Nearly 300,000 men and women in the U.S. serve as personal trainers. As in any other occupation, some are better than others. I’ve had the good fortune of working with some amazing personal trainers – including my Flyte Fitness Co-Founder, Paul Nicholas. To paraphrase baseball legend Leo Durocher: “[A gyms is] like church. Many attend, few understand.” World-class personal trainers can help even the most inexperienced of us to truly understand how to succeed in fitness. But it’s not easy to fall into that high-end category.
Here are 10 keys to being a world-class personal trainer:
1. Build Strong Relationships with Diverse Clients
Top personal trainers have close relationships with clients who run the gamut in terms of age, gender, experience, ability, and personality. Communication is critical as they carefully explain exercise techniques and the rationale behind them, and they must listen to their clients’ needs. Often, they give advice well beyond gym walls, serving as a therapist or life coach of sorts.
2. Tailor Programs for Each Client, Each Day
Personal trainers develop customized programs for all their clients. Effective personal trainers augment the workouts for their clients each day, based on the client’s progress, goals, mood, energy level, injuries, and more. Developing targeted workouts is particularly important for those undergoing health challenges, who make up a large portion of trainers’ clients. According to IDEA Health & Fitness Association surveys, “50 percent of personal trainers’ clients have special medical needs, such as arthritis, diabetes or obesity.” The best trainers can work with anyone, at any level, and get the most out of them on any given day.
3. Ace Those Tests
Contrary to what many think, one must study and be well-versed in many subjects to become a certified personal trainer. There are a variety of organizations that offer certifications, ranging from NASM’s Performance Enhancement Specialist, to ACE’s Group Fitness Instructor, to ACSM’s Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist. Each comes with prerequisites and certification exams. Depending on the certification, passing requires a deep understanding of anatomy and physiology, nutrition, assessment, exercise techniques, and individual program guides.
4. Never Stop Learning
There are basic certifications, advanced certifications, and even product-specific certifications. Great personal trainers take on these challenges and must be on top of the newest diet and exercise trends. Anthony Wall, Ace Fitness' Director of Professional Education, says, "Being a trainer isn’t about doing something once and then stopping; it’s about always learning more and becoming better at how to help people succeed and realize their goals."
5. Sell Yourself
Many personal trainers work in a gym and support members of a given gym. Others work independently, either paying a fee for the use of a facility or using an alternate setting for workouts, such as a client’s home or outdoors. No matter which approach is taken, one needs to win over clients. And it’s not easy in a fiercely competitive environment.
6. Manage a Bizarro Schedule
While some personal trainers can work “normal” nine-to-five hours, most cannot. Why? It’s very simple. People typically prefer to work out before or after work. This leads to a tough schedule for trainers, who often manage clients in the early dawn and the evenings.
7. Take No Days Off
While many personal trainers do actually work seven days a week, that’s not the point here. The point is that when a world-class personal trainer is working, he is working hard. It’s not like when I decide to take my workout down a notch because I’m tired. Regardless of how elite personal trainers feel, they need to be on: energetic, enthusiastic, and electric.
8. Be a Role Model
Charles Barkley famously said, “I am not a role model.” The best personal trainers, however, most certainly are. Clients and peers look to them for advice. They need to practice what they preach, be able to demonstrate exercises with proper form, and often face pressure to look the part.
9. Remember Everything
Outstanding trainers observe their clients’ performance like hawks to accurately track ongoing progress – or regression. They can recall that last Tuesday a client was able to perform eight reps, and today’s 12 reps is a significant improvement. The best of the best focus on the client in the now and pay attention to every detail – even those often overlooked by the client himself.
10. Motivate Constantly
At the end of the day, the only person who can ensure fitness improvements is the one who wakes up early, heads to the gym, shows up for a training session, and performs a hard workout. That said, world-class personal trainers play a huge role in motivation by holding clients accountable. Clients depend on them to be their rock and stay positive at all times even when it may be frustrating or appear fruitless to continue. The best trainers extract the best performance from their clients by keeping them positive.
I hope you enjoyed reading about what makes an excellent personal trainer. We'd love to hear from you. Who is your favorite trainer and how has he or she inspired you? Comment on our Facebook page at facebook.com/flytefitness or tweet us at @flytefitness.
Be Flyte Fit,
Co-Founder & CEO