Advice for Personal Trainers from 12 Fitness Pros

Pete McCall
Pete McCall
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It may seem as if looking good in tight clothes or thousands of Instagram followers are the requirements for success as a fitness professional. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Long term success in the fitness industry is not based on just on how much education one has or the video clips that one posts on social media, but rather on the multiple skills that a fitness trainer accumulates over the course of a career. 

One thing that many fitness professionals often overlook is that 10 pounds weighs 10 pounds, regardless of whether you are an experienced “celebrity trainer” posting videos on Instagram or a brand-new rookie working with your first client. Basic, job-specific skills like exercise program design are easy to learn, however there are more important skills such as the ability to communicate effectively, have empathy for clients, or a ‘can-do’ attitude to provide excellent service that can take years to develop.

Over the course of my career, after many years of careful observation, one of the things that I’ve noticed is that it is not just the amount of education that sets one fitness professional apart from another, but is instead the level of service each one provides and how that makes a client feel during the workout experience. Some of the best personal trainers I’ve seen in action may not have been able to recite the Krebs cycle from memory, but they had something different: an intangible ability to deliver excellent customer service to keep clients coming back. An ability to make others feel important is a natural trait shared by many fitness professionals and is one that is critical for long-term success in the fitness industry.

The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. Every career requires hard work and practice to achieve success, especially in fitness where it can take years of practice to develop effective skills and traits for providing a high quality of service that can help you stand out from other fitness professionals. In an effort to help newer fitness professionals develop the same skills that have helped more experienced veterans to have long term success, I recently asked my Facebook community to share their thoughts on the traits required to be a successful personal trainer. The following are 12 pieces of advice that have taken others a long time to learn.

1. Provide a Safe and Welcoming Environment

“Create a safe space for clients, fostering a no judgement - no competition, no comparison place so that change can happen organically.”

Lisa Yee, a personal trainer in San Diego, CA.

2. Invest in Continuing Education

“Take continuing education seriously. Invest the time to develop programs with long-term goals in mind. Listen to clients and adjust the programs to meet each individual’s specific needs. Finally, create a long-term career path by working towards becoming a master trainer; that’s one way to help yourself stand out from your peers.”

Check out NASM's affordable fitness certification bundles for great continuing education options. 

Christy Pchuck Giroux, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and co-owner of Prime Fitness in Gaithersburg, MD

3. Lead by Example

“Practice what you preach, maintain your own fitness. Anyone can be a trainer but if all of the focus is on the clients it can be easy to overlook your own workout needs as well.”

Rafal Tokicz, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer at the Equinox Sports Club in Washington, D.C.

4. Be Professional

“Show up on time. Be prepared. In uniform or appropriate clothing. Ability to make a sincere connection with clients and aren’t distracted by every latest fitness fad."

Chad Yarvitz, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and owner of Xplicit Fitness in San Diego

5. Empower Your Clients

“The best trainers are coaches with the ability to empower their clients; consistency and connection leads to empowerment."

Amanda Lynne, a personal trainer and triathlon coach in Marietta, OH. 

6. Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle 

“Help coach healthy lifestyles outside of the fitness session. It can be easy for a client to act healthy the one hour they’re with a client, but trainers who make an impact help their clients learn strategies for how to live healthier all the time, not just when they’re working with you.”

Barbara Brodowsky, Senior Director, Fitness & Field Operations, Beach Body, Los Angeles, CA

7. Show That You Care

“Ask how the client is feeling day to day; truly listen to him or her and adjust the program as needed.”

Adena Muncey, a personal trainer and yoga instructor in Hyderabad, India

8. Do What’s Best

“Know when to move on from clients. If they’re not serious, if they’re not progressing and I’ve tried my best to coach them towards success, but they’re not following, I let them go. It’s better for them and me.”

Cecily Guest, a yoga instructor in San Francisco, CA

9. Be Authentic

“Top trainers are comfortable exposing themselves as real human beings with flaws; help the client create a healthy life not just in the gym but when they step out into the world so their hard work and newly-developed confidence travels with them.”

Eric Thompson, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer in West Hollywood, CA

10. Be Open to Learning

“Humility. Don’t feel like you’re supposed to know it all; realize that there is endless information to learn and enjoy the process of continually learning. Listen more and talk less.”

Michael Pepi, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer at the Equinox Sports Club, Washington, D.C.

11. Educate Your Client

“A truly great experience is when the client becomes knowledgeable and confident, allowing him or her to take ownership of the workout process.”

John Bauer, an NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist in San Jose, CA

12. Take Time to Create Personalized Programs

“Don’t pretend to know what they don’t know and stick to the scientific facts. Truly personalize the exercise program to each and every client, specifically his or her particular limitations, health issues, needs and interests."

Todd Weber, personal trainer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

These insights about the noticeable characteristics of top personal trainers can be an important resource. If they’ve helped others be successful in their careers, it could work for you too. In fitness, or almost any industry, there are many job skills that can take years to learn. Experienced professionals should want to see the newbies be successful because if we are all doing well by following best practices, it can elevate the professionalism of the entire industry. 

For example, after earning an NASM Personal Trainer Certification, one of the most important attributes for a fitness professional is the ability to maintain a positive attitude and deliver excellent customer service no matter the situation, yet this is something that has to be learned from experience while working in the job. There are no shortcuts on the road to success in fitness, however, hard work, learning from others, and consistently applying best practices as identified by successful personal trainers can shorten the on ramp as you head off on your journey.

The Author

Pete McCall

Pete McCall

Pete McCall is a NASM-CPT, PES, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), international presenter, host of the All About Fitness podcast, fitness blogger and an author of several articles, textbook chapters and the book Smarter Workouts: the Science of Exercise Made Simple. In addition, Pete holds a master’s degree in exercise science and has been educating fitness professionals for more than 15 years. Currently Pete lives in Encinitas, CA where he is an education consultant and content creator for Core Health & Fitness, Terra Core Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness.


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