T Nation

The Personal Trainer's Thread

I thought it’d be useful to have a thread where trainers and coaches can talk about making a living in the gym.

I know there are more than a few people here who have clients and have worn the “Staff” t-shirt in the gym, so get in here. Maybe toss a quick intro with some background about your work, training education, and all that.

This thread’s not for advertising your services, so no plugging your blog/social accounts/whatever. Let’s talk the business side of things, brainstorm client situations, discuss what methods work and what don’t, brag about client success stories, facepalm client horror stories, etc.

Some forum reading:
Trainers Talking Shop - A thread I started way back in 2006. It went on for a few years with some good discussion along the way. Cool to see that the first reply is from Matt “quit the gym, moved to Hollywood” McGorry and another early reply is Alwyn Cosgrove’s endorsement, “This is a great thread here guys - some really good info getting thrown around.”

Trainers Talking Shop Part 2 A slightly more recent but short-lived sequel to the above. Still some good info there.

Some articles to check out:
So You Want to Be A Fitness Professional and Straight Talk About the Fitness Biz by Alwyn Cosgrove
Becoming A Personal Trainer by Al Kavadlo
5 Ways Trainers Need to Improve by Nick Tumminello


Can non coaches ask questions? If so, for trainers/coaches that have competed or gotten competition lean how easy has it been to get clientele via social media? Since starting back training at a gym I have met quite a few “coaches” who kept a blog, instagram, etc. of their prep and have since gotten a steady stream of clients.

Certainly an interesting topic/thread in a day when every single FB group I see is populated by “coaches” attacking/selling anyone who happens to wander in and ask a question, Like sharks in bloodied waters.

I actually have a very short list of people who I value enough to bounce ideas off of. This is very different from posing as someone experienced enough to guide others yet always needing someone else to answer your own questions. Something a lot of people don’t realize is how much the industry is full of “posers.” Now I don’t mean guys wearing speedos and hitting bodybuilding mandatories onstage, I mean people working the PR and social media angle yet paying more experienced/qualified folks to do the real work, constructing plans and answering questions for their clients. I actually mentioned to Chris just recently how I’ve been more than happy I the past to take the $ from “name” trainers to craft plans for people thinking they’re hiring them.


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I don’t have direct experience with that, but people always need to be on the lookout for self-taught “coaches” with no formal/organized training whose resume is just “See? I got myself into really good shape.”

Even if they competed and place well (which is a whole 'nother issue - competitors who place poorly but still technically get to claim “competitive bodybuilder” credentials to impress people who don’t know any difference), if they have zero experience working with people, then they’re going to end up training clients the way they trained themselves, not training the clients as individuals. That’s, at best, the path to slow progress and wasted time. At worst, it’s the path to injury.


Yes, exactly and it is unfortunate.

Some have gone on to tell me it went as follows:

  1. Hired coach
  2. Got lean
  3. Posted Pictures, People followed
  4. As they got leaner people asked about services.

Thing is these “coaches” HIRED someone knowledgeable to get them in shape. They go on to just give information (training/nutrition) that is freely available.

But that’s literally every job? Everyone learns how to do there job from someone. College, bosses, co workers. You can’t say it would be better for me too learn through trial and error on myself than say working out with a professional like stu and learning through his methods. Now if that person you workout under is shit then that’s a different story.

I think it’s possible to do things on your own, it’s merely time consuming, sometimes difficult, and always full of uncertainty. While I never had a coach myself, I think I was the rare individual with college level nutrition and coaching classes plus years of my own progress before I even stepped onstage. Even then, I had racked up a good number of contest wins before i even felt comfortable giving people prep advice, which is the extreme opposite to how most people seem to do thing these days.

Of course I’m probably the last person anyone should use as an example because it’s not my full time gig and so I can get away without a lot of the practices other coaches and trainers usually do.


Not a trainer, but from pure curiosity (and in the spirit of stimulating conversation), I have a few questions that might spark some responses from those who work in the biz:

  1. What’s your (approximate) client breakdown? By this, I mean are you training primarily high school athletes, 20-somethings that want to get “back in shape” for a beach trip, 30-somethings that have never worked out before, 40-somethings, retirees? Which group seems the easiest to work with? Who’s the biggest PITA to work with?

  2. Have you ever “fired” a client? Gotten so fed up that you literally did not want their money any more because

  3. If not “fired” a client, one step before that, have you ever declined to accept a client because you suspected they would be non-compliant or just a general PITA to work with? If so, how did you arrive at that decision?


I’ve been working in a commercial gym as a ‘gym instructor’ for the last 4 years. Full time, 38 hours a week, always on the floor. Spent a year PTing in there as well where I done very well however gave it up as I had to PT off shift and was spending in excess of 60 hours a week on the floor. It was driving me insane

Also have a stake in an industrial unit facility. Big DeFranco influence in that place. Do my PT in there however have limited it to 3/4 clients which is easier on the schedule. Only do it with folk I have built a relationship with over the years.

Client base? Mainly women 30+ looking to get in shape with the odd guy looking for instruction in technique in the big 3. Nothing flashy. No ‘high school athletes or d1(?) football athletes’. In my experience, anyone under the age of 30 is usually gleaming all sorts of shit online or can’t afford to pay for PT. They usually gravitate towards ‘online coaching’

Originally used to force weight training/hard conditioning down every client/customers throats however as time has passed, my training ‘philosophies’ have changed. I also prefer to focus on the older clientele as I find they have more money, respond well to my advice and actually do the fucking programs I write. The youngsters always have their heads turned by the chemically enhanced crowd and start throwing all sorts of shit in.

Good thread idea. Looking forward to getting some shit off my chest in here!

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Small, rural town, work as the gym director/trainer/creative marketing extraordinnaire, in a small gym attached to a PT/OT office. Most of my clients are 60+ females who want to have a better quality of life, have one gal (68) who has competed on-stage and she’s awesome. I’ve worked with a few middle aged males (30-45) and they are harder to work with, mostly pride I think, taking advice from someone younger can ruffle some feathers if they struggle with self confidence in the first place. I base all of their workouts on the compound lifts, and simply find the safest alternative and most comfortable alternative for them, and work from there.

I do have one gal that is 8 months out of back surgery on her lower back and had the goal when she started with me to learn how to properly squat with a straight bar (started about 5 months ago) had no prior weight specific training and as of today (3/15) we worked up to a single at 80lbs, I’m not sure who was more excited, me or her.

I struggled at first (this is my first year actually training folks, not just buddies) with trying to get folks to train for strength and not to “tone” but realized quickly (after reading articles and forums here) that it simply wasn’t going to work and that I needed to modify my approach, it’s been peachy ever since. I’m the talk of the senior center now! hahaha

Huge difference is that Stu’s job isn’t to teach you how to train people, it’s to get you lean, so you’re only learning what works for you and your body. You might pick some up some general principles along the way, but it’s still not remotely comparable to what you’d learn in a more formal training course or dedicated research.

That’d be like me knowing zero about cooking, buying dinners from BlueApron and following their instructions to make stuff at home, and then starting a catering business because the dinner turned out tasty.

[quote=“Despade, post:10, topic:227305”]
I struggled at first (this is my first year actually training folks, not just buddies) with trying to get folks to train for strength and not to “tone” but realized quickly (after reading articles and forums here) that it simply wasn’t going to work and that I needed to modify my approach[/quote]
For sure. Literal health and fitness and quality of life are huge factors. Relevant video:

But changing your approach can also be used to guide (a.k.a. persuade or jedi mind trick) a client into doing what you want. I think I’ve used this example before:
“Build big traps, a big back, a stronger grip, and thick spinal erectors!” vs “Build firm glutes, improve functional strength, and burn a ton of calories with one exercise!” You’re still talking about heavy deadlifts, but one approach will be more appealing to most women.

I feel I can answer some of these

For me it was mostly 30 somethings ladies. I’d say about 75% of my clientele were female. Had a couple of younger dudes, and an athlete or two, but it was mostly women wanting to get lose weight.[quote=“ActivitiesGuy, post:8, topic:227305”]
Have you ever “fired” a client? Gotten so fed up that you literally did not want their money any more because

I dunno if I would call it a firing but I did come close to giving a guy his money back. He’d paid me up front for a bunch of sessions but I almost gave up on him. He was really tall - 6’ 10" - and I can’t remember exactly how much he weighed but he was North of three bills, and his mobility was so poor he couldn’t really do any exercises pain-free. In the end I just got him walking up and down a flight of stairs with a weighted vest.

He was actually a nightmare in a bunch of ways. At the size he was, he could’ve easily been eating 3000 calories a day and losing 2lbs a week, but the scale just wasn’t budging. It was so fucking frustrating because every session I’d be asking about his diet and he’d keep feeding me this “chicken salad” bullshit I knew wasn’t true. I was actually friends with his sister and she used to always rat him out to me for eating pizzas and shit like that. Busted him in the supermarket once buying a load of crisps and fizzy juice too.

Dietary non-adherance was the most annoying thing about being a PT, in my opinion. The really annoying thing is it makes you look bad! If you’ve got a client like mine who was fat as fuck, so fat that they could lose weight doing pretty much anything, but they can’t get their shit together in the kitchen, it makes it look like your methods don’t work.

I once turned down an offer to make an exercise video that a client could follow-along at home. Oh, did I mention they asked me to be nude in it? They did, because they were also nudists and supposedly it would’ve been more comfortable for them. This was maybe 16 or 17 years ago I think, contacted via e-mail only. They would’ve been my 2nd or 3rd client ever, but, yeah no.

Other than that, I’ve turned clients twice when I wasn’t comfortable/confident in my abilities to get them to their goals. One was a swim coach who wanted me to handle the S&C work for his state championship team. Another was a guy who wanted to compete in National-level powerlifting. This was years ago and I didn’t think I knew enough to work at that level, but I did know that trying to bullshit my way through it would most likely backfire and cause more problems.

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Yeah, definitely learn to “sell” an exercise differently, ha! It seems to be working though, and honestly the old ladies are loving it!

that is the funniest thing ever!

@hugh_gilly brought up a question in the “When to Give Advice” thread that was pretty relevant here and got a little lost in the shuffle there. Figured the trainers would have a good take on it.

It’s a bit of a gray area because it’s not 100% unsolicited advice since one of a floor trainer’s jobs is to help when they can, but it’s not 100% solicited because the person isn’t flat-out asking for help.

This is where communication, the proper approach, and even a bit of salesmanship comes in. You never want to tell someone they’re doing something “wrong” because it puts them on the defense from the start. You acknowledge what they’re doing and offer an alternative and explain the added benefits from your way. Sell it, explain why it’s better, but leave them the option to keep doing things their way.

Let’s say someone’s bouncing the bench off their chest, I’d wait until they’re done with the set and say something along the lines of: “Chest day? Cool. Not a lot of people still hit the big exercises like the bench. Real quick, can I show you a tweak to get a little more chest work out of each rep? I saw you were kinda bouncing the bar off your chest, but that actually takes stress off the muscle and makes it harder on the shoulder joint. But if you pause at the chest for a half-second, it makes the muscles contract harder, so you get more pec activation and more growth. Give it a shot on this next set? I’ll spot you for a minute.”

Compliment sandwich. Praise-critique-praise or positive-negative-positive. Old school technique but it works.

But if an exercise choice, form, or other issue is, like 50-50 take it or leave it, make the judgment call. It’s okay to not “save” everyone, because that can very quickly turn you into the Exercise Nazi Form Police. And nobody wants to hire that guy to train them. Quarter-rep squatters don’t always have to be corrected. People who solely use machines and avoid free weights don’t always have to be enlightened. Play it by ear in terms of who to help and when, but whenever you do help, be sure to avoid the literal phrase “you were doing that wrong.”

Thank you Chris for bringing this up here.
The example you used is perfect as well.
The proper approach and salesmanship of the alternative way to do it is key in scenarios like this. Allowing them to not be forced into doing it the alternative way is crucial so you are not forcing them to do the exercise.
Great article you posted today as well btw.

So, I’m a Rippetoe guy - I don’t think he walks on water, realize there are valid opposing views, but I like his takes on shit. I did SS, ran out my LP - sort of, didn’t eat - hired a SS coach, gained 15 pounds in so many weeks (half GOMAD, half beer) and was happy with the results.

I work out at an old school gym owned by a chiropractor, about 5’8", and in very good shape. I saw a dude in there with his kid in the squat rack, and the kid was squatting close to depth, but was looking at the ceiling. I thought about saying something to the guy, you know, he should be looking at the floor four or five feet in front, just like Rip says. But, I know I’m a complete newb, so I ask the owner, “Shouldn’t he be looking at the floor, not the ceiling?”

Joe, the owner/chiropractor tells me that he probably shouldn’t be looking at the ceiling, but up.

Of course, I was like, “WTF bro, really?”

And then Joe continued - “he’s high bar squatting, you low bar squat, that’s the difference.”

That’s why I keep my fucking yap shut.


I suppose I’ll throw my two cents in the fountain…

FORMER strength coach at a gym that pretty much only trained young athletes. The majority of our kids were from about 8-16 years old. We offered “speed training” and most of the young kids ate that up. It was very simple training that spent a lot of time on mechanics–arm action, leg action, knee drive. After that we taught them how to stop and land (deceleration). From there we moved to lateral movements with proper stopping and changing directions. We rarely got to the point with an athlete that we got to start lifting and increasing strength and power.

I learned that kids are so uncoordinated that they NEEDED our program desperately. I thought it was too simple at first. They couldn’t raise their knee without it crossing the midline of their body. They couldn’t move their arms in opposition to their legs. We made them faster simply by making them move more efficiently.

I had lunch with that employer this past week and we discussed how the concepts and methods of strength & conditioning haven’t changed. Bigger, Faster, Stronger increases the load each set and has you do a PR set… Sounds a bit like 5/3/1 but without the 90% TM aspect.

Point is, coaching is all about how you deliver the information so your client can benefit. Being able to adapt on the fly is also a great skill to develop and that’s why you need to know more than just what your bro did to get swole when you take on clients.

I quit training because people don’t value it here in Kansas and the schedule of a PT doesn’t go well with family life.

In trying to get to where I can train my co-workers for our police department but things are moving at a snail’s pace.


B. A. in Exercise Science
Completed a semester-long internship in the weight room at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY


I wanted some help with personal training as a business.i became a personal trainer recently,but there is a lot of competition where I’m currently working.what can I do to get more clients?make them pay for me,and make sure that they don’t switch to someone else.any suggestions