How to best harness and create a strong psychological environment for your clients

Research has emphasised the importance of the psychological aspects when returning to activity, especially after an extended break like the one we have all been through. Psychological aspects include both anxiety and motivation and it is important to understand both components in the context of returning to the gym for your clients. Gaining an understanding of these psychological aspects and how to harness them may enable your clients to return to the gym with confidence, determination, and willingness to engage in new programmes of support. This will also help you manage your clients’ expectations to reduce the possibility of injury or negative emotional states such as demotivation.


This article will outline key considerations around anxiety and motivation that may help you to harness a positive psychological environment that considers your clients’ mental readiness to return to the gym or activity post lockdown.


ARE YOUR CLIENTS FEELING ANXIOUS ABOUT RETURNING TO THE GYM?


Feeling anxious about returning to the gym may present a greater risk of sustaining an injury when initiating activity again, which will lead to distress and may even lead to an extended period of inactivity due to injury.


Individuals may feel anxious if they believe that they will not meet the performance levels that they had previously before the extended time away, whether this was from COVID related disruptions or other disruptions such as injury. This anxiety may also be felt by your clients if they think that they will not meet your expectations. It is important to understand how to manage and, in some cases, reset your clients’ expectations when moving towards activity or returning to the gym.

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HOW TO MANAGE OR RESET YOUR CLIENTS’ EXPECTATIONS


Active listening, reframing objectives, defining role expectations and boundaries, clarifying common misconceptions and maintaining optimism in returning to the gym or activity are some of the established ways you may look to or already are employing to manage your clients’ expectations.


However, I think it is important to educate your clients in setting realistic expectations of their performance or targets. You can do this by focusing on process over outcomes. Manageable objectives can be used to help your clients focus on specific tasks during their initial return to the gym. This will help to establish concentration and focus on form and execution over the outcomes. Furthermore, this will also help establish an increase in confidence and may reduce feelings of anxiety.


ARE YOUR CLIENTS MOTIVATED TO RETURN TO THE GYM?


Motivational states which contribute to the psychological determinants of returning to activity may impact individuals willingness to return to the gym and may impact their commitment to a new training regime. If individuals have greater self-determination, then they are likely to positively appraise their return to the gym. However, the long periods of inactivity or extended periods away from the gym due to lockdown restrictions may impact your clients’ intrinsic motivation levels. So, what can you do to increase your clients’ motivation in returning to the gym and starting a new programme?


SETTING GOALS AND CULTIVATING AUTONOMOUS MOTIVATION


Goals have been proven to increase motivation and have been well documented in research blogs and advice when it comes to motivating clients in the gym. To avoid replication or repetition, this post will not detail how to set SMART goals.


The points outlined below will help you to help set goals with your clients to help them maintain and build motivation as they return to the gym. Advice will be centred on setting goals that consider a client's autonomy, competence, and or relatedness. These considerations will be set in the context of the extended and somewhat disrupted prior 12-months we have all experienced.


1) It is important to support your clients’ autonomy which can be established by giving them choice in their own goals and allowing some flexibility with these goals. This will promote accountability and will empower your clients to return to the gym.


2) To support your clients’ competence, you should provide clear structure and guidance through setting agreed timeframes or limits to your clients’ goals which will promote a sense of self-efficacy and competence. When agreeing on goals and programmes of support, you should help identify where a client may need support and areas which they may seek to improve on. This will promote a level of competency with their new goals.


3) Supporting your clients’ relatedness may be enabled through maintaining clear communication channels with their return to the gym. You may look to establish this before gyms open or before your clients’ first session back to activity. Establishing meaningful connections and promoting positive interactions that demonstrate care in building relations is critical to this stage. Further, you may want to establish a level of cohesion or unity between clients which emphasises a team concept if appropriate.


About the author: Dr Carl Bescoby, Sports Psychologist & Founder of Evolve

Dr Bescoby completed a BSc and MSc in Sport Psychology back in 2015. After working in industry, he completed a PhD in Psychosocial Health Rehabilitation at the University of Bath. His research has focused on transplant athletes’ rehabilitation through sport, where he found that through engaging in sport transplant recipients could improve their illness-self-management and psychosocial health. He is interested in the psychology of sports injury and rehabilitation and in supporting individuals to grow, evolve and come back stronger following adversity.