My Advice to New Personal Trainers

The personal training and coaching industry has exploded in the last several years, and there are many poorly educated, albeit well-meaning, trainers who got into the job just because they love working out and “talking shop,” but without really having an understanding of what’s expected of you.  After all, most popular certifications do an awful job of preparing you for the reality of the fitness industry.  It’s extremely competitive, full of people promising things they can’t deliver.  Here’s how to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack.

#1. Look the Part.

You don’t have to look like you just stepped off of the cover of a muscle magazine year-round, but it’s impossible to deny that personal training is a visual industry. People who hire a trainer will, 9 times out of 10, go with the guy who looks the way they want to look over the guy who has a wall full of diplomas and certifications. It doesn’t matter how good of a trainer you are, if the prospective client doesn’t choose you, you’ll never get to show it.

Would you let him teach you how to get in shape?

This is where things like before and after pictures are extremely helpful. Let’s say you’re 250lbs, but you used to be 400. If I walk into your studio, I’m going to have some doubts about hiring you for fat loss, but if you show me that before picture, it gives you instant credibility. Who knows more about fat loss than somebody who’s dropped 150lbs?

This makes me qualified to talk about fat loss.

Bottom line: part of the sale is your appearance. If you won’t accept it, you may be in the wrong profession.

#2. Your Client’s Goals May Not Be Your Goals.

I used to see this a lot when I was a trainer at Gold’s Gym in California – wannabe bodybuilders who call everybody “Bro” having their female clients who want to lose fat do an entire workout of just arms. Or powerlifters who have their executive clients doing speed squats onto a box with chains on the bar, worrying about whether they’re using 62% or 63% of their max squat.

This is very easy to do as a trainer, and it’s also one of the easiest ways to lose clients. It doesn’t matter if circuit-style fat loss training with high reps and short rest intervals bores you to tears – either learn to deal with it, or don’t take fat loss clients.  Just remember – they’re paying you, not the other way around.

On a similar but slightly different note – there’s no need to impress your client with fancy gimmicks and tricks.  While squatting on top of a stability ball may look impressive, it’s also stupid.  Ditch the fancy balls and ladders and learn the basics.  Because the fastest way to impress a client is to make them look awesome, not to get a second job at the traveling circus.

... No.

#3. Know Your Value.

How much do you charge? Is it competitive? Are you trying to be the lowest price in town, or selling yourself as “the best of the best”? What’s your education? How many testimonials and success stories do you have? These things all impact how much you charge. Here are a few things to remember when setting rates:

– If you’re just starting out, you have no business charging what the pros do – you haven’t proven your ability to deliver results yet. If I have a 50-client portfolio full of impressive transformations, I might be able to demand $100 or more per training session. If I’m a 19-year-old kid still in college who hasn’t even finished his weekend certification, an hour session should cost $20-30. As you get better, you raise your rates. As you increase your credentials, you raise your rates. My first few clients paid me $10-15 an hour to essentially hold their hand during their workouts. I didn’t know much other than what I learned from fitness mags and from my own personal experience. Now I can command a significantly higher price point because I have the ability to deliver results.

#4. Understand Nutrition.

You have to include nutritional counseling as part of your training package. You have to. If you want your clients to have any hope of reaching their goals, you have to get into their diets. You have to not be afraid to tell people what they’re doing wrong and guiding them through the process. You don’t have to deliver a 7-day customized meal plan with nutrient breakdowns, but you need to know when to adjust protein intake, meal timing, supplements, etc. And you’d better practice what you preach – don’t tell all of your clients to avoid gluten like the plague if you’re going to eat Wheaties every morning and hit the local pizza spot during a break.

#5. Keep Records.

Without record keeping, you can’t show your clients, or yourself, how successful or unsuccessful your training is. Lots of new trainers, and far too many experienced trainers, never take bodyfat measurements, or pictures, or tape measurements, or keep track of training programs or weights used. A lot of guys on bodybuilding forums like to make fun of the “clipboard holding trainers” they see, but I’d rather see my coach holding a clipboard or a notebook than nothing at all. If you’re not taking notes and keeping records, it shows your clients that you don’t really care about that information, so why should they?

A career as a personal trainer or strength coach can be extremely rewarding, and it can also be the most stressful thing you’ve ever dealt with in your life, sometimes both at the exact same time.  But if you set yourself up for success from the start, you can make it a lifelong pursuit.

5 Responses

  1.' Steve

    Great Article. This really helps me start in the right direction since I just received my certification.

  2.' Emery

    I know it’s a good article when I read and laugh out loud. This is excellent information; simple, yet concise. I am right at the brink of possibly changing career paths and beginning my studies, so this was just what I needed to read.

  3.' Jennifer

    I completely agree on the Keeping Records. One thing I have found very helpful in doing this is trainer tools like (which aids in tracking workouts, tracking client progress, and diet plans easily and efficiently online), and www mindbody com (which does payment tracking and scheduling for larger businesses). These types of tools have made my job so much easier. Have you tried these or do you have any other recommendations?

  4.' Monica F

    Great tips! One thing I have found to be very helpful in retaining and selling to new clients is to really differentiate myself as a trainer. The newest way I found to do this is through software tools that help me keep my clients on track with progress tracking along with professional tools that allow me to create online/mobile workouts. These online progress tracking tools that also aid in creation of workouts and diet plans. There are a few different ones out there but the one that I am using right now is and I really like it because it has so many great personal training tools that make my job much easier. Another one I have used in the past is trackertrain com and it was helpful as well. Anyway, thank you for the great site.

  5.' IM

    Thank you for the tips, I am a new student at NASM and the information in this article will help me as I enter the fitness industry, totally fresh and from scratch.

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