Before you even think about exercises, reps, sets, rest periods and time under tension you need to find out what your client really wants. Fail to do this and you will never help your clients reach their goal and your career as PT will 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!  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 but realistically they might only get there 1-2 times per week, so take that in to account.

If thats the case 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 this simple type of question: What are you looking to achieve or how can I help?  Something like that, a nice open question! Then sit back and LISTEN! Listen as you have never listened before (it’s still something I’m still trying to improve on!) as most clients will open up and start telling you everything or 90% of the things you need to know.

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

You will learn most 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 as I said above, start with a nice simple open question and then 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 exercise they like or dislike – no 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 drill 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 how and how committed to change are they?

You will learn lots about SMART Goal setting as you progress through your course which is a key part of being able to write individual programmes for your clients. SMART Goal setting is easily a blog by itself!

All that will give you plenty of information to start writing awesome training programmes for your clients either to do during sessions with you or when they are training solo.

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

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, as by now you should have lots of information to write programmes for them. But of course, now is a great time to spend 10 minutes assessing your consultation process and how you could improve it.

Here’s an Example of a Consultation Check List!

  • Personal information gathered (this can be done beforehand to save time)
  • Health screening, PARQ, etc. Not everyone likes being weighed and measure (they probably know they need to lose weight and don’t need you standing over them measuring their body!) But present it as an option, some clients love it and others not so much!
  • Nutrition and diet
  • Training experience/exercise history
  • 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 lst and “dig down” deeper on certain topics.

Consultations are usually provided free (of course you can charge if you wish) and 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.

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.

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

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

Remember, 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 forth coming with information which is why you need to adapt your consultation skills for every client!

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

Here are 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 on it i.e. flexibility will improve by incorporating stretching and mobility exercises and likewise, muscle tone and strength will occur from regular strength/resistance training.

You can then drill deeper and become more specific.  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) 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 due to a lack of Progressive Overload! I’ve lost count of the number 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 its used too! 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.  The exercise stimulus must increase.

PROGRESSION = The need to increase the demand overtime 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 mild, phew:-)

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 reduction in volume. In cases of total bed rest, say post an operation, we’ve no doubt all seen muscle wastage in a friend or family member, the speed of that 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’ll see below rest and recovery is a crucial part 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 the risk of injury.


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


Rule number 1! Teaching your client’s the basics really well will be paramount to their long term continued success.

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, one that wants to lose weight but is deconditioned / brand new to exercise and then another client who regularly attends the gym but also wants to lose weight.  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

So, clients often have similar goals, for example, weight loss but their individual differences will affect your programme design greatly.

Rest and Recovery

Most clients you work with will need to be doing more exercise and resting less! As I’ve mentioned above, if you have a client currently hitting spin or body combat a couple of times a week its highly unlikely they will need to schedule rest and recovery into their schedule, just ensure they aren’t doing the same workout on two consecutive days.

However, if you are working with clients who are training intensely 4,5,6 x per week then rest and recovery will be absolutely critical to avoid overtraining, fatigue and injury risk. Take in to account the scenario above, now the same client above 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 in account.

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