How important is emotional fitness to gaining physical fitness?

How important is emotional fitness to gaining physical fitness?  Is this something that I should be teaching my clients?

In a word, YES!  There’s been a shift recently within the fitness industry towards a more holistic, wellbeing approach to attaining a fit lifestyle by encompassing other aspects besides the physical components.  As the World Health Organization reminds us, wellness goes beyond simply being disease-free.  It includes other dimensions such as mental, social, spiritual, and emotional.  We train our clients (and ourselves) to make good decisions when it comes to physical wellness such as exercise and nutrition… but do you focus on training emotional fitness?  If not, here are some reasons why you should.

Emotional fitness refers to the ability to maturely deal with emotions (both positive and negative) and effectively handle stress.  Someone demonstrating emotional fitness will have an optimistic outlook on life despite dealing with setbacks and challenges that are inevitably going to happen.  An emotionally unwell person will throw in the towel at the first roadblock encountered and let setbacks dictate their direction in life instead of using them as learning experiences.

emotional fitness to gaining physical fitness

If you’re starting to mentally separate your clients into both of these buckets, you may notice that emotionally fit clients tend to see the glass as half-full, see mistakes as learning opportunities, tend to step outside their comfort zone and believe that they will achieve their goals.  This is called having a “growth mindset”, one of the two mindset terms coined by Dr. Carol Dweck.  On the flip side, a “fixed mindset” client tends to stay in their comfort zone, have an all-or-nothing attitude, sees the glass as half-empty and focuses on the outcome rather than the journey.

Helping to shift your “fixed mindset” clients to a “growth mindset”, i.e. training them to think “I can” instead of “I can’t” could very well be a key factor in their success with you…

  1. Progress, not perfection – If your client has a setback, remind them that it’s about the journey, not the destination. Life happens and no one is going to do everything perfectly all of the time but one (or a few) missteps are not an indication that they failed.  Focus on their efforts and the progress they’ve been making.
  2. Hold them accountable – This is probably a big reason why your client is working with you in the first place… but hold them accountable even when they are not in a training session with you. I don’t mean through instilling fear that you will make them do 200 burpees if they fall off the wagon one time but through education, teaching them to take responsibility for their actions (or inactions) and staying consistent in your expectations.
  3. Know their limits… but push their boundaries – If they are a “fixed mindset” client, they may have difficulty venturing into the unknown, which essentially consists of everything outside of their comfort zone. Help them make gains in their physical fitness (and towards a growth mindset) through trying a new piece of equipment, training for something they never thought possible (e.g. finishing a 5k race), setting new PR goals in an exercise… even something as simple as challenging them to practice good sleep hygiene so that they get more sleep.

As I’ve mentioned in previous Ask the Expert columns, everyone has the power to choose their thoughts… but it does take practice and consistency. Teach these steps to your clients in their training sessions and they’ll continue achieving more than they may have even thought possible.

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Maureen Faherty

Moe oversees corporate wellness and fitness initiatives as a Wellness Specialist for a financial services company and all their U.S. locations.She is also a Personal Trainer at Harvard Business School and the creator of Fitness MoeJo, a blog in which she shares advice, personal experiences and inspiration on maintaining a healthy, fit lifestyle.

She has a B.S. in Business Administration from Framingham State University and a M.S. in Physical Education/ Strength & Conditioning from Bridgewater State University. She is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and with USA Weightlifting as a Sports Performance Coach.

Moe lives in Boston where she keeps busy crossing things off her fitness bucket list.
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