Do You Improvise or Plan Your Personal Training Sessions?



When I was a new personal trainer my sessions were planned weeks in advance, test runs ensued and timing was calculated over and over. The aim for perfection was of high priority. But something that I discovered is that hitches in precisely laid plans will occur. And they will occur often. Let me tell you what I wished I knew about flexibility and improvising my first year as a trainer.


To Plan or Not To Plan

Planning is important. I believe in planning a training session before going into it. It is good to know what you are wanting to do with your client. When your client sees that you have a well-organized plan, it shows them that they are a priority and that their money is being well spent. Also, a plan will help give you a sense of ease and confidence during the session. Being a new trainer, this is a very welcome feeling.

However, this “plan” that you have created is not the only path that can be taken during a training session.

When the Plan Just isn’t Enough….

When I first began my journey as a Personal Trainer, I started as a weight lifting instructor for a women’s class at my local college. I was nervous, unsure and clinging to my class plan like a life raft. The first fifteen minutes went smoothly, that was until I realized that we had already gone through everything I had planned. They finished their last exercise, looked to me to see what was next, and I looked to my plan.

However, my plan had nothing new to tell me and there was still 40 minutes left in class. I was mortified, and had the impractical urge to run out of there. However, this was not an option considering I was their instructor. So I had them run through the same fifteen minutes of exercises they had already done two more times, and then did a comically long cool down. I even dismissed the class seven minutes early because I didn’t know what else to do considering I had already exhausted the plan!


I remember feeling silly afterwards, wondering why I didn’t have them do something else other than the pre-ordained exercises? I had just graduated a 2 year Exercise Science Program and acquired my Personal Training Certification. I had an arsenal of exercises and workouts in my brain, and yet because they were not in the plan I froze. I second guessed myself and doubted my ability to improvise and be flexible within my class design.

My first year as a fitness professional went much like this first class. Fortunately, not the part where I failed to create a class that was sufficient in time. But I rigidly followed the plans I created for classes and sessions.

I wish I had had the ability to see when something wasn’t working, and change it right then and there. I wish I had known how to recognize that my timing wasn’t quite right, or that my client was not enthused by the workout I had designed for them. And then been able to reconcile these issues during the session, so that the client left me feeling satisfied and excited to return.

We all wish a lot of things had been different when we were just getting started in the industry.  As new professionals, we can only learn these skills through (occasionally humiliating) trial and error. This is all part of the process of becoming those experienced and seasoned trainers, which somehow know what to do in all scenarios.

I can happily say that I now have a much better grasp of improvising and flexibility within my sessions. I have learned when to trust the plan and when to toss it out completely. What I have learned to be most helpful is an outline. A more general idea of what I want the session to look like, and some key exercises or muscle groups I plan to target. I have found that a precisely laid plan can be restricting, and actually inhibit my ability to give my client the best training possible. So give yourself some wiggle room within your planning, I promise it will allow for inspiration and insight to visit you.

[info type=”facebook”]Do you plan or train on the fly? If you’re an NFPT trainer, visit our Facebook Community Group and tell us how you roll. We’d love to hear from you! If you’re not NFPT certified, come chat with us here![/info]

If you are looking for some inspiration or ideas for your next training session check this out: A Programming Idea for Muscle Growth



Alex has her A.S in Exercise Science and is a certified Personal Trainer with NFPT and NSCF. She recently traveled to India to gain her 200 hr yoga teacher certification where she studied the ancient practice at its origins. Alex has spent time teaching yoga in Spain while volunteering at a yoga retreat and is currently working at her local college instructing two fitness courses. Alex wants to share with her clients and students the mental, physical and emotionally healing qualities of exercise and movement. She believes everyone should have a healthy relationship with their bodies and strives to thread that concept throughout her career.