Q & A

Tricks of the Trade: What career tip do you most often share with new trainers?


My primary advice is to view the day you get your certification as the first day of your lifelong education. The beauty of the constantly evolving fitness industry is that there is so much to learn and so much to teach. In becoming a trainer, you become a health and wellness care provider clients rely on for advice as much as they do their family physician. Join health and fitness organizations and subscribe to publications; read, read, read; and attend as many seminars as you can afford.

Armed with the acquired information, you should be able to provide a wide variety of training programs to fit the needs of most clients, including sedentary individuals starting from scratch, triathletes training for strength, active individuals attempting to lose a few pounds, bodybuilders, power lifters, people in cardiac rehab, and seniors who simply want to be able to go up and down stairs more easily. The more you know, the more your clients will benefit from your service and knowledge.

Know how to train for strength, endurance, functional balance and specific sports. Use your own training as a marketing tool. When you do your workouts in the gym, practice a variety of training protocols so potential clients can see that you have a wide array of training techniques in your repertoire.

Offer to group-train the employees at your gym at 50 percent off—or for free. (Remember to clear this practice with management first.) The more that gym employees know about you and your techniques, the more often they will recommend your services to clients. As your client base grows, maintain one or two employee time slots as a way of saying thanks and continuing to get your message out.

Finally, love what you do with passion and intensity and be the most positive person on the gym floor. People love being around a positive role model. Become one and lead others on that road. This is a great industry and you have a great job.

Charlie Hoolihan, CSCS

Personal Trainer and Director

of Health and Wellness

Franco's Athletic Club

Mandeville, Louisiana


A Don't try to be the trainer for everyone. Specialize in a niche market and become “the expert” in that field. While at first this strategy may seem to limit your market, it will actually expand it. If you become known for working with a special population—clients with diabetes, for example—you can establish a relationship with the professionals in that field (doctors, nutritionists and perhaps specialty stores). That way you and these professionals can refer clients back and forth and build each other's businesses.

Get passionate about acquiring people skills as well as fitness knowledge. Our business is personal training, so you need to develop interpersonal relationship skills. Learn to listen to what clients are not saying; cultivate techniques to motivate and support clients; and know when to back off to avoid crossing over boundaries.

Be professional in all you do and say and follow through on your promises. Finally, leave time in your schedule for your own fitness routine even if this means you miss booking a paid session.

Debi Lander, MEd, CSCS


ACE-Certified Personal Trainer


Healthwise Fitness Inc.

Jacksonville, Florida


A Don’t give your profession away. Club members look to you as a source of knowledge, and it is very gratifying to have them ask you for advice about exercise or a training program. But you have to be careful not to give away so much advice that your training services aren’t needed. Plus, your paying clients will not continue working with you if they find out you give away the services they are paying for.8

Learning to answer questions in a way that encourages people to come to you as clients is an art. Be willing to offer your expertise for simple questions, but if people want more, suggest scheduling an appointment to provide a more detailed answer and example for them. Let them know your hourly fee. If you have answered their questions well, they will make an appointment to learn more.

Also, be aware of who is listening when you are training clients. Someone once admitted to me that he would listen while I worked with a client and then copy the exercises. This practice is unfair to trainers and clients—and unsafe for listeners. Each program is written with goals in mind. What you plan for one client may not be appropriate for another. Learn to be aware of the people around you to protect the integrity of your service.

That said, you should be willing to give back to the community. Volunteer at schools, community centers, churches and community organizations. With your knowledge you can help establish and run good programs that encourage physical activity. If you are interested in athletics, get involved by being certified to coach youth sports. The youth of our nation need good role models. So step up and become a part of your community.

Mary Chalupsky


Director of Fitness, Bodyworks

Fitness Center

Marlborough, Connecticut

Adjunct Professor of Health, Physical Education and Sport Leisure Management

Eastern Connecticut State University


A One piece of advice I always try to pass along to new trainers involves something they should not do. My experience in weight management and lifestyle change has brought me into contact with mostly sedentary, less-motivated clients who have low self-efficacy and a lot of fear about exercise. With this population, the mistake trainers make most often is projecting their own goals onto the clients. You may think that goal setting is your responsibility, since you are the one in the trainer-client relationship who is well versed in the subject. After all, doesn’t your education and training make you the one who knows what is best for the client? To a point, yes. But you must always remember that you are a teacher as well as a trainer.

Good teachers nurture their students, going out of their way to listen to students’ needs. Good trainers meet each client where he is instead of trying to force him to be someone he is not or to perform something he is not ready to do.

Many trainers, especially those just starting out, seem to justify their professional worth by always providing the newest, best or hardest workouts. This practice works well with the most motivated and physically capable clients, but they are only about 15 percent of the total population. To reach out to clients who feel scared, foolish or uncoordinated, you need to take a different tack. Use the following strategies to make sure your clients’ goals are their own.

Set Reasonable, Honest Goals. Suggesting that working out can “trim, shape or sculpt” is risky. A highly fit, motivated client who already has low body fat may see these kinds of results, but unrealistic promises can set many clients up for failure. A client who senses she is letting down her trainer may feel anxiety and shame, especially if her self-esteem is already shaky.

Avoid Comparing Yourself or Others to a Client. What works for you or your superfit clients may be alien to others. You may be able to push hard, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and work out even on a bad day, or look in the mirror and like what you see. However, it may backfire to tell a client, “Others have done this and you can too!” Diminishing the difficulty of a goal or dismissing a client’s obstacles to working out will only make him feel inadequate. By focusing on making each session a success, you can help clients feel good about themselves and more energized rather than beaten up.

Be Open to a Slower Progression. Some clients may want to start with gentle movement. They may need a trainer, not to push them, but simply to be there to make them feel accountable to someone for showing up. Even if you think certain clients are capable of pushing harder or doing more, let them be who they are, and celebrate their small victories. Show them that movement can be enjoyable and they don’t have to prove anything. As they progress, they may eventually ask to try something new, or you may see an opportunity to suggest it yourself.

Michael Scholtz, MA


NOVO Wellness LLC

Hendersonville, North Carolina


A As a new trainer, your first priority is to create a marketing and business plan based on your niche. First determine your strengths and specialties by asking yourself, “What will make me stand out from other trainers?” Will you focus on core, balance and stability training; or is your passion for sport-specific or postrehab work? Choose a specialty based on your past experience and current certifications, and then excel in it.

Your niche will guide you to your target market and help you devise your marketing plan. For example, if you consider postrehab your niche, it makes sense to market your services to health care professionals—ranging from cardiologists, physical therapists and general practitioners to chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists. Establishing a network of health care professionals will not only help you create a referral base for clientele but will also build your credibility as a fitness professional. Make sure you have professional business cards, as well as flyers or brochures that describe your services and fees.

Your business plan should include both short- and long-term goals and outline a path for professional growth as well as financial success. Set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-sensitive. If you are a new trainer, you must have a passion for fitness and a burning desire to succeed. Creating a niche and a solid game plan will start you on your way to a successful career.

Brett D. Kehler, CPT

Fit Pro Athletics Ltd.

Arlington, Virginia

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November 2003

© 2003 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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