5 things that define a great personal trainer

I became a trainer in 2006, a few months after graduating college in 2005. I’ve had my share of struggles, failures, redemption and success over the years. My never-ending passion for training and fitness has allowed me to continue to find ways to evolve and get better at my craft. Personal Trainers are the most sought after fitness professionals in the fitness industry. For this reason, entrance into the personal training industry is as easily accessible today as it’s ever been.

However, many personal trainers get complacent upon getting certified and acquiring their first few clients. This can severely impact a client’s decision to remain with that trainer over the long haul and can destroy the trainer-client relationship. We owe our clients the best possible services we can provide in order to foster a long-term working relationship.

Here are my top 5 things that make a great personal trainer:

1. PROGRAM DESIGN: This is perhaps the most crucial component of being a great personal trainer. Writing out workout programs for clients is essential because it outlines a plan over the course of a few weeks or months. It also helps address specific goals of the client and allows both the trainer and client to monitor and track progress over time. Having a workout plan prevents the idea of guessing or freestyling through the session which can be dangerous and lead to injury. I see this happen far too often with many trainers today. It is a very risky idea and must stop! For more about designing programs, read this blog I wrote a few weeks back. A well written-out program must be inevitably accompanied with a tracking method like a clipboard or tablet/smartphone tracking app.

2. NOT ENCOURAGING CONVERSATIONS DURING WORKING SETS: There are a few things in life that make me cringe. Nothing annoys me more than seeing a personal trainer chat away with a client in the middle of a working set. Here’s my theory on this. If a client can comfortably chat with you in the middle of a working set, then he or she is not working as hard as they need to. Talking during a set means the heart and lungs have to work twice as hard making breathing difficult (via expiration) and elevating heart rate to higher levels.Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for humor, laughs and jokes with our clients. I’m not some kind of evil dictator-type trainer. But if we our clients can hold conversations in the middle of a bench press or squat, then it means we need to increase the intensity a bit. Every client should be working at a 7 or 8 on the Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. Remember our clients pay us to work them out, not to chat.

3. CONTINUED EDUCATION: I don’t care how many clients a trainer trains a day or a week. Heck, I don’ even care if you’re the top trainer at your gym or health club. Every trainer should look to pick up a new certification, skill-set and continually brush up on their science and craft. Because of the ever-changing trends and theories in science and fitness, it is our obligation to keep up with them, share with our clients and integrate them in our training programs where necessary. Certifications allow for the learning of a new craft which can expand a trainer’s repertoire. TRX suspension training, Kettle Bell training and Corrective Exercise Training are some of the more popular certs out there.

4. ABILITY TO MODIFY AT THE LAST MINUTE: Imagine this scenario. You have a workout program already written and prepared for your client coming in shortly. It’s prime time at the gym which means it’s packed like a zoo. Your client comes in and the first exercise you want him to do is barbell back squat. However the squat rack is being used by a group of meatheads who will most likely be there for a while. What do you do? Or your client comes in with a nagging shoulder pain for chest workout and is unable to bench press?

Having a back up plan for clients is an overlooked aspect among trainers. It allows sessions to run with a smooth flow and helps disrupt continuity. I try to give clients as much as they can get in the hour we have together. If I have to tell them something about their diet or training, I’d rather wait until the end of the session or communicate with them later on via email or text. Remember being overly prepared is better than being prepared.

5. THE 3 P’s: Exhibiting professionalism, punctuality and politeness will separate a great personal trainer from just a good one. I’ve always maintained that if a personal trainer can be professional, polite and punctual with their clients, nothing else will mater. Being early and prepared for sessions, disengaging from improper language and appearance all reflect the 3 P’s.  A few years back, a new client I picked up made this remark to me when she noticed by stoic professionalism.

“Your job is to make me laugh”

I chuckled but politely disagreed. I told her my job was to address her health and fitness goals by delivering the most effective and sound training exercises and programs. We must understand our roles as personal trainers. We’re not comedians or entertainers trying to make our clients laugh every time we get an opportunity. That should register in the head of every personal trainer or else the priorities and objectives of both the client and trainer will get lost in the shuffle.

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