The Benefits of the Burpee Penalty for Client Accountability

By Mike Watson – Two Brain Coaching One-on-one Course Mentor

I really hate the ‘burpee penalty’ when a client is late.  

A few months ago I started working with a new PT client who has worked out at our gym for a while.  

Nancy had been doing amazing things with her business and had realized it was time to get serious about taking care of herself.  This included some pretty big habit changes with the workouts managed by me, and her nutrition managed by an amazing nutrition coach. 

When we first chatted about training Nancy made it very clear to me that she had chosen me because she was a bit scared of how hard I would be on her. She felt she needed someone who would be hard on her and not let her get away with missing appointments or taking it easy on workouts.  

I was happy to play that role, you might say I’ve made a career out of it…

Nancy didn’t miss any workouts and was seeing huge results in everything she was doing.  

She was showing up and getting work done…..but she was showing up late. 

I understand showing up late for an early morning session once in a while.  We all have nights of poor sleep or alarms that don’t go off but I get cranky when people are continuously late.  

Personally, I feel that chronic lateness is a sign of disrespect.  My greatest source of anxiety in life comes from running late for a scheduled appointment or event so I will do everything in my power to be early. 

I definitely understand how the other half lives as I am the only one in my family who feels that way.

On Thursday Nancy and I talked about it.  I let her know how I felt and told her that we were missing out on valuable training time that was lost when she didn’t show up on time and ready to work. 

Nancy admitted that she really wanted to work on being on time, she understood where I was coming from and pledged to be there early the next morning.  

On Friday she was 10 minutes late. 

Nancy works as a psychotherapist.  She knows a thing or two about habit change including the need for accountability for a habit to stick.  

You either have to be accountable to yourself, something many of us are NOT good at, or you need to have someone keep you accountable.  The majority of our coaching business is built on this.  We need to keep people accountable until they can develop the habit change they are seeking. 

Nancy messaged me shortly after her 50 minute session with a proposal.  She was going to be penalized with burpees for being late.  

I didn’t answer her all weekend but I thought about her proposal quite a bit.  

The main reason I didn’t answer right away is because I HATE when coaches do the burpee penalty in a group setting or with PT clients.  It adds extra stress to the client who is already stressed about being late and draws negative attention to them. 

The second reason is that I tend to feel that positive reinforcement is a lot more effective at creating habit change than negative reinforcement – like the dreaded burpee. 

The final reason is that I was worried I was somehow being outsmarted by a psychotherapist and I needed to figure out how she was tricking me. 

On Monday at exactly 7:30am Nancy triumphantly walked through the door.  Walk is generous, she actually ran across the parking lot, but the clock hadn’t ticked over to 7:31.  She was on time!  

Like bank robbers in a cheesy action movie we synchronized our watches to make sure we were working with the same clock. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday the same thing!  7:30 on the dot.  She admitted that she may have broken a few traffic laws in the process, but she was there and ready to work. 

Since proposing the burpee penalty Nancy has yet to do a single burpee. 

This week we talked about it some more because I was worried about what happens when she stops showing up “on time.”  

I wanted to steer her towards some more positive reinforcement like rewarding herself for showing up for 10 or 20 sessions in a row on time.  

Nancy knows Nancy.  She knows what makes her tick and she knows that she hates burpees so much that she springs out of bed and makes it across town in record time to avoid them.   

When this stops working we’ll talk again and determine what other reinforcement will work best for whatever habit we’re trying to improve. 

Have the discussion with your athletes regularly.  We recommend doing Goal Reviews every three months at minimum so this is a great opportunity to ask good questions about motivation, the types of cues they respond to, and how we can keep them accountable! 

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