Flow is a state where we feel our best and perform our best. 1
Clients who exercise in a state of flow experience increased strength and endurance. In contrast, the client’s sense of pain, exertion and exhaustion decrease. 2
Therefore, helping clients experience the state of flow during each session is key to delivering a sublime experience that motivates them to keep coming back.
Personal trainers can help their clients experience the flow state by systematically applying research-based flow triggers. 2
Flow in Fitness – Specific Applications of Flow Triggers to Maximize the Client Experience is the first presentation to tie the extensively researched flow triggers into the program design and communication tactics used in personal training. Personal trainers and strength coaches can implement these triggers immediately in their client sessions.
Table 1 shows where, in the process of working with clients, specific flow triggers apply. This article provides guidelines and an example of using the trigger of deep embodiment. Overall, the likely experience of learning the details of each trigger will fall into one of three categories:
- I am doing that already.
- I knew that, but I had forgotten about it.
- I have never thought about that.
A client’s experience of flow can be more profound or more superficial. You can make a difference for them by applying one trigger you are not currently using. However, the more triggers you can apply in the session, the deeper the flow experience and the better the results for the client.
There are three options for the experience of flow in a session with you and your client. 2
- The client experiences flow, but you don’t.
- Together, you and the client experience group flow.
- The client has a terrible day. No matter how good you are, the client does not achieve flow. However, you experience flow.
At the 2021 CPTN Online Personal Trainer Summit, this session focuses on helping the client achieve flow. In applying the various flow triggers to help the client achieve flow, the personal trainer experiences flow themselves more often than not.
The Flexible Periodization Method divides working with clients into five steps: assessment, periodization, program design, instruction and evaluation. Table 1 (below) indicates that most flow triggers apply to the program design or instruction phase.
The 5 Steps in the process of working with clients
Purpose, shared, clear goals
Challenge: Skills Balance
Close listening, Good Communication
Table 1: Where you can apply each flow trigger when working with clients.
At the 2021 CPTN Online Personal Trainer Summit, this session on flow in fitness details practical suggestions for applying each trigger. The rest of this article highlights deep embodiment as an example.
Deep embodiment is an expanded physical awareness. It means that we pay most attention to the task at hand when multiple senses are engaged in the task. 2
Physicality, learning by doing, applies this trigger. 2 Thus, the applications of deep embodiment seem like a no-brainer in fitness.
However, it is possible to perform an exercise with very little awareness of the movement. I have a childhood friend who works as a high-level insurance salesperson. One of his interests is distance running. Like most people, he worked from home during the pandemic.
When he needed a break from work, he put on his running shoes and ran for a couple of hours. While running, his awareness is still in his thoughts to solve his customer’s insurance problems. He returns to his laptop, invigorated with the solution to all his problems.
However, he paid little attention to his bodily experience of the run. It’s not what you would call deep embodiment. However, he is very conscious of his choice. It is the right solution for him.
Personal trainers can apply deep embodiment partly to the program design stage but mainly to the instruction stage of a training session through the following fundamental strategy.
Recognize that the client’s capacity for awareness is always limited and constantly challenged to expand. The type and amount of cueing are closer to the effective maximum than the effective minimum. (See Figure 1)
I once had a varsity team football player tell me, “This is the most intense thing I have ever tried.” – He was talking about practising the Snatch during Olympic lifting classes I taught at the University of Toronto.
With cueing closer to the effective minimum, there is free, unused capacity, like new space on a USB drive. Said another way, the client receives no information about what or where to place their awareness throughout a movement.
Cueing closer to the effective maximum demands all available attention and requires complete concentration (another flow trigger). However, if we exceed the effective maximum of cueing, the challenge becomes too great, and there is little chance of achieving flow.
Figure 1: The ideal amount of cueing exists between the effective minimum and effective maximum.
The following example is a so-called heart rate game executed on a spin bike or another piece of cardiorespiratory equipment that stabilizes all four extremities. 3
The spin bike enables the trigger of complete concentration by allowing the client to execute the sequence predominantly with their eyes closed.
- Pick an intensity in the aerobic endurance zone (for example, 70-80% of maximal heart rate) corresponding to a rate of perceived exertion of 7-8 out of 10
- Choose a slightly challenging resistance and RPM (revolutions per minute) on the bike.
- While maintaining the resistance and RPM level, the goal is to maintain or reduce the heart rate over a 5 to 15-minute segment (a long interval).
- While the eyes are closed, visualize the target heart rate on the screen.
How does this heart rate game apply the trigger of deep embodiment by engaging multiple senses?
- Kinesthetic sense: The task in and of itself naturally directs the client’s attention to the breath and slows it down.
- Visual sense: The client visualizes the target heart rate number on the screen.
- Auditory sense: Listening to the music with the beat that often aligns with the heart rate.
To learn specific examples of applying all the flow triggers, watch Flow in Fitness – Specific Applications of Flow Triggers to Maximize the Client Experience at the 2021 CPTN Online Personal Trainer Summit.
- Kotler, S. The Art of Impossible. A Peak Performance Primer. Harper Collins Publishers. 2021
- Jensen, L. Former Spinning® Master Instructor and Director of Education for Mad Dogg Athletics and the Spinning® Program. Personal communication. 2021.
Karsten Jensen is a periodization coach and expert who has helped world-class and Olympic-level athletes from 27 different sports, many of whom have won Olympic medals, European Championships, World Championships, and ATP Tournaments. He authored The Flexible Periodization Method and Performance Optimization with Periodizationand published over 160 articles and 21 training manuals to accompany his 8-16-hour workshops. He is an international speaker and has conducted hundreds of live workshops. For more information, please visit www.yestostrength.com.