The fitness industry is dynamic and ever-growing and full of different types of fitness professionals – all of whom have a unique perspective and philosophy when it comes to the art and science of personal training and coaching clients. Although each fitness professional has their own set of specific experiences, approaches, and techniques, you would be surprised to learn that despite their individual differences, most share these common characteristics that set them apart from the rest. Here are 10 qualities of great personal trainers.
Top 10 Qualities of a Successful Personal Trainer
10 – Great Personal Trainers are Educated and Credentialed
While there is no set rule or governing “law” that requires all fitness professionals to have an accredited certification (a weakness of the industry), having one is necessary for too many reasons to list individually. In short, possessing a quality and recognized certification says that the professional has achieved minimum industry standards, is competent in the principles and practice of personal training, and can safely and effectively work with clients with a variety of needs and goals. Furthermore, quality personal trainers often possess degrees in Exercise Science or related field. Great personal trainers obtain and pursue continuing education beyond their general certification.
9 – They Prioritize Building Rapport
Personal training is just that – it’s personal and individualized. Great personal trainers recognize the critical value of the foundation of the experience – the relationship with the client. You are training a person, not a body and to do so successfully requires communication and a humanistic connection. Rapport is the first step in forging a relationship and once built, you and the client develop mutual respect and empathy that allows the relationship to flourish and the client to progress.
8 – Great Personal Trainers Research and Ask Questions
The best personal trainers aren’t the ones who “know everything” (that’s impossible to achieve); they are the ones who acknowledge the limits of their own experience and/or knowledge about particular areas of the field. Such trainers early on say to a client, “That’s a great question. I’d like to research that and consult with a colleague to be sure I give you accurate information.”
Further, great personal trainers ask questions of their clients in an effort to dig deeper and help the client connect with their “why” or purpose of seeking personal training services. For example, a client may come to a personal trainer to “lose weight” (a vague goal all fit pros have heard time and again). Personal trainers can and should employ motivational interviewing skills and techniques to uncover the heart of the client’s reasons and purpose.
Asking questions such as “what has made you feel this is a goal you would like to pursue?” or “I hear that losing weight is important to you. Can you expand on why you feel this way?” Most often, clients will reveal buried information such as “I want to have more energy to play with my kids” or “I want to be able to go hiking with my family this summer and not feeling exhausted after the first mile.” And just like that, you’ve unearthed the true “why”.
7 – They Encourage Rest
If a client is serious about progress, and they almost always are, they need to be serious about their rest and recovery. In order to accomplish this, the personal trainer needs to prioritize programming such rest and recovery days. It’s extremely easy for a client to becoming myopically entranced with the “train hard, train often” mentality. While frequent and consistent training is the key to physical progress, recovery and rest is the other half of that equation. The great personal trainer will intentionally and thoughtfully build in recovery days and discuss the effects of quality sleep on metabolism and physical training.
6 – They Address Nutrition
We’ve all heard the saying “abs are made in the kitchen” and “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet” – both are fairly accurate interpretations of what it means to fuel the body for physical performance and progress. The human body is a machine and that machine requires proper fuel (and rest) in order to perform effectively and yield results. Great personal trainers help clients build better nutrition practices (while remaining within their scope of practice). Not only can personal trainers discuss and teach nutrition, they should be doing so with all clients.
5 – Great Personal Trainers are Relatable
Society and, to some extent, the industry has painted this picture of what personal trainers look like–as if we are all cut from the same stereotypical cloth. One trip to an industry-sponsored fitness conference and that myth is rapidly dispelled. A great personal trainer isn’t always the “meathead” or the “scantily clad, perfectly sculpted” model. Most of us are real, flawed people each with our own struggles. It’s ok to be vulnerable and let your humanism show. Quality personal trainers relate to their clients on multiple levels of life – professional, personal, parenthood, and the like. Spend time relating to your clients – human to human.
4 – They are Professional in Their Actions and Approach
This is simple. A great personal trainer performs the duties of their job professionally. They are organized, prompt, thoughtful, encouraging, and always ready to go.
3 – They are Flexible and Adaptable
Clients are people first and people need grace and flexibility. It’s not uncommon for a client to show up at a session (sometimes begrudgingly) and not really “feel it” if their focus is pulled in a different direction (a huge work deadline, a really bad day, trouble with kids, etc.). A great personal trainer reads this, acknowledges it, and adjusts the day’s plan accordingly. Sometimes, it’s ok to set the training plan aside and do something out of the box or ordinary, like go for a brisk walk or a grocery store tour. You can be creative and still be effective.
2 – Great Trainers Teach
Above all else, we are teachers. We educate our clients about healthy living. We help them develop a level of consciousness about their own health and assist them on the journey of change. Continuously look for the teachable moment. I give my clients homework, whether it’s a reflective journaling activity, an article read, or a recipe to try. Look for opportunities to teach lessons throughout the client experience.
1 – They Focus on Progress, Not Perfection
I don’t know where, when, why, or how this notion of “perfection” first materialized. Many clients (and fitness professionals can’t be discounted, here) have this belief in the “ideal” physique, becoming hyper-focused on what is generally an unattainable and socially-prescribed standard. Great personal trainers discuss progress and do so in non-scale terms.
Yes, bodyweight can be an important metric, but it’s just one of many and often fluctuates. Fitness professionals can and should help clients focus on other measures of progress such as better sleep, improved focus, better mood, or improved health markers rather than weight.
This list is not an exhaustive list of the characteristics or approaches that great personal trainers have or take. It is, however, a list that is meant to serve as a gentle reminder of the fact that great personal trainers aren’t limited to or identified only by their knowledge or experience – it goes much deeper than that.