CLIENTS COME TO YOU FOR DIFFERENT REASONS. You need to identify those reasons in order to give the right advice. If someone comes to you because they want to step on stage, they should absolutely be treated like bodybuilders. If they have no such goal, time should be spent determining what results they expect from you so that you can deliver.

stop personal training your clients like they're bodybuilders

The Problem with the Six-Pack

Most trainers have gone through a tough transformation themselves so they know what it takes to get to single-digit body fat. They're usually passionate about what they do so they have experienced the level of commitment necessary for such a goal.

Clients typically hire us because they have so much on their table that working out and eating right is a drag. They're not ready for the sacrifices required to get to 6% body fat.

There is a huge difference between training with a coach three times a week, however intensely, and following a contest prep. If bodybuilders could win contests by training only three hours a week, we would know about it. Most of them train twice a day towards the end, or at least six times a week.

Not to mention, a contest prep includes meals with the highest nutrient density and a precise caloric count and macronutrient target. Someone who doesn't know the nutritional difference between pasta and steak has no chance of getting it right. While most fitness enthusiasts have taken the time to learn about a few things, newbies sometimes don't even know where to look for protein or carbs.

Being a bodybuilder requires a strong focus on your body. Let's face it, bodybuilders look at themselves in the mirror all the time. They're obsessed about their appearance and never satisfied with what they have. It's never enough. They always think they can be more ripped, or more muscular. Do you want to turn your personal training clients into that? They may buy you more sessions initially, but they can throw the towel at any time. 

Always choose health first

A lot of people join a gym just to be healthier. They don't mind being taken out of their comfort zones occasionally, but being challenged at every workout and flirting with injuries all the time is not what they're looking for.

You can certainly prepare for a show without getting injured, but if you're serious about your goal, you know you have to train on the brink of injury and overtraining. Those who succeed are those who manage to train this way and still stay healthy. For your clients, health should be the priority.

Few things are more embarrassing than getting a client injured. We can't avoid it all the time, but most clients hire you because they want to be shown how to lift safely without getting injured. This is why no matter what will take them to their goals faster, health should be prioritized.

It's the same when it comes to food or supplements. While you and your spouse may be able to endure your loss of libido and constant moodiness, your client will generally want to please their spouse and love their life. There is no justification for giving someone a sub-1000 calorie meal plan. If the time to reach their goal is short, explain to them that it is too short.

What you should tell your personal training clients

Even if you know how to give them a six-pack, it's probably much better to tell them that they should choose a more realistic goal. If you agree with them on a goal that can be reached in three or four weeks, the client can then decide to go the extra-mile. They will usually be more satisfied if they have reached a small goal than if they have failed to achieve something bigger.

Clients should be warned that however small their goal, sacrifices will have to be made. If they were doing everything right, they wouldn't need you. They need you because they generally don't have a clue what should be done. You should tell them that they will have to change a few things in their life and make the time to take care of their bodies and their health.

Better than a Six-pack

The highest value you can provide your clients is education. Giving them a meal plan or a program doesn't educate them. If they follow the meal plan and the program, they generally see results but how many times does that happen? When they understand the choices you make, however, they know why they have to stop putting sugar in their coffee or why adding cream without telling you will be like shooting themselves in the foot.

Education also empowers the client. If they don't know anything and you just decide things for them without telling them why, you will be the one they blame when they don't see results. If they understand why they have to eat this and lift that, they will know that it depends on them first.

most personal training clients don't want to become a bodybuilder

Optimal vs Practical

Depending on the time you have with your client, you can't tell them everything they need to know and you can't teach them every movement in the world. This is when assessments and priorities come in handy. There is no need to give a client 15 pages worth of questionnaires before you begin putting dumbbells in their hands.

There is no need to put them through a whole series of strength tests and movement screening the first time you see them either. If you ask the right questions, you will know what type of person you have right away. If you simply make a client squat their bodyweight, there are many things you can observe to give a first direction to the training.

Every client should be assessed, but you should not assess for the sake of assessing. Assessments should be made according to the decisions you're going to take. Unless you have a post-rehab client, be minimalist. If you have a client who is motivated and ready to hire you for a year straight, then you can assess a lot of things and periodize like a mathematician. If you have two months to get them in shape, make sure they learn how to deadlift, press, and pull properly. The rest is details.

It's the same with nutrition. If you have them for a year, you can start telling them how to cycle their carbs and adapt their carb intake to their training, provided they already know which foods contain carbs and which don't. If they don't know anything, start teaching them to incorporate veggies before they eat anything else. Then you can tell them where to look for protein, and how to cycle their carbs.

It's okay if the client is eating bread. If they need you, bread is probably not the worst thing they eat. Look at the most obvious limiting factors first before you go about teaching them about how to count calories, macros, micros, and creatine load. They're not bodybuilders. Most of them will be satisfied with a flatter belly and more strength. Any change they make is going to have an impact. Training with you is already something.

If there is one thing that drives me nuts, it is the trainer who thinks he has discovered gunpowder and acts all military on his clients. Very few of them will respond well to that. Remember that most of our clients are highly paid people or have highly paid husbands. They aren't children. They should be treated like adults who have come to you because they needed help. If shouting at them or making them feel bad isn't helping, try something else.

Despite what appears optimal to you, remember that it may not be practical for them. Six meals a day is practical for very few people, and not needed to get results. Focus on increasing your client's protein intake with other means. They are not fat because they ate only three meals a day.


It is possible to achieve results with a client without putting them through a bodybuilder's lifestyle. If the client wants to be a bodybuilder, then they should be treated as such, but few do.

Dudes looking to build muscle prefer to ask the very big steroid-loaded guy in the gym how he got his muscles. They don't turn to you and that's okay. People who turn to you are usually more educated and worthy of your attention. Spend more time defining their goal and explaining what the priorities are.

Make sure you ask them to do things they will be successful at. Show them how amazing they are. Sometimes training a person to do a proper pushup is enough to make them happy. Set weekly goals that they can achieve so that they're in a success mindset. Good things will follow.

Further Reading

Do You Have to be Ripped to be a Personal Trainer? - Jonathan Goodman

Are Supplements the Biggest Threat Facing the Personal Training Industry? - Jonathan Goodman

Stop Thinking That Personal Training is Black and White - Jim Kielbaso

Screening the Squat - Justin Kompf

Don't Assess for the Sake of Assessing - Jonathan Goodman and Mike Reinold

Post Rehab Essentials - Dean Somerset

Personal Trainers Shouldn't Periodize - Jonathan Goodman