Every personal trainer has made mistakes and every Successful trainer has changed the way that they train over and over again trying to find the 'right' way to train. In this post I've recruited some of the best personal trainers to fess up and tell you how they screwed up.  Also, we're going to keep this post 'open' and will be improving it continually so if you would like to be included please send your top 3 mistakes to [email protected].

Coach Jon Goodman

1.  Showing an exercise that I had never done myself.

I loved to read early on in my career and it led me to get excited about new exercises.  Often I would read about an exercise and think it was the end all to improve my clients core, shoulder mobility, MCL tear etc.  Falling into the trap of shaping exercises to clients falls into this category and it happened often.  I now have the steadfast rule to try out an exercise for at least a month before prescribing it to a client.

2.  Program Hopping

Who hasn't fallen into this trap?  I remember having a client int he 5th week of a German Volume program and, over the course of my reading, discovered the Tabata method.  Lo and behold the next week my client was doing 20s bursts.  I shouldn't have been surprised when he didn't reach his goals that we laid out for hypertrophy.

3.  Trying to be everything to everybody

At one point my client roster included:

  • 16 year old hockey player preparing for the NHL draft
  • 73 year old retired women with a frozen shoulder and torn meniscus
  • LPGA golfer, Actor preparing for his next role
  • 15 year old learning how to lift weights
  • 47 year old weekend warrior with a torn labrum

It kept me busy but I couldn't focus.  I still want to help as many people as humanly possible but have realized what type of training I excel in and have a fantastic group of trainers around me that I refer clients to beyond that scope.

Coach Nick Tumminello

1.  Having clients lift weights on a stability ball

Have you ever heard the phrase 'You can't fire a cannon from a canoe'?". Unstable base training isn't the best choice for optimizing strength, muscle size or performance.

Plus, there could be some serious dangers to using weight while on a stability ball. I covered these topics and the research in this blog post - Swiss ball training

2.  Doing too many damn crunches

Most people sit in a crunched, slouchy posture all day at their desks - Why would I give them 100-plus crunches to encourage the same posture?. Crunches won't kill you, but there are plenty of better, more challenging and more efficient ways to train your abs!

Here's what I feel to be one of the best Abs exercises you can use to replace endless crunches and get better results from your abs training workouts! I call it "The Single Best Abs Exercise" or, "SBA's" for short!

3.  Not offering a truly personalized program

Instructors train their clients according to their own personal bias - Pilates instructors preach Pilates only; power-lifter trainers preach heavy weights. All those approaches can work, but are they what their clients really need to achieve their desired results?

Unless you're looking for a specific niche, don't go with a trainer who specializes in a style, system or piece of equipment: Kettlebell specialist, Pilates specialist, etc: There's nothing wrong with these approaches, but you won't get a personalized program

Coach Charlotte Loa

1.  Don't be too anal

New clients don't need to get the movements perfect the first time. A lot of times coaches get very eager to pick on every little detail to make them do it "perfect" while really their clients are just getting more confused because now they have too much to think about.

2.  Don't talk too much

It's very easy to get too involved with the clients life i.e when they're resting between sets (or while they're lifting), they might start talking about many things, especially non related training, which is okay for 10 seconds, but it can disrupt their training, and can end up with them not having enough time to finish the work out (because you have to move on to the next group). So it's your job as a coach to get them back on track and this is how you can do it: "How does that feel, how are your shoulders doing right now?" etc, which will make them focus on their work out again.

3.  Lack of customer service

You don't want to be like everyone else. What then separates you from all the other trainers in your city? Always do the little extra for your clients. Write them personal notes, bring them a towel, respect their time(!!) i.e be there in time ++ (this one is huge).

Coach Brad Schoenfeld

1.  Not charting client's workouts

2. Not conducting a proper initial fitness assessment

3. Training a client based on my goals/expertise rather than the clients goals.


Dan Go

1.  Forcing clients to eat breakfast and eat 5 meals a day because I thought it would "stoke" their metabolisms.

2.  Thinking circuit training was the end all and be all of fat loss programs.

3.  Not investing in other fitness experts programs when I was first starting out.


Coach Dean Somerset

1.  Not doing enough internships at different locations

2.  Not spending enough money on different courses and seminars

3.  Not limiting my schedule and grouping my clients together

Harold Gibbons

1.  Poor communication

Specifically, when male trainers are communicating with females. It's something that I heard Rachel Cosgrove say at the Perform Better Summit in Rhode Island; You can provide a superb explanation of why lifting heavy won't cause radical hypertrophy in women, but if you're just telling them that they're wrong, they'll never buy in to what you're saying. It's not a logical behavior, it's an emotional one; you need to make your clients feel like you're on their team.

2.  Not willing to make modifications on the fly

Working in a small facility, I occasionally need to modify an existing program or workout based on what's available. Maybe somebody is using the cable station, so we'll use a band for a Paloff Press instead. If certain dumbbells are being used, we'll use others and change the loading pattern, perhaps a goblet reverse lunge instead of a dumbbell in each hand. My using alternative equipment or modifying exercises, we'll give our clients the same workout, and often provide new exercises that they find exciting. Don't forget, we want them to have fun while they're training!

3.  Forgetting that not everybody loves training as much as we do

For them, we have to design effective programs that leave them feeling better when they leave the gym. Most people don't want to feel sick and have DOMS for 3 days! In addition, I find that it helps to share stories about what we don't enjoy or have had difficulty with. When clients hear you discuss your own imperfections and difficulties, they realize that they can work just as hard as you do, and they're usually more than happy to comply.

Coach Jonathan Ross

1.  Thinking that being a well-educated, caring, passionate trainer would bring me a lot of clients immediately after getting certified

It takes an ability to connect and communicate with people more than it does knowledge.  Lots of terrible trainers have a lot of clients because they have personality...and lots of great trainers might struggle to get clients because they are too stoic and can't come out of their shell.

2.  Jumping in with both feet to corrective exercise strategies

I got into it and pushed a few clients away because they hired me for one goal and I trained them for another.  I've learned now to give them the right mix of what they want and what I know they need.

3.  Calling myself a trainer

The moment I started calling myself a "fitness professional," and finding new avenues to express and share my passion for fitness, perception of me in the public, and as a result, in the media, changed as well.

Eric Falstrault

1. Not using downtimes to my advantage.

When summer time comes, most trainers have a little down time. Clients are on vacation, people take some time off, they go out, etc. Only the serious and dedicated remains. When I started in the business, I always freaked out around that time since I had to pay some debts, my office and courses. Only then I would realise that I needed to get some more clients in order to get by. So the remaining clients, even though I tried to hide it, saw that I was anxious, and quality of the services I offered was less than desired. Only after a couple of years I learned to take it easy. Those busy months compensated for the slower ones. I use quiet periods for reading, trying out new types of training and martial arts, spend more time with family. Even though now I don't get low seasons (training hockey players keeps my summer crazy busy), I just take more vacations, I always come back more productive after a few days off. Work harder in high season so you can really use low season as ''me'' time, it does a body and mind some good.

2. Trying to impress clients

I have learned that clients don't really care (even though it is important) how many certifications, phd's, or whatever learning immunity you may have, as long as you get them results. They don't really care if you train the best NHL players, or can benchpress 400 pounds; you have to show results, on them. It's essential to talk the talk and walk the walk, don't get me wrong. However, showing your abs and getting a pump before clients does not prove anything. I've seen so many trainers acting like Jersey Shore ''the situation'' and I still see it to this day. It only gives trainers a bad name, you included.

3. Get rid of the wankers

When you start as a trainer, you take anything that breaths, every possible client is an income opportunity. Along the way you meat incredible people, but you also meet the ''energy drainers''. I learned to choose my clients, without fear of referring to someone else if I had too. Using all my energy on someone that is only listening to what Dr. Oz says, or that ''every other trainer besides you is right '' type of client is a big waste of my time. I rather use my positive energy on my real and grateful clients.


Coach Mark Young

1. Not understanding busness

This is THE biggest one for me. Whether you're running your fitness business doing one-on-one training, group exercise, bootcamps, online consults, or some combination of the above, you HAVE to understand the business of fitness or you'll be dead in the water before you start. It doesn't matter how good you are or how many expert resources you've read, if you don't understand business you'll be out of business.

2. Not understanding behaviour change

In large scale studies of long term weight loss comparing diets and exercise programs the results are almost always dismal (i.e., 5-10 pounds in a year). What this says to me is that results have less to do with which program you're on, but on making the changes last. Working to understand the psychology of behaviour change can drastically improve the long term results of your clients.

3. Waiting too long to build a list

Most trainers wait way to long before trying to establish a web presence because they're afraid they don't know enough and that they'll be judged by other fitness professionals. Then, when they do, they fail to have a newsletter sign up, no bonus, and just blog without growing their email list of those following them. As a fitness pro, you should aim to create a web presence early and make sure to capture the names of those coming to your website. They will be the ones who read and share your content, help you grow, and will be the ones most likely to purchase your products if you choose to create them.

Coach Neghar Fonooni

1.  Training clients without first assessing them

I'm not talking about just watching them exercise, rather some type of reliable movement assessment tool that will tell you about the clients authentic ability to move and where their weak links are.  In commercial gyms I used to see people come in for their first session and go right out and train.  My first session now is always the FMS.

2.  Giving everyone the same program

The basics are always a great place to start, but grandma Betty doesn't need the same training program as a High school athlete.  The principles of your methodology should remain the same but the approach must be appropriate for the individuals skill and strength level, special considerations and goals.

3.  Neglecting recovery and regeneration

If you never program unload and off weeks, or fail to educate the client properly on recovery strategies (and hold them accountable for it) they will eventually end up in an over trained/under recovered state.  A successful client is one who does not train hard and heavy all the time, and is given the appropriate tools to regenerate their body and perform efficiently.


Coach Bill Sonnemaker

1.  Vision

It is imperative that you know where you want to go with your business/career.  Once you know the destination it is much easier to plot a course.

2.  Choose and build the right team

The success of your business will not hinge on you alone but rather the shoulders of those you surround yourself with.  The key here is to choose people that bring inherent value to what you have set out to accomplish. These individuals do not have to possess all the KSA's (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) on day one.  Rather it is more important that they have a strong work ethic, good morals/values, and a passion for excelling at what ever they do.  Once you have identified they key team members invest in them.  Spend time and money to help them grow both as individuals and as team members.

3.  Clearly define expectations and goals of the people you work with

This helps to keep the system (your business) running smoothly and will help prevent problems.

Want to know what made some of the top coaches in our day successful?  Here is the Top 3 Personal Trainer Successes.