The following is a guest post from Bret Contreras.

I constantly receive emails from personal trainers who say they're intimidated by the amount of science they encounter in the fields of strength and conditioning and rehabilitation. I can relate. I spend considerable time reading research and trying to make sense of it, and I'm not always successful.

I hope this article will help you feel less overwhelmed or discouraged.

What qualities help a personal trainer succeed?

I suppose we need to define "success." There's financial success and there's professional success—delivering results for your clients. These two roads should run in tandem. An ambitious personal trainer should develop business and social skills along with the ability to write programs and coach clients.

The best personal trainers typically aren't the most knowledgeable. More often, they're the most well-rounded. They can write good programs and coach the big lifts, instill confidence in their clients, and also market themselves in a way that lets people know how good they are, and how to work with them.

But it's so intimidating!

My blog tends to get pretty scientific from time to time, and I often hear from trainers that my content is intimidating. Just today a trainer told me he's "not half the trainer I am because he doesn't yet understand force vectors and moment arms."

Whoa buddy, have some confidence in yourself!

More knowledge won't produce a linear increase in your ability to writer programs or deliver results. If you've got the basics down, you're miles ahead of most trainers. Need proof? Go to any commercial gym and see how many trainers don't seem to understand program design or exercise form. Don't have the basics down? Focus on those foundational skills first. There's plenty of time to learn about force vectors and moment arms.

The big rocks

I've always been able to deliver great results to my clients, even 15 years ago, when I was a 20-year-old undergrad studying to be a high school math teacher. In the past decade, I've probably quintupled my knowledge in sports sciences. However, my ability to deliver results has probably increased by only 50 percent. Once you've mastered the basics, additional knowledge just adds icing on the cake. The big rocks determine 80 percent of your effectiveness as a trainer, and the details—advanced knowledge of screening, biomechanics, physiology, and sport-specific training—make up the remaining 20 percent.

These are the big rocks:

Marketing knowledge: The best trainers are confident in their abilities and figure out how to promote themselves. They typically look the part, dress the part, sound the part, and act the part.

Altruism: The best trainers actually care about their clients, and aren't solely interested in collecting their money.

Ability to get clients to adhere to a better diet: The best trainers understand that training is only part of the battle, and are highly skilled at figuring out how to get the clients to change their eating habits and stick to an optimal nutritional plan.

Ability to motivate: The best personal trainers give their clients reasons to keep coming back every week. Motivating them requires effort. Lazy trainers don't have it in them to push their clients each and every session. The best trainers do.

Fun: The best personal trainers are positive and enjoyable to be around, and clients who hav fun while working hard will look forward to their training sessions, rather than dreading them.

Knowledge of form: Every client should be able to execute the basic movement patterns—squat, hip hinge, lunge, push, pull. The best personal trainers understand what good form looks like, what bad form looks like, and how to coach and cue a client to improve their form. g

Knowledge of progressions: Few clients are ready to squat or deadlift with a barbell when they walk into the gym. Many need to start out with body-weight box squats or dumbbell Romanian deadlifts. Some aren't even ready for those variations. Knowing progressions and regressions is critical, and the best trainers can quickly determine where on the continuum each clients needs to begin with each movement pattern.

Basic program design skills: The best trainers understand how to manipulate variables like volume, intensity, and frequency; provide structural balance in their programming; and allow for progressive overload while still providing variety.


If you demonstrate proficiency in the big rocks, congratulations! Be proud of yourself because you're ahead of the pack. When you've mastered the 80 percent that makes you effective as a personal trainer, you're ready to learn the remaining 20 percent.

About the Author

Bret Contreras, PhD, CSCS, is a trainer, author, researcher, and entrepreneur based in San Diego, California, and known worldwide as the Glute Guy. His books include Strong Curves, Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy, and 2 x 4: Maximum Strength. Learn more at his website or visit out his massively popular Instagram page.


Photo credits: Afroswede ejmc BURИBLUE