How to be a great personal training client

Two personal trainers dish on what clients should do in order to maximize their results and what drives them crazy
By James S. Fell, CSCS
How to be a great personal training client Getty

I like the realism and sound advice in X-Weighted, and I also like the show’s trainer, Paul Plakas. So, when I decided to get some opinions from well-known trainers on how you can be a better personal training client, I thought of Paul, and of course I also thought of my friend Terri Champagne.

Ladies first.

Terri, who has a personal training diploma from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and is a certified personal trainer via the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists, had six suggestions for clients to maximize the client-trainer experience – and their results:


1. Follow the plan: “If I’m going to take the time to put together a plan for them to do on the in-between days that I’m not there, then they have to be committed to following it. I’m not interested in working with people who aren’t committed.”

2. Be ready to go: “I can show up at someone’s house for a training session and they might not be ready to go. I’m only staying for an hour, and if they’re not ready to start then it cuts into that hour.”

3. It has to become a full-on lifestyle: “Training has to have the mental part behind it. People need to go through a psychological adjustment to permanent lifestyle change or it will become a yo-yo for them. I don’t want to work with people who are going to be hot and cold.”


4. Health needs to be a key interest: “I’m really interested in working with people who not only look at it from an aesthetic perspective, but understand the health and performance benefits as well. I also like people who look at exercise for the preventative maintenance for health issues. It can be tough working with people whose goals are 100-percent aesthetic focused.”

5. Don’t complain all the time: “I’m not your psychologist and I don’t want to hear you complain for an hour straight. I like knowing what makes you tick, but I don’t want to be emotionally vampirized. A trainer needs to protect herself. In the past I’ve fired clients because they were so emotionally draining that I felt like I needed a nap afterwards.”


6. Focus on the bright side: “I love working with people who see the bright side of what they’re doing and embrace this positive aspects of the lifestyle. So many people see exercise as just a means to an end, but look at it as more of a gift: a body that you can move and move well is something to be cherished. Embrace this vs. trying to fight it and we’ll get along great!”

Next is Paul, who unlike some other TV trainers, is well-educated in his field, having a Bachelor of Physical Education degree from the University of Alberta. Here are his four suggestions for being a good personal training client.

1. Be excited: “I love it when clients come into a workout excited and looking forward to being there. When people are dragging their butts I wonder why are they paying all this money to see a trainer if they don’t like being there? Working with happy people is key for me.”


2. Do what I tell you, or at least try: “I don’t like it when people are constantly questioning and asking why they have to do something, or when they wimp out on something because it’s hard. I want people who are going to try and do it the best that they can. I’ve noticed working with professional hockey players that they are good at following instructions. They don’t whine; they just suck it up and do what I say. That’s what I want from everyone.”

3. Ask questions: “I like a client that really asks a lot of questions and wants to know what is going on. It shows interest in what they’re doing beyond ‘I’ll do this exercise just because you said so.’ I really enjoy talking to those people.”


4. Have a life: “I really do enjoy chatting with my clients during their training sessions. I love a client who has had an interesting weekend and a fun life to tell me about while we’re working together. It is nice to keep it social and they can share some of their stories with me about what’s new in their lives. It really makes the time fly by.”

So there you go: be on time, be positive, do what you’re told, get involved in the process, and don’t just focus on vanity as a goal. Actually, this is all good advice for fitness even if you don’t have a trainer, although I guess the “do what you’re told” part needs to be following through on the plan you set out for yourself.

Personal trainers can really make a great difference in achieving your fitness goals, but you need to find a qualified one, and not someone who quit their job as a bartender and took a lousy weekend certification course because they wanted a career change. Those guys hurt people, and it seems like half their job is focused on selling more personal training.


Pay the money for someone well-established and with stellar credentials that has been doing this for years. You can pay a little just to get a solid program and advice on how to complete the movements properly, or you can pay more and get the motivational impetus that comes from having a top-notch trainer kick your butt on a regular basis.

Just remember that you’re paying them to tell you what to do, so do what they tell you.


James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. He writes the column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Los Angeles Times and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Visit or email him at


Subscribe to our newsletters for our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers.

By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.