For every year you’re in the fitness industry there’s another typical personal trainer client profile you will have assessed and categorized in the back of your personal trainer brain. Not that everyone you meet will fit neatly into one of these pigeonholes necessarily, but you can expect the majority of the folks you encounter to fall into at least one (maybe more) of the following categories. Knowing the most common fitness client “types” will help you to anticipate their expectations (and yours) even before they have formulated any themselves.
Types of Personal Trainer Clients
By and large, most of your clients (especially the short-term ones) will be a beginner. They’ve never worked out, not really anyway, they’ve never worked with a trainer, and they are super apprehensive about this whole working out thing. Your job is to assuage their fears and build their confidence up first (go ahead and congratulate them for taking this huge step!) and then introduce them to exercise gently, progressively and intuitively.
Check in on them frequently, re-assess them monthly, and make sure they are enjoying their time with you above all else. Remind them that results, when long-lasting, come slowly. You want to retain this person as a client and make them life-long lovers of exercise. So make sure their introduction to the experience is a pleasant one.
The good news: They are eager, want to achieve some real health goals, and will follow all of your directions at least for a while.
The bad news: They may not stick it out if the program is too hard or you don’t handle them with kid gloves.
These clients may have had several trainers in the past, and are either seeing you now because they’ve switched gyms or moved to a new location. The Talker wants to have a trainer more for appearance’s sake than health’s sake. They want to look like they are working out regularly, because they are, but their heart and soul really aren’t in it. They are social creatures, they enjoy the interaction with you and they love to talk. While you are watching their form and planning the next movement, they are recounting the argument they had with their next-door neighbor or telling you all about how their dog went doo-doo in the living room.
And you get it, you like to talk to them, too! There’s nothing wrong with conversation, connecting, and laughing with your clients. But, these clients aren’t truly invested in the workout or your program. They’ve checked the exercise box off their list of important to-do’s and have a new friend to boot!
The good news: They don’t have any real goals for you to fall short from.
The bad news: They don’t have any real goals for you to set! You might want something for them because you see a need, but don’t expect them to care as much as you do.
This Competitor is just about the complete opposite as The Talker. They love everything fitness, go to all the classes, invest in all the new athleisure gear, and probably read up on as many fitness-related topics as you do. In fact, they’re probably reading this right now.
These clients are hard core and will take anything you throw at them without so much as a flinch. If they are struggling, you will never know it. They would have probably been a personal trainer themselves if they weren’t already a criminal defense lawyer or ER surgeon. In fact, don’t stand next to these clients in a HIIT class because they WILL try to embarrass you by smoking you on the burpee challenge.
The good news: They can be really fun and exciting to train because they are always looking for a new challenge.
The bad news: They will definitely make you work for your money, taxing your creativity and know-how, so make sure you do your homework and program them accordingly!
The Teacher’s Pet
Ah, The Teacher’s Pet. They are sort of the watered-down version of The Competitor (without that coming off as an insult). These clients really look at you like an expert (because you are one, right??) and will do absolutely everything you tell them to do. They have full lives and usually invest their attention into their interests wholeheartedly and fitness is no exception. They probably have a very specific goal like, wanting to run a marathon, or learning to do pull-ups, or conquering the dancer pose in yoga.
They want to learn something and they know you are the person to teach them, and likewise, will do all the homework you assign them like they’re getting paid for it. They are thoughtful clients who genuinely care about you and their fitness endeavors, and see your role as critical to meeting their goals.
The good news: They really do what you ask them to and will often be among your most successful clients.
The bad news: Don’t take lightly a single thing you say or instruct because they are listening intently and buy into whatever it is you’re selling, so make sure what you assign and teach is relevant and meaningful (and correct!).
Honestly, these are the hardest clients to manage. There are few personality attributes harder to stomach than one that tries to poke holes in all of your efforts. Okay, maybe not all of them, but enough to make you bite your tongue anytime you try to explain something, or heaven-forbid, suggest a brand new movement. And if you suggest a brand new movement without explaining it, expect to be questioned.
The complainers don’t like exercise, and probably don’t even like you that much, but think they have to do it, so here you are. They will look for ways out of doing the things they don’t like and challenge your expertise in order to do so, not caring how offensive they might sound. Fight the urge to ask, “WHY DID YOU HIRE ME??” and instead, remind yourself that this really has nothing to do with you and probably not much to do with your training style but more to do with their own lack of confidence and contempt for exercise.
The good news: Um, you’re getting paid. And helping someone. Sorta.
The bad news: You will dread the session for hours in advance and maybe it’s so bad you eventually find a way to drop this client.
The Fibbers really want to get in shape, really want to please you and gain your approval. The problem is they probably have many more complex issues than they’re willing to reveal and are unable to adhere to a program. They cancel on you a lot. Often last minute. They claim they are working out another 2-3 days a week, but they mean walking to their car in the Trader Joe’s parking lot and back. (They do park REALLY far away). They also tell you that their diet is on point, but they eat at Chick-Fil-A three days a week, and the other four subsist on Cliff Bars and coffee. Their intentions are good but they’re execution is terrible and they really have a hard time coming clean about that. “NEXT week will be better, promise!”
The good news: They will probably keep paying you and when they show up, they do the work.
The bad news: They’ll probably never achieve a single goal. Like, ever.
When you’re serious about what you do as a fitness professional, you’ll come to really appreciate The Machine. They show up to their sessions 2-5 days a week. They’re busy, but this is important. They’re intent and dedicated and quiet. They came to work and work hard. They really don’t want to chat, they really don’t want to hear about your life, and they really want to be healthy. And they are.
They make your job really easy because they already know what they’re doing; your sessions just hold them accountable. They are smart and well-connected to their bodies; they listen and remember. You only have to explain something once and they’ll never forget it. Their form is impeccable (and if not, they’ll take your feedback to heart), their bodies are fit and balanced, and they will probably never miss a session, even if there is a death in the family (which you’ll read about in the paper because they’re not going to tell you about it).
The good news: They are just so easy to train and work with and will progress clearly and steadily throughout your business relationship.
The bad news: This is a business relationship. Stop trying to be friends and get comfortable with silence; that’s how they like it.
I probably have the least amount of experience with The Athlete in my professional career, but this one is easy to spot and understand. These personal trainer clients are either career sports professionals or their recreational sports endeavors are almost as important. Their goal is simply to get better at their chosen sport, which makes goal setting fairly easy. But it’s important to know what you’re doing with this one. If you’re not already well-versed in their sport (and they still chose to work with you) you better study up and know everything there is to know: about the sport itself and how you should train such an athlete.
For this individual, money is no object and they may want to work with you 5 or even 6 days a week. If that’s the case, you cannot let this person down and better put pen to paper to make sure your workouts/program are well-formulated and documented for the months ahead. Personalities will range here, but are more than likely easy to get along with. But they do have expectations of you and helping them meet their goals, and even if they don’t seem like it, they are paying close attention to their own progress and will ascribe their successes or shortcomings to your influence.
The good news: This can be a really welcome mental challenge for a serious fitness professional. Treat it as such and try to shine.
The bad news: There can be a lot riding on this client’s goal-attainment. If you let them down, they will let you go.
The Last Resorter
Ever have a friend who has a problem that you don’t think is all that unique and you make a suggestion, and they say, “Tried that, didn’t work!” And then you suggest something else and they go, “Did that too, no good.” You can go on and on, getting the same responses? They probably didn’t do most of your suggestions because really, they don’t want a solution. They like having the problem. They might even be sort of addicted to it. That’s the Last Resorter.
They have been overweight maybe their whole lives or at least for many years. They spent money on Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and probably 18 versions of a home gym. The sum of what they’ve spent on weight loss attempts probably could’ve paid off their home mortgage by now, yet now they’ve “caved” and are splurging on a trainer.
The good news: They have reasonable goals and low expectations. Nothing has worked so far and they have no reason to think you’ll be any different. Surprise them.
The bad news: They’ll come to their sessions, and they’ll work out, and they’ll even appear to have restricted calories, yet may not lose an ounce. They don’t know why and you don’t know why, and may never because there are factors you’ll never see. (teach women about hormones!). Continue to work with them, but don’t set the bar too high as far as weight loss is concerned (if that’s their goal). Instead, focus your efforts on goals that you know you is attainable like strength or mobility, non-scale goals, and help them feel empowered by reaching them.
Last but not least, The Lifer will become a close friend, if not an honorary family member. They hired you as their first trainer and they have put you on the permanent payroll. No matter how fit they get and how on-point their form becomes they firmly believe they need you to exercise and that’s the end of that. That whole “give a man a fish” saying? They’re not interested in learning to fish. They want to pay for the fish forever and ever because they enjoy going to the market more than going fishing.
They initially fell into one of the above categories, like The Beginner, The Teacher’s Pet, or even The Athlete, but now, they are Lifers and neither of you would have it any other way. You have loosened the professional boundaries with these clients and that’s probably okay because…you literally think of them as family now. You confide in each other, you hang out together outside of the gym, and you care tremendously about their well-being and still want to see their goals met.
The good news: They still respect you as a professional and pay you what you’re worth (if you let them).
The bad news: There is no bad news, other than possibly feeling like you didn’t do your job by “teaching” them to work out on their own. Just remember: they’re in it for more than just that. You’ve taught them a lot and they want to keep learning from you and being held accountable, so be okay with it and appreciate this special relationship.
What personal trainer client archetype can you think of that I didn’t?