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5 of the Most Common Personal Trainer Mistakes

5 of the Most Common Personal Trainer Mistakes

It isn’t difficult to be successful as a certified fitness trainer. Especially when you know how to get started and build momentum. This article will help you avoid some of the top mistakes personal trainers make in business.

Mistake No. 1: Trying to Be Everyone’s Fitness Trainer

Many trainers claim they enjoy having diverse client rosters. That the diversity of programming keeps them challenged. But it’s hard to be a good trainer when the training clients on your roster are from many vastly different populations.

It takes lots of mental energy and time to create different programs to meet the needs of each client. And it’s costly to market to the wants and needs of so many different people.

Your time and money would be better spent earning a specialized certification. You could…

  • Become a Specialist in Senior Fitness and serve the 63 million Americans who will need health and fitness trainers.
  • Earn your Bodybuilding certificate and establish your personal training business as THE place for elite bodybuilders.
  • Combine any specialty with a Group Fitness certification and leverage your time and knowledge to help even more people.

Serving a small population means you know them better and can create exercise programs that truly fulfill their needs. Let’s look at CrossFit:

  • CrossFit is one of the fastest growing fitness trends. They don’t serve a large demographic. Most CrossFitters (almost 50 percent) are moms and dads in their mid-20s to mid-30s.1
  • Over half of the clients attending classes have an income of $150,000 or more per year.1
  • 86% of members list their ethnicity as “White”.
  • CrossFitters say they keep going to training sessions because they enjoy the community, satisfaction, and motivation of the group.2

Specializing is the key to better results and a faster-growing business. Jeremy Scott owns a successful gym with a growing youth fitness program in Scottsdale, Arizona. He says being able to relate to clients is “huge” for growing your business.

With a specialized certification, you’ll easily relate to clients. Understanding their health and fitness goals, weight loss struggles, and lifestyle, helps you create better, safer programs and a stronger community at your gym.

Mistake No. 2: Skipping Fitness Assessments

Eager to get a new client sweating to show off your awesome training skills? Don’t do it. Skipping fitness assessments with potential clients is dangerous. Consider this real-life example.

A new gym member shows up for his free personal training session. The fitness trainer takes his height and weight, tells him how terrible his BMI is, and hits the floor for a workout.

The personal trainer shows off some super hard moves and asks the client to try them. After 10 minutes of extreme exercise, the client is pale, sweaty, breathing rapidly, and complains of dizziness.

Turns out he’s a type I diabetic, hasn’t eaten in the last 5 or 6 hours (he can’t remember), and doesn’t have his insulin on him. He needs immediate medical attention.

This was a diabetic emergency that could have been avoided. Before exercising with new training clients:

  1. Collect a PAR-Q.
  2. Gather information about your client’s medical history and current medical conditions.
  3. Select safe and appropriate assessments based on that information.

Fitness pros know you don’t have to do every assessment during the first session. In many cases, doing just a couple fitness assessments will feel like a good workout for new training clients. Take it slow and use tried and tested fitness assessments that fit your client’s demographic.

The mirror is a poor indicator of progress. After taking initial fitness measurements, set goals and get started.

Schedule fitness assessments periodically so clients SEE improvements in their fitness level.

  • Take photos of their progress.
  • Track their strength and cardiovascular fitness.
  • Write down data about each workout, including sets, reps, rest, resistance, etc.

Show clients concrete data proving the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet. If you do that, they’ll keep showing up for workouts. If you can’t show them how far they’ve come, they will quit the gym and never reach their fitness goals.

Mistake No. 3: Making Up Workouts on the Fly

Many trainers make this mistake either because their schedule is too full or they’re training too many varied populations (see Mistake No. 1). Throwing clients into “today’s workout” isn’t doing them any favors. A safe and effective exercise program should be periodized.

Periodization breaks down the exercise program into specific time periods. Each period is an opportunity to reach a specified fitness goal.

For example, if your training client wants to improve their cardio, gradually increase the duration of each workout during the first mesocycle. In the next cycle, challenge their cardio by increasing the intensity of workouts. At the end of the macrocycle, their cardio fitness level should be vastly improved.

Periodized training builds from one cycle to the next. It is a safe and effective way of helping clients integrate fitness into their lifestyle.

Let’s say a client wants to lose weight and improve their physique. Maybe they’re going on a cruise and have planned the next six months to get in shape. In the first micro-cycle, you’ll teach them proper form. During the first mesocycle, you’ll focus on strength endurance. The next mesocycle will focus on muscle hypertrophy. Each cycle sets your client up for success in the next.

A client’s fitness level may increase slightly with an unplanned exercise program. At least they’re moving, right?

But for clients to see real results and for your personal training business to grow, you need to set goals and plan your client’s workouts. Without that roadmap, your client’s training and your fitness business will quickly plateau.

Mistake No. 4: Not Scheduling Client Goals Sessions

Most trainers are great at motivating clients to complete a tough workout. But very few trainers take the time to motivate training clients to change behaviors outside the gym.

  • Talking about the fitness challenges your client is facing while they’re doing burpees is useless.
  • Chitchat during rest periods is a waste of time.
  • Using training sessions in the open gym to chastise clients is embarrassing and degrading.

The best way to serve clients is to coach them during private, one-on-one sessions.

Rest assured, you’re not wasting your client’s time or money by scheduling goals sessions. In fact, the opposite is true.

Taking time away from exercise to learn more about what’s going on in a client’s life shows you care. It builds trust. It builds your reputation as a professional certified personal trainer. And yes, skipping the workout to sit down and talk with clients will build your fitness business.

The ISSA Transformation Specialist course is all about helping clients change their behaviors. But it requires one-on-one time when a client can focus on mindset and emotions, not pushing through another set of squats or burpees.

Need a few quick tips to help you right now? Check out our article, 7 Tips to Keep the Clients Coming Back.

Mistake No. 5: Not Pursuing Advanced Training Knowledge

The truly successful fitness coaches in the industry have a few things in common.

For one thing, they specialize in serving a specific demographic. They get really good at helping that group of people lose weight, get in shape, change their habits, and have fun. Because of this, their marketing is laser focused.

Potential clients find these trainers irresistible.

Successful fitness coaches can prove how good they are because they have data, testimonials, and pictures. A personal weight loss story may get a few potential clients to sign up for training sessions. But to keep momentum in your business, you must track everyone’s progress.

A good trainer knows you need to tell the client’s story. They know that you must prove that your program works.

Good trainers help clients develop a fitness mindset. Most excuses clients make for missing a workout, eating too much, not getting enough sleep, etc., are psychological. Successful certified personal trainers coach their clients to win the mental game. They help clients transform themselves. That kind of change requires mental, not just physical, toughness.

Finally, ask any successful coach how they stay on top of their game and they will tell you – they pursue advanced education. Exercise science is a relatively new field of study. There are new scientific discoveries made every year. Some methods of exercise are being proven unsafe. Other training methods are emerging.

A certified personal trainer understands that education is key.

An open mind is necessary to ensure client safety and success. There are countless opportunities to learn new skills. Expos, trade shows, conferences, workshops, webinars, online courses, and books are available for learning.

To stay on top of your game you have to stay on top of emerging trends and science. Don’t depend on last year’s weight loss webinar to be relevant this year. Keep learning.

Click HERE to download this handout and share with your client!



  2. Claudino, João Gustavo et al. “CrossFit Overview: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Sports medicine - openvol. 4,1 11. 26 Feb. 2018, doi:10.1186/s40798-018-0124-5