ACSM CPT Chapter 17: Personal Training Session Components
ACSM CPT Chapter 17: Personal Training Session Components 1

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Chapter Objectives:

  • Know how to organize sessions.
  • Use the basic skills of customer service as they are supposed to be within a fitness facility and during your sessions.
  • Know skills of communicating that are needed for the promotion of client motivation and adherence.
  • Use the techniques for client accountability and goal setting in order to promote adherence.
  • Know the criteria for good training sessions.
  • Make a checklist for professional behaviors.

Optimal Client Care and Customer Service

Everyone that trainers have some form of contact with during their workday is going to be considered a customer.

Client Safety

The trainers themselves are responsible for the safety of their clients. All major joint mechanisms need to be understood by the trainers in order to limit injury likelihood. The knees, the shoulder, and the spine are the places that are most often injured when put in certain positions and done in certain movements. 

Another thing trainers need to be sure to do is to provide individualized plans for their clients.

The best trainers know hundreds and thousands of exercises and their variations and modifications. When someone complains of something like pain in the shoulder during a movement, that is a key time to apply this knowledge and thus ensure the safety of the client.

With time the trainers will also learn the limitations that their clients have and will be more prepared for them.

Plan Each Workout

Before every session, the trainer needs to review the long and short-term goals that the client has, their health issues, and their last few sessions in detail. This keeps the trainers planning efficient workouts for their clients. It is important to think of how to keep overload occurring, for example. 

On top of this, the trainer needs to be ready to adapt their plans to meet the client’s needs that day. They could also have something holding them back on that particular day, and adaption needs to always play a role in their sessions.

Utilize Proper Charting

Charting is important for the client and doing good customer service, but also it is important for ethics and liability. 

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The purpose of keeping good notes and charting is:

  • To keep track of the programs, so you may be able to evaluate their effectiveness during their next fitness assessment.
  • To share the information about the program if there is another trainer that will work with the client.
  • To reinforce short and long-term goals.
  • To keep track of their client’s workouts over time in order to use progression properly.
  • To provide evidence that you have given professionalism in the off chance of a lawsuit.

Be Attentive

The details that need to be monitored are:

  • The signs and symptoms of CVD.
  • Providing water and towel if needed by the client.
  • Modifying or progressing exercises depending on the needs and the abilities of the client.
  • Making sure that the client trains inside the desired target training zone.
  • Making sure that the client breaths, aligns, and uses technique properly in all exercise.
  • Keeping on track with fitness specific recommendations. 
  • Listening to the client and asking them for their feedback.

Maintain Professional Conduct in the Training Facility

Personal trainers training clients need to just focus on that client. Do everything you can to not show disrespect to your client during their session. This will highly affect the quality of work of your clients if they can sense that you are not paying attention.

Maintain a Professional appearance

Trainers need to be neat and professional looking. They are not required to wear uniforms, but they should create their own consistent professional image. 

It is important for trainers to know the importance of making a good first impression. 

Work on Self-Improvement

The trainers need to have short and long-term goals for themselves, and they need to push to reach them. 

Help Keep the Facility Clean

When trainers are not training clients, they should make sure to check the facility and get things in order, make sure weights are stored right, and the facility is looking nice and presentable. Changing rooms and locker rooms should be checked on occasion since clients will visit these, too.

Personal Training Session Criteria for Appropriate Sequencing

Session Components

The usual hour is spent with a few or all of these components:

  • Greeting
  • A warmup
  • Cardio or anaerobic work
  • Cool-down
  • Muscular strength or endurance component: this can be functional and traditional exercises
  • Core work for stability
  • Condition-specific exercise
  • Neuromotor training
  • Flexibility work
  • Setting goals and farewell
  • Charting

Continuity and Planning

The session’s flow needs to be continuous and uninterrupted. It should efficiently use the space, and the exercises chosen when it is crowded should be well thought about. 

The trainer has the right to be as creative as they want and modify the exercise choices when they need to.

Greeting and Punctuality

The trainer needs to greet the client appropriately. Something along the lines of a greeting that is professional, a handshake, and a smile will go a long way for setting the tone and for building client-trainer rapport.

The trainer should always start the session at the agreed time. Anything else is unprofessional and shows the client that you do not value their time.

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Warm-Up Phase

The trainer should help with the selecting of an appropriate warmup modality that does these:

  • Considers the limitations of a client in the musculoskeletal and metabolic realm.
  • Stays relevant to the client’s goals and the workout’s structure.
  • Is 5 minutes of time at the minimum.
  • Stays at the right intensity.
  • Includes the monitoring of their RPE or heart rate.

Cardiorespiratory Phase

The trainer has a responsibility to develop a cardiorespiratory phase that is appropriate and/or an anaerobic interval program for the client.

The client will monitor their heart by use of the palpation method.

The RPE scale could be used to assess exercise intensity also. 

Cool-Down Phase after Cardiorespiratory Exercise

The cool down after cardio is 5 – 10 minutes in length and depends upon the intensity of the workout and any conditions specific to the client.

Muscular Strength and Endurance Component

Exercise Selection and Programming

The trainer should take into account these factors when deciding on exercises for their clients:

  • The goals and attitude of the clients.
  • The fitness and skill levels of their clients.
  • Any kind of injuries or issues of the musculoskeletal system.
  • Any kind of recommendation made by the client’s doctors.
  • Considerations that you learn on the day of training.
  • The equipment that is available to you or any activities going on in the facility that day.

Spotting: Hands-On Interaction

The trainer always needs to ask for permission before spotting or making any form of contact with the client really. 


Properly cueing clients is critical in training. This helps to ensure that the client is properly performing each segment of the workout and every one of their exercises correctly.

Equipment use

There should be a variety of equipment used by the trainer during the workouts. And all of the equipment needs to be put back neatly.

Core Work for Stability

It is important that all clients are able to keep their neck, pelvis, scapula, and spine stable for the proper performance of exercises with good alignment and the minimization of risks for injury.

Condition-Specific Protocols

Trainers sometimes have clients that they work with that have special conditions. It could be anything from pregnancy to musculoskeletal injuries. It is important to never exceed the scope of practice that a trainer obeys. They should know when to refer them to their doctor and when to work with the doctor to ensure that the client gets the best training option that they can.

Neuromotor Training

This includes things such as balance, coordination, proprioception, gait, and agility. It is recommended to be a part of comprehensive exercise programs for older adults who might fall.

Flexibility Component

This part of training can be done at any time when the client has warmed up their body. It is often times thrown in at the end of sessions.

Goal Setting and Farewell

This is a critical component of success for clients. One thing could be to set a short term goal concluding each of their sessions. These goals need to be easily attainable, positive, and also doable for the clients. 

Another potential thing is for homework to be assigned by the trainer and then followed up with on the next session. 

These small goals will help toward the achievement of longer goals and behavior change.

It is also vital that you end the sessions with a proper goodbye and plans for meeting next time.


Proper charting was talked about previously in this chapter. There should always be enough time following the sessions held by the trainer to allow workout details to be recorded.

Education and Motivation

Client Education

For workouts to potentially be more meaningful for the clients, the trainers can gear the workouts toward the specific concern that wants to be addressed by the client. This could be like having more leg work if that happens to be the thing they would like to work on. 

When a trainer does this, the trainer should talk to the clients and explain why and how they have done this in the session before or after. 

A lot of times, we see clients that hire the trainer because they specifically want help in the weight room. If this is one major reason, then the trainer should specifically make a goal to emphasize the components of fitness and also feature primarily this spot they would like to work on the most. 

One other important area for the education of clients is on lower backs and the maintaining of good posture during the day. Trainers can help reduce problems and enforce the importance of proper posture and preventing lower back pain.

Client Motivation

Ideally, a great train will be able to be a good motivator. This also means that the workouts you design as a trainer will be varied and as interesting as you can make them. When trainers are enthusiastic and passionate about their fitness and their wellness, the inspiration to the client follows. 

Personal trainers need to promote self-efficacy, competence, and a sense of mastery for their clients in this exercise environment.

ACSM CPT Chapter 17: Personal Training Session Components 2
ACSM CPT Chapter 17: Personal Training Session Components 3
ACSM CPT Chapter 17: Personal Training Session Components 4

Tyler Read

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT. Tyler holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Sonoma State University and is a certified personal trainer (CPT) with NASM (National Academy of sports medicine), and has over 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. He is a published author of running start, and a frequent contributing author on Healthline and Eat this, not that.

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