Running Start Chapter 15 | Pitfalls to avoid as a new personal trainer

In this chapter, I’ll expose the pitfalls to avoid as a newbie (or even experienced) trainer to make your journey stress-free.

Let’s move right into this insightful portion of the series.

Introduction

This wouldn’t be a proper course if I didn’t include a section on the pitfalls that you, as a personal trainer, should avoid when you are just starting your career. 

The thing is, when you begin your journey in the world of fitness, it’s pretty stressful.

For one, you want to give your best, but with little experience, making mistakes along the way is easy.

And that’s why you should make yourself aware of those mistakes that can sabotage a new personal trainer, many of which I will cover in this chapter. 

The 14 training mistakes that you want to avoid as a personal trainer

Most of the mistakes a new personal trainer will make involve training their clients.

There are several reasons for this, but the main one is the fact that you have plenty of head knowledge, thanks to your certification, but not much practical knowledge.

That’s why I always advocate for new personal trainers to try and work with a mentor first to learn the ropes or at least job shadow before they look for their first position.

That gives you more of an idea of the practical side of things, which is pretty important, right? 

It also allows you to use that theory in practice without the added pressure of working with a paying client in a gym situation.

It’s not always possible to find a mentor or secure a job shadow.

Therefore, it’s best to arm yourself with the knowledge of mistakes you can make and, in that way, avoid them. 

But what common mistakes do new personal trainers and sometimes even more experienced ones make? 

Well, let’s take a look. 

Only having one standard training program that’s used on each client.

Listen, I will admit, starting as a personal trainer is pretty daunting.

Dealing with a variety of clients can be intimidating too. 

But you owe it to them, and yourself for that matter, to take the time to do the necessary assessments on every client and then design a unique training program to help them reach their goals and fulfill their expectations.

If you don’t, they will go elsewhere to look for someone who can.

Far too many new personal trainers develop an exercise program that might be pretty good for one client but won’t work with the next.

But they try anyway.

You can’t apply a program where someone wants to build muscle to a client who wants to lose weight.

Yes, some aspects of it might be similar, but each should be tailor-made.

You know, it’s about taking the time to work out a plan for each client. 

While it’s daunting to start with, the more you do it, the more experience you get, and the easier it becomes, that’s for sure.

Don’t forget devising the right plan starts during the assessment phase, where you determine your client’s current capabilities.

It’s also coupled with your client’s goals as well.

If you ignore these two critical factors, you can never hope to design the right program for each of your clients. 

Overtraining clients

So we all want our clients to reach their goals.

That’s a win-win situation for everyone, right?

And it proves that the exercise plan you created for them works.

But sometimes, in an attempt to help them reach their goals, new trainers can push their clients a little too hard.

And that’s only going to end in two ways.

Either they will get frustrated and stop using you as their personal trainer, or worse still, they will get injured.

You should never push your clients beyond what they are capable of. 

Yes, you want to give each client an intense workout but you don’t want to push them to exhaustion.

From your initial assessment, you should be able to tell exactly their fitness level.

Build them up from that by slowly increasing their stamina and overall endurance.

Another common problem for new personal trainers in this regard is that they often judge their clients on their looks.

Just because your new client is well-built and looks fit, it doesn’t mean that they are.

Getting too fancy

It’s a mistake that often occurs with new personal trainers. 

And that mistake is simply not following a linear training program for new clients.

Instead, some new personal trainers try to impress their clients by devising far too complicated programs that should be used on clients with prior training experience. 

For those with little experience, it’s far better to keep things linear at all times.

That not only helps them in the long run to achieve their goals but also helps you. It’s about building yourself up, getting the necessary experience, and moving on from there. 

Sometimes to reach a client’s goals, simplicity is key. 

Not keeping adequate records.

I mentioned this in an early chapter where we discussed the critical things a personal trainer should do when not training clients.

Without a doubt, record keeping is critical. 

If you don’t worry about client paperwork, from the initial assessment and medical questionnaire to the notes you took from their last training session, you are a poorer trainer for it.

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For the most part, inadequate record-keeping means you are not on top of your client’s overall progress and how their fitness is developing.

Imagine a client asks you what their weight was a month ago and you can’t tell them.

That’s not very professional.

Things that you should be recording include:

  • Your client’s heart-rate 
  • Their pulse rate after their most intense exercise 
  • Exercises completed, sets done, and at what weight (if any) at each training session
  • Muscle mass, weight, and other monthly measurements based on their overall goals.

When it comes to recording this data, find a way that works for you.

It could be a simple pen and notepad, or you could set up a spreadsheet and type in the data on your tablet or smartphone.

Personal training software is a far easier way to record this data. 

No matter how you do it, make sure that you do.

Proper record-keeping is something that all personal trainers should have in place to make a success of their business.  

Program jumping

As a new personal trainer, don’t get into the habit of program jumping.

This happens in two ways.

  • You are not seeing the progress you expect in a client
  • You come across a fresh training regime that you want to try

It’s so easy for you to fall into the trap of jumping from a different program to different programs but all that’s going to do is cause problems in the long-term. 

While there is nothing wrong with trying out new training programs that you might have come across, there is no reason to do it when you are just starting.

You have all the knowledge you need to help clients towards their goals; make use of that first.

And if a training program isn’t working as it should, you can take a few courses of action. 

Firstly you should look a little closer at your program for that client and make sure it is as refined as it should be, especially with their short and long term goals in mind.  

Secondly, you need to closely monitor your client and see that their training intensity is where it should be.

Obviously, take their overall fitness level, any medical conditions they might have, and other factors into account when doing so. 

If all of the above checks out, the third thing you must examine is if your clients are not sabotaging themselves away from the gym.

For example, they might not be following the homework that you give them, or worse still, what they eat and drink is the source of their problem in terms of not seeing any progress.

If no progress is being made over an extended period and you are certain that it’s not one of the factors mentioned above, then perhaps you could make a change. 

If you do so, however, you need to sit down with your client and explain to them the changes you intend to make.

Also, revisit their goals, especially the time frame to meet them initially agreed upon because this will shift.

Keeping a client involved in the process is a must. 

Making it up as you go along

If you are making a training program up as you go along, you are doing both yourself and your clients a disservice.

And this is something that does happen, usually for two reasons:

  • You aren’t preparing properly for your clients (you may not have even carried out a proper assessment).
  • You have too many clients and you don’t have the time to prepare properly.

While you might have the head knowledge to take a client through a routine you make up as you go along, if you continue to do so, it will not benefit them or help them achieve their goals.

And yes, if this is your approach, a client might certainly see their fitness levels increase over time but it’s never going to be at the levels that a proper training program, worked out for each individual, could reach. 

For an exercise program to be effective, it needs to be carried out for a period and have manageable goals along the way.

How can you guarantee that when making up exercises as you go along?

That’s why periodized training is key.

Because it works from one cycle to the next, building the client’s fitness over time.

Thinking short term instead of long term

Even when you start in the fitness world, you should be formulating a long term plan for yourself and where you want to end up. Of course, making a success of yourself in the short term is critical but a flexible long term plan is also a necessity.

This long term vision should focus on where you see yourself ending up, most notably in terms of specialization because that’s the route that most personal trainers take at some point down the line.

It could also include plans to start a business and work for yourself instead of a boss.

But long term planning doesn’t only apply to you.

It’s something you should also concentrate on for your clients.

Sadly, it’s something that many personal trainers new to the profession overlook. 

So what do I mean when I talk about a long term vision for a client?

Well, we’ve spoken about it often before.

It’s about their long term goals and expectations.

While you certainly should have covered this during your initial meetings with a new client, it is necessary to remember it. 

Ultimately, that will keep a client-focused and with their eye on the prize.

All your planning, including progression and short-term goals, leads towards that.

We also discussed finding a client’s trigger in early chapters; if you’ve managed to do that, keeping them on the path toward their goals is much simpler. 

No strategy for dealing with the latest fitness fad

We’ve already mentioned dealing with the latest diet fad or the next great fitness trend – remember Zumba? You will have to have answers for clients that come to you with questions about things like this.

To deal with them, you should have a strategy in place.

Listen, not all of these fitness fads are bad.

Some certainly do have merit.

But on the whole, there is no substitute for plain old hard work.

So I suggest trying to keep on top of all the latest trends.

Chat to other trainers about what their clients are coming to them with, or do some digging for yourself.

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Then go and research each of these trends so that when a client comes to you with questions, you can answer them.

And if you don’t know, tell them you will look into it and get back to them. 

You shouldn’t feel the need to incorporate new fitness trends or diet ideas into the program you have already devised for your client.

It’s simply not necessary.

You have all the necessary tools, knowledge, and expertise to devise the right kind of fitness program to help your clients meet their goals and expectations. 

But that doesn’t mean you need to shoot down any other ideas.

Point out the good and the bad of any new trends you are asked about, but always come back to the fact that your programs have covered everything for your client.

Plus, there is the accountability of training with a personal trainer. It’s something that’s often overlooked.

No matter what, everything comes back to proven fitness programs that work.

And that’s what we, as personal trainers, give to our clients.

So continue to push the obvious benefits that training with your offers.

Let your success stories do the talking for you.

Don’t get caught up in the hype of each new fitness fad.

They, too, will pass by. 

Not being flexible

While you may have devised a training program for each client, and you should be jumping to others if progress is slow, that doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible.

An exercise program is certainly not a static thing.

And there are times when you may need to change it up.

If something isn’t working, don’t be too rigid.

Make a change.

That doesn’t mean altering the whole program but simply the part that’s causing an issue.

It may be as simple as a client struggling with a certain type of exercise.

If that’s the case, it’s easier to replace it than put them through the strain of getting it right. 

Of course, you should first give them every opportunity to do so but there comes the point when you can see that it’s not happening.

Then make the change.

In another scenario, a client may have hurt themselves and, therefore, will struggle with weight training for some time.

It’s up to you to adapt their program so that they don’t need to sit out training while they recover.

You can focus on something else over that period. 

Not having backup plans.

As you know, each client trains with you for a specific time.

If you have two clients booked in a row, you can’t review a training session’s time because that’s poor etiquette.

But what do you do if the gym is extremely busy – those periods early in the morning and after work hours –  and you struggle to train your client because the equipment you want to use is always in use?

Well, that’s where it’s necessary to have a backup training plan at all times in situations like this.

Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to switch your training program around and change the order to use free equipment.

Or uses other forms of exercise to continue training your client without the need to make use of an exercise machine.

There are certainly ways to get around this, especially if you are prepared. 

Earlier in this guide, I discussed the need for an extensive exercise library.

That’s part of this preparation.

Having one means that you can easily replace exercises.

You could use personal training software as well in this regard.

They are packed with hundreds of exercises that you could refer to when you quickly need a replacement. 

Not managing your time correctly

As with any profession, as a personal trainer, time management is key.

And when you start, you might have to deal with one of two scenarios in this regard.

Firstly, say you work for a large commercial gym chain.

Just a month into your new job, you have been given a whole host of clients to work with.

Because of that, time management is becoming a major problem. 

It’s understandable.

That’s because any personal trainer just starting out is going to, or should take their time in handling client assessments, establishing goals and expectations, finding out a client’s medical history, and devising a training program for them.

While trying to handle all that, you’ve also got to put your time into training clients and other gym duties you will undoubtedly have. 

You need to stick through it, as things will get easier and take far less time once you start to get that all-important experience behind you.

The second scenario is a little different.

Here, you may work at a fitness studio with far fewer clients.

That means you have plenty of time on your hands, especially away from the gym, and you tend to leave things to the last moment.

So, that new client that you are training for the first time in three days, well, you should have worked out a program for them already but you haven’t.

And then you leave it till the last moment and everything is rushed.

You are doing that client a disservice, that’s for sure. 

Time management is one of the most critical skills you need to get up to speed as a personal trainer.

Don’t let it cause unnecessary trouble during your career. 

One of the easiest ways to do this is to find a continuing education course that will help you manage your time and contribute to your CECs.

Do some research online as well; many resources cover time management.

For each individual, it’s very different, so you need to find something that works for you.

There is no such thing as the perfect workout.

One trap that most new personal trainers fall into is trying to devise the perfect workout for their clients.   

As a newbie, you are going to make plenty of programming mistakes.

And it stands to reason because you don’t yet have the experience.

Head knowledge, yes, but that’s nothing compared to devising training programs over some time

In fact, after just a few months working in a gym scenario and dealing with a range of different clients, you will find that the experience gained will benefit your ability to write effective exercise programs. 

But while you are never going to nail the perfect workout, you should always be looking to get better and better in programming.

There’s always room for improvement, even when you are a grizzled veteran.

You are not a fraud

Confidence is a funny thing.

Some of us have it in bucket loads and others need to build it up.

But with the slightest mistake, however, all comes tumbling down.

If you are one of those kinds of people, it certainly can affect you as a personal trainer.

And when you work in a large gym with other trainers, having fragile confidence can be detrimental. 

That’s why it’s very important not to let what others think to affect you, although it’s sometimes easier said than done. And when I talk of others, I mean your fellow personal trainers. 

Can I let you in on a little secret here?

Most of the more experienced personal trainers know exactly what it’s like to start in the fitness world and how daunting it can be.

And they won’t be about breaking you down; you can probably find many who will be more than willing to help and offer advice. 

When times get tough and it seems like you have made the worst decision of your life to become a personal trainer, the feeling that you are fake will come to the forefront, that’s for sure.

All personal trainers go through this.

I guarantee you that it happens in other professions as well. That’s especially true when you are trying to put theory into practice. 

You learn and get better at what you do through experience.

Don’t sell yourself short in the beginning.

It gets better, I promise. 

Doing your workouts at a venue other than the gym you work in

For the most part, when you want to keep yourself in shape, you should work out at the gym where you are employed.

The main reason for this is simply the fact that you can expose your services to potential clients.

You are almost a walking billboard promoting your services. Working out at the gym also allows you to interact with potential clients. 

They will have seen you around the gym before, working as a personal trainer.

That might lead them to approach you in a more relaxed setting, just two people working out, to ask you questions about your services. 

It is one of the easiest ways to market yourself as a personal trainer and something you should consider, that’s for sure.

From time to time, it’s good to get your training sessions away from the gym, too.

Conclusion

As a personal trainer, plenty of pitfalls are out there to catch you. And that’s what we covered in this chapter in thorough detail.

Some of the most important pitfalls that we covered included jumping too quickly between different fitness programs for clients, not having backup plans, and not managing your time correctly.

If you know these pitfalls, you can hopefully avoid them as you start your career. 

Don’t forget to take the chapter takeaway quiz to make sure you have a good grasp of everything covered here.

Chapter 15 Takeaway Quiz

Running Start Chap 15

1 / 8

Which of these is a pitfall that new personal trainers often fall into?

2 / 8

Which of these is a pitfall that new personal trainers often fall into?

3 / 8

 True or false? New personal trainers often devise programs for inexperienced clients that are linear as they should be.

4 / 8

Which of these is a common pitfall trainers fall into when starting out?

5 / 8

Which of these is important to record when training clients, especially new ones?

6 / 8

When personal trainers change from one exercise program to the next in the search for results for their clients instead of sticking to one, it’s known as _______?

7 / 8

If a training program isn’t working for a client and the results aren’t happening as they should, what’s the first thing you should do?

8 / 8

True or false? Time management skills are important for a personal trainer to have.

Your score is

0%

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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