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Mobilize Your Personal Training Staff

Get the most from your team, and finish the year strong.

The fiscal year is coming to a close, and you have a chance not only to make a successful final push but also to connect with your personal trainers in a way that inspires them. Use the following tips to build a cohesive team, empower your trainers and, ultimately, sell sessions.

Create a Team That Believes

In most fitness facilities, the personal training staff is composed of people with a variety of personalities and strengths. The attrition rate can be high, with the best trainers moving on and the other trainers having potential but never realizing it. The key to retention and staff growth is to transform your group of trainers into a team.

Every team needs a mission or a reason for what they’re doing: a “Why” that all members buy into, so that all their actions, big and small, are tied into that purpose (Sinek 2009). Consider these sample “Why” statements:

  • We believe in enhancing the human performance engine (my company’s belief).
  • We believe in providing excellence in private training.
  • We believe in taking members beyond their perceived limitations.

Have your whole team create a “Why” statement for what they’re doing at the facility. This exercise will empower all trainers to feel they have a part in what happens there.

Note: This also gives you, the manager, a tool to use when dealing with performance reviews and daily talks. You can ask your trainers if a certain action supports your team’s “Why”—the collective belief in your mission.

Encourage Specialization

In a team, each member has roles. For example, when I was a squad leader in the U.S. Army, we developed junior leaders with specific responsibilities. As a manager, I apply this same concept to my personal trainers and create specializations for each team member. One of my trainers was interested in Mixed Martial Arts, so we decided that all clients interested in MMA would be assigned to him. In addition, some trainers specialized in pre- and post-natal training. These are just two examples of how you can subdivide and create a sense of ownership.

Open the Lines of Communication

Create effective communication channels with your staff. Communication is definitely not a one-way street! Your ability to encourage feedback and make constructive changes based on that feedback is critical. You must be willing to ask your trainers “How you are doing?” and really listen to their answers.

Active listening is a simple four-step process that can help you engage in high-performance communication with your trainers. Here’s how it works:

Receive. Be open to each trainer’s feedback on the work environment.

Appreciate. Show empathy for the information you’re given, and take time to understand what’s being said.

Summarize. Restate in your own words what you heard, so you and the trainer have a clear, mutual vision.

Ask. Ask questions in order to focus the point of interest. This will help you devise specific solutions.

Lead Effective Meetings

Always open your team meetings with a positive statement, not with your staff’s training numbers. Provide trainers with a sense of appreciation. Limit the number of times you use the word “I.” Your team wants to hear relevant information. At the conclusion of your meeting, ask and answer the question “Now that the team has this information, what’s next?” (Meyers & Nix 2011).

Address Member Obstacles

No matter how cohesive your team is, if no one wants personal training then the team is no good! Engaging members can be a tricky task. You are competing with an increasing number of get-fit-quick schemes. However, don’t assume you know why clients aren’t requesting personal training sessions. Maybe no one is asking them!

Consider what often happens when clients first encounter a personal trainer. Usually they do a trial session—an assessment, possibly followed by a circuit machine workout or a short strength routine. None of these options considers that members are probably in what neuroscientist Marcel Daane calls an “away state” (Daane 2012). This means either they’re moving toward something they like and have positive motivation and desire for, or they’re moving away from something that elicits a fear response and/or creates a negative cascade of physiological, physical and emotional responses.

You definitely want prospects to be moving toward training! However, initially they may fear being in the gym. They may have unfounded expectations. How can you counter obstacles to create positive momentum? Here are four keys to success to share with your personal training staff.

Key #1: Clarify the client’s perception of training. Have an open conversation and ask what the member perceives the role of the personal trainer to be. Explain your “Why,” and make it clear that the media-driven get-fit-quick solutions are not realistic. Discuss your professional services and how you empower members to achieve their goals.

Key #2: Determine the member’s motivation. Engage members in what really drives them. The desire to lose 10 pounds won’t last as motivation forever. It’s not tied emotionally to the person; you must help that client dig a bit deeper.

Key #3: Set goals. Focus on the intended outcome of training. Discuss and create goals with the members.

Key #4: Be flexible and encourage flexibility. Teach staff to be flexible and to throw programs out the window if necessary. Knowing clients’ goals is only part of the long-term solution. The ability to help people adapt and establish new goals daily, monthly and annually is critical. Clients can learn to be flexible and fluid with goals so they don’t become locked in. Say, for example, that some clients want to lose 10 pounds. What happens after they achieve this narrowly focused goal? You’re left with minimal options to keep them engaged. Be flexible and create “milestones.” When one milestone is achieved, simply work on the next one.

Strive for Excellence

If your trainers feel they are an integral part of your team, they will be more likely to embrace your vision. Good communication and effective leadership will propel your trainers—and you—to success.

Michael Torres is a performance coach with over 12 years of leadership experience—in the U.S. Army as a squad leader of an airborne unit and in the commercial health club industry filling fitness positions from personal trainer through assistant general manager. He now runs a successful performance company that integrates many disciplines to maximize the human performance engine.

Are you a club owner or manager? Gain, train and retain world class staff with the fastest growing health club software in the world: https://www.ideafit.com/clubconnect


Daane, M. 2012. MET Method Level 1 Movement Course: Scientific background section on toward and away responses in the brain. www.metmethod.com; retrieved Apr. 2013.

Meyers, P., & Nix, S. 2011. As We Speak. New York: Atria.

Sinek, S., 2009. TEDxPuget Sound: How great leaders inspire action. www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html?qshb=1&utm_expid=166907-21; retrieved May 13, 2013.

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