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.

To Carb or Not to Carb?

The following is a part of a dialogue that transpired between a new client and I during her initial consultation 2 years ago:

Me: Tell me a little bit about your diet.

Client: It’s pretty good. I eat healthy.

Me: Could you be more specific?

Client: Well, I don’t eat carbs.

To eat carbs or to not eat carbs. It’s a hot topic of interest that has ubiquitously made waves all around the world and more apparent in fitness circles. Carbohydrate consumption has become arguably the mot polarizing topic in the health and fitness industry. Television and print media continue to saturate our minds with so many overwhelming theories and information leaving the consumer very confused. I will tell you what I’ve learned through trial and error and extensive research study in 10 years.

Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrients in the human body. They are the body’s most important source of fuel which also provide the most immediate burst of energy during activities like sprinting and weight training. Simply put: Without carbs, we’d all be dead! Protein and Fat, the two other macronutrients, aren’t capable of breaking down quickly enough to supply the body with fuel during high intensity activities. When carbs are readily available in the body (stored in the form of glycogen), the body is able to push itself through all types of physical activities. When we don’t consume enough carbs, our bodies will look to obtain fuel from other sources, most notably our protein stores in the liver. This will subsequently lead to loss of muscle.

Our nervous system also relies heavily on carbs for sustained maintenance and energy. When blood sugar falls beneath the optimal functioning level, our bodies quiver and we get weary quickly. Ever felt so tired and out of it in the middle of the day for no apparent reason? It is because you probably hadn’t consumed enough sugars for the day up to that point. When these blood sugar levels dip too low, unconsciousness, lethargy, dizziness and brain dysfunction are the results.

Carbohydrates are classified as Simple (High-glycemic) and Complex (Low-glycemic). While both are crucial for optimal functioning and performance, complex carbs (oatmeal, brown rice, beans, vegetables, almonds, fruits) are preferred because of their low glycemic index feature which allow them to be absorbed more slowly by the body and provide sustained energy. High glycemic carbs (white bread, pasta, bagel, corn flakes, soda ) may be ideal for refueling and replenishing the body’s glycogen stores after exercise, but at other times of the day, their heavy carbohydrate load results in fat storage. This is because when these carbs are consumed but not utilized right away for fuel, they are converted to fat and stored in the body’s adipose tissues, which stores fat in the body’s midsection.

Carbohydrates should make up 45-65% of our daily calories. Carbohydrate consumption should be based on physical activity levels, time of day and fitness goals. If you’re an elite athlete or competitive lifter, you should consume more carbs than the average person. If the goal is weight loss, carbs should be on the low-to-moderate side, altough calories consumed versus calories burned will ultimately be the deciding factor. Carbs are good for you. Just make sure you’re not eating too much of them and also consuming the right ones.

Shut up and squat!

Before you’re quick to curse back at me, calm down for a second. I did not make that up. That is the new catchy phrase that has been making it’s way around fitness circles in quite some time now. In fact you may have seen it on t-shirts and on social media. But what exactly does it mean? Well I’m about to tell you it isn’t what you think it is.

Would you believe me if I told you that you once squatted everyday for a number of years?


See, I told you! As toddlers, thanks to the spry flexibility in our hips, we could virtually stay in a squat stance for hours! (I’m curious to know how long I can last in this deep-squatted stance). This is one of the reasons babies can play and stay active for hours and not get tired. The ability to rely on those ‘squat muscles’ enables them to stay on their feet and move for a long time.

The squat is arguably the most important and effective physical movement known to mankind. There are over 600 muscles in the human body and the squat alone is known to work half of them! Several case studies and science-based theories support and conclude that the squat is the most vital exercise for fat loss, muscle gain and building raw strength. I learned early in my lifting days that I needed to squat frequently if I wanted to be achieve all my fitness goals.

So how exactly is a squat supposed to be performed?

How to squat

Although many variations of the squat exists, the traditional barbell squat (pictured above) remains the most common and the one to yield the most dividends.The baby in the picture demonstrates the exercise as simple as possible (I’m still amazed how this brave toddler was taught to do this. Kudos to the parents and/or whoever the coach was).

Due to many media publicized images of injuries, several trepidations inevitably come within the territory of barbell squats and have caused many people to avoid it. The fact of the matter is we can get hurt even just walking up the stairs or stepping down from a curb. Safety and injury prevention are essential parts of staying fit for a long time and can be achieved through proper warm-up, a sound training program and adequate diet and supplementation.

Moral of this post: Embrace squats and do them frequently. A tree with weak roots will ultimately collapse!

I’m curious to hear your feedback. How often do you incorporate squats into your training programs?