The 4 Stages of Behavioral Change

If you are going to be a personal trainer it is important to understand getting a client to successfully adapt to an exercise program is dependent on that individual person willing to make a change.

A well known behavioral model that personal trainers can use is the Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change (TTM) more easily referred to as the Stages-of-Change model.  The basic idea of the TTM model is broken down into four different components;

  • Stages of change
  • Processes of change
  • Self-efficacy
  • Decisional balance

Succeeding with changing behaviors is no easy task but by understanding TTM you can have an easier time getting clients into a healthy lifestyle.

1. Stages of Change

The first component of the Stage-of-Change (aka Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change) model is about the five stages of behavioral change. The five stages of this are;

  • Precontemplation – People are leading an inactive and sedentary life. They do not understand the important of daily exercise.
  • Contemplation – People at this stage are still inactive but are realizing why not being physically active is detrimental to their health.
  • Preparation – A person is likely exercising but still not committing to a regular program. Activity might be sporadic and inconsistent.
  • Action – People are engaging in regular physical exercise.
  • Maintenance – Marked by regular fitness activity for 6 months or longer.

2. Processes of Change

This is the most important component of the Stages-of-Change model to understand while personal training.

This entails understanding the mindset and thought processes people go through from being inactive to living a healthy lifestyle. The different stages have different motivations and thought-processes you need to understand. You need to figure which stage a person. The goal is always to advance the individual to the next stage of the intervention.

I've already gone over the thought processes here, but to review.


The goal at this Precontemplation stage is to make inactivity an issue at the front of the the person's mind.

As a personal trainer you should be making efforts to show someone why inactivity of physical fitness is an issue. Provide information about why being active is important via relevant sources. This could be articles, books, videos, friends and family, etc.


The goal at the Contemplation stage is to get them involved in some type of fitness activity.

As a trainer at this stage you should provide the opportunity for the client to ask a lot of questions. Give them more information about exercising in general. Figure out what type of exercise program will work for them. This means group exercise glasses, resistance training, sports, etc.


The goal at the Preparation stage is for there to be some sort of regular physical fitness activity, even if it is sporadic.

To do your job well personal training a client you should provide the opportunity to be more active. Give your clients support, reinforcement, and positive feedback. Try to find fitness activities a client enjoys doing. Allow a client to express concerns and what is bothering them. Attempt to create a social support circle around the fitness routine.


The goal for the Action stage is to maintain regular physical exercise.

Provide continuing support and feedback to the client so they stay with goals. (Remember SMART goals.) Figure out what sort of barriers a client might have to sticking with the program. Kids? Work? School? Make sure you assess whether the client will potentially relapse and if they are high risk for relapsing into a sedentary lifestyle again. Give them psychological and physical tools to deal with potential roadblocks.  Make sure to adapt the workout program to the varied lifestyle and changes a client may face. Are they going on vacation for an extended period? Give them an at-home workout.


The Maintenance goal is to prevent relapse to the old way of life, no fitness, and keep the current physically healthy lifestyle the client is on.

Encourage the client to maintain the current level of fitness and to continue on with the program. Make sure they understand the social support aspect of keeping up with fitness. Switch up the fitness routine to make it interesting for the client. You can gamify the system in which you are measuring fitness progress. Make sure you see whether a client is getting burnout with the current program.


Self-efficacy is the third component of the TTM. This is the belief in ones capabilities to successfully in engage in a new activity, in this context we are talking about exercise programs.

This is extremely important because if someone doesn't believe in themselves, they will not be successful with an exercise program. You will typically find people in the Precontemlation and Contemplation phase have low self-efficacy. While people in the Action and Maintenance stage have a higher degree of it.

Self-efficacy is usually determined by past performance. If someone hasn't done exercise or wasn't very good at it, motivating them is that much harder. Someone who has exercised in the past and is good at it, will likely continue to do so. Self-efficacy is a circular concept.

As a personal trainer it is up to you in the personal training journey to provide a positive exercise experience for the new clients not used to exercising. This allows them to draw on those experience to continue to live a health lifestyle.

Decisional Balance

Decisional Balance is the perceived positives and negatives, pros and cons of adopting to physical fitness.

If you are in the Precontemplation and Contemplation stage you are going to have a lot more negatives and cons going through your head. This includes sore muscles, sweating, time, cost, etc. with fitness.

Remember the perceived negatives someone feels does not have to be rational. In fact most of humans emotions are not rational at all.

If you are in the Maintenance stage you are going to have a lot more positives and pros in your head. This includes changing and shaping your body, keeping endorphin levels up, lower risk of heart disease, feeling good, etc.

As a client moves through the process of the fitness program you have, often the decisional balance will shift. As a personal trainer you need to detail and record with a client perceived gains and perceived losses pf their lifestyle change. What are the maximal strategies for and minimal strategies going into this? What are the perceived obstacles in the way?

You want to avoid arguing about the cons that people see, even if they are unreasonable. Relapse to an unhealthy lifestyle can occur for a variety of reasons. This includes starting school, moving to a new city, family health issues, injury, etc. Never assume sticking with an exercise program is easy, even if it is for you.

In your own training journey what are some Stages-of-Change you know about yourself? What negatives and positives have gone through your head? How can you use these feelings to help clients?

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