3 Tips to Prevent Clients from Getting Too Comfortable

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By Eric Cressey

Previously, I’ve written about how much I enjoy the writing of Chip and Dan Heath, brothers who’ve written best sellers like Made to Stick and Switch. These books provide insights about why certain concepts are accepted while others are rejected, and they outline strategies to implement paradigm shifts effectively. The Heaths analyze how people behave and process information in order to help readers effect positive changes in business and in life. Last year, I read their newest release, Decisive, which discusses all the factors that affect whether we make good or bad decisions. I stumbled upon a gem in this great read that I think applies heavily to our clients’ success (or lack thereof).

In reference to a meta-analysis of the psychology literature, the Heaths noted: “In reviewing more than 91 studies of over 8,000 participants, the researchers concluded that we are more than twice as likely to favor confirming information than dis-confirming information.” Furthermore, the brothers wrote, “The confirmation bias also increased when people had previously invested a lot of time or effort in a given issue.”

Think about how this applies to the fitness community. There are a lot of folks who go to the gym and do what they’ve always done because it’s comfortable. It’s much easier to just go and do an exercise that you already know than it is to have to learn something new. And, beyond just the comfort factor, being willing to adopt new ways also means that you may have to accept that your old ways weren’t up to snuff and that can be a bitter pill to swallow when it means thousands of hours at the gym may have been used inefficiently.

People want to confirm their awesomeness, not refute it.

One of my most important roles as a strength and conditioning coach is to help people embrace change when it comes to exercise. This generally means that I make a living “confirming” what others are doing in their own exercise programs; otherwise, I wouldn’t be needed.

While there are certainly exceptions to the rule (in powerlifting, for instance, you want to be as efficient and consistent as possible with the three main lifts), change means creating a disturbance that least leads to greater fitness adaptation. It may be a richer proprioceptive environment to better prepare someone for life’s demands, a different metabolic conditioning stress to drop body fat, an exercise variation to help someone avoid an overuse injury, or a new warm-up to improve movement quality on the way to achieving a goal.

Change must, however, be implemented differently for each individual. Some folks are ready to jump right into the deep end, and others are more reluctant and need to be eased into adjustments. Some folks may really need a complete program overhaul, while others might just need some tinkering.

How then, do you know where you stand without someone to help you? I’d ask yourself these five questions to determine if you’re getting too comfortable (these can obviously be asked to your clients as well):

  1. In the past four months, have you been moving toward your goals or further away from them?
  2. What have you sacrificed to make this progress? This may be time, energy, money, or allowing a different fitness quality to detrain (e.g., losing metabolic conditioning as you put on muscle mass and strength). Are you comfortable with this sacrifice?
  3. Are you motivated to get to the gym when the time comes to train?
  4. Have you remained healthy during the program, or does it hurt to do certain exercises?
  5. Can you do the things you want to do in life? Can you walk up the stairs without getting out of breath? Are you capable of putting your own luggage in the overhead compartment on a plane? Does it bother you that you can’t fit into some of your clothes? Will you make up an excuse to not play catch with your son because your shoulder is killing you?

If any of these questions left a bad taste in your mouth, then you need to evaluate how you can better structure your workout routines. And, in order to do so, you need an unbiased perspective because we’re all wired to simply agree with ourselves.

Tip # 1: Get a training partner

Training partners aren’t just about offering spots, carpools, or accountability to show up for all your training sessions; they’re also there to give you brutal honesty when you need it. Find someone who can tell you when you’re spinning your wheels or being an idiot. You’ll save a lot of time and energy by not making costly mistakes.

Tip #2: Outsource your programming

It might mean you buy a book or DVD and follow the recommended program or hire someone to work with you in person. At Cressey Sports Performance, our staff members write programs for each other, and we all train together so that we can all work toward our individual goals with impartial feedback along the way. Interestingly, we have many fitness professionals who have looked to us for their own training. We have several clients who are personal trainers and strength coaches who appreciate outsourcing things to us in the same way that their clients do to them. Additionally, my High Performance Handbook program has been very popular with fitness professionals because they can not only look at how the programs are structured but also follow the program to shake up their own workout routines.

Tip #3: Think up alternatives for your clients 

The Heath brothers talk extensively about how the best way to come to a good decision is to realize that there is an “And” and not just an “Or”. In other words, not all questions are “yes/no” or”A/B” in nature – even if we try to make them that way. It’s important to brainstorm and investigate alternative solutions that could work best.

As an example, think of a lifter whose shoulder hurts and who thinks he needs to stop training until it’s healthy. He might wonder, “Should I train through pain or stop?” The alternative answer is to train around pain, finding exercises that help one maintain a training effect without exacerbating the injury. I know: It sounds logical to assume one would pursue this third option, but you’d be amazed at how many people shut it down altogether. They avoid comprehensive decision-making processes, and you can imagine how this may apply to decisions they encounter in other aspects of their lives.

There are surely many other ways to determine whether you’re getting too comfortable and, if so, what to do about it. However, these were a few ideas to get the ball rolling and make you consider if you’re really heading in the right direction with your training.

Look at Eric’s High-Performance Handbook


About Eric CresseyEric cressey

Eric Cressey is president and co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance, with facilities located in Hudson, MA and Jupiter, FL. Eric is perhaps best known for his extensive work with baseball players, with more than 100 professional players traveling to train with him each off-season.

Cressey, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, received his Master’s Degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science through the University of Connecticut Department of Kinesiology. As a highly sought-after coach for healthy and injured athletes alike, Eric has helped athletes at all levels – from youth sports to the professional and Olympic ranks – achieve their highest levels of performance in a variety of sports.

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