Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Since starting my personal training career I have often been asked what I think are the most important skills a successful personal trainer should have.
It’s a difficult question and there are many layers to being a valued and respected personal trainer; experience, evidential technical skills, stamina (!) and the ability to instil both confidence and respect in those you work with.
But me for one of the most important skills to have, whether through instinct, training, experience or a combination of, is to be able to work with the most crucial people in the personal training equation, which are the clients.
Being able to work with your peers and colleagues is important also, and the ability to network and establish professional connections (particularly with those whose valuable technical skills you may wish to draw upon in the future) is vital, but being able to build positive and healthy relationships with clients is really the most crucial aspect of personal training.
This is partly because personal training is, at the end of the day, a client service position, but also, at a deeper and more fundamental level, personal training is also about working with another individual (or individuals) to build fitness and personal satisfaction and then to be able to measure that success in visual and physical terms.
Or to put it another way, to succeed as a personal trainer, your client has to succeed and be able to show that they have succeeded (whether in the form of increased fitness and vitality, weight loss, muscle growth, or indeed whichever is the fitness goal of the client concerned).
And none of the above outcomes arrives without the personal trainer being able to work, often over a period of time, with a client that, at the end of the day, is going to have to sweat to achieve and to also, in a lot of cases, make significant lifestyle and/dietary changes as well.
It can be a journey!
To achieve this successful relationship and to also help your client make the gains he or she needs requires, I would say a combination of the following elements is required:
1) Listen to people.
This for me is the beginning, middle and end of working with clients. From the first conversation to the final handshake it is vital to listen to what the client is saying he or she needs from you as the personal trainer, and to also pay attention to what he or she may not overtly be saying, but which comes through in the client’s body language and secondary concerns.
2) Understand their needs.
Similar to the above is understanding what the client is saying and what they need to succeed. This can sometimes be a balancing act between the fitness gaols that the client wants to set and what they actually need to achieve to reach an appropriate level of fitness. At the end of the day, as a personal trainer you are looking in on the client’s circumstances and can offer an objective viewpoint on his or her situation, so use it!
4) Give good guidance built on an evidential base.
When working with a client, as a personal trainer some of the key values you bring are your knowledge, experience and skills in the fitness industry and their application to the client’s situation. This involves not only headline knowledge (how to exercise in a certain way, how to avoid industry, how to lose weight or gain size, etc.) but also when and how to apply such methods to the client and his or her situation. Personal training is not a ‘one size fits all’ profession (or at least it shouldn’t be).
5) Set achievable goals.
This is really important. Sometimes clients seek and occasionally want to set themselves goals which are unachievable, potentially unhealthy, or both! As a responsible personal trainer, it is your professional duty to work with the client to ensure that any agreed goals are both realistic and healthy for the person concerned, depending on his or her cirumstances.
6) Be supportive.
Getting fit, even with professional guidance, can be a difficult and challenging process (and also a physically uncomfortable one at times). As a personal trainer it is vital to support the client through the challenge of building fitness and to always ensure that the client can see through to the end result.
7) Reward success!
This for me is also very important. It is relatively easy to measure success (so much weight lost, so much muscle added, so many miles run, etc.) but rewarding the success of the client in a human, personal way is also crucial. After all, if a client makes gains and can see them, but cannot feel a sense of personal achievement, that for me is a failure; so rewarding a client and recognising how important that sense of achievement is to the person concerned is the magical ingredient that leads to client satisfaction.
In my experience there are no perfect personal trainers (as there is no perfect anything in this world) but there are principles that can lead to success, both for those offering a personal training service and for their clients.
Personal fitness is a challenge, and personal training can be a way to help people to achieve the healthy lifestyle that they deserve.
Or at least it should be.