What fitness coaches teach us about motivating people

Picture this: You’re stressed out, worried about a deadline, or coping with something in your personal life. You go to the gym hoping you can sweat it out with your favorite spin instructor.

An hour later, you head to the office feeling refreshed. Mission accomplished. Now, it’s your turn to play the role of the fitness instructor. Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you have your colleagues drop and give you 20. But there’s a lot to be learned from fitness coaches who spend the majority of their days motivating people.

Learning to think like a fitness coach can help you keep your team sharp or help a co-worker out of a rut. Here are our top four ways that can help you motivate people like a fitness coach:

1. Create good relationships.

In a gym, a coach’s job goes beyond designing workouts. “Our goal is to connect with the members,” says Jennifer Geddis, fitness performance manager for EXOS at adidas. Similarly, in a corporate setting, it’s important to connect with the people on your team. Having strong relationships at the office makes putting in the work more enjoyable for everyone involved.

So how do you make sure that foundation is strong? Do what Geddis does on the training floor. “The most common coaching strategies I use with my clients are listening, laughing, and having compassion for them," she says. “Listening to how they’re feeling and what they have going on, making them laugh, having fun, and showing compassion makes people want to be there and want to come back.”

Even the most elite athletes have lost games and questioned their skills.

2. Pay attention to how different people respond to feedback.

The way a coach gives feedback is just as important as teaching proper form. Obviously, you don’t want to berate people, but it’s also important to not be overly positive. It can come across as fake and forced. “Always offer encouragement, but do it in a timely manner and space it out," says Geddis. 

Also consider how much feedback you’re giving. In Geddis' experience, both too much and too little feedback can be damaging. Some people want more and some want less. At the office, understanding what each person on your team prefers will help you motivate them and avoid accidentally discouraging them.

3. Ditch tough love for collaboration.

Even the most elite athletes have lost games and questioned their skills. And those gung-ho fitness gurus you follow on Instagram? They’ve likely fallen off their A-game a time or two. So – no surprise – in an office setting, even the best employees are bound to face creative blocks, or phases where they don’t feel as driven. Their performance might suffer. Instead of scorning them or staying out of it until they figure it out, offer to collaborate. 

One of the worst things you can do is let people struggle in silence. “Ignoring how others are feeling will only result in frustration,” says Geddis. While everyone is responsible for their own mindset, you can suggest a new approach and be a source of encouragement and collaboration.

“It’s important to acknowledge when a team member is struggling and help them stop and reset,” says Geddis. In the fitness setting, this might mean switching exercises or adjusting reps. But in the office, it could mean scheduling a brainstorm or problem-solving session where you can work through any kinks, or encouraging employees to take mental breaks or explore another passion that might offer a new perspective. 

While the gym and the office seem like polar opposite places, the attitude we bring to both makes a difference. 

4. Don’t fuel the fire. 

“A coach’s job is to use healthy motivation and cues to drive the client to want to be there, and to continue to come back,” says Geddis. While it might seem motivating to use pain points as a source of motivation – for example picturing someone’s face you don’t like during a kickboxing class – it can also be triggering.

Similarly, encouraging someone to channel their frustration into their work might create a toxic office environment. For some, it could make them more frustrated, or they might start to associate work with struggles. Instead, remind your colleagues of their strengths or of a past accomplishment.

While the gym and the office seem like polar opposite places, the attitude we bring to both makes a difference. The way you motivate others also makes a difference – in their success and yours. Whether you’re taking the lead on your first big project, or teaching spin classes on weekends, motivating people is part of the job. So let’s be good at it.

This article first appeared on adidas gameplan a.

About the Author

Catherine Conelly

Catherine Conelly is a California-based health, fitness, and lifestyle writer.

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