Chapter 4: Basics of Behavior Change and Health Psychology

What you will learn:

  • How to help clients make positive and permanent behavioral changes in their lives by understanding theoretical behavior models.
  • How to help with psychological changes and strategies for behavior modification.
  • How a Personal Trainer should communicated with a client to help them achieve behavior and psychological success.

Health Psychology: figures out the cause of the illness and a way to promote, maintain health along with treating it, which improves overall health care

Behavioral Theory Models

  • Personal Trainer’s goal is to teach clients and inspire them to adopt a lifelong activity program
  • Health Belief Model: people will engage in a health behavior, like exercising, based on a the perceived threat they feel regarding a health problem and the pros/cons of adopting the behavior.
    • perceived seriousness: the feeling people get about contracting an illness or leaving it untreated
    • perceived susceptibility: they feel they are vulnerable to an illness
    • cues to action: environmental or bodily changes that push people to exercise.
  • If a person sees more cons then pros to exercise they won’t engage in it. Vice versa
Case Study: 40 year old sedentary male with a busy life. 100 lbs overweight father passed away at 65 from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) He knows he needs to exercise but doesn’t because he has no apparent symptoms.

Trainers Advice: Personal Trainer needs to help him with developing cues to action Advise him to get a physical so the results will push him to exercise Create an easy, doable program that fits around his schedule and lifestyle.


  • The only way to gauge a client’s self-efficacy is through conversation about their history, expectation, apprehensions and barriers related to starting a program.
  • It’s directly related to motivation and can influence their thoughts and behavior.
  • Past performance experience will give a good idea about current motivation levels.
  • Vicarious experience is important if a client knows someone like them are successfully working in a program and are making a change.
  • Verbal persuasion comes via feedback and words of motivation from others
  • Physiological state appraisals: a client feels that they will be unable to participate because them will feel pain or fatigue and won’t be able to handle it.
  • Emotional state and mood appraisals: negative moods bring out fear, anxiety, anger and frustration. Positive moods helps improve self-efficacy.
  • Design programs based on these self efficacy levels and adjust as needed.

Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change (TTM)

  • Stages of Change Model: use this model to gauge where your client stands so you can avoid the “one size fits all” approach.TTM
      • Precontemplation stage: inactive and not considering activity or its importance
        • Trainer Goal: make inactivity an issues and activity an option
      • Contemplation stage: inactive but considering exercise as holding some importance
        • Trainer Goal: help them get involved in minimal activity (walking)
      • Preparation stage: some activity, inconsistent, but mentally and physically preparing to start a program.
        • Trainer Goal: get client involved in consistent activity in a program.
      • Action stage: involved in a consistent and regular activity program for less than 6 months
        • Trainer Goal: help the maintain it and make it a lifestyle.
      • Maintenance Stage: regular and consistent activity in a program for more than 6 months
        • Trainer Goal: help them maintain and prevent a relapse to inactivity.
  • Process Of Change: an important stage as it prepares the client for self-efficacy
    • Personal trainers can help the client with questions/feedback and push them to change
  • Self-efficacy: a big factor in a clients adoption and maintenance of an activity program
  • Decisional Balance: the number of pros and cons associated with starting or maintaining a program
    • Write down with the client pros and cons associated with adoption a program and not starting a program.
    • Help them clear any misconception and doubts
    • Relapses can happen at any stage with a life change in the client’s life.

Principles of Behavioral Change

    • Operant Conditioning: a conditions where client behaviors are influenced by their consequences
      • Examines relationship between antecedents behaviors and consequences.
      • Examines behavior change that leads to certain behaviors and avoids others.
    • Antecedents: actions that lead up to a behavior and signal a likely consequence
      • Stimulus Control: controlling the environment and actions so they can lead up to positive behavior.
    • Consequences: the results after a behavior
      • they influence future behavior if not corrected
      • Positive reinforcement: positive good actions that encourage positive behavior
  • Negative reinforcement: getting rid of negative or bad actions that cause bad behavior. Helping avoid it.
  • Extinction:positive action that followed a behavior is removed without a recurrence
  • Punishment:lessens the chances of bad/negative actions/behaviors will re-occur. Use in moderation.
  • Shaping: using reinforcement to bring about a targeted behavior.
  • Observational Learning: Personal Trainers should encourage interactions with other people who are also physically active
  • Cognitions and Behavior: Personal Trainers should understand how the client feels about exercises and either encourage or discourage those actions

Behavior-change Strategies

  • Stimulus Control (examples): help client choose a closer gym, keeping a gym bag ready
    • Help clients surround themselves with people who are like-minded and with similar interests
  • Written Agreements and Behavioral Change: written agreements should outline expectations, attitudes, commitments between the personal trainer and the client
  • Cognitive Behavioral Techniques: identify problematic beliefs and help them change their thoughts.
    • By setting goals, giving feedback, decision making and self monitoring you can help your clients with a behavior change.
  • Goal Setting: clients should always be aware of what they are working towards and what is required to get there
    • Use SMART Goals ( Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound)
  • Feedback: intrinsic or extrinsic
    • Teach clients to reinforce their own behaviors by internal encouragement, error corrections and punishment.
  • Decision Making: personal trainers should educate clients to help them make their own decisions to reach their desired goals.
  •  Self-Monitoring: This will help trainers determine long term adherence to an exercise program.

Implementing Basic Behavior-change and Health-Psychology Strategies

  • Behavior Interventions
    • Check out past experiences
    • Create a social-support network
    • Continual process of education, experience, and trust development
    • Empower clients to take control of their own physical-activity programs.

I have experimented with a bullet format above to see if that is more readable rather than the outline format I have had in my earlier posts. Nesting bullets is very frustrating when you are trying to build a comprehensive guide. But hope this helps. 

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