T Nation

Personal Trainers- Client Soreness?


Hey Personal Trainers (and others who want to chime in),,

I just started working as a trainer about two weeks ago. I've worked non-officially at my school gym with a couple guys this past year.

I generally ask clients to email a couple days after our first session to let me know where and to what degree they are sore. Well, I had a potential client email me saying that she wanted to cancel the next session and "get in shape on her own for a while" after she had some serious DOMS. Apparently, two nights after training, she couldn't sleep well because her chest was so sore.

Do you guys have any reccommendations as to what rep range to stick in and what percentage of that for the first few sessions? I was aiming for between 12 and 15 reps with her. I guess I should specificy that maybe they should leave a couple reps "in the tank" in the beginning.

It's just tough because I want to give them a good workout so they want to continue with me, yet not beat the living snot out of them so they cant walk for 3 days.

Any feedback would be appreciated.



Who are you certified through?

What type of assesment did you put her through?

What type of workout did you put her through? (split, full body, etc.)


I'm certified through ISSA. Although most of my training information comes from T-Nation and working with a trainer for my first 2-3 years of training.

We went into a full body workout. I'll put down the reps here.

A1)Pushups on knees (then on smith machine) 15, 13, 19, 8

A2)Body Rows (on smith machine)
15, 15, 12, 13

B1)Cable Squat
20, 20, 18

B2)Hammer Curl/Overhead press
8, 12, 17

B3)Walking DB Lunge
25, 25

20, 20

Then we did some light squat overhead presses with a med ball for time (mainly for cardio).

I don't think I really pushed her incredibly hard. I definetly misjudged the weight on the curl and overhead presses on the first set and the last set of pullups. I try to make sure my first time clients don't hit failure, but I find that with beginners, it often comes quite suddenly unlike with more intermediate or advanced lifters when you can see an escalation in the rate of percieved exertion (look on their face and body of how hard they're working).

She had said that it was a month since her last workout and she had worked with a trainer before who made her "look like a boy."

Any critiques of the above program? Keep in mind that it is an orientation session, so periodized weakness and tailoring to specific goals is not really expected as much as a "basic workout."



maybe the first session or two you could just do like 1 set of 12 on each of the exercises to "familiarize" them with them. They shouldnt get too sore and then you can jump in a little bit more the next workout.


Couple of quick guidelines. You have to remember that newbies are not in good shape and any workout, even a wimpy one, is new to them and therefore overload. Also volume is key in making people sore so don't overdo it.

Most beginners respond well to a beginner workout, which is simple but effective. It is a total body workout, usually 8-10 exercises, do 1 warm-up set and then 1-3 work sets per exercise. If they are new or really out of shape just do one work set, which should be a moderate intensity. They should not come close to failure. 10-15 reps is a good guideline but it is more about how hard it is for them then the reps, 10 reps can be hard or it can be easy. Make it pretty easy, their first day they should be able to do 15 and only do about 10. Then move them through, do some cardio, stretch, of course do some sort of warm-up and cooldown as well. After a 2-3 weeks add a second set and then finally a third so they can get used to the new volume.

Obviously it is tough to outline all of the key points here in this format but if you are in good shape it is hard but necessary to remember that people can't workout anything like you, especially if they are older or unfamiliar with fitness. You will have plenty of time to take them to that level. In the beginning you want to get them excited about fitness and to build their trust in you (that you know what you are doing, won't hurt them, etc) and once that is there they will respond to you pushing them harder. Almost no one who starts out complains that the workout is too easy.

Hope that helps out, it is a learning process.


True. I could have them stick to sets of 2 or 3 as well. But then to fill up the hour (thats how long the sessions last) I'd have to incorporate more exercises, which means taking more time to teach new ones and less of an actual workout.

I'll give it a try though. This is really the first time that soreness this significant has been reported. Well actually, I've had clients be incredibly sore, but they usually take it as a positive indicator (although I tell them that it isn't always).



Thanks for the tips. I should probably reduce the number of sets until they are a little more "used to" working out.

I understand what you are saying about how hard the reps are. I typically ask after each set, "If I pushed you to keep going, how many more reps do you think you could have done?" You are suggesting having them keep 5 reps in the tank at 10 reps. What I've generally been doing is 15 reps with 20 in them. Sometimes with the beginngers though, they show no signs of slowing and then all of a sudden can't do another rep. I guess judging that stuff just comes with experience.

In regards to warmups and cooldowns, I generally have them do a 5-10 minute cardio warmup in addition to a warmpup set for each exercise, partially to determine the appropriate weight that they should use. What do you suggest in terms of a cooldown?



How old is this woman you are training and what state of physical fitness do you estimate her in???

How did the other trainer make her "look like a boy"???

I've done some pretty crazy workouts in my life but DOMS never kept me from sleeping so I'm wondering if she just has an extreemly low tolerance for pain...


With my completely new ones, i.e. not a previous exerciser, I take it very easy 2x a week, whole body. I increase the volume, stay away from the compounds for the first month or so, and let them adjust to getting fit. I would personally stay away from the squats, barbells, and compounds for about a month until they are comfortable with you, and have had the initial soreness go away. Going from a cardio bunny, to an intense workout with a trainer, is a tremendous change.

This doesn't mean let them slack, or keep the compounds out, just let them get through the learning curve walking. (Not walking well, but walking none the less)


The problem isn't what you did; it's just that you didn't adequately inform her AHEAD OF TIME that soreness was to be expected. Relating expectations is a huge part of establishing a solid client-trainer relationship.



Like you, I'm a new trainer (ACSM certified) who has been doing equipment orientations at a Gold's Gym facility. I do not yet have any clients of my own.

With beginners, ALWAYS use circuit training. Never two sets of the same exercise in a row.

Dude, you were giving her drop sets of pushups. What are ya, crazy? That right there is the reason for the DOMs.

That said, I like your exercise selection. Just not the structure of your routine.

I give a them a basic, full body routine for the major muscle groups and structure it according to agonist/antagonist principles. They never hit the same muscle group for two sets in a row.

The advantages of this:
-they won't experience as much immediate muscle fatigue
-they won't get so sore afterwards
-they can go through the entire circuit without resting between sets
-keeps their heartrate elevated (cardiovascular benefits)
-prevents them from getting bored while sitting around in between sets (psychological motivation factor)
-burns fat as well

Put them on a circuit routine, take them through it once, then tell them to go through it 2 or 3 times on their own. That's what I do. The total volume of work is the same as doing multiple consecutive sets, but it won't leave them unable to get out of bed the next day. Remember this:

Post-workout DOMS is the #1 cause of client loss for trainers.

Stay in touch, maybe we can share some ideas in the future.


First clue: It's a woman. And based on my own experience, I wouldn't necessarily assume that she was of old age.

I did an orientation session with a girl in her 20's who used to be athletic but had put on some excess weight. She mentioned that she used to train with her BB'er boyfriend, and doing this had given her "boy muscles". This was put forth in a negative context, as something that she wanted to avoid. The thing is, this chick could have greatly benefited from some visible muscularity.

So the problem you have to deal with is the ever-pervasive mainstream mentality that has people scared of muscles on women (men are just as terrified of it as women, if not more so). In all likelyhood, the woman in this example was, at one point in time, well on her way to becoming fit and "toned", to use the common term.

Then one day, she saw a bit of a forearm pump in the mirror after doing biceps curls, and completely freaked out about it. Stopped training from that point on. Women are like that. It's sad.


reading this thread about all the stupid bullshit people tell their trainers makes me wonder why anyone would want to waste their time with these retards.

I for one do not suffer fools gladly, therefore I would be a shitty PT.

You couldn't pay me enough to deal with stupid shit like that.

To the original poster: your client is a whiny bitch. She doesn't want a trainer - she wants someone to condone her half-ass approach to fitness - that's what she's really paying you for.



You would have her do circuit training for an hour? Just curious.


The woman is 28. She's got some extra bodyfat for sure, but it looks like she's not "skinny fat" either. She's got "some" strenth and is not a total puss in that regard.

The other trainer made her look like a boy by "bulking her up." I assume this was mainly diet and cardio related. As in, she didn't really lose much bodyfat, so with the addition of muscle just looked bigger than before.

She's done some hard work with trainers in the past I believe, so you'd think she'd be accustomed to some soreness. Maybe they didn't push the weights real hard with her.



I have recently realized this after working with a few very lazy and weak people that didn't listen to a damn thing I said. This is why I'm stepping into athletic training and am starting to be selective about clients.


I do whole body workouts with most of my clients as well. Compound movements make up the bulk of the training because they offer the most benefit for the time we spend together in terms of fat loss, positive hormonal shifts, muscle building, etc.

I've been using a cable squat machine with clients which allows them to hold the weight with cables down at their sides. I find that instructing them this was is much easier than with a barbell on their back.

But I definetly believe that compounds are the most important component. Except in the case of the absolute beginner who is terribly out of shape and has no real stabilization or control over their own body weight.



First off she sounds annoying, perhaps you're lucky to be rid of her.

Secondly, I agree with the sentiment of 1-2 sets max for beginners or someone who's been taking time off and as high as 3 for someone who's in moderate shape (at least been working out up until you train them).

Third, I think circuit training for the most part sucks -- it's been proven to build less strength than a standard weight routine and develop less cardio than a standard cardio routine. If the situation is such that they need circuit training (they need to be conditioned for some reason or they have an insanely limited time schedule) then go for it.

That said I do like to alternate (not superset) exercises with beginners, chest and quads for example or back and hamstrings. It keeps the pace a little faster and gives their muscles a little more rest.

You sound like you're gonna do great, don't let her get you down.


Well, she's worked with trainers in the past. And I definetly told her she was going to feel it probably two days after the session. But if you couldn't sleep because of it, I guess it was probably worse than she expected.

That, or maybe she views the soreness as having direct relation to building her muscles up to that "bulky boyish" state that she doesn't like.



hahah, the worst are old people and middle-aged women (though there are exceptions). Stay away if you can!!!