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Are You Personal Training the Wrong People?

by Jonathan Goodman | Follow on Twitter

Was your goal to become a personal trainer for athletes? If so do you train your general population clients like athletes even though it’s not best suited for them? Chris Smith teaches when and how to take athletic training principles and put them towards your general pop client.

The following is a guest post by Christopher Smith. He went into personal training hoping to work with athletes and beautiful people. Quickly he recognized he was training the wrong crowd. If you’re interested in submitting a guest post please check out the contribution page.

It’s no secret among fitness professionals that we all want to work with athletes. Who wouldn’t? You get the glitz and glam of training a top-level human specimen and you get to try out all sorts of awesome training methods while doing so.

The vast majority of us will never work with more than a couple of athletes (if any) and even fewer will train elite competitors. So what happens? We start to use the same methods that we wish we could be using with Olympians and introduce them into the programs of our general population clients.

Good strength coaches spend countless hours learning about training techniques, programming methods, client analysis and corrective exercises. After all that time and effort, of course you want to put them to use. Taken out of context, some of these ideas don’t have a place with that 50-year-old investment banker you’re training.

It’d be beneficial for trainers to take a step back and realize that many of the techniques we learn are best saved for a small percentage of the people we train. It’s easy to see an advanced training method and want to use it with everyone.

Remember that as trainers, we are basically athletes. It’s our job to stay in shape, know about strength and conditioning and walk the walk. The soccer mom you train, however, probably doesn’t care if her overhead reverse lunge is perfect. The way I train is almost always different from the way I train my clients. Below I’ve laid out my best tips for transferring advanced / fun techniques to the everyday client:

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Probably not the best choice for your general population client.

My tips for transferring advanced training techniques to general population clients:

Olympic Lifting –General population clients have no need to perform the full Olympic lifts. They’re extremely technical and require a lot of dedication and practice. I’m not saying that you should refuse to teach these lifts to clients who are interested, but realize that the risk-to-benefit ratio for a non-athletic person to learn a full snatch just isn’t there. Instead, opt for hang, power or pull variations. These greatly reduce the mobility and technique demands of these movements while maintaining basically all of the benefit.

Periodization – Jon Goodman wrote a great article on the subject called personal trainers don’t need to periodize. Realize that periodization is a concept designed for competitive athletes to manage the varying strength and conditioning demands of changing sport seasons. Simple strength cycles work great for general population clients. You can try basic linear strength cycling, daily nonlinear models or a monthly undulating approach where certain training goals are prioritized for a few weeks at a time.

Corrective Exercise/Movement Analysis – Same here as for periodization above. Many movement analyses and corrective exercises are designed with athletes in mind. Athletes whose job is to be in peak physical condition. We all want to help alleviate issues caused by weakness, imbalance and poor posture – and we should.

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But think about this: a client works with you for between 2 and 4 hours a week on average. During that time you spend up to an hour trying to counteract a posture that they will spend up to 162 hours per week sitting in. Without a dramatic lifestyle change it is very difficult for you to completely fix a postural problem with a client. So instead of completely ruling out certain movements, such as overhead pressing or squatting, find variations that your client can do. Here’s some examples:


Problem: Trouble overhead pressing due to poor mobility

Solution: Swap bilateral pressing for unilateral or alternating dumbbell presses


Problem: Poor thoracic extension on the squat

Solution: Replace back squats with front or Zercher squat variations; utilize low learning curve unilateral work such as split stance squats


Problem: Mobility prevents deadlifting from the floor

Solution: Try high-bar trap bar deadlifts, pulls off of blocks or low rack pulls


Don’t take this to mean that you shouldn’t be doing some preventive and corrective work with you clients. Just remember that at the end of the day people are paying you to be a trainer, not a physical therapist.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to use advanced or athletic training methods with general population clients. In fact, most general population clients love to be trained that way.

However, it’s important to acknowledge the limitations that these training methods have when being transferred to this population. Find the grey area between over-analyzing or coddling your general population clients and hammering them into the ground like an NFL linebacker. They’ll thank you for it.


What exercises do you see from trainers that shouldn’t be used for training general population? How do you modify ones that can be used?

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How to become a personal trainer clientsChristopher Smith is the founder of Train Better Fitness. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and certified personal trainer (ACSM C-PT), strength athlete and record-setting powerlifter, it is his belief that fitness is not restricted solely to a physical pursuit, but an all-encompassing style of life.



photo credits: lululemon athleticaistolethetvDain Sandoval

About the Author
Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is the creator and head coach of the PTDC and has a distaste for third person bios ... Hey, I'm Jon and I'd have to say that this site is pretty awesome. Thanks for being here. If you're interested in my brand new book, it's called Ignite the Fire (revised, updated, and expanded). My team and I have also created the first Academy and certification for online trainers. Click here to check out the Online Trainer Academy.