Whether you’re starting a personal training business or you're a seasoned pro, it’s always good to seek out ways to improve. After all, maybe trying something new could allow you to serve your clients better. That’s why we put together this list of 47 personal trainer tips. It turned into a list of 47 simply because we asked a bunch of top coaches for two to four tips each, which resulted in the list below.
Our contributors included Dan Trink, Bill Sonnemaker, Geoff Girvitz, Nick Tumminello, Neghar Fonooni, Mark Young, Jon-Erik Kawamoto, Greg Robins, Michael Torres, Roger Lawson, Cassandra Forsythe, Sam Leahey, Dean Somerset, Scott Tate, and me.
Hopefully, you can find some kernels of wisdom here that help you do a better job with your clients:
47 tips to be a successful personal trainer
1. Train people – The only way to get better at personal training is to gain experience with real clients. Don’t just talk or write about it. Do it. Boom.
2. Seek both science and application – Spend time learning as much as you can about the science behind training and applying what you’re learning. One without the other is lame … and useless. After all, following science can help you get your clients real results … but you must apply that knowledge to get those results.
3. Identify your mavens – Figure out who the neighborhood influencers are and encourage them to try out a session. These could be people like local real estate agents, dentists, or doctors. Offer them a free membership or training session and go above and beyond. Your goal is to get them to mention you to their valuable referral networks.
4. Bend, but don’t break – Not every client needs a perfectly put-together program. In fact, most won’t follow it. Instead, adjust your program to each individual’s needs and goals.
5. Follow through – If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you don’t have the time, then don’t commit to something you can’t deliver on.
6. Educate – Your job is not just to facilitate training but also to teach. Send your clients articles, write blog posts to answer their questions, and take a few minutes to explain topics you feel they should know more about.
7. Never stop training people – Don’t train people for five years and then think you can make a career out of consulting. You still have a ton more to learn and experience. The best trainers are created through years of hard work and dedicated study.
8. Wear good socks – Socks can make or break your day. Try training for eight or more hours in thick cotton tube socks. I dare you.
9. Challenge – You’re not a cheerleader. Sometimes you need to challenge your clients. Avoid belittling or discouraging them, but keep in mind that a healthy challenge is positive. Think about the best school teachers you’ve had. We’ll bet they challenged you.
10. Forgive – Give your clients a clean slate when they slip up. Don’t take it personally, as it’s more about their own personal journeys. It doesn’t help to continually scold them. Instead, forgive them, give them the opportunity to impress you, and give them praise when they’ve made an effort.
11. Give your clients ownership – You shouldn’t make every decision. Have your clients start to make decisions. You should train them to be self-sufficient. Don’t ever worry that if you teach a client too much, they won’t need you anymore. This thought process is a surefire way to fail.
–> You might also enjoy reading: "97 Rules to Live By for Personal Trainers: A Code of Ethics"
12. Be yourself – No one wants to spend an hour with a robot three times a week. Be yourself. You don’t need to share personal information, but you can give honest opinions, be a little goofy, and otherwise show your personality. There is a very human element to what you do, so be human.
13. Be professional – Show up on time, be prepared, act like an adult, make ethical decisions, and treat what you do like a career instead of a hobby. If it is a hobby, consider finding a different job that fits you better.
14. Educate yourself – With the access we have to information now, there is no excuse to be behind the curve. Keep reading within your industry and make investments in personal trainer seminars.
15. Admit when you make a mistake – We all make mistakes. Maybe there are times we as personal trainers get a little too aggressive or frustrated with clients. Maybe we make the wrong call sometimes. Sometimes, you even do the wrong thing for the right reason. The important thing is to admit that you messed up and use it as an opportunity to strengthen the trainer-client relationship.
16. Say you don’t know – You don’t need to know everything. Sometimes, you just forget something, can’t make a connection, or flat-out just don’t know. Own up to it rather than lying or making excuses. The right path is to let your clients know you’ll get the answer for them.
17. Start saying no – Always saying yes is the key to trainer burnout, not giving your best, or forgetting. Value your time. If it doesn’t work, say no. If you can’t follow through, say no. Say yes only when you KNOW you can do something.
18. Separate nutrition and training – A training session is not the time to talk about nutrition. You don’t want to be micromanaging or doing a nutrition consult between sets. Clients are in their sessions to train, so keep the focus on that. Instead, set up a separate time for a nutrition consult.
19. Change their philosophy – If you keep educating yourself, you will probably change how you are doing things from time to time. Your previous way wasn’t necessarily wrong, but you found a better way. You can give the same benefit to your client. Understand that your client is coming from a different background than you or another client. So, take the time to change their philosophy. They came to you for your expertise and for help improving themselves.
20. Fire clients – You may fall into the trap of taking on anybody, at any time, no matter what. Sure, you can make pretty good money doing that. But, it can come with downsides, such as having terrible training sessions yourself, failing to deliver your best to all your clients, and struggling with life and training. Sometimes, you have to fire clients. You can only do so much. Always remember what your job is: to facilitate a sound training program. If a client is draining you or isn’t the right fit, do yourself and them a favor and cut the relationship off. Neither of you is benefitting from this dynamic.
21. Go the extra mile – Some trainers spend part of their spare time thinking about their clients’ training and sharing their thoughts over email. This can work well to pick clients up, get them thinking, or provide other benefits to their training. You can find your own way to go the extra mile. However you want to go about it, show them you care.
22. Appreciate differences – There are bazillions of niches and even more subsets of knowledge. You can’t master them all. Appreciate that others know things you don’t and have experienced things you haven’t, just as you have your own strengths.
23. Develop relationships with your clients – No, we don’t mean that kind of relationship (see: being professional—making ethical decisions). We’re talking about the kinds of client-trainer relationships where you remember that your client’s son has a big game on Saturday, and you take part in something they like to do.
24. Foster a community atmosphere – Introduce the people in your class when it’s a student’s first time, introduce your clients to one another, host a group dinner, and plan an occasional group outing. Some other ideas include group hikes, a community BBQ, or a soccer game for your clients and their families. Some clients won’t be interested, and you don’t have to pressure them. But for the most part, these gatherings are a huge hit. It’s nice to meet like-minded people and feel like you’re part of something larger.
25. Get under the bar – It doesn’t matter what your body type is like. What does matter is that you’re training consistently and purposefully. Most of the important things you learn to pass to your clients will come from your own training. Most people wouldn’t want to take advice from someone who doesn’t value their own training as much as their training career. It’s about practicing what you preach.
26. Get quantifiable results – There are a lot of important unquantifiable results that can be achieved through training. But you will be more successful, and so will your clients, if you have some hard data to work with. Take pictures, get measurements, and keep track of the numbers because these things don’t lie.
27. Ask yes or no questions – People love to argue, reason, and make excuses. For example, if you’re talking about compliance, or whether a client wants to attempt a higher lift, accept only yes or no answers. Don’t leave any room for quibbling. If they don’t say yes or no, the answer is no.
28. Do curls in the squat rack – We’re just checking that you’re paying attention! Keep going for more great tips for personal trainers!
29. Build a network – You should have a network of colleagues, physical therapists, nutritionists, and other health professionals. If you develop these relationships, you will have healthy clients, you won’t step outside your scope of practice, and you will have a nice flow of referrals.
30. Have fun – If you don’t like what you do, we firmly believe you shouldn’t be doing it. At the very least, you should be working toward making a change as soon as possible. If you train people only because it’s a job, you’re doing everyone a disservice.
31. Care – Within the scope of your role as a personal trainer, care about your client’s health, adherence, and attitude.
32. Take responsibility – Put some of the responsibility for your clients’ adherence and compliance on yourself. It’s easy to give clients the full blame, but trainers should always ask themselves what they could have done differently to keep a client enthused about a session.
33. Laugh often – Research has shown many benefits of laughter. A person can increase their pain tolerance, quality of life, immune response, and even modulate their fecal polyamine levels (yep, even your client’s poop gets an upgrade). Add to that improvements in commitment, mood, energy, and willpower. When you laugh, your clients laugh. So laugh often to break up the seriousness of their thoughts.
34. Test and perfect – Don’t ever use your clients to try out an exercise. Instead, work with a colleague to refine the ins and outs of a piece of equipment or new exercise first.
35. Wash your Dri-Fit fabrics – Moisture-wicking clothing stinks after you’ve worn it while sweating. Keep it clean.
36. Learn motivational interviewing – Clients are fully capable of motivating themselves, if you only get out of their way. This type of motivation that comes from within oneself (intrinsic motivation), tends to give better long-term results than extrinsic motivation that comes from the outside ... like the type coming from us as personal trainers. Learn motivational interviewing, or self-determination theory, and it’ll become one of the most powerful tools for change in your arsenal.
–> READ: "What Is Self-Determination Theory?"
37. Know basic nutrition – Most clients only need to know nutrition in its simplest form, so it’s helpful to at least have a grasp on the basics.
38. See the good – Clients get enough self-berating, guilt, and shame from their own inner dialogue, so don’t add to it. Instead, try to see the good in every encounter. Do you like their shoes? Tell them. Did they change their hair? Compliment it. Is their squat 0.00005 percent better? Make a big deal out of it.
39. Celebrate little victories – Train your clients to look for victories in their day-to-day lives (e.g., “I binged on the weekend, but then went for a walk the next morning and ate half an apple”). Then, focus exclusively on those victories. You’ll attract more of what you focus on, whether you believe it’s a spiritual phenomenon like “The Secret” or you’re following the science of positive reinforcement as a form of behavior modification. Plus, who doesn’t like celebrating?
40. Enlist secret agents – Want a client to eat better? Get their partner on board—reach out to turn them into your environment-setting secret agent. Their only job is to never let on that you’re in cahoots while occasionally leaving an extra fruit/vegetable/healthy fat on the counter. What’s lying around always gets eaten …
41. Photoshop their heads – Ask your clients what their ideal physique is. When they answer (e.g., “Brad Pitt in Fight Club”), go home and Photoshop, as best you can, a picture of their head over his body. Not only will the edited pic make them laugh, it’ll show that you listen, care, and are on board with their goals. Plus, you give them extra fuel in the tank via cognitive dissonance.
42. Get “before” measurements – Establish the rule when starting a personal training business to ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS get as many “before” measurements as possible from your training clients. Pictures are worth a thousand words, as they say! Get everything on file, including photos, girth, weight, skinfolds, range of motion, quality of life, and a daily diet record. If you’re taking money and not quantifying results, you won't get far.
43. Process tensions – Have a regularly scheduled “tension-processing” phone call or sit-down with every client (e.g., once per week on Fridays for 10 minutes). Ask them what’s bugging them about how their progress is going, what they’d like to see more of from you, how you can make your coaching better, and so on. Clients are ALWAYS thinking about feedback but are rightfully worried about the relationship repercussions. Be an emotionally proactive coach by processing the tensions and ACTIVELY LOOKING for ways to improve your coaching.
44. Evolve – Personal training is one of the most exciting industries to be in, as it’s constantly changing. Always keep up with the research.
45. Wear clean shoes – Nothing looks better than a clean pair of athletic footwear. It looks professional and damn good.
46. Read, often – Spend an hour a day reading legitimate training or business material or watching an educational video. How are you supposed to get smarter if you’re just training clients all day? Apply what you read when appropriate, which helps you learn and understand it. Also, try to teach your clients about what you learn, which shows your interest in the field and consistent desire to better yourself as a trainer.
47. Feelings > knowledge – No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. And conversely, you can’t get someone fact’ed when their emotions are whack’ted. Clean the emotional slate regularly, and you’ll see how much further your clients go knowledge-wise.