Throughout the past year, we’ve posted a huge amount of quick tips, tricks and handy hints for Personal Trainers over on the SBS Facebook page. Whilst it’s a great way of spreading the word, Facebook’s algorithm also means that, a lot of the time, many of you will miss out on some of them. We don’t want that – so I thought I would compile all the best ones in a series of articles.

There is no set “theme” for any of these, other than they are incredibly useful for any and all Personal Trainers. We hope you enjoy them – and if we don’t cover something you’re struggling with, please feel free to ask us by emailing us or contacting us via one of our social media platforms. 

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1. Use A Cloud Storage System For Your Clients

Cloud storage is inexpensive (a lot of them are free), versatile and links up easily with mobile devices – making it the perfect tool for you to share training and nutrition plans with your clients. No more emailing plans back and forth!

This slide was taken from SBS Academy course material.
This slide (and all others in this post) was taken from SBS Academy course material.

2. Create Nice Looking Training Plans

Having nice looking, functional spreadsheets for your training plans kills a few birds with one stone:

  1. The client knows exactly what they’re doing in sessions they perform without you there (vital for online clients)
  2. You can track a variety of metrics for each client – how many reps are they doing per body part? What total volume are they performing? What’s their average RPE per session?
  3. Clients can print them off and take them to the gym if needs be – free advertising…
  4. You can look back easily over previous training programmes to see what’s worked well and what hasn’t.

Not so confident with Excel? Don’t sweat too much – they don’t have to be perfect, and there are a lot of free Excel tutorials on the internet!

3. Gather Data Before A Consultation

In our experience, gathering some data about a potential client before a consultation often leads to a more efficient consultation, an increased likelihood of the client signing up and the client feeling like you care, as you’ll understand them a bit better.

These are the exact questions we use at SBS – all prospective clients fill these out, before being taken to the Skype Consultation booking form.

This slide was taken from SBS Academy course material.

4. Employ Different Methods Of Progressive Overload

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Progressive Overload (from now on, I’ll call it PO as it takes a while to write and I’m lazy) is absolutely vital to your clients’ progress. Without some form of PO, your clients will make little-to-no progress. Imagine you did 3 sets of 10 squats with just the bar, forever – you’d get better at doing that, but if you never added any weight you’re missing out on a tonne of progress!

However, PO is not just adding weight to the bar – all of the following can be used to stimulate progress in your clients.

Volume increases

Volume increases over time are going to be the biggest driver of hypertrophy and strength adaptations. This can be achieved via set, rep or load increases.

Example A – set increases

Week 1 (intro week): 2×10 at 65% (total relative volume = 13)

Week 2: 3×10 at 65% (total relative volume = 19.5)

Week 3: 4×10 at 65% (total relative volume = 26)

Week 4 (planned overreaching): 5×10 at 65% (total relative volume = 32.5)

Example B – rep increases

Week 1 (intro week): 3×8 at 65% (total relative volume = 15.6)

Week 2: 3×9 at 65% (total relative volume = 17.6)

Week 3: 3×10 at 65% (total relative volume = 19.5)

Week 4 (planned overreaching): 3×12 at 65% (total relative volume = 23.4)

Example C – load increases

Week 1 (intro week): 3×8 at 65% (total relative volume = 15.6)

Week 2: 3×8 at 70% (total relative volume = 16.8)

Week 3: 3×8 at 75% (total relative volume = 18)

Week 4 (planned overreaching): 3×8 at 80% (total relative volume = 19.2)

From this, we can see that set increases offer the most “aggressive” form of volume increases; the volume increases quite a lot from week to week. Rep increases are the next most aggressive, and load increases are the least aggressive in terms of volume increases. Bear in mind the experience of your lifter and their goals when selecting your method of volume overload – beginner lifters may be able to handle more aggressive volume increases due to their increased ability to adapt.

Range of motion

Progressing someone from a high box squat, to a low box squat, to a full range of motion squat is a form of progressive overload. This is especially useful for beginners or those coming back from injury.

Technique progression

We’ve covered progressions and pregressions in the past – an important part of progressions tends to be the ability to load an exercise with more weight (for example goblet squats vs front squats vs back squats), which means that progressive overload via increases in weight is almost “built in”.

Training frequency

Training frequency can be used to aid in volume increases, or to enhance neuromuscular “skill” adaptations.

Training density

Training density refers to the amount of work performed in a given unit of time. For example, if a lifter has a 20 minute time limit to complete as many rounds of a circuit as possible and manages 5 rounds 1 week, 6 rounds the next week and 7 rounds the week after, that’s progressive overload via increases in density.

5. Skill And Motivation Levels Should Dictate Your Coaching Style

Different clients will come to you with different levels of skill (as in their ability to perform exercise, their nutritional age, etc) and different amounts of motivation. This will dictate where you START with each client when it comes to your coaching style.

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However, realise that whilst your client’s skill should increase throughout their time with you, their motivation may waver and fluctuate depending on what’s happening in their life, right now.

As ever, be flexible and adaptable in your coaching style to respond to this – but just beware that correctly identifying your client’s levels of motivation involves you absolutely NAILING your ability to communicate with your clients.

6. Don’t Misinterpret The Transtheoretical Model of Change

I’m sure you’ve all seen this before – the model that identifies the stages of behaviour change, from pre-contemplation to maintenance.

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However, the mistake that a lot of people make is assuming that the process is linear – that people move from pre-contemplation to maintenance in a linear fashion (the left-hand arrow). That’s not the case – changes in life circumstances mean that people can move all around the various stages (as per the squiggly arrow on the right).

As PTs, we’re largely concerned with the bottom half of the model – we don’t tend to see clients until they’ve committed to at least preparation, if not action, when it comes to exercise. Our role is to then take them to maintaining a baseline level of activity, and then maybe finding some other habits (nutrition, hydration, sleep, things contributing to stress) that are maybe in the pre-contemplation or contemplation stage and progressing those through to maintenance.

Don’t forget to listen to our podcast on Behaviour Change with an Oxford University Psychologist:

7. Have A Strategy To Deal With Clients Who Aren’t Losing Fat

A plateau in fat loss can be incredibly disheartening for both trainer and client. The client isn’t getting the results they’re paying for, the trainer feels like they’re to blame, and it can drive a real wedge into what has previously been a productive, trusting relationship between trainer and client.

This is the process we go through at SBS when fat loss stalls:

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Step 1 – Rule out under-reporting

Under-reporting of calorie intake is SO common, and is the biggest single barrier to continued fat loss.

This can be intentional or unintentional. Either way, you need to approach this delicately (nobody likes being told they’re a liar, or feeling like they’ve been ‘rumbled’ on the extra glass of wine they’ve been having).

If they’re not under-reporting to any meaningful degree…

Step 2 – Address energy balance

If you trust that they’re not under-reporting, energy in needs to be decreased or energy out needs to be increased.

If you choose energy in, protein probably needs to be left alone. This leaves carbs or fat to take from – let the client have some input on this too, as they’re eating it.

If you choose energy out, you’ve got a few options:

  1. Increased resistance training volume – if you can add in some extra sessions, then great. Just bear in mind total weekly volume, and recovery.
  2. Cardio – choosing lower or higher-intensity depending on the client’s preferences and how the session fits into the overall training programme.
  3. Non-exercise activity – our favourite way of doing this is to instruct clients to use a pedometer, and hit a certain step count.

8. Structure Your Check-Ins To Avoid Overload

Contact with clients can often become overwhelming – especially with certain clients who (at least initially) need a lot of “hand-holding”.

Having some structure to your client contact can give you some headspace, allow you to keep a more solid routine and also allow the client to think for themselves, rather than rely on your constant support as a way of avoiding having to put any brain-power in.

A few ways to do this:

  1. Be available on whatever medium your client prefers, but then stick to that medium.
  2. Create a Facebook group for clients – this will likely lead to your clients helping each other out with questions and queries when you’re not available.
  3. Specify a day and time for clients to formally “check in” with you.
  4. Limit the number of times per week you respond to the “big questions” via email.
  5. If you coach a specific type of client, with very similar problems and questions from person-to-person, you could use an autoresponder feature from your email list provider to create an email “course” for them.

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9 – Don’t call an exercise a ‘regression’ – call it a ‘pre-gression’

Picture this –

You have a new client starting with you for the first time. They’re a little overweight, not very confident in a gym environment, and you’re doing everything possible to make them feel comfortable in the unfamiliar setting.

You attempt to get them to do a bodyweight squat, and it… yeah, it doesn’t look good. No matter how you load it, no matter whether you do it to a box or not – not happening.

So you say:

“Okay, so that doesn’t look like the best exercise for you right now. We’re going to use a regression, and then build back up to it because it’s clearly too hard for you at the moment.”

And you watch in horror as you see all remaining dregs of confidence drain from their face.

“Regression” comes with some pretty negative connotations. No one likes to feel like they’re regressing. Self-determination theory states that a big part of motivation comes from the feeling of mastery, and regression… well, that seems like the complete opposite of that, doesn’t it?

(I wrote more about self-determination theory here – http://shreddedbyscience.com/why-fitspiration-is-killing-your-motivation/)

Instead, sell it as a ‘pre-gression’ – as a foundational movement that’s actually going to offer them MORE benefits relative to their goals, right now.

Simple re-framing of the language used… BIG difference in terms of the way your clients respond to it.

10 – “Never marry one approach.”

(This one comes from SBS Academy Student Aman Duggal)

Resistance training programming for a bodybuilder or a physique competitor is vastly different from that of a sportsperson.

Most athletes have limited time to train in the gym. As such the goal of their weight training program must be to maximize sports performance, and NOT improve body composition.

The opposite is true as well.

There is nothing wrong with programming chest flies, bicep curls and tricep extensions for someone who wants to improve body composition.

In fact not doing so will in all likelihood compromise on muscle growth.

As a coach it is imperative that you keep personal biases aside and tailor a program based on the client’s needs, not based on something which appeals to your deeply held beliefs.

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