T Nation

Writing A Program For The Unmotivated?


I have a question for those of you that have ever been asked to write a program for friends/family/partners who don't exercise at all but decide they want to "get back in shape". The kind of person who will never be particularly interested in exercise and usually comes up with excuses like "I just don't have the time". I get asked this fairly often, as I'm sure a lot of you do. I know what I'd want them to do but there's no way they'd stick to it.

The question the program must answer is not "what is most effective for their goals" but "what is effective that they will be prepared to do and stick with".

Does anyone have any ideas what you can do to get someone like this motivated to exercise? How to make a workout fun and interesting for them? How to get them to stick to it?

Thanks for any advice.


Frankly, I don't care what they think until they show some sort of commitment. This is what I generally do: I give them a few easy suggestions on diet, or I'll offer to have them work out with me.

If they workout with me, I'll generally give them basic or easy exercises as their needs dictate.

If it's a diet suggestion it'll be simple and direct, like ditching pop, or ditching caloric drinks other than orange juice an milk. Or ditching dessert. I'll keep asking them about it. If they do it, then I'll give them some help. If they don't, or make excuses, then I dump them and leave them on their own.

If you're not willing to do some small things before asking for a huge time commitment from me, you won't get anything at all.


First, Make them change attitude, their attitude wont work with lifting weights.


Honestly? What's the point if they dont' want to do it?

30mins light cardio a day is all they need for health benefits. There you go, an easy program that I can guarantee you they won't stick with.

It's something inside us that makes us want to exercise. If someone feels cajoled/forced into it, they will only resent you and drop out at the first opportunity or hint of discomfort.


Have them change only a couple things at a time, improve slowly, and most importantly, let them know that they have to stay with it for a long time to get great results.

Try to get them to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.


There are the unmotivated: someone who thinks it might be cool of he lost some weight and was in better condition, but doens't want to commit himself to put in an effort.

And there are those people who just haven't passed the threshold yet. I was one of those for many years. Today a rarely miss a workout. If someone had pulled me in 10 years ago, I would have given Ronny a run for his money.

Sure, you can give them a fun workout. But if they hate the feeling of sore muscless, they're not comming back. And if they love that feeling, they'll be hooked.

I'ld stay with the big moves: deadlift (squat might be intimidating), benchpress, rows.
Afterwards 15 minutes of cardio.

And tell them how to warm up properly.


Your probably all right, that's always been my attitude in the past. I'd usually just give pretty general advice.

It's not that I'm trying to convince anyone to do something they don't want to, they do come to me for advice. I would usually just tell them to do a bit of cardio and maybe give them a simple bodyweight circuit, but what's the point. They won't stick to it, and won't see the kind of results that motivate them.

So lets say someone like this has made the commitment to get into the gym a couple of times a week, how do you keep them there?

I'm especially interested in hearing from any personal trainers on this. How do you get enthusiasm from the non-active housewife/overweight business man type client with no previous interest in training?


I get so pissed about this. I don't understand why people ask for advice expecting you to give them some silver bullet that will fix all their problems without any effort.

The worst part is that the worse off they are, usually, the less they're willing to do. "Well, do we have to be so extreme?" they say. Look bitch, the days for moderation were before you had to shop for Moo-moo's from Omar the Tentmaker. Now's the time for extreme and powerful intervention.

What I now tell fatties who don't want to do anything is to buy 100 bucks or so worth of sandbags. Make a big ass pile of them. There should be about 50 of them. Everyday move the pile from one spot to another. Don't bitch about it or slack off, just go outside and stay out there until you get it done. What if it's cold? I guess you'll work faster. When that gets too easy, move the pile twice.

I realize not everybody has space for something like that, but out here in cowtown alot of folks do, and they're the couch bound bunch who would benefit.

I know it's not very "nice" or "glamorous" but that's my $.02



I actually really like that plan. Of course, it wouldn't work in my hometown suburbia as well. Good thing I go to university in a cowtown. We've also got construction around a dam and a spillway, so rocks are never in short supply.


I bring them in to work out with me. Won't work with large groups, but I'm not a personal trainer by career, and I have classes. The nice thing about doing this is that you can oversee what they do, and get them to see what you do. Doesn't always work with the women scared of free weights. But the best feeling of my training life was getting asked by a friend of mine who was in marching band if he could workout. He said since marching season was over he was losing his abs. He weighs all of 150 soaking wet. Had never benched 135 before. Well, in a month he'd done that, and now two years later he just recently squatted 350 at around 160, and he's hooked. We had a mutual friend who asked to workout with us after about 6 weeks or so, now this kid lost around 40 pounds and has squatted 375. I was worried that first summer when I left them alone, but they managed to keep up with it.

Keys: you don't "work out", ever. Even though I use that phrase on T-Nation. You train. It implies a certain direction or natural development. Try to find something they're interested in and get them to internalize this goal. Then you explain how everything that they're doing helps them achieve this goal. You have to give them a reason so that they know WHY they do these things.

You have to be honest when you don't know something, and you have to be able to convince them that you went through the pain that they are currently feeling.

It basically boils down to making them feel like they're pushing you or contributing to your growth in some way. They feel useful, and at the same time they know you've been where they are. They may sometimes start to feel that they'll let you down if they don't show up (you "need" them). One of the primary goals is to transfer that "need" from you to them.

Make it clear at the very start that once we are in the gym we don't talk unless it's necessary, and we don't mess around. The gym is a sacred place to me, and it should be instilled in them as well (that'll take time). It also helps to start subtley implying that the majority of trainees are lost and mindless (they are). Just don't carry it to the conclusion that you are the only one who knows how to train. You find someone who's usually in the gym and personifies their goals and you point out the things that they do right. You also point out the things they do wrong, but only if asked about something your client sees them doing.

Above all encourage them and share their accomplishments.

I'm no personal trainer, but I have had many different situations where I've needed to motivate someone both in the gym and in other endeavors, and these things are what have helped me.


You don't know how much of my life I have wasted doing just this. Still, if someone asks me for it I will give them a detailed eating plan and training program and will teach them how to lift.

I can't understand why so many people quit two weeks in, but I do have one friend who I did this for two years ago who became as dedicated as I am. She did everything I told her to and eventually started to do her own research. Now, I learn from her. She looks amazing. We flex our muscles together as our husbands roll their eyes. We excitedly talk about training every time we are together. And, I can actually eat at her house because she eats the same stuff I do.

That is why I keep doing this for every friend or relative who asks. It is so cool when you do convert people. I definitely didn't expect her to be one of those converts the first day we trained together.


What I hate is the ones that ask for help, you give them a simple mostly compound exercises, they show for a week telling you that there going to be there every day. the next week they tell you that they can't find the time to go in to the gym, than proceed to tell you all about the tv shows that where on that you missed while at the gym. dirty bastards


my gf asks me after 4 workouts

"when will i see results"

i said : youve seen results, you are stronger on every lift

"no, with my body"

umm, it has been 2 weeks, let's give it at least another 2

"now, i know why people dont stick to working out, 4 weeks is a long time"

thankfully, i know she will lift when i say it is time to do the workout

give your friend the "merry xmas bob article