ACE 6th Edition Chapter 4: Effective Communication, Goal Setting, and Teaching Techniques 4

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Chapter Goals:

  • Know the stages of the relationship between the client and trainer.
  • Use practices to enhance the client and trainer rapport, like respecting cultural differences, using effective verbal and nonverbal communication techniques, and maintaining professional boundaries. 
  • Use the strategies for effective client and trainer relationship building in the investigation stage using active listening and motivational interviewing skills.
  • Support the clients in implementing their physical activity and exercise plans through effective collaboration and goal setting, generating ideas while discussing options and evaluating their programs. 
  • Be able to educate clients on self-monitoring techniques to improve program adaption and adherence. 
  • Use effective teaching techniques during exercise sessions to enhance client learning and promote the safe and effective execution of exercises. 


Trainers can support their clients by changing their habits and helping them to establish positive relationships with exercise. 

To have a near immediate impact on the relationship with the client, trainers should aim to create enjoyable experiences with exercise, which leads to adherence to exercise, and then gradually, the exercise plane progresses.

Through effective communication, skillfully setting goals, and practicing coaching skills, trainers may support the adoption and adherence to physical activity and implementing comprehensive exercise programs that help clients reach their own unique health and fitness-related goals. 

Stages of the Client-Personal Trainer Relationship

The early days of the client trainer relationship are thought to consist of four stages in total, and each of these will require different types of communication skills for the trainer to use. 

When personal trainer meet their new clients for the first time, they start by breaking the ice and building up the rapport they have with each other, which refers to a relationship marked by mutual understanding and trust. First impressions are a big part of this first stage. 

An investigation is the second stage and it follows the rapport building stage. This is where the focus is put on discussing the client’s health, fitness, and lifestyle through any of the available tests, recommendations from physicians, and the client’s goals and exercise history. N this stage, active listening and motivational interviewing skills become key for the relationship.

The next stage of the client trainer relationship revolves around the planning. This is where the trainer is designing an exercise program in partnership with the client, and this makes use of effective skills of verbal and nonverbal communication. 

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The last stage for the client and trainer relationship is going to be the stage of action. This is where the client and trainer are ready to begin the program and the relationship starts a coaching role. 

One thing to think about throughout every interaction with your clients, is that the use of open ended questions is going to be valuable for building upon the relationship and learning all about the client in general. 

Rapport Stage

Empathy and rapport will evolve from solid communication between the trainer and the client over time. 

Our research will suggest that time spent establishing the working relationship will enhance the adherences to programs of behavior change. 

The personal trainer is going to be setting the scene for the establishment of mutual understanding and trust between each other. A lot of people will rely on the first impressions that are made in this stage, so it is important that we ensure we have the best possible first impression with our clients. 

Cultural Competence is one thing that can play a huge role in this stage. The trainers can make sure to be culturally competent when they take the time needed to learn about the client and their beliefs, attitudes, values, and lifestyles. It is defined as the ability for someone to communicate and work effectively with people that come from various types of cultures. 

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

Verbal communication is only a very small part of the messages that people send when they are interacting with each other. People also pay attention to the many other things we do with our body when we are having conversations and presenting ourselves. 

When we speak with the clients, the personal trainer should make sure to speak clearly and use language that is easy to understand for the clients. 

Nonverbal communication has many components that make it up. The main ones are:

  • Voice quality: someone who presents a weak, hesitant, or a softer voice will not inspire the client to be confident, and then on the opposite side, a voice that is loud and tense will cause the person to become nervous. Developing a firm and confident voice is important to present professionalism in your communication. 
  • Eye contact: direct and friendly eye contact will make sure to make the client the center of attention for the personal trainer, and this ensures that they feel important. If someone were to stare or look away for the majority, this would make someone feel uncomfortable or unimportant.
  • Facial expression: expressions of the face will make sure to convey emotion, but they need to come off as sincere and not forced. 
  • Hand gestures: the use of hand gestures varies based on the culture you are in, but, in general, we see that people are most comfortable when a speaker uses relaxed, fluid hand gestures while explaining something. When the trainer listens, they should remain resting with hand gestures. 
  • Body position: an open, well-balanced, and erect body will communicate confidence. If you decide to lean and stoop, this can come off as lazy and aggressive. 

The trainer should pay close attention to the client throughout the session to understand the types of nonverbal communication they are conveying so that they can adjust and make the session better for them. 

Professional Boundaries

Strong rapport and engagement with your clients will sometimes develop in a double-edged sword if the trainers fail to keep a professional distance from their clients. 

It is important that we as trainers work to keep this boundary and not cross it. Friendliness can develop over time but becoming personally involved with clients is quite bad. 

One of the bigger points is when we teach the clients through the movements and exercises, the relationship and boundaries must be paid attention to. You should ensure that you are careful not to put your hands on clients unless you have asked first and then received permission to touch them. 

Investigation Stage

Rapport will continue to build within this second stage of client trainer relationships, and the personal trainer will focus here on gathering information and eliciting insights for their clients. A lot of this information will be personal in nature, and the information will be in the realm of medical concerns, fitness assessment results, body weight, and exercise history. 

For easy information gathering, we try to use forms like the lifestyle and health history questionnaire, or the PAR-Q, and other forms we use in the beginning of the relationship and stages with the client. 

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Some other things we should aim to learn when in this stage will be things that the client likes and dislikes, and even their reasoning for exercise. 

Active Listening

This is vital during the investigation stage and it means that when the personal trainer listens to the client, they do so carefully, empathetically, and with an open mind. You aim to put yourself in the client’s shoes when they are talking to you. 

Some trainers may believe that the more they say and tell the client, the better, but typically this focus will interfere with good communication and if you dominate the conversation, you may put the client out of the mood of having a coach. 

Motivational Interviewing

Trainers may find themselves working with clients that are not fully ready to commit to exercise programs, and due to this, they may not be ready to really make that decision to change. A beneficial approach here will be discussing why the client is unable or unwilling to become more active. 

Four key components make up the spirit of motivational interviewing. These are:

  • Engaging: all relationships start with engagement. The trainer should talk to the clients and understand their own perspectives in a way that is without judgment being passed. 
  • Focusing: the process of engaging will lead the client to express areas that they would like to have the focus put on. This brings about the need to focus on the client’s goal. You can elaborate on how you may help with the attainment of that goal. 
  • Evoking: After focusing on the particular changes, the trainer should elicit the client’s motivations for change. Evoking prompts the client to voice their opinion or argument for change, and it is the heart of the idea of motivational interviewing. 
  • Planning: during the planning process, the client and the trainer should work together on how they wish to execute the desired change. Trainers will talk clients through their goals, find the resources needed to achieve them, and then set up ways for the personal trainer to redirect the conversation back to change talk. 

Planning Stage

This is the third stage of the client and trainer relationship.  The planning stage will consist of the four stages of setting goals, generating and discussing alternatives, formulating a plan, and evaluating the exercise program. 

Setting Goals

This is an important part of the planning stage and for continuing behavior change. We need to ensure that the goals that we set are the most effective they can possibly be. 

A few considerations that we should take into account are things like:

  • Avoiding setting too many goals at once. We should keep the number of goals manageable and attainable so the client is not overwhelmed. 
  • Avoid setting negative goals. Clients should not focus on goals like not missing workouts, but instead the positive aspect should be looked at over the negative. 
  • We should set short goals, long term, process, and performance goals. So here, the focus is on varying the types of goals, and not getting repetitive and monotonous with our goal setting.
  • We should include the client in the goal setting process. This makes the goals more personal and likely to be stuck through with. 
  • Revisit the goals regularly. The goals should be reviewed and revisited to keep them relevant and in the client’s mind. 

Goal setting theory looks at the four primary mechanisms for behavior change and goals and breaks these four down into the groups of directed attention, mobilized effort, persistence, and strategy. 

Setting SMART goals is a good way to make sure that the goals are most effective. 

We should ensure that the goals are SMART, each letter will stand for one thing that the goal should aim to implement. 

S – Specific: goals must be sure to be clear and unambiguous, stating the precise thing that needs to be accomplished in it. 

M – Measurable: goals need to be trackable so that the client can see when they are making progress.

A – Attainable: the goals should be realistic for the client individually. The achievement of the goal will reinforce the commitment to the program and encourage the client to continue exercising. 

R – Relevant: goals should be pertinent to the client’s interests, needs, and abilities individually. 

T – Time bound: goals should have a timeline for their completion to have a frame of reference for what to expect and to make monitoring progress easier. 

It takes time to learn how the goals will be and how to change them with the clients, and every client being different will mean it takes time and a bond with the client to get it right eventually. 

Formulating a Plan

Personal trainers need to consider many options when planning, as all the information attained in the last two steps will come together. It is important to collaborate with the client and ensure that the plan is something they want to do, and it can be a way to reinforce that the information you have is correct and what they desire in a program. 

Action Stage

This is the last stage, and this is where the client will begin to take on the program that you and them have put together. 

It is important here that we implement approaches to self-monitoring in the client so that they can have a personal attachment to the programs and stay up to date with the schedule. 

Effective teaching techniques will be used in the actual teaching and coaching that occurs in this stage. 

The stages of learning are important here to, as they apply to the client going through the learning of new skills. 

The first stage of learning is the cognitive stage, where someone is introduced to a new skill and a different kind of brain activity occurs throughout this stage. You can see the clients actually going through the thinking and processing the new skills learned. 

The second stage of learning is that of the associative stage, where the clients begin to master the basics of the skill and are then ready for the more specific types of feedback that will help them to refine their motor skills. 

The third stage is the autonomous stage of learning, where the clients begin to perform the skill effectively and seemingly naturally, and the teacher will be doing much less teaching and more feedback on the side of little notes and observations of the skills. 

Tell, Show, Do

This is a way that we try to teach effectively and use the learning styles of auditory, kinesthetic, and visual all in one. 

This process has the trainer telling about the exercise, how to do it, and why it is important. Then you follow that up by showing the move and all about it. Then you have the client do the movement and the teaching process goes on. It gets all three learning styles in one easy to do the process. 


When it comes to feedback, we should ensure that we are providing reinforcement for the things that are done well, correcting errors, and motivating the clients to continue practicing and improving. These are the three things to focus on as far as feedback.


ACE 6th Edition Chapter 4: Effective Communication, Goal Setting, and Teaching Techniques 5
ACE CPT Chapter 1: Role and scope of practice for the personal trainer 2
ACE 6th Edition Chapter 4: Effective Communication, Goal Setting, and Teaching Techniques 6
Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read

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