15 Tips for New Personal Trainers

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for trainers but I’ve had a few conversations with newbies lately so this seems apt and timely. Naturally, this information won’t be (specifically) relevant for everyone but I’m sure many of you will find it interesting nonetheless.

1. Don’t talk at your clients. Talk with them. Conversations tend to work better than lectures.

2. Don’t use language that your clients won’t understand. The only person you’ll impress with your big sciencey words is you. Look at the process through their window or you’ll create disconnection.

3. Be the leader. Once you’re clear on their goals and needs, take charge. Make decisions, provide feedback, be assertive and set standards. If you talk and behave like a leader, they will see you as one.

4. Don’t constantly count their reps out loud. One of my pet hates. I’m not sure why but many trainers do this like number-counting robots. It’s really annoying and often, distracting. Besides, people know how to count. If you feel compelled to talk through their set (or activity), give them something a little more instructional, informative or motivational than 7… 8…. 9… 10… 11… 12. Good grief.

5. Don’t talk about yourself. This should be an unnecessary piece of advice but sadly, it’s not. Insecure and egotistical trainers, while common, rarely make great fitness professionals.

6. Keep the relationship totally professional. Forever. You’re not their buddy or their bestie. You’re their trainer, coach and mentor. There’s a big difference between being friendly and being… their friend. This issue has been the undoing of many PT careers.

7. Don’t make shit up. It’s okay to not know things. You can always say something brilliant like “I don’t know the answer but I’ll find out”. I’ve worked in the industry for thirty-one years and I’m constantly learning.

8. Don’t blur the lines. You’re not a doctor, dietician, psychologist or physiotherapist, so don’t diagnose or prescribe outside of your area of expertise or qualification. As my trainer, you might suggest that Coco Pops are not my best breakfast option but you should not prescribe me a diet.

9. Walk the talk. Don’t teach what you don’t do. Be a role model and let your choices, actions and results be a reflection of your words. The quickest way to lose respect and credibility is to tell your clients how wasted you got on the weekend. And yes, it happens.

10. Prescribe exercise based on your client’s goals and needs, not your likes. It’s amazing how many fitness professionals train their clients just like they train themselves, irrespective of the person’s goals, genetics, training background or fitness level. This is lazy, unprofessional and common.

11. When it comes to coaching, don’t confuse the volume of your voice with motivation. Contrary to what many trainers practice, more volume does not equal more motivation. Yelling in your client’s face (yes, it happens) while he or she tries to complete a physical task is all kinds of stupid. Many of the best trainers are quiet, philosophical and intuitive.

12.Don’t kill them. Spend the first four to twelve weeks (depending on their starting point) developing a training base, instilling good habits and building a healthy working relationship with your client (not exploring their physical limits). Not surprisingly, injuring clients and making them vomit tends to be something of a career killer.

13. Identify your PT limit. How many quality sessions can you deliver per day? Week? Quality control is crucial for the growth of both you and your business. If you’re my PT, I don’t care if you’ve done ten sessions already, I’m paying one hundred percent of your fee, so I expect (and should receive) one hundred percent of your energy, skill, focus and commitment. If you can’t give me one hundred percent, don’t book me in.

14. Keep learning, studying and up-skilling. Once qualified, some trainers (okay, many trainers) will do the bare minimum (courses, workshops) to maintain their industry accreditation. A good way to get left behind.

15. Teach. Commit to teaching your clients something new (big or small) each session. An important part of being a great trainer is to empower your clients with knowledge, skills and strategies for long-term success. You are a teacher so teach well.

And enjoy your career. :)

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah August 19, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Sage advice.
Trainers seem to be a real
personal choice, l like a “tough love” hardline approach but know of others who dislike my trainer for that very manner!
I seek out those that l aspire to & like you say “lead” and although you say you hate the “rep” counting far out do l love to hear ” 5 left” lol


chebbieanne August 19, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Oh dear I am a bad client.! Think I knew that! I forget to count so if my trainer asks how many reps I have done I have to remind him that he gets paid to count to 20 – I only have to do the reps. I focus on each move individually not counting how many I have done. I just keep going until he says stop! But he does take charge of our sessions very well – he always times getting my coffee perfectly – it is never cold. Apparently it is a training aid. He is very smart :)


Anonymous August 19, 2013 at 11:15 pm

My gym is run by the council, and unless you ask (and no one ever does), the trainers are happy to leave you to do your own thing – until about a month back, when a new trainer started work there, and invited me in for a one-to-one training session. It was much more difficult than anything I’d tried before. Unfortunately, just afterwards I fell ill and missed four weeks, and yesterday when the same trainer caught me and asked how my training was going, I found myself making excuses, saying I’d been ill, and that I thought the programme he’d given me was difficult. He just looked at me and said, “But you did it OK when I was standing next to you”. His advice was to look at doing the full programme as more like a goal to aim for ideally, so I have an idea of what I’m trying to do. So tomorrow I’m going to give it a try and see what I can manage – and I’m quite excited to be trying something new and different. Having someone proactively taking an interest in what I’m doing definitely works for me.


Gideon August 20, 2013 at 1:46 am

Great reminders Craig.

Point No 4 guilty! ( I promise I will not count anymore) :)

How about ” Come on big fella pump out a few more reps ” ??

With point No 5 I do talk about myself, however it is what I am planning to cook for lunch / dinner ( that gives them a variety of healthy ideas instead of their usual Spaghetti Bolognese). I also talk about when and what I am planning to work out that day.
16. Never complain to your clients. ” Geez I coped another parking fine today and I stepped in dog poo during my run and ….” The last thing clients want to hear is a whinging trainer.


Anonymous August 20, 2013 at 7:39 am

I love that my trainer counts the reps because then I know I can finish well. Only 5 to go motivates me. I like a personal touch. It’s great that my trainer knows about my family and is interested in what’s been happening through the week this may make a difference to how I will train in that session. She is not a yeller which wouldn’t work for me. I always leave knowing that I have been pushed with my training motivated to do more myself.


Marci August 20, 2013 at 8:44 am

Craig – I think your rules are great – it is how I would like to be trained, however of course generalising for everybody’s personality types will still be quite individual and I guess that is the difference between a good trainer and a great trainer that they can identify where these rules need to be “altered” according to situations and attitudes of clients – repeat what you have always done with every client and you could find clients walking away. Great advice!


Anonymous August 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Tip #16. Don’t talk about other clients. When a Trainer shares specific, private, or confidential information about another client it is (at best) unbecoming, and (at worst) unprofessional and inappropriate. As a client, it leaves me uncomfortable hearing my Trainer talk about another client’s personal business, plus, it always makes me wonder what she says about me…


Craig August 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Hey Anon. Right on! Happens waaaaay too much. Nice addition. :)


Nerida Mackenzie August 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Hey Craig, just wanted to say loved the blog, you should publish that for every uni, tafe,etc that provides training for personal trainers. What you said is total gold and bloody good common sense, a lot of trainers would be better trainers if they followed this advice. I hate a trainer who has to count out loud or sell themselves constantly.


Heather August 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm

As an experienced sports Physio I enjoyed reading this list, it is good advice for PTs and some of the points even apply across the board

Heather Malcolm
Territory Sportsmedicine


Anonymous August 20, 2013 at 9:10 pm

#10 and #12 are the best advice that I as a paying client could give to potential PTs. If I could find a PT that did both of those things, they would have a new client. My last PT was a former college/pro athlete who basically wrote the same routine out at 5:00 am, posted it on a white board, and that’s what all one-on-one and group training clients did for the day – whether you were in your 20′s or you were 50 years +. PLEASE remember the “personal” in personal trainer!!


jared roy August 22, 2013 at 11:50 am

Number 6 is great advice as a fitness manager, I see its our number one reason that trainers lose clients.


DTrain January 14, 2014 at 11:07 am

Number 12 really hits home for me… I trained for ~10 years at my own pace and made reasonably good fitness/strength progress.

Started Personal Training and 4 weeks into it tore the TFCC and ECU stabilizing ligaments in my wrist doing medicine ball burpees (an exercise I would probably never do on my own accord).

I’ve been out of action for +12 months (no lifting anything as well as no guitar/golf – it’s really crippled all the things I enjoy doing).

After many medical consultations/scans/therapy I’m looking at possible surgical repair if it’s not better in the next 3-4 months. This experience has left me very disillusioned about the merits of personal training.


Tammy February 23, 2014 at 8:41 pm

You are completely right about keeping the relationship professional! The article offers excellent advice – I appreciate all the detail. One thing I have found very helpful is trainer tools like http://www.FitSW.com (which aids in tracking workouts, tracking client progress, and diet plans easily and efficiently online) and mindbody com (which does payment tracking and scheduling for larger businesses). These types of tools have made my job so much easier.


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