The vast majority of clients that sign up with a personal trainer want to lose weight. Many also want to build strength, add a bit of muscle, and just be healthy and fit. This really isn’t that hard. The key to success is to follow some key principles and avoid overcomplicating it for your client. In addition of course your client must actually do these things, but they are more likely to follow simple directions than complicated ones.
- Eat a caloric deficit to create weight loss.
The nuances of nutrition can be complicated but the basics don’t need to be. The best information we have available to us today says that to create weight loss we need to be in a caloric deficit. The easiest way to do this is to eat less. Have a client sign up with a food tracking program (myfitnesspal, fitday, or livestrong all work well) and have them eat an appropriate number of calories for their weight and goals. For most females this number is between 1500-2000 kilocalories a day; for most men it is between 2000-2500 kilocalories per day. Use the NPTI Metabolism Formula if you want to be more specific. In the beginning just focus on total calories – don’t worry about a specific macronutrient breakdown, avoiding certain foods, meal timing, and the like. Those things might be useful in some situations but for many they simply make it harder to adhere to the program – and adherence is our number one goal.
- Resistance train to build strength, muscle and bone
Resistance training is the most powerful tool in a personal trainer’s toolbox to effect change on the body. It is the best way to build muscle, build bone, improve strength, increase power, increase work capacity, and improve muscular endurance. Choose exercises that are suitable for your client’s current capacity. Most clients can (and likely should) at some point progress to barbells, dumbbells, and bodyweight exercises if they can’t currently start there. Consistent resistance training can have a lasting impact on one’s resting metabolic rate and many clients find the act of getting stronger genuinely enjoyable and empowering.
- At times during the session get the client huffing and puffing to build cardio and create EPOC
At some point during most of your personal training sessions, challenge the client and get them out of breath. This will build aerobic capacity and help strengthen the cardiovascular system (although strength training helps with this too) and it can help create EPOC which means you burn additional calories after the exercise stops. This may not be monumental but every bit helps. You do not have to spend your entire workout session chasing this one goal – many clients that will find if you do that for 60 minutes it is unpleasant. Include some cardio or conditioning, try a circuit on abs or legs, include a finisher – that is usually enough to get the job done. It should be hard but doable, not horrible and frightening to think about repeating. If clients want to do more encourage them to walk briskly (3.5+ mph) as much as they want to outside of the time they train with you.
- Don’t jump on the latest fad
Your clients are paying you to practice science based, tried and true, proven methods with them. Don’t jump on the latest fad that claims to be the greatest thing only to fade from popularity within a year or two. Ask yourself – will almost everybody be doing this in 3-5 years? If the answer is no, there is likely a good reason. Barbells, dumbbells, calisthenics, training for sports – those things aren’t going anywhere in the next decade. Bosu balls, physioballs, even foam rollers – who knows how much we’ll be using them in 2025.
- Do follow progressive overload
Progressive overload is one of the most important and fundamental principles in fitness. It is totally fine to start out very light, because when someone is used to nothing then even a little bit is enough to produce some initial adaptations. But you must gradually make what your clients do harder. Lift more weight, perform more reps, do more sets, increase the level, increase the speed. Push it. It is very simple – play “beat the log book” when you train your clients. Simply look back at what they did in their previous workout and the vast majority of the time they should do more this time. Beginners can advance every week and they should make very large strides in their strength, endurance, and coordination because of this. Incorporating overload is key to ensure this actually happens.
- Be consistent
Exercise like this at least two times a week, without fail; three times a week is fine too. Four times a week sounds good but it is often too much change for a newbie to handle (the change in their lifestyle, not the actual change to their body) and then they end up quitting altogether. Let them go 2-3 times a week for a while and if they want to do more they can ease into that as they exit the beginner stage of training.
That is really all most clients need. Five things to do, one thing to avoid, that's it. It will certainly work well for beginners and early intermediates; even advanced clients would do well to occasionally revisit the basics. It doesn’t take magic to lose weight, be healthy and be fit – it just takes a bit of hard work as well some discipline and dedication to get the process started. Then the results will keep people coming back.