How to Write Awesome Gym Programmes for Your Clients!

Before you even think about exercises, reps, sets, rest periods, and time under tension you need to find out what your client wants, what they really want – not what you think is best for them! Fail to do this, and your clients may never reach their goals, and your career as a PT may never get off the ground!

Creating safe and effective training programmes is obviously a key part of being a Personal Trainer. But when you are new to the industry and lacking experience they can seem daunting initially, will they work, are they effective, will my client like it!?

Those questions you can answer by having a thorough Q&A session with your client or potential client to discuss what they really want to achieve.

First rule! Remember it’s what they want, not what you want! Sure, you might think they need to “hit” the gym 4-5 times a week as that’s what you do, but realistically they might only get there 1-2 times per week, so prioritise THEIR needs!

Now, if they only manage to visit the gym once or twice per week they may not achieve things as quickly as you wish. But, you can explain that to them so they have realistic expectations.

I will usually sit down with a client and start with a simple type of question like this “what are you looking to achieve?” or “how can I help?”  or, something similar, a nice open question! Then sit back and LISTEN! Listen as you have never listened before (it’s still something I’m trying to improve on!) as most clients will open up and start telling you everything, or at least 90% of the things you need to know.

Keep listening, but now you might start prompting them with other questions or start clarifying things with them.  The more they speak, the more you will learn from them.

You will learn most of the things you need to know about your clients simply by listening to them and letting them speak!


As your experience and confidence grow, you will improve at managing the conversation and abstracting the information you need. But, start with a nice simple open question, sit back, listen, and take notes.

You want information on their health status, injury or previous injury problems, their training age i.e. Are they new to exercise, or have they been hitting the gym for years, their knowledge and experience of using gym equipment, will they train at home or the gym, are there any exercises they like or dislike – there isn’t any point giving them squats on the squat rack if they have never used it before or don’t have the confidence to use the weight section in their gym.

What are their current eating habits, alcohol intake, do they smoke?

You can keep on expanding and drilling down further on those topics, and, of course, what their goals are i.e. to lose 1 stone in weight for an up-and-coming wedding or holiday, what their expectations are, and how committed to change are they?

SMART Goal setting is an excellent tool to use, and you will learn about it as you progress through your course. It’s a key part of being able to write programmes for your clients. SMART Goal setting is easily a blog by itself, I covered it here!

Now at this point, you should consider if this is for a gym programme which they will perform by themselves at the gym, or whether it’s for Personal Traning with you.

All this information will give you an excellent basis to start writing awesome training programmes for your clients.

And, remember, IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE CLIENT! It’s never about you and what you like doing in your gym sessions, so do not try to force your personal training methods on them, it’s what works and what is best for FOR THEM!

Okay, this always happens in the early days, but once that prospective client leaves the consultation you will immediately think of something you should have asked!

Don’t worry, by now you should have plenty of information to start writing programmes for them. But of course, now is a great time to spend 10 minutes assessing your consultation process and how you can improve it.

 Consultation Check List!

  • Personal information gathered (this can be done beforehand to save time by emailing them a form to complete and bring to the consultation)
  • Health screening, PARQ, etc. Not everyone likes being weighed and measured (they probably know they need to lose weight and not everyone enjoys you standing over them measuring their body!) Present it as an option, some clients do love it and others not so much!
  • Why they want to make changes and what those changes will mean to them
  • Nutrition and diet
  • Training experience/exercise history
  • Personal stress, family, and work demands
  • Gym likes and dislikes
  • Fears/barriers to exercise and lifestyle barriers to change
  • Current motivation, readiness to begin, how often they are likely to exercise per week
  • SMART Goal setting.

Of course, you can expand hugely on this list and “dig down” deeper on certain topics.

Consultations are usually provided free (of course you can charge if you wish) as they can take a considerable amount of time.  I know one trainer at a gym I used to work at offered a 2-3 hour consultation free of charge as he knew this would really help when it came to signing up his prospective clients.

This may seem like a lot for free, but if you are selling 3 – 6 months worth of training sessions to them, then you need as much information as possible.  And, potential clients given that amount of free time are 90% (probably even more!) likely to sign up as they are in the right stage of “readiness” to begin.

So, consider your options, but put aside 90 minutes for most consultations.

A well-run, professional consultation may be the difference between a client signing up or not and is also crucial for you to begin writing programmes for them.

Your relationship with your client will evolve over-time and gradually they will share more information as you work together.  And, yes you will have clients who will be nervous about the consultation and may not be overly forthcoming with information, which is why you need to adapt your consultation skills for every client!

It’s practice, and over time you will fine-tune the process, sign up the clients and get them achieving their goals!

The Fundamental Principles and Variables of a Fitness Exercise Training Programme


Progressive Overload




Recovery time






How the body improves is very specific to the stress you place upon it i.e. flexibility will improve by incorporating stretching and mobility exercises and likewise, muscle tone and strength will increase from regular strength/resistance training.

You can then drill deeper and become more specific. For example, regular heavy strength training may not be required that often for an endurance athlete such as a marathon runner (although at times it may be appropriate), and whilst training on a rowing machine will help develop an all-round cardiovascular function it’s not specific to someone wanting to run a faster 5k.

Therefore, gathering information from your client or having an understanding of the demands of their chosen sport is crucial.

If fitness goals are to be specific, it is important to consider the following:

*The predominant energy system and muscle fibre type used for the sport

*The main prime muscle movers recruited and joint actions required

*The joint angle of range of motion used

*The type of muscle contraction (concentric/eccentric/isometric) and speed of movement

Progressive Overload

One of my pet hates and a massive reason why people don’t achieve much at the gym is..a lack of Progressive Overload! I’ve lost count of the number of people I have spoken to over the years who tell me they have been doing the same workout for years and yes…I mean years!

To bring about any adaptation the body has to work a little bit harder than it’s used to. This is why most people stall with their weight loss or never really improve their 5k run time, they don’t progressively overload their body enough.

KEY POINT: The overload should not be too quick or too big otherwise you run the risk of injuring your client or burning them out.

How you go about this overload is what you will learn on the PT course! But a deconditioned / sedentary client will need comparatively small changes to bring about a training effect whereas a trained individual will need greater challenges  – ready to use your PT Skills?!

OVERLOAD = To bring about any adaptation, the body will have to work a little bit harder than it is used to i.e. the exercise stimulus must increase.

PROGRESSION = The need to increase the demand over time to cause adaptation = results!


Yes, “use it or lose” is a very real thing! We’ve all experienced it, right? Miss the gym for 2 weeks and things you were doing comfortably before have now become that little bit harder! Your body has already slipped into reversibility, albeit very mild:-)

The rate of decline is dependent on the fitness level of the individual, and whether the degree of stimulus reduction is a total cessation or just a reduction in volume. In cases of total bed rest, say post an operation, or long-term illness or partial loss of function such as an injury, we’ve no doubt all seen muscle wastage in our own body, a friend, or family member, the speed of which can be quite alarming.

Of course, that doesn’t apply to most of us, but the crucial aspect is to keep some degree of stimulus with your clients if / when they are unable to commit to regular training/exercise sessions i.e. one training session a week will still retain a degree of maintenance with your clients for a period of time.

However, as you will see below, rest and recovery are crucial aspects of a progressive training programme (not needed if you just hit a spinning class 2-3 times per week!) to allow proper recovery and reduce your risk of injury and fatigue.


Is the simple process of your body adapting to the stimulus you place upon it, the body is incredibly adaptable.

High resistance and low repetitions will increase strength, whereas lower intensity, longer duration training will improve aerobic endurance.  Adaptability is closely tied to progressive overload and periodisation.


Always looks at your client individually. For example, teaching your client to squat is a great thing but all clients will squat differently so how can you adapt the squat for the individual?

Or perhaps you have two clients, both that want to lose weight but one is deconditioned / brand new to exercise and the other regularly attends the gym.  The latter client will have a better level of conditioning and therefore you can potentially progress this client quicker than the deconditioned client.

In regards to programme design here are some individual differences you need to consider:

  • Biological Age & Training Age
  • Gender
  • Body Type
  • Heredity
  • Muscle Fibre Type
  • Range of Motion (ROM)
  • Strength
  • Cardiovascular Fitness

Clients often have similar goals. For example, weight loss but their individual differences will affect your programme design.

Rest and Recovery

All this said, most clients you work with will need to be doing more exercise and less resting!

Your biggest goal might be getting them to commit to regular exercise before you even need to touch on things such as Progressiv Overload!

For example, if you have a client currently hitting a spin or body combat class a couple of times a week it’s highly unlikely they will need to schedule rest and recovery days.

However, if you are working with a client who is training intensely 4, 5, 6 x per week then rest and recovery will be absolutely critical to avoid overtraining, fatigue, and injuries. Take into account the scenario above, now the same client who was hitting spin twice a week is wanting to strength train on top of their spin classes – now rest and recovery will definitely need to be taken into account.

And critically your client’s private life, work demands, sleep, nutrition, and stress demands will all impact on how much recovery they need.