, podcasts, audio books or just conversation. As long as the client pushes as much of their attention into the distraction as possible, it will work. This is far easier if it is something they really enjoy.

It’s even possible to take this a step further, by asking your client to agree to only indulge in their chosen TV show, audio book, podcast or album when they are exercising. Doing this begins to create an association between the pleasure of their activity and the sensations of exercise, which can be a powerful motivator – so long as they only ever indulge whilst they are exercising!

Distract your client with music

Increase variety

As any trainer is aware, progression is absolutely key to everything we do with our clients, and achieving progression requires consistency. However, consistency also comes at the cost of attention, engagement and enjoyment, due to familiarity. To overcome this, we can make small changes within a client's workout. Doing so means any drop in attention is lowered, as the client must remain engaged to understand what they are doing. The result? A reduced number of opportunities for the client to become bored.

These changes do not need to be large to get the desired effect – huge swings in periodisation often come at the cost of progression. But there are many approaches we can use that will have little to no impact on the speed of progression and may even encourage further adaption and so quicker results. Some examples include:

  • A change in the exercise order.
  • The use of a different exercise that recruits the same muscles in a similar fashion.
  • A change in grip.
  • Tempo adjustments.
  • Possibly small adjustments in rest length or rep targets, depending on how specific the client’s goals are.

By focusing on these four principles, you can very easily push a client’s attention from shallow and wide to deep and narrow. Doing so reduces your client's boredom and increases their engagement, providing them with greater results, which gives you higher retention and improved referrals. Win win!