Personal training is expensive.

Ranging anywhere from fifty to three hundred dollars an hour, many people consider it a luxury that comes second to ridiculous things like food, rent, and gas.

This, coupled with many of the inane ideas that people have about trainers, can make the initial meeting with a prospective client a difficult one.

It's problematic to dispel certain myths that are prevalent in mainstream society, while showing the client that you are a necessary piece in order to get them from their current state, to a state filled with six pack abs, beach modeling sessions (a la Jon Goodman), and healthy pain free movement.

I know that personally I used to give myself the title of "salesman". I have recently shifted my paradigm slightly, which has allowed me to fill my schedule and a wait list with the type of client that I most enjoy working with without changing my hours or price.

I take the opportunity to play doctor in the initial meeting, not salesman. It gives me an opportunity to showcase my knowledge and ability as a trainer, while giving the client exactly what they are looking for during their first session.

Take a step back here, and think about what happens when you go to the doctor. You go in because you have something wrong with you. The doctor comes into the room, and asks you about your complaint. I'll use my most recent trip to the doc as an example.

Me: "I feel sick, feverish and my nose is running. I think it might be the flu"
Doctor:  <checks nose, throat and chest> "Well, it looks like you have the flu. Take 2 magic pills, get plenty of rest and water. We'll follow up with you in a week."

Besides the fact that it took him approximately six seconds to tell me what I already knew, He did exactly what I came to him for. After looking at all the variables, he prescribed a remedy that would get me from point A (sick) to point B (healthy!).

Although I knew that I was sick in some form or fashion, I did not know what was necessary to combat my disease. As a trainer, it becomes your job to ask the right questions to find out what the issues are that are keeping the client from being where they want to be with regard to their health and fitness.


After having them fill out a PAR-Q or any other health fitness questionnaire, begin to delve deeper into their goals. I will often ask them right out of the gate what their top two priorities are in coming to see me for a consultation.

Most of the time, the answer will be something off the top of their head, or be filled with bogus fitness buzz words like "tone" and "sculpt". (For more info on why these are bad goals, check out SMAT Training on the PTDC).

I have never been able to figure out how to help anyone "get fit", so I don't allow the line of questioning to stop there. Instead I'll pry deeper and ask "So what does 'fit' look like to you?" or "Was there a time in your life that you were 'fit'? If so, what did that look like?" Just to help define the goal to a manageable point.

Don't neglect this step; if you go any further without having Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely goals, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Let's say your client has chosen:

  1. lose 15 lbs in 3 months to look good in a bathing suit
  2. Run 5k in March in under 35 minutes
  3. No pain in low back during running

It's important to remember that not all clients are the same. Jonny ex-football-player-who-works-from-home will have a much different program and set of constraints than Suzy- 50-hour work-week- and-infant-duties.


So the next step is to get a buy in. Ask them some variation of the following question: "How committed are you to achieving these goals you have shared with me?" I generally go on to let them off the hook by telling them that I don't care if it's high or low, I just want them to be honest.

Feel free to inject a little humor into what might be an uncomfortable moment for them. I always ask "If a 1 is taking the stairs at work every Wednesday, and a 10 is working out with me 5 days per week, running every evening, and eating grilled tofu for breakfast, where do you fall on that scale?"

Once you have ascertained and WRITTEN DOWN their top priorities and commitment level, your job is now to deliver the prescription for that goal. Be honest here, telling someone that they can lose 60 lbs and become a sex icon in 30 minute sessions 2x per week is not honest and not doing your job.

I will lay it out for them on a separate sheet of paper or within the bounds of a computer document.  Depending on schedule, commitment level, and goals, that could be anywhere from 2-6days of training and cardio.  I will follow up that by asking if that is something that they are prepared to commit too. If you've done everything right up to this point, a yes is nearly inevitable.

Insert the Thermostat

At this point I like to take the client's figurative temperature by asking how they're doing.

If they're excited about what we've discussed so far, and if they would like to see a demonstration of what kinds of workouts we would be doing.  If they say yes, I always follow up by asking "how would you like to feel leaving this session?" This is to get an idea if this person likes to be pushed, or if they are somewhat hesitant to work hard the first time.

There's nothing worse than a client who didn't want a hard workout ending up with DOMS for a week after your initial session.

This will help you pick a series of exercises that will meet a certain criteria:

  1. Display knowledge of training.
  2. Show that you are in tune with the clients goals.
  3. Leave them feeling the way they described.

For this reason, I like doing 2 supersets, or 1 tri-set of exercises that you can aptly say are in line with what you have discussed and demonstrate knowledge and understanding. You can afford to be extra picky on form during these exercises.  Ask them how it's feeling, if they like it, etc. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback on the first session.

About the author

Nate Palmer is a corrective exercise specialist and flexibility physiologist. He enjoys helping people feel better and move better, and uses his free time to help orchestrate the Washington puppy organ-donor committee. Check out his site: n8 training systems. However, the majority of his articles are rude, and should not be read by anyone.

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