Obsessed with Abs

Written by PTA Global Co-Founder Rodney Corn

One of the perks of this job is that I get to travel the world and visit various cultures, communities, and experience different training environments. One of the opportunities of this job is that regardless of where I go, many of the questions remain the same, which tells me that we in the industry need to get the word out a little better and a little faster… so please spread this blog around if you feel it has any value whatsoever.

On a recent travel, I was asked another age-old question. It went something like this:

My client is obsessed with having huge abs. How can I introduce him to a more rounded approach to his workouts? Any time I try to introduce anything to improve his cardio or work on his legs (which are now disproportionately small compared to his arms!) he knocks back my suggestions. How can I change his opinion?

It really is a fantastic question that holds a huge lesson for all of us as this type of scenario has been around for decades. Swap out abs for arms, chest, glutes, etc. and it’s seen everywhere. Smile if you’ve ever heard that line from a client before… Now, how would you address this question / scenario…?

Here is my take. Let’s see if we have a similar thought process and I’d love to hear your feedback.

In addressing this question / concern, I am going to assume that by the phrase “huge abs” we are not talking about a “pot belly”. Rather we are referring to a “6-pack”, which by the way is an “8-pack, but who’s counting. That all being said, let’s dig in and uncover some really value takeaways for addressing our clients needs and wants.

Let’s start by highlighting two very important aspects of this question. First, there are two distinctly different questions being asked here:

  1. “How can I introduce him to a more well rounded approach?”
  2. “How can I change his opinion?”

The answer to both questions lies in the answer to the first question. If you want to modify a client’s behavior, you must do so according to their mindset, which leads us to the second key aspect of this question…

It is very apparent that this is a battle of beliefs between the Fitness Professional and the client. It’s not about who knows more (Knowledge Induction), or getting the client to see what they’re doing is wrong (Insight Induction), but rather about who is in charge.

One of the biggest misnomers in the Health & Fitness Industry is that we the Fitness Professional’s are in charge, or “the boss”. While we are responsible and accountable for our client’s programming strategies and guiding them to their desired outcomes, it is really the client who is charge. If you are not yet convinced, then ask yourself a) Who is paying for these sessions? And b) Who typically stops coming to the sessions if displeased? Once you have answered those questions, then think about in what scenario does the employee give the employer a paycheck? In other words, the “boss” – the person in charge – pays the “employee”, not the other way around.

Ok, let’s try to answer this question by using three components of motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose as told by Dr. Roy Sugarman and other likeminded experts.

Autonomy is about giving your client choices that map to their preferences, not conflict with them. It’s about giving them a sense of control. The client in question here may be “knocking back” because quite honestly he may not yet fully trust the Fitness Professional. Something that can easily occur when we are not giving our clients autonomy to train the way that best suits them. At this point the client has already clearly let us know what is most important to him – training his abs. The question we need to ask ourselves is have we truly listened and empowered him to feel good about training “his way?”

Mastery is about the process of moving toward the mastering of something or getting better at doing what is emotionally meaningful. To this client, at least superficially, this is about his abs. If you take away the importance of his ab training or, try to detour it at this point in his training and in your relationship with him, you derail the mastery process, squash what is emotionally meaningful to him, and hinder his motivation to “change.” Herein lies the answer to the 2nd question – “How can I change his opinion?” You don’t. You simply can set the stage for him to see other options exist and let him decide if one is more appealing than the current opinion.

Purpose is about the ‘thing’ that drives them forward in a positive manner. It’s about what your client feels would be different in their life as a result of having “huge abs”, or the fear of what would happen if he didn’t.

So, I believe based upon the above information combined with PTA Global Systems, Sciences, and Tools that the answer could look something like this:

STEP 1: Motivation System – PDQ (Program Design Questionnaire)

Find out what your client wants to do, how they prefer to do it, the level at which they can do it, and why they want to do it. If your client is “obsessed” with abs (arms, chest, glutes, etc.) they are telling you, “this is what I want to do”. It is their journey, not ours. So let’s not try to talk them out of it. Keep it simple for them (and us) and do abs (arms, chest, glutes, etc.)!

In so doing, we have already covered the Purpose part in the motivational scheme of things by acknowledging, affirming, and addressing their ‘what’ and ‘why’, which collectively is their purpose. And to some extent we also cover Autonomy as we have given the client a sense that they have control as to what happens in their program. This will go along way to building increased rapport and trust in you, while decreasing potential anxiety. All of which are massively paramount for your business and ultimately the adoption of a healthier lifestyle by the client.

When you know the client’s preferred Style of Training – how they want the exercises to look and feel –  (Traditional, Progressive, or Hybrid), cardio and legs can be incorporated into ‘ab training’ quite easily.

STEP 2: Movement System – 3DC (3-Dimesional Checkpoints)

Adapted from the Gray Institute’s Functional Nomenclature, this amazingly comprehensive movement manipulation tool partnered with the information from the PDQ makes adjusting exercises a cinch. With a couple minor tweaks, it is easy to emotionally attach and physically match any movement to any person. They key is getting the emotional buy-in to movement. Emotional buy-in means they will enjoy movement and this translates in to enjoyment of your session with them. If people stick with things they enjoy more so than things they do not, then this seems kind of important, don’t you think?

For example, if the client likes more ‘Progressive’ types of training then adding legs into ab exercises becomes fairly simple such as having them do a Hyperwear Sandbell Crunch with Lateral Throw then Lateral Roll – repeat to other side (see video for details). If the client is more Traditional, performing exercises like a ViPR Crunch then Stand (see video for details) can present a great challenge. By the way, both of these examples incorporate legs into the movement. Just sayin’.

Traditional AB Workout


Progressive AB Workout

By using the 3DC in this manner, it provides us with two very important things:

  1. A way for the client to progress and engage in the process of mastery with something that is emotionally meaningful to them – Mastery
  2. Options or choices of how they can perform the movement – Autonomy

When we string multiple exercises together that are emotionally attached and physically matched to the client and that all ‘focus’ on “abs”, we have made this an “ab-training session”. Can you say “emotional buy-in?” Can you say “resigns & referrals?”

STEP 3: Programming System – GEARS & GOALS

With the ‘level’ and ‘how’ information gathered in the PDQ, and the emotional manipulation of movement from the 3DC, we can easily adjust the intensity of the sequence of movements to meet the client where they need to be met. If we are looking to ‘sneak’ cardio into the session, no problem! Remember, cardio is simply the increase activity of the cardiorespiratory system and therefore can be achieved with any form of movement.

Just take the “ab exercises” we know he enjoys doing and attach a heart rate “gear” (zone) to them. If we ask, or provide the client with different ‘programming’ options for theses exercises, such as would they prefer to perform a circuit, move faster, use more load, and/or perhaps a HIIT and/or Tabata training methodology (all of which will effect heart rate / intensity / cardio), we again reinforce Autonomy. Adjusting intensity also adds another dimension to Mastery. Most importantly, the client is now part of the decision making process, able to have some control about what he will / won’t do, and has had their purpose affirmed, which can ultimately increase his accountability toward his program and results.

Also keep in mind that though we may think having a “proportional” body is important because our industry is aesthetics-based (not to be confused with health, wellness, and/or vitality), our clients may not. If this is the case, by letting go of our personal bias and accommodating the client at this stage in their training will build better rapport / trust. From here, it is far more likely that at some point down the road they may decide that cardio and legs are more important. But let them do so on their terms. According to research, (Click here, Click here, Click here) the success rate is higher that way.

For what it’s worth… :)

Comments & Responses

2 Responses so far.

  1. kathy stella says:

    I am so amazed at your creativity in your playouts!

  2. Thomas Canton says:

    Interesting point here! Thanx for the advice:)

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