For a while, your client was making great progress toward their fitness goal (be it increasing muscle mass, losing fat, getting stronger, etc.). It all suddenly stops. But what should you do?
Here’s what most personal trainers would do. Thinking that the program is losing effectiveness for their client, they’d start implementing changes: periodization, adjusting sets and reps, rest periods, and all the works. Now, doing so isn’t wrong per se.
However, it may not the most prudent first step.
As an educated, certified personal trainer, you should take a closer look at your client’s adherence to the prescribed workout and nutrition recommendations.
What is the best way to do this? That’s what this article is for.
We outline the four key things that you need to have your client keep track of their fitness progress so that you can get an accurate picture of how they are doing outside of training. These are key clues to why your client might not be making progress.
Workout Details (Weights, Sets, Reps, etc.)
If your client is straying away from your planned workout routine—and simply doing whichever exercise strikes their fancy in the gym (or, worse, skipping sessions altogether), it's no surprise then that they do not see any progress, isn't it?
Track your clients' workouts to find out if they are cheating on the program. Make sure they log the following training variables in the process:
Do you know (for sure) if your client is warming up appropriately before their training sessions? A proper warm-up routine can significantly help to boost your client's range of motion and performance during the actual exercise session.
You can gain insight into your clients' warm-up habits by asking them to take down the details.
Weights, Sets, and Reps
Let’s say your client’s goal is to put on muscle mass.
With the logged weights, sets, and reps, you’d be able to determine if they’re indeed hitting the optimal training volume (which you’ve already determined beforehand) needed through their training sessions.
It also gives you a clear idea of whether they've been diligently progressively overloading—or not.
Your client knows that it’s best to rest at least three minutes between sets for compound movements like the deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and squat.
But are they counting down the seconds—or simply going whenever they “feel ready”?
They're reducing their performance, and may even be limiting their muscle growth. This is why it's important to get your client to keep track of their rest time.
If your client wants to lose weight, they’ll need to eat in a calorie deficit. That’s non-negotiable. But the problem here is, are they indeed eating in a calorie deficit, or do they simply think that they’re doing so?
It’s more likely than not the latter.
This is not surprising considering that many people underestimate the amount of calories they eat. Not at all.
Just so you know, research suggests that even dietitians are susceptible to underreporting their actual calorie intake!
That’s why you should encourage your client to track their food intake throughout the day. Have them log everything they put in their mouth—including that scoopful of peanut butter they sneak right before leaving for work in the morning.
You'll be able calculate the client's actual daily calorie intake. This could help you determine why the client is not making progress in weight loss.
A quick note: Food tracking (or calorie tracking) isn’t necessarily suitable for all clients.
This holds true especially for people with eating disorders. Studies have found that the use of food tracking apps could be linked to disordered eating. This means that clients who use food tracking apps to monitor their diets may be more likely to relapse from eating disorders.
You should use your professional judgment.
It’s also important to note that your client doesn’t have to track their calories for the rest of their lives.
You could help frame calorie-counting as a short-term practice that helps educate them on the energy level differences between foods (i.e., some foods are more calorie-dense than others)—which, in turn, guides them toward making "smarter" food choices.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to the energy your client burns through everything they do that's unrelated to sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. NEAT can be described as activities like cleaning, cooking, fidgeting and walking.
Although it might not appear so, NEAT can make a significant impact on the client's metabolism and calorie consumption.
Take this study, for instance.
According to NEAT, the daily calories burnt from NEAT can vary between individuals with similar sizes by as much as 2,000 calories per day. You read that right: 2000 calories.
Unfortunately, for a client losing weight, NEAT levels tend to decrease upon starting a diet (scientists believe the body could be entering an "energy-conserving state").
It's worse: Clients who are in a deficit of calories continue to lose more energy via NEAT.
This could lead to your client losing so much calories via NEAT that they can't eat enough. Their weight may be increasing rather than decreasing.
An easy way to boost your client’s metabolism and progress? Encourage them to keep track of their steps each day. It’s a strong indicator of their NEAT levels.
Your client should aim to walk between 7,000 and 9,000 steps per day. This should continue throughout the duration of their diet.
Mood, Energy Levels, and Appetite
Could your client be failing to see progress because they’re overtraining?
For context: Overtraining describes the phenomenon where a client experiences a decrease in exercise performance because they’re working out too much—and too intensely—while failing to get in recovery.
Luckily, you can determine if your client is indeed overtraining by getting them to track the following:
- Mood: Overtraining is known to throw off the balance of many hormones in the body, resulting in various mood issues. The current program might be too difficult for your client if they are experiencing more sadness, depression and anxiety than before.
- Energy levels: If a client is overtrained, they’d be extremely sore, tired, and depleted. Extreme muscle soreness combined with hormonal changes may lead to disrupted sleep. So, if your client is practically dragging their feet to training sessions, you might want to consider taking down their program’s intensity a notch.
- Appetite: Overtrained individuals often report a loss of appetite. Research suggests that it could be caused by changes in appetite-regulating hormones such as cortisol or ghrelin. Your client should keep track of their appetite. If they’re frequently having trouble stomaching their food, they could indeed be overtraining.
Your client may benefit from having their motivation measured.
Having insight into how their enthusiasm for working out changes according to your prescribed workout plan can help you better adjust the programming to suit their likes and dislikes—in turn, boosting long-term adherence and building your confidence as a personal trainer.
Remember: Don’t be too eager to change up the workout programming when your client seems to be stuck. It is important to take the time to assess your client's situation. Any adjustments you make from here—if any are indeed necessary—will be much more meaningful.