5 Conversation Starter Ideas for Personal Trainers

Stacey Penney
Stacey Penney
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We’ve been there. You’re definitely not the only personal trainer who has experienced the client who hardly talks during a session. It can make for an awkward encounter, leaving you thinking you don’t know how to talk to people or that the client doesn’t like you. 

How do you get this client to begin to open-up and engage in conversation that is meaningful to their training goals? 

Here, you’ll learn how social influences and support systems can spark the dialogue. We’ll also give you some conversation starters that will help strengthen your clients’ fitness and wellness commitment—because talking about the weather isn’t going to do that.

Open-Ended Questions

Closed-ended questions return only a yes or a no response. Instead, use open-ended questions related to the client’s goals and reasons for training with you

Their goals are important and meaningful to them, so much so that they signed on to train with you and pay you. Explore why they may want to gain strength, improve their endurance or lose weight. 

Is it to keep up with their kids on the soccer field? Is it for an upcoming vacation or other life event? Most clients would also love to talk about exciting locations they’re visiting or their kid’s activities. 

Take these topics to a deeper level. Aim to understand how their life outside of your time together may be helping or slowing their progress. 

This includes identifying the social influences and champions that will positively support them in their efforts to reach their health and fitness goals.

Social Influences

Social influences are various sources that influence a person’s thoughts, feelings and actions. These sources can be positive or negative. Help your client identify them so that they can achieve their goals. 

Here are three social influences to explore with your client:

Social Support

Social Support is the care a person receives from others. It provides motivation when the support is encouraging, positive and helpful. 

Encourage your client to create a list of people who can support them on their journey to health. This might include friends, family and coworkers (and perhaps even their fur baby if they have one!).

Informative Influences

Informative social influences are the informational sources that influence decision-making. This can be obtained from a variety of sources such as educational classes, news, podcasts, television, and online media. 

After a couple of Google keyword searches, your client’s social feeds will be full of ads and stories about their topic of interest, some of which may not be credible.

Coach your client on how to sort through the sensationalized headlines that bombard them. Help them identify credible resources so that they get accurate information to support their health goals.

Normative Influences

Normative influences target the need to belong and be approved by a group of people, akin to peer pressure. Decisions conform to what everyone else is doing. 

These influences can be positive or negative. For example, if everyone is ordering dessert and appetizers at a lunch meeting, one might decide to do the same.

Conversation Starter Ideas

Enter the conversation with the right attitude and goals:

  • Be empathetic
  • Help your client realize how successful they can be (self-efficacy)
  • Identify barriers hindering progress
  • Help your client overcome these barriers
  • Be open — not judgmental

Here are some conversation starter ideas you can try out:

“How was your weekend?”

Though this might not be an ideal open-ended question, it can be a neutral and safe conversation starter.

“What did you do over the weekend? Where did you go?”

If they didn’t go anywhere, what did they do? Did they read, watch tv, or spend time on the web? This could direct the conversation to explore their informative and normative influences.

“Who did you see?”

This opens the conversation to explore their social support network. Was the time spent with those who support or sabotage their goals?

“Where did you go to eat? What did they have on the menu?”

This is a non-judging approach, versus starting with, “What did you eat?”

"With so many choices, how did you decide on what to order?”

This will explore how a client may have faced barriers to their goals, such as weight loss or healthier nutrition choices, and how they approached a solution, or didn’t. It can also explore the normative influences and how they maneuvered around the group pressures.

Role Playing with Clients

Talking about these points can also extend the conversation into assertiveness training opportunities. 

If a client is wanting to maintain their friendships and social circles, saying “no” all the time might not be the ideal response. 

By role playing various social situations, your client can practice how they would respond and graciously decline offers that could derail their goals. If you want to follow up on any of the conversations you have, you can keep in touch with your clients using the NASM Edge app. Your clients will be able to call or message you if they have any questions or are looking for advice.

For more information on the above topics and strategies, be sure to check out NASM’s Behavior Change Specialization.


National Academy of Sports Medicine. NASM Behavior Change Specialist manual. Chandler, AZ.

The Author

Stacey Penney

Stacey Penney

Stacey Penney, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, CNC, is the Content Strategist with NASM and AFAA. A 20+ year veteran of the fitness industry, she's worked with the top certification and continuing education groups. At NASM and AFAA she drives the content for American Fitness Magazine, blog and the social media platforms. Stacey received her degree in Athletic Training/PE from San Diego State University and an MS in Exercise Science from CalU, plus credentials in Health Promotion Management & Consulting (UCSD), Instructional Technology (SDSU), group fitness and yoga. Previous San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force Chair, she’s developed continuing education curriculum for fitness organizations in addition to personal training, writing, and co-coaching youth rec soccer.


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