If you’re a brand new personal trainer, you’re probably excited to work with your first client. After all, you’ve just learned all there is to learn about training others, and you’re raring to go!
But if you’re being truly honest, you probably have some nervous what-ifs running through your mind. How do you apply all that you’ve learned to a real-life workplace? How do you work with real clients who have real physical fitness needs?
Fortunately, there are many who have worked in this field for years — who started out just like you. And they’re here to offer you sound advice. So, take a deep breath, and take it all in!
The biggest thing to establish with new clients is rapport. A majority of the time, a person is coming into an environment they are not comfortable with, along with many insecurities. Make them feel warm and welcome.
Conduct the verbal portion away from the traffic of people and equipment. Establishing goals is paramount when dealing with new clients. Be as precise as possible with these goals, and establish a road map to success. One task at a time; otherwise, the journey becomes daunting.
Don’t make any unachievable promises, and don’t push them to do anything they are uncomfortable with. Doing so is the fastest way to break their trust and confidence.
List out their medical history. Be precise when checking for muscular imbalances so you can devise an exercise template that will not only adhere to their goals, but also focus on longevity of functionality and injury prevention.
Share an imperfection or weakness of your own; this is a great ice breaker! Most people tend to look at physical trainers and fitness experts as superheroes and think that wellness is a simple process. Let me tell you: It is not. We have the same pitfalls and stresses that any ordinary person does. Allow them to see that we are also human, and the trust will follow.
Make exercise and wellness FUN! Make them want to come back and to promote a new lifestyle.
When I start with a new client, my goal over the first couple of sessions is to learn as much about them as possible.
The first meeting is a discussion of their goals and laying out a plan. The second meeting is mostly measurements and assessments. I check their posture, flexibility, and look for muscular imbalances while having them perform the basic movement patterns, such as a squat or a hip hinge. I finish up this session by teaching the client which range of motion I want exercises performed in, as well as teaching them the proper tempo.
In new clients, this process tends to be enough to satisfy their need to feel that they are doing something yet doesn’t make them so sore that they can’t function the following day!
Depending on what the assessments uncovered, I will either continue to work to correct imbalances, teach them how to perform the basic movement patterns, or start them on a full-body strength training routine.
Stephen Box is a certified fitness trainer and owner of Stephen Box Fitness & Nutrition in Suwanee, GA — where he incorporates a combination of personal fitness training, nutrition, and a habit-based coaching system.
For new trainers, getting your first client can create a sense of panic — a sense of “What am I going to do?!” But the first step, or should I say the first session, with a new client should be based solely on assessing their movement skills using whatever exercises you deem necessary. From that assessment, you are able to create a program or plan of attack to help your new client reach their goals.
After assessing my own client, I note their starting point when it comes to squatting, hinging, pushing, and pulling, and then we work from there. Their fitness level and training age (how long they’ve been exercising) will likely determine how many things I throw at them in one session.
Create a plan that will take your client from point A to point B, instead of haphazardly piecing together workouts at the last minute. Assess, plan, test, and then reassess to see if the plan is working.
Chris Cooper is a certified personal trainer at AMP Training in Massapequa Park, NY. Chris has an educational background in physical therapy, making him AMP’s go-to trainer for clients coming off injuries.
My advice to a newbie personal trainer is to listen to their clients. Fill out the proper forms with the client so you can ask the proper questions, such as their family history of diseases, injuries, etc. Then work together to set a goal that is realistic. After that, perform an assessment to determine the client’s strength, stamina, and power. Then the training can begin.
Just make sure that you spot your client. Please don’t look at your watch or check your phone! I’ve seen this done, and it’s rude. A personal trainer isn’t there just to babysit and count reps. It is your responsibility to make sure the exercise is done correctly, with proper form.
Depending on the number of sessions, you should readjust every three weeks to determine their strength and to make sure they are always challenged but never in pain.
Miriam Amselem is a holistic nutritionist, yoga instructor, fitness trainer, and owner of Naturally Healthy by Miri in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. She helps clients of all ages overcome health challenges and achieve optimum well-being.
#1 – Make a Quality First Impression
Come to the front of the gym to meet the client. New clients are usually self-conscious and nervous; be their personal escort. Don’t judge them, as they are already beating themselves up for where they are in life, and they don’t need you piling onto that.
Start where they are, not where they should be.
Don’t try to impress them with your knowledge; impress them with your compassion and attention. Many trainers use big, technical words or jargon to confuse others and make themselves look like experts. If you are good at what you do, then just simply call it a “thigh” . . . or a “calf.”
#2 – Get Their Info
Find out their basic fitness and health conditions quickly so that you can get them on a treadmill or a bike. People start to be more open once they are exercising. Make sure they are healthy; then get them moving to continue the intake.
#3 – Listen, Listen, Listen
What have they done in the past? What are the reasons it hasn’t worked before, and what can they do to avoid those pitfalls this time around?
You may have an idea of what they need, but if they have tried that plan before and failed, then they won’t buy into your solution, and the client won’t last long. If they want a highly specific result, you need to address that “want” early on in the process. You can always add what they need once they feel like they are getting what they want.
#4 – Set the Bar Low
You need to build a bunch of small wins. “Killing” your client is a sure way to lose them. Give them activities they can succeed at performing. You can give a client a weight and always increase the amount of weight (a win). But if you choose a weight and have to change it to a lower one, you have just proven their theory that they are way behind everyone else.
#5 – You and Your Client Form a Partnership
Your client will need to stay on board outside of the gym, so make sure they agree with whatever plan you guys come up with together. Focus your plan on habits, not exact workouts. For example: “Come to the gym, and walk on the treadmill for 12 minutes, three times this week.” The habit is walking in the door, the 12-minute walk is an easy win, and the client can stay longer if they want (but at that point, they’ve already won).
#6 – Warm Them Up
I like to use rehab exercises from physical therapy to warm up my clients. These exercises give them awareness of their movement patterns and sneak the important stuff in between the emotionally gratifying work.
#7 – Don’t Take Responsibility
Don’t take responsibility for their results. You walk with them down this path of fitness, but you cannot do it for them!
#8 – Stay Focused
Don’t try to get them to feel or see a result in the first few weeks. If that happens, then great! But focus on what you must do to help them be a happy, successful client. Don’t focus on what they have to stop eating — just have them add in some healthy items before they eat their normal stuff.
Kevin Kennedy is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and also the Director of Business Relations and Operations at EDGE Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine in Paramus, NJ. EDGE provides personalized orthopedic and sports rehabilitation services.
NOTE: These responses have been edited for clarity.