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Accountability is Calling: Five Ways Fitness Coaches Keep You on Track

A man enjoying his workout and smiling while performing resistance band rows
A man enjoying his workout and smiling while performing resistance band rows
Anne and her clients having a great time training!

Five Ways Fitness Coaches Keep You on Track

Most people know they should exercise more. In fact, most people even have a basic idea of what they should be doing for exercise. The challenge is less knowing what to do, and more doing what we already know. This knowing-doing gap can be closed off by a great Fitness Coach that truly understands you, your needs, and your goals. 

If you struggle with sticking to your exercise routine and are looking to establish consistency to finally achieve your health and fitness goals, look no further than finding a skilled Fitness Coach to keep you on the path towards success.

What is a Fitness Coach?

Before we explore how a Fitness Coach helps hold you accountable, we first have to establish what a Fitness Coach is.  There is a big difference between a Personal Trainer and a Fitness Coach (as discussed in this article: You’re not looking for a Personal Trainer, You’re looking for a Fitness Coach). Understanding how a Fitness Coach works is at the heart of the way they hold clients accountable. 

The most important thing a Fitness Coach does is start with you, rather than with the plan or the program. The goal of a talented Fitness Coach is to ensure the plan they co-create with you fits into your life, rather than you have to fit their plan into your life. Many people have tried (and failed) to fit their life into a new diet or exercise plan, only to have it fall short on the implementation end. It’s simply not realistic, as busy people, to twist our life all around to make a new exercise plan work. Great Fitness Coaches know this, so they start with the most important thing – you. 

As laid out in the article referenced above, starting with you is in stark contrast to the approach taken by most Personal Trainers who apply the expert approach, that is more trainer-centered, than client-centered. In these situations the Personal Trainer holds all the knowledge and expertise, and they use that expertise to develop the program they feel is best for you. Although this sounds like a good approach, it falls short very quickly. 

You’re not looking for a plan that “sounds good for you.” You’re looking for a plan that is great for you. The difference between good and great has less to do with what’s in the plan and much more to do with the likelihood that you’ll actually do it. The perfect exercise program that isn’t adhered to is worthless, full stop. 

Adherence, accountability, and ultimately long-term results start with you, not with the plan. Skilled Fitness Coaches know this, know let’s explore how they do this.

#1: A Fitness Coach holds you Accountable Through your Values 

The essence of staying accountable is knowing what motivates someone on the deepest level. Indeed, it is much easier to stay accountable to ourselves when what we’re doing is related to what we value most. Great Fitness Coaches know this, and use this to hold you accountable. 

As part of the process of getting to understand you better, a Fitness Coach will find a skillful way to uncover your values. Sometimes this is through exercises directly designed to define your values. Other times it’s through open-ended questions and conversation. One way or another knowing your values helps a Fitness Coach develop an emotional “hook” to keep you on track. 

Let’s make sure we’re clear on values before we go any further. The Berkeley Wellbeing Institute provides a great definition of values, as follows:

“A core value can be defined as “an enduring belief upon which a person acts”. Values have a cognitive component in that they involve thoughts about preferable ways to be, live, or act. Values also have an emotional component because we feel positively or negatively about them (they resonate with us or they don’t).”

There are a number of important words in that definition of values that relate to accountability. First, it’s how we prefer to be, live, and act. It’s our preferential state of existing. Second, when we do something that connects with our values we feel good. This is a potent combination when it comes to accountability, and Fitness Coaches know how to extract this and use it. 

For example, let’s stay one of your values is family. A skilled Fitness Coach will find ways to remind you how your exercise routine will help you stay fit and healthy to play with your grandkids or go on that backpacking vacation with your daughter. 

Another way to look at values, that has become trendy, is knowing “Your WHY.” Values are essentially the WHY behind the WHAT that you’re doing. Great Fitness Coaches keep your WHY ever-present, at every step in the process. In doing so, rarely do they have to take an active role in holding you accountable, your values will do it for them.

#2: Fitness Coaches Hold You Accountable through Realistic Goal Setting

It’s hard to stay accountable to something that’s not realistic for your lifestyle. It doesn’t really matter if you feel like you should exercise six days a week, if your lifestyle doesn’t allow you to. We’re quite often inundated with what we should be doing for exercise, with little regard to what we can actually do in our busy lives. 

Going a step further, most people start their fitness journey with what they want to accomplish (their results), rather than what they can actually do given their lifestyle. Having an aspirational goal isn’t a bad thing at all, but certain goals require more time, effort and energy than others. Starting with too aggressive of a goal, given the amount of time you have to dedicate to exercise, dooms you to failure before you start. If an unrealistic goal is set initially, no amount of accountability will help.

Skilled Fitness Coaches work with clients to start with what they realistically can do from an exercise perspective, and then work backwards from there to help them set realistic outcome goals. Starting with what your lifestyle allows for will dictate the outcomes that you can achieve. 

As an example, if you wanted to run a marathon (26.2 miles), but only can dedicate three hours per week to exercise, you’ve failed before you’ve ever begun. In three hours per week it is very realistic to train for a 5k (3.1 miles), maybe even a 10k (6.2 miles). Pretending somehow you can achieve the marathon goal in 3 hours per week is a recipe for failure that no amount of accountability can fix.

When a skilled Fitness Coach works you through the goal setting process, they’ll grease the skids for your success, and minimize the amount of accountability you’ll need. They’ll work with you to set a goal that is realistic given what your lifestyle allows for. This is, in effect, the best form of accountability as it sets you up for success before you even begin.

#3: Fitness Coaches hold you Accountable to the Process

When we referred to goals above, we were mostly talking about outcomes goals, or the thing(s) you want to achieve. This could be improved blood pressure, injury rehab, weight loss, and/or running that marathon. While it is important to be aware of what you want to accomplish, being overly focused on the outcome, without focusing on the process, can be counterproductive. Great Fitness Coaches know this. They hold you accountable to the process rather than the outcome, knowing that if you adhere to the process the outcome will naturally occur.. 

This is because skilled Fitness Coaches know that the brain is wired for instant gratification. Outcome goals work against that wiring because they are in the distant, to very distant, future. 

The instant gratification mechanism is one of our most innate survival instincts, it’s deeply wired in our brain, and probably the reason we’ve survived as a species for so long. For more information on instant gratification check out this great article by researchers at Harvard. 

What was once good for foraging for honey and running away from tigers is very bad for our long-term goal achievement. Well-trained Fitness Coaches know this. If they constantly reinforce and hold you accountable to the outcome only, you’ll quickly feel defeated and depleted, because the outcome provides no instant gratification. 

On the other hand, focusing on the process, or the steps you need to take to achieve your goal, works WITH instant gratification mechanisms, rather than against them. In focusing on holding you accountable to the daily steps of the process, your Fitness Coach can ensure you derive instant gratification for doing the right thing(s) that day to move toward your goals. In doing so, you’ll be continually reinforced to stick to the process day in and day out, increasing the likelihood that you’ll achieve your longer-term outcome goal.


#4: Fitness Coaches Intervene with Accountability at the Right Time

What you might have found interesting about the first three ways a Fitness Coach holds you accountable is that they all occurred prior to you actually starting your plan. Indeed, the right upfront work can ensure the conditions for accountability are created well before you even begin.

Even when this is done, everyone still needs some accountability along the way when they veer off track. A skillful Fitness Coach not only knows when to have this conversation, but also how to have it (which we’ll explore in #5).

This is where the art and science of Fitness Coaching come together. If a Fitness Coach intervenes too soon, they could prevent valuable learning opportunities from taking place for the client. Worse yet, they could upset the client by intervening on something trivial. 

You probably don’t need a phone call if you missed one workout, but missing a week of workouts might be a different story. If the Fitness Coach delays their intervention too long you might fall off the wagon so hard it would be difficult to get back on track.

The skilled Fitness Coach knows enough about you, your values, and your goals to know when to intervene and hold you accountable. They also know enough to back off when it’s appropriate. Threading the needle and reaching out at the right time (#4) with the right message (#5) is critical to effective accountability by a Fitness Coach 

#5: Fitness Coaches hold you Accountable through Problem Solving

Fitness Coach accountability is not yelling or screaming, far from it. No one likes to be yelled or screamed at. That’s not productive accountability, that’s fearful manipulation, and skilled Fitness Coaches know it won’t result in long-term change. 

Instead when a Fitness Coach holds you accountable, they do so by asking open-ended questions and being curious, in a non-judgemental way, about your struggles. When they do this, something magic happens – you begin to critically think about why you’re falling short and what you might need in order to be held accountable. In many cases, when your Fitness Coach utilizes this accountability method, you’ll find that you’re holding yourself far more accountable than your Fitness Coach ever could. 

That is the ultimate role a Fitness Coach plays in effective and lasting accountability, they create the environment in which you begin to hold yourself accountable, and there is nothing more powerful than self-accountability.

Final Thoughts on Fitness Coaching Accountability

Even though the goal is to work towards self-accountability, that takes time and the assistance of a talented and caring Fitness Coach. It also takes a systematic and structured plan designed for your unique lifestyle and goals. This is precisely the combination great Fitness Coaches provide; great accountability in the context of an individualized plan. The Applied Fitness Solutions MY90 program uses the Fitness Coach driven structure of accountability aid out in this article, along with individualized exercise programming, to ensure you’re supported to achieve your health and fitness goals safely and effectively. 

Remember you have everything inside of you to hold yourself accountable, let a great Fitness Coach show you how to find it!

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