Before you fork out some cash for a personal trainer, read this guide!

It’ll help you spot the difference between a bad personal trainer and an AMAZING trainer.

And trust us, having the right trainer can make ALL the difference in the world.

There’s nothing worse than spending 6+ months in a gym (and thousands of dollars) with a trainer, only to step on the scale and realize that you haven’t made any progress.

It’s the worst.

I’ve worked with good trainers and bad trainers over the past 15 years, have worked with the same online personal trainer since 2014, and we have a team of 15 personal trainers on Team Nerd Fitness.

Long story short, we know our stuff, and we’ll give it to you straight.

Whether or not you want to check out our 1-on-1 Online Training Program, this guide is going to help you with all the details.

Learn how an online personal trainer can change your life :

In this guide we’ll cover the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to personal trainers – both in person and online:

  • #1) What do you need from a personal trainer?
  • #2) How to find a good personal trainer.
  • #3) What are the signs of a bad personal trainer?
  • #4) What certifications should a personal trainer have?
  • #5) How much does a personal trainer cost?
  • Pros and cons of hiring an online personal trainer.
  • How to hire a personal trainer: next steps.

What do you need from a personal trainer

First and foremost, understand that your diet is 80-90% of the battle.

Even if you worked with a trainer for 60-90 minutes every day, that still leaves you with 22-23 hours per day to screw things up if you don’t eat properly!

Hopefully your trainer will also help you craft a nutritional strategy in addition to helping you build a workout strategy that aligns with your goals.

Start by picking your goals first and determine if a trainer you’re paired up with is the right fit for you. Like dating, you can meet somebody who’s amazing but not right for you.

If somebody is a competitive marathon runner, they might not be a great powerlifting coach, and vice versa.

So, start with your goals for finding a personal trainer:

  1. Are you trying to lose 300 pounds? 20 pounds? Get to 10% body fat?
  2. Are you trying to get stronger or hold your first handstand?
  3. Do you want to become a competitive powerlifter?
  4. Are you looking to run your first 5k?
  5. Do you just want to get in shape, feel better, and enjoy exercise?

These goals will largely determine the type of trainer you’re looking for.

MISTAKE #1: Not making sure your trainer has expertise in the area you want to train in.

Expertise in one area does not necessarily make them a good fit in another!

After that, you’ll want to think about what you NEED from your personal trainer:

  1. Are you looking for a powerlifting coach to show you the basics (squat, deadlift, bench) so your form is right? Just a few sessions up front and a few later down the line to confirm you’re on the right path might suffice.
  2. Are you new to working out or looking to kick start your first 2 months of training with 2 sessions per week to keep you disciplined?
  3. What type of person are you? Do you need more hands-on guidance throughout your workouts, or more space to take ownership and thrive on your own? Do you need somebody who will cheer you on or do you need tough love from somebody to call you on your bullshit?

Once you set proper expectations with what you want and how long you need a trainer for, then you can pick out one that hopefully will work for you.

Get matched with a coach that fits your personality!

How to find a good personal trainer

Once you find a trainer you are considering working with, the next steps should always be an in-depth conversation.

MISTAKE #2: Blindly accepting what your trainer tells you without making sure you fit together!

They SHOULD be listening to you completely and hear your full story.

They SHOULD ask about any past issues with injuries or experience with exercise. If you’re injured or have any deficiencies, they should know this so they can create a great program for you.

They SHOULD ask you about your nutrition. If they don’t ask about your nutrition, you’re going to be wasting your time.

They SHOULD practice what they preach. They don’t have to be an Olympian, but should have a healthy lifestyle.

They SHOULD tell you about their expertise and how they can help you. They should be able to share past successes of clients with you or point to their credentials and history of success.

They SHOULD set proper expectations. You won’t get ripped in a month, but they can let you know it could take many months to get in shape or build the right kind of habits.

That’s what to look for. These are the things we specifically focus on with our 1-on-1 online coaching program. We love helping people in the way that fits their lifestyle, at a pace that they feel great about, while actually having fun.

What are the Signs of a bad personal trainer?

Beware the “entertainment exercise” trainers with a routine that isn’t catered to your goals.

MISTAKE #3: Thinking a workout is more effective because it’s confusing.

Many trainers just try to confuse you with needlessly complex movements, and put all their clients through roughly the same cookie-cutter plan.

Why? because they know it makes them look knowledgeable without actually needing to do something effective:

“Now balance on this bosu ball while doing these dumbbell squat lunge curls and standing on one foot with your tongue out! Muscle confusion!

I hope you saved some energy for the row machine.”

Tough workouts are great, but remember that while it’s easy to get someone tired (“go do 100 burpees!”), it’s harder to help someone slowly improve and build momentum.

Sure, it might elevate your heart rate and tire you out, but if it’s not building towards your goals in a way that you couldn’t do at home, what are you paying for?

They might also have just obtained a basic certification and stopped their education there, relying on ‘conventional wisdom’ rather than doing the research and building the experience.

If your trainer says any of the following phrases, run for the high hills:

  • “Yeah you don’t want to squat too low – it’s bad for your knees.”
  • “Use this machine; it’s safer for you than free weights” (unless you have an injury)
  • “Yes, you should be using mostly your back. That’s why it’s called the back squat”
  • “These (ab) exercise will burn fat from your stomach in no time” (You can’t spot reduce fat.)

I have overheard all of these sound bites from real trainers in real gyms, and it made me weep like the Native American in the 1970s pollution ad:

Your trainer should be results-focused, not focused on scheduling you a new session and keeping you around.

I often see clients working with trainers for months and months and that client never looks any different.

The trainer is just interested in cashing another check.

Remember, your personal trainer works for YOU: Don’t let them build a program that doesn’t actually fit your needs!.

Do they adjust your workout to take care around any pre-existing injuries you may have, or do they just give you a cookie cutter workout?

Are they encouraging or helping you succeed in the way you want to be encouraged, or are they scrolling through Instagram models on their phones while you’re doing your sets?

Are they putting in time so they can see you get results, or are they putting in time so they can check the box and collect your money?

You’re paying money for this person’s expertise and attention – it’s not too much to ask to find somebody who takes those things seriously.

What certifications should a personal trainer have?

There are a wide variety of personal trainer certifications and other “credibility indicators.”

The more traditional path – a degree in exercise science or kinesiology may mean the trainer in question is knowledgeable about the human body.

However, that doesn’t speak to any experience they may or may not have coaching in real world circumstances.

6 of the most popular personal trainer certifications are:

  1. NSCA: National Strength and Conditioning Association
  2. ACSM: American College of Sports Medicine
  3. NASM: National Academy of Sports Medicine
  4. ACE: American Council on Exercise
  5. NPTI: National Personal Training Institute
  6. CrossFit

T-Nation provides a rundown of the pros and cons from a trainer perspective that we feel is useful insight from a client’s perspective. Be sure to check them out if you want to learn more about what’s behind your trainer’s certification.

CrossFit certifications are completed in a single weekend. While a CrossFit certification does not make a trainer bad (there are plenty of excellent CrossFit coaches out there!), it does not guarantee excellence either.

Here are our thoughts on CrossFit.

A certification from NPTI – the National Personal Training Institute – is a credential gained from going to a full school on personal training (rather than attending a class or taking a test).

While no certification can fully promise excellence, we believe trainers with NPTI certifications are worth your consideration.

CAVEAT TO ALL OF THIS: Plenty of trainers who have NO certification are incredible, and plenty of other trainers have the most elite certifications and are terrible trainers.

MISTAKE #4: Blindly accepting a trainer’s credentials or discounting a trainer without certain credentials.

A certification can be a starting point, but it shouldn’t be the determining factor.

One of the most important things to look for in your trainer isn’t a credential or certification at all, but real experience and an enthusiasm for helping you reach your goals.

For example:

Looking to powerlift or get into Olympic lifting? Look for someone who has successfully competed in their fields, or someone who actually coaches athletes who do compete!

Need to lose a lot of weight? Ask a trainer to share with you success stories from people who are like you.

In our view, finding a trainer with proven experience and a track record of performing or coaching (or both) in the area of your goals is the most valuable step you can take to ensure quality.

The credential is only a starting point.

Trainers aren’t cheap, but the benefits can be priceless.

Remember, you aren’t paying simply for their time with you, but for the years and years they’ve spent learning, training, and coaching.

It’s the years behind the certification that makes their time so valuable, so expect the cost of a trainer to be significantly more than the cost of a basic membership at your gym.

Learn more about our Online Coaching program!

How much does a personal trainer cost? Are Personal Trainers Worth it?

The cost of a personal trainer can vary dramatically depending on:

  • Where you live (in an expensive city, small town, etc.).
  • The quantity and duration of your training sessions.
  • What kind of training you are looking for.

But you want specifics.

The average North American trainer charges $55 for an hour session.

That’s an “average” so let’s break it down a little.

Here are the prices for working with a trainer in various capacities at my generic commercial gym in the NYC area (definitely on the more expensive end):

Is this pricing more or less than you expected?

Here is how much a personal trainer costs at:

  1. Global Gyms: Most big box gyms offer personal training:
    1. LA Fitness: you can expect to pay about $60 per session.
    2. 24-Hour Fitness: it’ll be about $80 per session.
    3. Anytime Fitness: as little as $35 a session.
  2. Luxury Gyms: If you go to a more upscale gym like Equinox, expect to pay “luxury” prices of $110+ an hour.
  3. In-Home Personal Training. If you don’t want to head to the gym, you can actually have a personal trainer come to your home. The cost on this could be all over the place, but a rough average would be about $65 for an hour session.

Different trainers will have different qualifications and expertise, leading to vastly different training experiences.

This can be really important.

MISTAKE #5: Thinking “more expensive” automatically means “better results.”

Cost is not the right metric. VALUE is the right metric!

Depending on your goals and the results you’re after:

  • $30 per session might be overpaying for a crap trainer who gives you a generic workout and doesn’t care about you.
  • $100 per session might be a STEAL if it’s an amazing trainer that gets to know your life and your personality, motivates you in the way you need to be motivated, and helps you get past a plateau when you stall.

That’s why remembering your “get in shape” goals is critical when buying a personal trainer.

If you’re looking to do 5 sessions to improve your powerlifting technique, that’s different than hiring a trainer to be with you in person 3x a week to get you to the gym.


You’re not just paying for an hour of somebody’s time.

You’re paying for their years of experience, schooling, training, and their expertise.

You’re paying to outsource ALL of your fitness questions to somebody who knows what they’re doing.

Somebody who gives you the confidence you’re training correctly.

So instead of “I am paying this trainer for 1 hour, this is too expensive,” what you’re really paying for is confidence, momentum, and (hopefully) results.

As somebody who has worked with an online trainer since 2014, I would pay any amount of money to my coach (just don’t tell him that) because I love getting results after years of struggle.

How does an in-person trainer compare to our online coaching program?

Our pricing comes in at a less-expensive price than 4 sessions per month with a trainer.

In addition to building you a workout program for the month, we also help you with your nutrition, mindset, and goals, and answer all the questions you have.

There are very real pros and cons to hiring an online personal trainer, so make sure you read that next section.

So a trainer can be AMAZING and worth every penny, IF you have the right one who also takes an active role in your nutrition.

After all, workouts only make up 1-3 hours per week.

What about the other 165? That’s where the progress happens! And your coach should be helping you there too!

Learn more how our Online Coaching Program can help you actually hit your goals!


Warning: I’m going to be slightly biased in this area, but I’ll share the honest pros and cons of online training:

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been working with an online trainer since 2014, and it’s allowed me to prove an internet troll wrong and then lose 22 pounds in 6 months while getting super strong!

Here are the Pros to Online Personal Training:

#1) Freedom to fit your schedule. With an online personal coach, you can train when and where you want to fit your schedule – your coach builds the workout program for you ahead of time, so you can fit it in at your convenience.

Compare this to a traditional coach, and you’re at the mercy of their busy schedule. If they only have time Friday morning at 8am, and you’re not a morning person, conflict ensues.

#2) Persistent worldwide accountability. I’m borrowing this phrase from a NF Coaching Client, Jeff (his success story is great). No matter where in the globe you are, your online trainer comes with you.

Which means the accountability never stops. If you travel for work, your coach can plan for that and build you a special travel routine. Getting relocated for work? No problem – your coach will still be there.

#3) Nutritional guidance. With most traditional personal trainers, you engage with them only during your scheduled visits: they help you work out and that’s about it.

With an online personal trainer, you’re connected whenever you have access to the internet. And I would imagine that MOST online coaching programs, work with you on the most important part of the equation: eating healthier!

AKA everything that happens in the 23 hours outside of the gym.

#4) More cost-effective. Most in person personal trainers are expensive, especially if you work out with them two or three times a week.

That’s because if your trainer is working with you, they can’t work with anybody else at the same time.

When you work with an online coach, because you aren’t training with them 1-on-1 in the gym, they can provide more cost-effective guidance.

When you factor in their availability via chat and their help on habits and your nutrition, you’re looking at a life changing experience if you find a coach that fits your personality.

When comparing online coaches versus regular coaches, I’m going to share the cons as if you have the option between a GREAT online coach and a GREAT in-person coach.

Neither of those are guaranteed.

Here are the cons of an online coach when compared against a real life equivalent:

#1) Your coach can’t do the work for you. There’s nothing stopping you from skipping your workout and lying to your online coach that you did it. Nobody wins in this scenario, but I can totally see it happening.

So yeah, an online coach can’t pick up the weight for you, and they can’t yell at you to put down the donut. You have to do the work!

#2) No real time feedback and instant form check. If you’re learning how to powerlift, or you’re going for a particular heavy lift, having a coach right there is HUGE.

They can tell you to move your squat slightly wider. They can guide you through the movement and consistently remind you – even when tired – to keep great form.

Although we do form check videos, where we have coaches and clients send clips back and forth to each other, it’s not the same as having somebody critique you in real time.

If you’re looking to nail a particularly challenging lift, or learn a dangerous gymnastics move, working with a trained professional in person is invaluable.

#3) The value of sunk cost. If you pay for a month of online coaching, there’s nothing inherently motivating you to go to the gym when it’s cold and you’re tired – your coach can’t yell at you, and you’re not letting anybody down in the moment when you don’t make it.

Compare this to working with a real coach in person.

You paid $100 for a session, and if you don’t show up, that money is *POOF* gone. So you tell yourself, “I already paid for this, and my coach is gonna be mad, I should probably go.”

And then you go. And you’re so glad that you did.

Although your online coach can notice that you haven’t signed in on your app, and they can ask what’s going on, this is after the fact compared to an in-person coach getting stood up.

There’s a lot to consider when debating in-person training vs. an online personal trainer.

I wouldn’t say one format is clearly better than or superior to another. It really depends on what you’re after and the circumstances of your situation.

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: I’ve been working with an online trainer since 2014, and it’s truly been life changing for me.

I had some goals that had evaded me despite a DECADE of effort, and it took a great coach to coax out the right strategy. It’s how I say (jokingly) that I went from Steve Rogers to Captain America.

And it was my coach’s programming that got me a 420 pound deadlift at a bodyweight of 172 pounds:

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Steve Kamb (@stevekamb) on Nov 21, 2018 at 10:43am PST

I’m not gonna set any powerlifting records, but I’m healthier, happier, and stronger each and every month, and I’m damn proud of that.

For somebody that can’t afford a top-of-the-line professional coach for each session, having an online coach to build your programming and guide your food choices is a verrrrry close second.

Start training and get results today. Learn more about our Coaching Program!

How to hire a personal trainer

HERE’S MY ADVICE: Give your new personal trainer 5 sessions before making a decision that things aren’t working out (sessions are often sold at a discount in a package).

The first session is often exploratory, explanatory, and introductory, and the trainer needs to test your limits and movements to build upon that.

This isn’t a “get fit quick” strategy, but rather one that could take months and months for you to find the right person to aid you on your journey.

Don’t expect miracles in a day!

A few words of wisdom if you do hire a trainer:

DO NOT USE YOUR TRAINER AS AN EXCUSE: Too many people will hire up a trainer and give no effort in the gym or the kitchen.

Then, when they fail to see results they can turn to their friends and say “man, my trainer is terrible, THAT’S why I’m not losing weight/getting stronger/etc.”

This happens so much more often than you’d think. A trainer is a guide, like Morpheus.

You have to take the pill and walk through the door yourself.

MAKE CRITICISM CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM: Often when the trainer asks them to do something (walk every day, throw away junk food, eat a vegetable), the client/trainee comes back with 1,001 reasons why they can’t do that.

No compromise or discussion of possible solutions. This stinks.

Instead of saying “no,” offer an alternative solution and negotiate a plan: “I don’t really like broccoli, do you have a way to make vegetables taste better?”

In other words, don’t look for problems, look for solutions.

IF YOU ENJOY WORKING WITH YOUR TRAINER: Let them know and continue working with them.

The more information you can give them on your progress, the easier it will be for them to alter your program as you go on.

IF YOU DON’T ENJOY WORKING WITH YOUR TRAINER: That’s okay too. Not all relationships end in marriages.

Some first dates suck, and some trainers aren’t what you need.

I think you can be honest with them and let them know that it’s not a good fit and you will not be continuing to work with them.

Good trainers at this point will ask what they could have done better.

Trainers who are simply after your money may guilt trip you or beg you to stick around. Try somebody new and keep the search going.

REMEMBER: this is a lifelong quest, and you’re on the hunt for a great guide to help you on your journey.

They won’t do the work for you, and they can’t work miracles.

Have proper expectations, do what you’re told, and this could be the best investment you’ll make in your entire life!

Trainers in the Rebellion, what did I miss?

Those who have had experience working with Trainers, any wisdom to share from your experience?

One final note: Going to a gym is intimidating, especially if you’re starting out.

If you are in a location where there aren’t any great trainers, you don’t have access to a gym, or you’re just not ready to work with somebody in person, consider checking out our Online Coaching Program!

Schedule a free call to learn more by clicking on the image below:

Start getting results with 1-on-1 Coaching!

If you have questions about what you need to look for when it comes to training with a coach in person, or even questions about working with an online trainer, leave them in the comments below so I can chime in!


photo: Decathlon, wikimedia: high five, Gregg Wass: Trainer, Wikimedia: Spot, Bicycle, Wikimedia: stretchins

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Why ACE Certified

Why is it important for my health and fitness professional to hold an ACE Certification

ACE serves as America’s Authority on Fitness® by equipping health and fitness professionals and the public with credible information, resources, and research on safe and effective fitness products, programs, and trends. To become ACE certified, aspiring professionals have to pass a rigorous exam that tests their knowledge of exercise science, nutrition, exercise programming, instructional techniques and a host of other specialties. Each of our four primary certifications are also accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which helps set the standard for certification programs in a variety of industries nationwide.


Who We Are

We are a team of personal fitness trainers striving to help as many people as possible by providing a “pay how you feel” per training session model. Our team at F.R.E.E. offers a “pay how you feel” training system, because we care about your health without putting a price on our service. People tell us how badly they want to get into shape, but often do not have the guidance, knowledge and finances to make it happen.

Our system allows you to train with us for free during what we call, the commitment phase. During this phase, we require you to train with us a minimum of twice weekly, maintain an extensive food diary and lastly, stop any unhealthy habits that are preventing you from reaching your potential. We will support and encourage you through the process because we want to show you what dedication and progress feels like when training with us and how empowering fitness can be.

By completing the commitment stage, you earn the privilege to pay us how you feel, so you can continue to reach your goals. With your commitment to improve, we’ll continue to dedicate our time and energy you deserve.

Female Personal trainers at home: A major breakthrough for Women in Fitness

It is rightly said, “If you check the health of a woman, you check the health of society”. Although we talk about Women empowerment frequently and put Feminism in everyday hashtags on Social Media, women in India face issues like malnutrition, lack of maternal health, diseases like AIDS, breast cancer, PCOD, Thyroid and many more on a large scale. One of the major reasons for Women not paying attention to their health is a lack of convenient sources accessible for physical activities.

In a country like ours, many women are shy or hesitant in going to gyms or fitness centers, although the trend is slowly changing for the age group between ’16-35″, Women above that age are still quite timid to focus on their health especially if they are housewives. A reputed survey says that to every 54.6 employed men, there were just 14.7 working women in India. The data clearly show that most of the women prefer to stay home. So the question is what about those females who stay at home and do not take their fitness seriously.

Also, working women are usually juggling through their daily lives, trying to manage home and work at the same time. We all know how good women are at multi-tasking but that just leaves no time to focus on one’s health. To maintain good health and fitness, a regular routine and proper guidance or motivation are necessary.

Because of all the above reasons, a trend of Personal training at home is slowly emerging in India and gaining popularity due to its convenience and ease. An experienced and well trained personal trainer can come and guide you at your home. Personal fitness trainer as a career has also gained a lot of attention from both the genders. The ratio is still low but will improve with time, statistics reveal. So the number of female personal fitness trainers is eventually increasing in India and that’s great news for all the fitness freaks and women for that matter. Here is why a female generally prefers to get trained by a female personal trainer at home:

SAFETY– Usually women feel safe around women and with increasing cases of sexual misconduct and harassment, people usually feel an inhibition in getting trained by a male trainer. Although many companies make sure you are safe in the presence of a Male trainer, it makes a whole lot of difference if they provide a female personal fitness or yoga trainer at home.

COMFORT– Female clients feel comfortable to share information with a female personal trainer, may it be regarding their menstrual cycles or any other female problem, they feel an emotional connect with the female personal trainer, which is very important to plan a good and customized workout plan.

PREGNANCY GUIDANCE– Female personal trainers are always a preference for women who are expecting a child or had delivered one recently. There are many things in a pregnancy that a female trainer could empathize with, in a better way. Usually, family members too prefer hiring a female personal trainer for their wives, daughters, and mothers and so on.

There are many reasons that a woman would prefer a female personal trainer at home and skip all the problems and excuses coming between them and their fitness. Fitness is every body’s right and one should find the easiest and most sustainable way to maintain an active lifestyle especially a woman, and then only we can expect women health to improve with time.

So next time any of your female friends or relative feel lazy to go to a gym or is not comfortable in joining a gym, then you can ask her to hire a female personal trainer at home and enjoy the benefits of workout conveniently, comfortably and safely.

Female personal training is also a good career option, which is a clear indication that Women Empowerment is happening at a gradual but significant pace. Women generally suffer discrimination and harassment more often than men, especially non-traditional occupations and it’s a great era to start this change by hiring a female personal trainer.

Improving the life quality of Women is the heart of Women Empowerment and its high time we start paying attention to Women’s fitness as well as ‘Fitness as a career’ for Women. You Go Girl! Book a personal trainer here

Five Basic Exercise Principles Every Good Personal Trainer Must Know

I’ve seen a lot of trainers come and go. Some looked like Marvel superheroes. Others had the charisma of a self-help guru. But almost all of them lacked legitimate scientific knowledge.

Many of them were objectively very good at training themselves. But someone who’s training another person should be able to answer basic questions about how the human body uses energy. Or why and how the body changes in response to exercise. Or how the stress a client encounters outside the gym can affect their performance in your training sessions.

It’s not just for you and your clients. A trainer without a basic understanding of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and the psychological underpinnings of his clients’ behavior diminishes the entire fitness industry.

If you didn’t learn these things in school, or when you got your personal training certifications, don’t feel bad about yourself. Lots of very good personal trainers don’t have degrees in exercise science, and some don’t have college degrees at all.

But just because you have a reason for not knowing these things doesn’t mean you have an excuse for not learning them.

Here are five key concepts every trainer needs to understand, and too many don’t.

READ ALSO: The Best Personal Training Certifications in the United States

  • 1. Energy systems: What they are, and how to train them
  • 2. Force vectors: Why they matter
  • 4. Stress: How it affects your clients in and out of the gym
  • 5. Psychology: What your clients don’t say can make or break your program
  • Final thoughts

1. Energy systems: What they are, and how to train them

Fitness pros talk a lot about energy systems. Unfortunately, most of it is either overstated or altogether wrong.

Every human has access to three distinct energy pathways. Which means every client, from the 80-year-old grandmother to the 16-year-old soccer player, is using all three systems during your workouts.

They work as a sliding spectrum, based on the immediate need to produce force and overcome a challenge. In one way, it’s like your body is shifting gears—lower gears and higher RPMs when it needs to quickly reach top speed, higher gears and lower RPMs to hit a sustainable pace.

But it’s not a perfect comparison. A car can only be in one gear at a time, while your body sometimes needs to use multiple energy systems simultaneously.

Aerobic system

Aerobic means “with oxygen,” which is why it’s also referred to as the oxidative energy system.

Because it’s your body’s default system, you use it all day, every day, whether you think about it or not. If you’re breathing, and not doing anything more strenuous than sleeping, sitting, or walking around, you’re using oxygen to tap into fat, your body’s near-boundless energy supply, along with carbohydrate.

How much of each you burn at any given moment depends on what you’re doing; what you ate and when you ate it; your overall health; your fitness level; and a bunch of other factors.

To train it, you generally need at least 20 minutes of exercise at a steady pace, although short bursts of higher-intensity exercise can also increase your VO2 max, the standard measure of aerobic fitness.

Phosphagen system (ATP-CP)

This is the first of your two anaerobic energy systems. It uses creatine phosphate (CP) to release adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for quick bursts of power or speed. Because your muscles store very little ATP and CP, these all-out efforts are limited to perhaps 10 seconds. After that, you have to slow down to allow your muscles to replenish their phosphagens.

You train this system the way you use it: with relatively short bouts of near-maximal effort. Remember that “maximal” is relative to your client’s strength and conditioning level. One client’s max is another’s warm-up.

Anaerobic glycolysis

Glycolysis is a fantastically complex process with a relatively simple outcome: use glucose for energy. It gets the glucose from your blood along with the glycogen stored in your muscles and liver.

We use anaerobic glycolysis for much of what we do in the gym—anything that takes more than 10 seconds and creates an oxygen deficit by the end. You also use it at the beginning of lower-intensity activities, before your breathing stabilizes and you can use your aerobic energy system, and at the end when you’re going into a finishing kick.

Theoretically, a trained athlete can use this system for as long as two minutes, but for your clients, it might be as little as 30 seconds before they’ll be gasping for breath and need to stop. As soon as their breathing returns to normal, they’ll return to using the aerobic system.

With a combination of strength and interval training, your clients’ improved conditioning will allow them to perform longer and more challenging sets and intervals, and to recover faster in between.

READ ALSO: Metabolic Conditioning: Don’t Say It Unless You Know What It Is

2. Force vectors: Why they matter

Movement always takes place against some form of resistance. You start with gravity, inertia, and the weight of your body, and then add whatever external load you want to move or manipulate. Whether that load is a pencil or a barbell, your muscles need to generate some amount of force to complete the task.

The strategy your body uses depends on the load and the force vector. For example, if you lift your arm out to your side, you don’t give it much thought. Your arm doesn’t weigh much, and it takes little effort to move it around. You can do it all day.

But if do the same thing with a weight in your hand, the strategy changes. From your feet to your neck, different muscles engage to stabilize your body while you lift the weight.

Make the weight heavier, and what does your body do? You don’t just contract the same muscles harder. You change the force vector by bending your elbow to shorten the axis of movement and shifting your torso to keep your body stabilized.

If the weight’s even heavier, you may not be able to lift it out to the side at all. But if you lie down on a bench, with your back fully supported, you could easily lift the same weight over your chest. You have the leverage provided by the bench and the mechanical advantage of lifting the weight directly over your center of gravity.

The type of resistance matters too. You can use cables, bands, and suspension trainers to not only change the force vector, but also to manipulate how the body interprets the movement. You can even add vectors by using two forms of resistance simultaneously—squatting with a band around the knees, for example.

READ ALSO: How to Change a Workout on the Fly in a Crowded Gym

3. SAID principle: The crucial link between actions and adaptations

Your body doesn’t change because you think it would be a lot cooler if it did. It changes when you consistently challenge it to get better at whatever you’re training it to do.

In other words, it makes specific adaptations to imposed demands, or SAID.

SAID can be negative and positive. If you spend long hours slumped on the couch in front of the TV, your body will adapt to sitting on your couch. Your posture will worsen, key muscles will shorten or lengthen, you’ll lose strength and mobility, contractile tissues will atrophy, and you’ll almost certainly decrease your cardiovascular output.

On the other hand, if you run several days a week, gradually and progressively increasing the speed and distance of your runs, your body will adapt to running. Your VO2 max and stroke volume will improve, you’ll increase capillary density, and your resting heart rate will decline. Your lower-body muscle fibers will remodel themselves to become more endurance-oriented, and your bones will thicken to make them more resilient to repetitive impact. You’ll also get better at running, with more efficient form that requires less effort on each stride.

A good personal trainer understands that every part of a client’s program should impose demands that lead to adaptations specific to the client’s goals. There should be a reason to do everything in the program, and a reason not to do something else.

READ ALSO: The Myth of Fat-Burning Workouts

4. Stress: How it affects your clients in and out of the gym

“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.” — Hans Selye

Hans Selye was a mid-20th-century endocrinologist who coined the word “stress” as a way to describe the body’s reaction to the illnesses, injuries, and other things that grind it down. He called it the general adaptation syndrome (GAS) in a paper published in 1936.

Interestingly, he later regretted using the word “stress” instead of something more descriptive, like “strain.” This is how he tried to clear up the confusion he’d created: “Stress, in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.”

Got that?

As Selye observed, stress comes in all forms, and can have a positive or negative impact. The modern world is filled with big and small stressors—your commute to work, the client who canceled, that argument you had with your spouse. All of them matter, creating a cumulative challenge to your health and well-being.

Exercise is also a type of stress. Most of the time it’s a positive experience, known as eustress, but with too much intensity or volume and too little recovery, it can become distress. The negative effects of exercise are compounded by problems at work or home, poor sleep, suboptimal nutrition (too much or too little or the wrong kinds of food), or excess alcohol or caffeine.

That’s why a client who has her lifestyle dialed in can push herself hard and still see improvements, while for another, even a modest training program can leave him exhausted and frustrated. The stressors in his life ensured that any workouts could leave him effectively overtrained.

The best coaches know to vary the intensities of each client’s workload to account for the stress the client carries into the gym. They can scale it down on days when a client is tired, tense, or unfocused. They can also scale up on days when the stars align, and it’s possible to chase progress.

You need to have enough empathy for your clients to identify when working out harder won’t help them achieve their goals. It’s possible that the biggest benefits will come from improving their sleep, eating more fruits and vegetables and less junk food, cutting back on stimulants and alcohol, or simply taking a short vacation to relax and recalibrate.

READ ALSO: The Big Rocks of Personal Training

5. Psychology: What your clients don’t say can make or break your program

If you want to master the “personal” part of personal training, you have to understand your clients. What motivates them? Can you read their emotional state well enough to see when they’re uncharacteristically driven or drained?

Let’s say you add something new to the program, and the client doesn’t like it. Some will tell you, but many won’t. (And those who speak up are often the ones who complain about everything.) Too many trainers will miss the client’s nonverbal signals and assume they just need a little more motivation. (“The fat won’t burn itself!”) Or, worse, they’ll read the negative body language as a character defect. (“Dig deep and suck it up!”)

Most clients will do what you tell them, however begrudgingly, but will also resent you for it.

Conversely, if you notice the client’s resistance, and ask what’s going on, you may discover the client has a good reason for not wanting to do it. An older client might feel intimidated by meatheads lifting (and then dropping) heavy weights nearby. A heavier client might not want to do a hip hinge that exposes her backside to scrutiny. A middle-aged guy might balk at doing an exercise that would expose his lack of strength or coordination.

Good trainers don’t just provide answers. They ask questions. They pay attention to what the client doesn’t say. And over time, they earn their clients’ trust. With trust comes respect, with respect comes loyalty, and with loyalty come good results for the client and financial security for the trainer.

It all starts with understanding how a client’s psychology can affect their workout, and how their workout can contribute to or take away from their overall happiness.

READ ALSO: How to Make Sure You Aren’t One of the Bad Trainers Ruining Our Profession

Final thoughts

The job of a personal trainer is straightforward: Help your clients achieve outstanding results without risking their health or safety.

But the process is infinitely complex. You owe it to yourself and your clients to understand the science that supports your program and the nutrition and lifestyle advice you offer. You need to understand the reasons for your client’s progress or lack thereof.

No trainer can ever know it all, but every trainer should at least know the basics. Without that knowledge, and a lifelong desire to build on it, you can never truly succeed as a fitness professional.

Ready to Take Your Personal Training Career to the Next Level?

Starting your career isn’t complicated. All you need is for someone to pay you to train them.

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  • Learn the no-fail secret to motivating clients (pg. 61)
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The Author

Kevin Mullins, CSCS, is director of product development and education for the St. James in Springfield, Virginia. Before that he was a master trainer at Equinox in Washington, D.C. He’s the author of Day by Day: The Personal Trainer’s Blueprint to Achieving Ultimate Success and Elite Program Design Concepts, and a frequent contributor to the PTDC. You can connect with him at his website.

Personal Trainer

The Process

1. Consultation

Come in for a free consultation. There is never pressure to purchase. Aside from a brief introduction to us, we simply listen to your needs and make suggestions (even if that suggestion is to go somewhere else).

2. Set up

If you choose to hire us, we will set up a regular schedule, collect health history information, and create your binder.

3. Assess

We will spend your first two sessions assessing your needs and capabilities. We will do a light full body workout as well as several fitness tests and measurements like body fat composition, blood pressure, circumferences, photos, etc..

4. Design

Using professional programing parameters, we will custom design a workout based on your goals, level, health condition, and capabilities. We will regularly design new workouts as you progress and we learn more about you.

5. Fuel

We will sit down for a one-on-one nutrition coaching session and provide you with the knowledge and materials to get you off to a great start eating right for success. And don’t worry, there are no supplements to buy or weird diet foods. Just real food.

6. Attack!

You will engage in your weekly workouts in our private fitness facility with your trainer by your side coaching every rep, every exercise, and checking on your nutrition. We will likely give you assignments to do on your own, at home, or the local health club if your plan requires it. You will be kept safe, and challenged appropriately for your level.

7. Reassess, redesign, reach new levels.

We will do a full reassessment every 4-6 weeks, create a new workout, and set new goals. You will continue to improve the longer you are here.

You can stay as long as you like. Many of our clients have been with use for 15 years. They are “lifer’s.” They have reached and maintained their fitness levels for the rest of their lives

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