Making Workout Program Adjustments When Your Client is Fatigued

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Adaptability is a necessary skill for fitness professionals allowing personal trainers to make on-the-spot program adjustments when a client enters a session feeling tired or fatigued. Here’s how you can manage those last-minute changes when your client is feeling less than 100%.

Setting the Tone for the Session

It’s best practice to begin a session with a general “how are you doing” conversation. Doing so not only helps you connect with your client on a personal level, but it allows you to perform a brief assessment of his or her state of mind at the time. If your client responds with “I am not feeling it today. I didn’t sleep well and I’m extremely tired. I didn’t want to come,” then you need to be prepared with an appropriate response.

First, praise your client for making it to the session. It’s hard to stay committed to an appointment when energy level is below normal, so reflect that back to her.

Then, ask your client, “What do you want to get out of this session?” and, “What will help you through this session?” This gives her a chance to communicate with you what her needs are in that moment and they will feel like they have a sense of ownership over the workout for the day.

Changing it Up

As a general rule, personal trainers should remain flexible and adaptable in their programming approach with any client. This includes getting comfortable with the idea of abandoning “the plan” if a client comes into a session less than ready roll. It happens. We need to learn to manage these occurrences effectively. So, what does that look like?

For a client who comes to a session extremely fatigued and lacking energy, simply shift the focus from the usual to a gentler approach that still promotes movement and burns calories.

Here are some ideas to try with fatigued clients:

  •  Yogalates. This approach is still challenging, but in a way that doesn’t exhaust the body in the same way a hard resistance training session does. Yogalates combines yoga and Pilates into one session targeting core strength and flexibility.
  • Dial down the cardio. If you had a cardio session planned, reduce the level to moderate-intensity and for a shorter duration. Add in some bodyweight exercises before or after to include some strength aspects.
  • Reduce the HIIT. Reduce the intensity of the planned session and opt for a slower pace. Encourage more rest and less stress.
  • Break out the bands. Instead of hitting the weights as planned, opt for an alternative resistance training tool – strength bands or loops. You can easily take a client through a 10-12 exercise circuit that uses bands instead of heavier weights. Get creative and use the bands to facilitate flexibility exercises.
  • Longer cool-downs. Sometimes an effective workout is one that doesn’t cause further fatigue to an already-tired client. Focus on a longer cool-down period that might incorporate light cardio (low intensity on the elliptical or bike), coupled with some core strength moves and a long stretch session. Make this an active recovery that allows the client to walk away feeling refreshed.

Personal training is a personal business and often times that means making unplanned modifications to suit the needs of our clients in the moment. The more experience you have in the field, the easier this becomes. Start practicing now.

With clients who appear fatigued, try to identify the root cause of it. Is it stress? Poor sleep quality? Are they overtraining or burned out? A fatigued client is an underperforming client and that’s not ideal. It’s important to educate clients on all aspects of wellness – which includes rest, recovery, and – most importantly – sleep.

In what ways can you creatively adjust a program for an overly exhausted client?


Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at