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Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Wed Apr 18, 2012 3:57 am
by vanillarama

I feel a bit heartened after seeing the "ask any question" thread, and please feel free to refer me to any thread that already exists on this topic- I looked but couldn't find anything.

I'm currently studying to become a gym instructor/PT, as mentioned above. I am sure many people here have personal experience working in that field or employing trainers, I was wondering if there are any common mistakes that make you crazy from students/newbies. Alternatively, if there is something a great trainer (or even mentor) employed in their training/instructing skills, I would love to know.

A little about what I am going for- I'm a female in my late 30's not necessarily looking to train athletes (although I wouldn't rule it out) but possibly people new to fitness or even special populations once I get the proper certifications.

My weaknesses are in instructing free weights, but I am working on that the best I can, learning the muscles and proper form. My first practical assessment is next week.

But, first, I have to pass this course :grin:

I am aware this is a fairly general question/topic I am posing here, sorry about that. I'm just trying to get all the ideas I can.


Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Wed Apr 18, 2012 7:46 am
by robt-aus
good luck with the course.
i'm not a pt, nor have i employed one. below are some of the things i see instructors do in the gyms i visit that get my attention
1. ignoring basic abilities to focus on advanced exercises and fancy equipment
2. allowing too much weight, which leads to
3. accepting less than full rom or dodgy form, which leads to
4. excessive spotting, or moving the weight for the client
5. overuse of jargon
6. spending more time talking than working, however i know this is a personal thing - some people pay for a trainer to chat with
7. not unpacking weights, not cleaning equipment
1. balancing what a client asks for with what they need to get there
2. getting good histories
3. observing and coaching; being attentive to client
4. able to describe the science, both technical and physiological, of exercise when appropriate

i've recently been impressed with:
trainers who will run PT coaching sessions for groups (better group dynamic, higher billing)
running technique/demonstration/1rm testing workshops for lifts (better benching, deft deadlifting, powerful pressing...)

Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 2:14 am
by vanillarama
Thanks for the response! I definitely have a long way to go in the science area, but I guess that is why I'm in the course (and will continue to learn long after the course is over).

Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 5:19 am
by KPj
I work part time as a trainer (At fitness first - there's a few in London). We work free lance so just pay a fixed rent and basically do what we want.

To cut a very long story short I've been doing it part time as a means of testing the water before deciding whether or not this is what I want to do (it is).

So, there's a lot of things I believe I've done right, a lot of things I believe i've done wrong, a lot of things i've done that I shouldn't and A LOT that I haven't done but should have.

Where do you want me to start? lol :rabbit:

Anyway, in the time i've been doing it (2 years), i've seen several trainers come and go, most leaving worse off than when they arrived, some leaving in serious debt. Don't let that dishearten you though as some trainers in my gym do amazingly well. I've also managed to stay afloat and most of the time profit a little after costs despite not actively trying to get leads for over a year (I still need to pay full time costs despite only working part time hours).

I've got a few random things but if you want to ask anything specific then feel free, this should get the ball rolling.

-Certifications are crap. Sorry, but they are. They are, however, very necessary. They're mostly all about just making money, paying little attention to quality i.e. what they actually teach you. They'll baffle you by forcing you to learn how motor neurons work before learning how to teach basic practical things like a DB Row (in fact, depending on certification, you may never learn this). I'm certified via one of the alleged top 3. I'm going out on a wim and saying it's crap. The one i wanted to do (NSCA) doesn't even have a practical component, although isn't even recognised in most gyms in the UK anyway. Without ranting too much, the point is - a certification is a foot in the door. Learn it to pass it but realise that you need to keep learning, which you've stated anyway so i'm probably preaching to the choir.

-You need a process(s) for getting leads. It seems obvious but most trainers who start, think clients will just be handed to them by the gym. This doesn't happen. If your gym does supply leads, they are also generally low quality, but worth it none the less if that's all you have.

-Related to the above, it's very easy when working in a gym to hang around reception or in one of the offices. Ironically enough the fitness industry has a very lazy work ethic. Unless you are eating, or doing paper work of some kind, stay out the offices and remain on the gym floor. I've actually picked up clients whilst sitting in our Juice Bar writing programs - they've came up and asked questions, it's led to a free session, which has led to paid sessions. It wasn't intentional at first, I just knew it would be difficult to concentrate in the office. The point is you need to be visible and approachable as much as possible. One of the best tips i've heard is to always be in the gym at the times you wish to be booked and getting paid, regardless of whether you have sessions or not. For example, if you want to eventually have paid sessions from 9am till 3pm on a Saturday, then always be in the gym at that time, even if you have no sessions.

I've picked up clients during the most unsuspecting times. If I'm in and have no sessions, I float around, basically. I use this time to experiment with things, or even train. People just ask stuff. I always have time for them and always help out. I say "hi" to people i've never spoke to, and ask simple questions like, "how's things?", or, "how's the training going?". Sometimes you get, "fine, thanks". Other times you get a life story. Occasionally you get the chance for a client. At the very least you're building relationships, helping yourself become known as that trainer who is always keen to help, nice and friendly, not an a$$hole, etc.

That's mostly about just getting leads and the business end. I would recommend anything by Alwyn Cosgrove in that regard and resources like for more. However feel free to ask anything.

Learning is crucial and should be prioritised. Remember you are your own lab. I think you should play to your strength but also develop your weaknesses. You said free weights is a weakness so, if I were you, I'd start doing a free weight based training program, set some goals etc as if you were a new client and go through the process. It's one thing to read about stuff but another to actually try it. Quite often when you put something into practice, you get a whole different perspective. Sometimes things that look good on paper are crap in practice and sometimes things that look crap on paper work great in practice.


Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 5:57 am
by Jason Nunn
I agree with the posts above and though I'd add these:

- Get good at sales. The sooner you realize this is a sales job, the better off you'll be.

- Get good at teaching the basic exercises before worrying about anything fancy. Learn to teach the squat, press, pull, and hinge. Then, learn to progress and regress each exercise.

- Find someone locally who's really good at it and pay them a visit. This is the best way to learn IMO.

- Find a quality assessment tool and get really good at it. It doesn't matter which one you use (FMS, Assess and Correct, ect.). Most gyms just do a PAR-Q and send the client on their way without any regard to movement quality. I think this sets people up for failure. Doing an assessment lets you know what exercises would be contraindicated for the client.

- You aren't a Physician or Physiotherapist. Don't try to diagnose or treat pain. Too many trainers try to work outside of their scope of practice. Find a quality network to refer out to. You may lose a little bit in the beginning, but you'll gain the respect of those practitioners and they will return the favor by refering back.

Good Luck!

Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:51 am
by hoosegow
Don't be too arrogant to learn. If you see a jacked up person in the gym, get to know them and ask questions. If you see a strength monster, get to know them and ask questions. Talk to the women who are doing well. You'll learn more from them than many of the men.

Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 10:22 am
by josh60
On top of what the others said, I think one of the most important attributes of a good instructor is to be able to say the sentence "I don't know but I will find out and get back to you" when appropriate. For some reason people are afraid to admit the simple fact they don't know everything, and prefer giving wrong information and poor advice, which might sound good for the short term but eventually causes harm not only to the trainee but to the instructor's reputation as well. This is especially true in physical training where there is a lot of unknowns, conflicting ideas, myths and misconceptions.

Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 6:17 am
by vanillarama
I really appreciate all the help here- there are a lot of things above that I haven't considered, especially on where to look for clients.

I have a very open mind in regards to learning, so there's one area where I think I'm doing ok. I also have no problem doing the little stuff like cleaning and whatnot. I'm big on gym etiquette.

As you all have mentioned, I think the big things for me here will be knowledge and sales, both of which I'm working on as much as I can...

Thanks again everyone, and have a fantastic weekend!

Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 7:27 am
by hoosegow
What does everyone think about how important "looking the part" is, at least until you have some credibility? I think I would have a tough time getting clients who just want to "tone up." My niche would be football players (the real kind - American) and strength clients. I am by no means saying I'm qualified to train either, but my physique would damage my credibility to the average client. You take someone like Nunn who is obviously very big, very strong and still lean, I think that would make you a walking advertisement as a trainer for just about anyone.

Interestingly, I have a aquaintance who was an all American guard from my alma matter. He is a real good guy and if I had a son, I would think he would be a good influence on him. He started a gym where he specializes in training Jr. High and High School athletes, particularly focussing on football and field event. He is a huge guy and has a great reputation in the community and obviously his success in football has given him instant credibility. His success with his athletes has only grown it. My point is, he looks the part and consequently is succeeding in a niche fitness market. Niche is relative since the passion for high school football in Texas is unmatched and there is a steady stream of parents willing to pay to make their sons that much better.

Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 8:31 am
by KPj
I think it's definitely an important factor. There's a trainer I know who has been doing it for ~15 years, and successfully, I have a lot of respect for him and he's always been very helpful. He's one of the people who pushed me to get certified. Among various advice he has given me, he said since day one, "and start training your arms!", as i'm notorious in my gym for never training my arms (to be honest, it shows). He gives an example of clients that came to him and, when he's asked what their goals are they have, in short, said, "to look like you".

I've also known and know various trainers who really don't look like they do anything (i also know a few who just don't do anything, not consistently), one particularly being quite overweight (and not in a "good" way i.e. "power belly"... Just, well, fat), and they do ok.

It's definitely a factor and one that could be exploited to your advantage or even work against you but it's also not a deciding factor - you can look out of shape and people will still sign up if they connect with you and like what you say. Bizarrely, some people never even question it. The uniform instils authority and the chat does the rest.

It's right that different looks attract different people. For example, a big, lean bodybuilder type, is likely to be extremely well versed on nutrition and fat loss. However, that same guy will intimidate a lot of middle aged house wife types and put them off.

It's strange what people go for. Everyone is a little different.

I guess it depends. The bigger trainers in my gym clearly wear the Trainer T-shirts that are atleast one size too small (the seams for the shoulders are practically at their ears) and if you look closely, they roll up the sleeves a little to expose the gun show. They obviously feel it matters.

My personal opinion is that as a trainer you see the value in training and as such, you train. You practice what you preach. Whether that's distance running or competing in SHW PL meets (which btw, gives you the sell-able status of being a competitive athlete). It shouldn't be a chore to practice what you preach, it should be a privilege. Every one of my clients when I have asked recently for feedback as I look to do this properly, say my passion was a key factor, and I'm not sure you can have passion if you don't love what you do and therefore practice what you preach.


Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 8:58 am
by KPj
To add to that, and not the same as your appearance but still falls in line with how you "look". I think you really need to be able to demonstrate everything you do effectively and properly. Now, again, i've seen trainers do really well for themselves who had terrible form. In fact the most successful trainer in my gym constantly displays terrible technique (and so do his clients). I refer to this in my own mind as the difference in being a good "trainer" and a good "coach", and I think this guy is a fantastic trainer but not so good at coaching (btw, new clients could care less about good coaching skills as most people don't even realise there is a value in it). However I just think everything you "teach", you should be able to do properly yourself. This can be tough when you can barely walk from your last squatting session and you need to demonstrate an OH squat. However, as another example of the value of practising what preach, clients actually really like to see that their trainer is suffering from the effects of a hard training session lol.

If you preach good technique and practice crap technique, you lose credibility. I've seen a recently failed female trainer actually fall off a stability ball whilst trying to demonstrate some whacky exercise. I cringed for her. I've heard members bitch about trainers taking classes and finding the workout harder than the members at the class.

Lastly, I think trainers should see the value in their own service. You have said one of your weaknesses is free weights. If it's feasible, you should consider finding a trainer who is good with free weights and getting some sessions. You could learn more than just how to use free weights better :wink: (watch how they market themselves). In my past, i've had sessions from a few trainers, including one MMA trainer and one boxing trainer. I've paid a S & C coach (Eric Cressey) to write my programs for 10 months (and I can't even begin to describe how much I learned from this, never mind actually getting results I was after). I would and probably will do this again. If you see the value in having a trainer, then you get a much better perspective on what potential clients would "want".


Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:33 am
by vanillarama
It's funny, I've been lifting (ok, a bit on and off) for over 15 years now, always switching it up, etc. yet somehow I missed out on tons of exercises. I am definitely working hard to catch up. I had so many trainers- I wonder why none of them taught me about different rep styles, sets, etc.? Then again, why didn't I ever find out on my own?

I'm using trainers as much as is feasible right now. I am an American (even though I've lived abroad for years now) and unfortunately was unable to work here in the UK until recently. I put almost all the cash I have into this course- which is taught by incredible trainers, btw. I was certified as a fitness instructor in the US and never learned anything about most of the things I learned in the first few days of this course.

This site is such an excellent resource, I am just kicking myself for not using it more before!

In regards to 'target audience' I've often found people (of both genders) come up to me often to comment about my flexibility. TBH, that's just something I always had, even when I was out of shape. I would really like to get older clients, possibly people who are realizing as they go into their 50's and 60's that if they don't make a change, their elderly years are going to be miserable for them. A lot of functional fitness, then. However, I do realize that in these cases proper form is more than just something that will make me marketable- it could be the difference between someone learning something valuable...or injuring themselves, possibly severely.

As I said, I don't want to limit myself to one type of client, but I just think my personality and background would fit. I don't think any competitive athlete would look at me and start begging me for a session- and that's fine.

Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:35 am
by vanillarama
That said, I do want some really huge lifter to train me sometime, I'd love it and I bet I would learn a ton...just have to work within my means at the moment.

Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:46 am
by Dub
I like this thread and will read all of the posts when I got the time, but in the mean time check this out. It's more than appropriate:" onclick=";return false;
That's the website of The personal trainer development center. It always has great blog posts revolving around the work of a trainer. They got out this little wacky booklet called 47 random personal trainer tips. Maybe you can find something worth using. ... r-Tips.pdf" onclick=";return false;

And as if someone didn't know, I'm also studying to become a personal trainer. On a bigger scale tho. I'm studying at the university of applied science in Finland. The offical (right now, about to change) term for my profession will be fitness instructor. It's the school of sports and leisure in general.

Re: Tips on becoming a good (hopefully great!) instructor/PT

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 12:19 pm
by hoosegow
vanilla, can I assume you are older yourself?

The reason I ask is because (once again I don't train anyone but myself) I have seen that the average client seems to gravitate to either someone that is similar to them or someone they want to look like. I normal client I see (other than the obligatory new member session) is usually a soccor mom, older person or young kid whose parents want them to learn correctly. The soccor moms tend to gravitate either to the young male or older female trainers. Older clients gravitate to older trainers. Parents of kids tend to gravitate to the young male trainers. Funny story, the only exception that comes to mind is the time a pre-teen/young teen boy was being trained by an attractive young woman. Sometime - either his third of fourth session - he became arroused. The trainer immediately stopped the training and we never saw the kid again. I was there when it happened but did not witness the event but was told about it soon afterwords.

I guess what I'm getting at is that if I am a 50+ person just getting into fitness, I would want a person of similar age and experience who has the body function that I am looking for. I think if this is the client you are looking for, you should really concentrate on learning about testing (to see where your client is) and how to improve strength and flexibility. Unfortunately for you, you are naturally flexible and probably this will be a weakness in your knowledge. I would imagine, for example, you would want to coach complexes versus lifts for most of these clients as the probably improve overall strength. Machines would also be good to build a strength base (especially if your client is very weak), but I wouldn't want to stay on them too long. Focus on the knowledge you will need to support your desired client base. If you have interest in working with a big lifter, ask if you can work with him/her from a learning standpoint.

On a side note, in a few years, I'll need a good trainer to undo all the damage I've done to myself.

Damn. I'm sitting here writing this and keep thinking TimD would have had a lot of great advice for you.