Effective Communication With Personal Training Clients

Table of Contents

Effective communication skills are important in personal training. Trainers must understand and adapt to the unique needs of each client. Through active listening and personalized guidance, trainers can build stronger relationships with clients, leading to greater success.

Personal trainers play an important role in the fitness journey of their clients. Building rapport and maintaining good relationships is essential in the client-trainer dynamic, creating a supportive environment where clients feel heard and understood.

By practicing active listening and paying attention to nonverbal cues, trainers can develop a deep understanding of their client’s needs and preferences. This level of emotional intelligence allows for more meaningful interactions, leading to increased client engagement and satisfaction. Through continuous improvement and genuine interest in their clients’ well-being, trainers can handle conflicts, provide guidance, and maintain motivation, ensuring a positive and productive training process for all involved. This blog explaining the importance of effective communication with personal training clients is drawn from the personal experiences of Kelly Bus.

How does the way we listen matter to our clients?

“Well you want to have 10% body fat don’t you?” I looked at my trainer incredulously.

Here I am, a fairly new mom at 33 years old, getting 5 hours of broken sleep every night, working full-time, barely gathering enough energy to get through my day, let alone finding a sitter just to make it to the gym, for my new personal trainer to ask me this question. It is now 6 pm. It’s dark outside. I’ve been up since 4:30 am. So far, I’ve made breakfast, got my baby up, got myself ready for work, dropped him off at my parents, gone to work, worried about every food choice I made, and then drove myself to the gym. I’m tired, I have decision fatigue, and I miss my baby.

I paused for a second. It’s not his fault he doesn’t know what it’s like to be an overweight middle-aged woman. He’s probably single and lives by himself or with roommates. He can probably do whatever he wants whenever he wants. I miss that life. I was in much better shape when I was his age, too. In my mind, at the time, these were not excuses. I was trying to explain my current reality.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the giant gym mirror. I was unrecognizable, a size 22. My 2XL tops just barely fitting. A growing double chin I despised glared back at me.

“Yes” I said, trying to mask the sadness in my voice. “10% body fat is my goal”.

“Good, because my clients have the best goals and my clients always reach their goals. You are going to do this, aren’t you?”

What Are The Results of Poor Communication Skills?

I was defeated already. In the back of my mind, I knew he thought he was helping. He thought he was motivating me. Maybe that pep talk would motivate someone else, but without taking a few moments to understand me, to know what my day is like, and to know which types of health goals would actually make my life better, these words and goals were actually discouraging.

Needless to say, I didn’t stay with that trainer long. My self-esteem took a big hit and it took me awhile to bounce back from that negative experience in the gym.

Obviously, a lot has changed in my life in the last 10 years. But I relay this story to you, because there’s a lot to take away from this experience, both in how we think about our clients and how we relate to them personally and professionally.

How Can Personal Trainers Properly Communicate?

So, what are some ways that we, as fitness professionals, can help our clients succeed and create meaningful relationships and results? There are several crucial steps in this process. Let’s start with the basics:

Building Rapport: Establishing Meaningful Connections

Building rapport with clients is essential in personal training, as it lays the foundation for trust, collaboration, and ultimately, success. By fostering genuine connections and understanding clients’ needs and preferences, trainers can create a supportive environment where clients feel valued and motivated to achieve their goals. Here are some effective ways to build rapport:

  • Active Listening: Pay full attention to clients during sessions, demonstrating genuine interest in their concerns and goals. For example, paraphrase clients’ statements to show understanding and encourage them to elaborate on their experiences.
  • Empathetic Communication: Show empathy towards clients’ challenges and achievements, validating their feelings and experiences. For instance, acknowledge clients’ efforts and progress, celebrating milestones along their fitness journey.
  • Open-Ended Questions: Encourage dialogue by asking open-ended questions that invite clients to share their thoughts and feelings. For example, inquire about their fitness aspirations, past experiences with exercise, or any barriers they may face in reaching their goals.
  • Nonverbal Cues: Pay attention to clients’ body language and facial expressions, which can provide valuable insights into their emotions and comfort levels. Maintain good eye contact and use positive gestures to convey warmth and attentiveness.
  • Personalized Approach: Tailor training sessions and communication style to match each client’s preferences and personality. For instance, adapt workout routines to align with clients’ interests and goals, whether they prefer high-intensity workouts or more relaxed activities like yoga.
  • Consistent Support: Be a reliable source of encouragement and guidance, offering ongoing support and motivation throughout clients’ fitness journeys. Provide constructive feedback and praise their efforts to boost confidence and maintain motivation.
  • Social Engagement: Foster a sense of community by connecting with clients outside of training sessions, such as through social media or group fitness events. Share informative content, offer session reminders, and engage in meaningful conversations to strengthen the client-trainer relationship.

Building rapport with clients is a fundamental aspect of personal training that enhances communication, trust, and overall client satisfaction. Trainers can create a supportive and collaborative environment by employing active listening, empathetic communication, and personalized approaches. Clients feel empowered to reach their fitness goals. Investing time and effort into building rapport strengthens the client-trainer relationship and contributes to long-term success and client retention in the fitness industry.

Why is “small talk” important?

When done correctly, small talk is so much more. It’s getting to know your clients, what motivates them, what discourages them, asking about what has helped them be successful in the past, and even discussing events that they don’t want to repeat again.

For example, if the client’s goal is to lose weight, you can glean so much information from open-ended questions like, “how would attaining a healthy weight help you in your daily life?” Their answer might surprise you, and it will inform you about what motivates them. If their answer is “I know I’ll sleep better, and I’ll have less knee pain”, then you know you can add so much value to your training by teaching deep breathing techniques and ensuring your exercises won’t irritate their knee pain.

Your clients will tell you these golden nuggets if you know what to ask and you listen with intent. These are the clients who will refer their friends to your time and time again.

How Does Goal Setting Contribute to Communication?

Goal setting is important for effective communication with personal training clients because it establishes clear expectations and benchmarks for progress. When trainers set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals with their clients, it facilitates open communication.

This transparency helps clients understand exactly what they need to do to achieve their goals and allows them to express any concerns or adjustments they might need based on their capabilities or changing circumstances. For example, a trainer working with a client whose goal is to lose 20 pounds in three months can set monthly goals of losing approximately 7 pounds. This clear framework not only keeps the client motivated but also invites ongoing dialogue about the strategies and adjustments needed as they progress.

Goal setting enhances the feedback loop between trainer and client, which is important for changing strategies and maintaining motivation. Regularly discussing goals allows for real-time feedback and adjustment, which is essential for keeping the client engaged and committed.

If a client struggles to meet the initial goals due to challenges, the trainer can recognize this early and adjust the plan accordingly, perhaps by altering workout intensity or dietary recommendations. This dynamic process ensures that the communication remains fluid and responsive to the client’s needs, creating a supportive and encouraging training environment. This approach boosts the client’s confidence and strengthens the trainer-client relationship, enhancing overall satisfaction and results.

How can personal trainers effectively set goals with their clients?

We are all familiar with SMART goals and their variations. The most important consideration of a SMART goal is its personal value to your client. Educating your client on different parts of goal planning is definitely desirable, but you should not be directing their goal-setting process.

  • Specific – Beyond the obvious definition, is your client’s goal specific to their lifestyle or personal preferences? Does it complement their core values or life mission?
  • Measurable – If your client is uncomfortable getting on a scale or using measuring tape, what other methods may be valuable to them? For example, less pain, better mobility on the floor with their kids, or feeling better in their clothes may be acceptable ways for them to measure success.
  • Action Based – Can your client fit the action steps in their current daily routine? What support systems are in place to help them succeed? If they are facing obstacles, what extra support do they need? Is this taken into consideration? 
  • Realistic– Can your client reasonably expect to meet these goals? Do smaller goals need to be set to support their vision? Once the goal is met, will it align them with their other goals? Or does the goal need modification for long-term implementation?
  • Time Line – This is more than asking if there is enough time to meet the goal. This can also be an opportunity to find different approaches to meet many goals. Are there time-saving approaches you can experiment with your client?

What strategies can personal trainers use to understand their clients’ past experiences with fitness?

We work in fitness because we have passion for this field. Maybe we grew up in sports. Or maybe we grew to love health coaching through psychology classes in school. We all ended up in this field because we appreciate at least one aspect of fitness. But that may not be true for many of our clients.

For example, ask a new female client to demonstrate a push up and watch how her body language changes. She may slump her shoulders, look down or even let out an audible groan. Why? For many women, push-ups remind them of uncomfortable gym class memories. 

For example, one client may associate fitness with her poor performance on the mile run in gym class. Maybe she never hit the 7 minute goal. She may base her entire lack of confidence in her fitness based on these unpleasant memories. Or maybe your female client was embarrassed when the entire class watched as she couldn’t do pull-ups or climb the rope in gym class.

As fitness professionals, we understand there are many dimensions to wellness. We have an opportunity, dare I call it a responsibility, to show our clients where they shine. Maybe she has natural inclinations towards flexibility or strength? What if she is actually a better sprinter? If we approach our clients with curiosity instead of judgement, we can change their lives. And that is why we work in fitness in the first place.

How can personal trainers gain insight from their clients’ previous encounters with fitness?

By gaining insight into their clients’ previous encounters with fitness, trainers can better address any concerns and build programs that resonate with individual needs and histories. Here are some effective strategies:

  • Initial Consultations: Conduct in-depth interviews to discuss past fitness routines, experiences, and obstacles. This can reveal patterns, preferences, and possible areas of concern.
  • Questionnaires: Use detailed questionnaires that include questions about previous injuries, the types of exercise enjoyed or disliked, and reasons for discontinuing past fitness programs.
  • Fitness Assessments: Perform initial fitness assessments to gauge current fitness levels and compare them against past levels, as reported by the client. This helps understand progress or regression.
  • Feedback Sessions: Regular feedback sessions can help uncover feelings and attitudes towards current exercises and relate them back to past experiences.
  • Observation: Pay close attention to clients’ reactions and attitudes during workouts to infer their comfort and confidence levels, which may reflect past experiences.

So What Was The Outcome?

As you can imagine, I didn’t stay with that trainer for very long. I took a break from exercising until my son started sleeping through the night. Instead, I prioritized sleep and started with 5 minutes of exercise several times throughout my work day. I lost 100 lbs that following year. It took time to go through the steps outlined above to build an effective plan that also fit in with my life. More importantly, it took me awhile to build back my confidence, but it was worth the effort. 

This experience changed the way I approach my clients and gave me empathy for them. 


Sometimes we rush to show our clients how much we know. Our efforts to help our clients can get distorted if we assume we know what they want. But if we take the time to listen to them and understand their experience with the fitness industry, we will be in a much better position to help them. We can listen to cues to provide them with additional resources that will benefit them in all dimensions of wellness. By doing that, we’ve become an indispensable part of their fitness journey. And that’s what this field is all about.

As personal trainers, we’re always learning and improving. We seek feedback from clients, reflect on our interactions, and stay updated on industry trends. This dedication helps us refine our communication skills and serve clients better. It enhances our effectiveness and strengthens our role as trusted partners in their health journey.

About The Author

Kelly Bus is a wellcoaches-trained fitness specialist and registered nurse with over 10 years’ experience in corporate wellness. She’s lost 100 lbs three times. Her mission is to help women love themselves through belly dance fitness. She is a certified Raq the Barre instructor and proud creator of the 4play fitness signature workout. Learn more at www.4play.fitness or https://www.tiktok.com/@4playfitness


How can personal trainers improve their communication skills?

Personal trainers can enhance their communication skills by practicing active listening during training sessions. This involves paying full attention to clients’ verbal cues, as well as their body language, to understand their needs and preferences better. Additionally, trainers should use clear and concise language, avoiding jargon that may confuse clients. By maintaining eye contact and asking clarifying questions, trainers can ensure effective communication and a deeper understanding of their client’s goals.

What role does empathy play in personal training communication?

Empathy is necessary in personal training as it allows trainers to connect with their clients more deeply. Understanding and acknowledging clients’ emotions and experiences fosters a supportive environment where clients feel heard and valued. Trainers with high emotional intelligence can effectively address clients’ concerns, provide positive reinforcement, and offer personalized guidance tailored to each client’s unique circumstances.

How can personal trainers motivate clients effectively?

Personal trainers can motivate clients by providing positive reinforcement and encouragement during training sessions. Acknowledging clients’ progress and celebrating their achievements, no matter how small helps maintain motivation and build confidence. Trainers should also practice active listening skills to understand what motivates each client individually, whether it’s achieving specific fitness goals, improving mental health, or enhancing overall well-being.

What are some strategies for building rapport with clients?

Building rapport with clients begins with developing a genuine interest in their well-being and goals. Trainers should engage in open-ended conversations to learn more about their clients’ preferences, experiences, and challenges. By actively listening and demonstrating empathy, trainers can establish trust and create a supportive atmosphere conducive to client success. Using clear and concise language, maintaining eye contact, and providing session reminders also contribute to building strong client relationships.

How can personal trainers effectively handle conflicts or misunderstandings with clients?

Personal trainers can address conflicts or misunderstandings with clients by practicing effective communication and conflict-resolution skills. This includes actively listening to clients’ concerns, acknowledging their perspectives, and providing constructive feedback in a non-confrontational manner. Trainers should strive to maintain a calm and professional demeanor, focusing on finding mutually beneficial solutions that align with the client’s goals and preferences.

What strategies can personal trainers use to understand clients’ communication preferences?

Personal trainers can understand clients’ communication preferences by actively listening to their verbal and nonverbal cues during training sessions. Asking direct questions about preferred communication methods, such as in-person conversations, phone calls, or email, can also provide valuable insights. Additionally, trainers can leverage technology, such as video calls or messaging apps, to accommodate clients’ preferences and ensure clear and effective communication.

How do personal trainers maintain client engagement throughout training sessions?

Personal trainers maintain client engagement by creating interactive and dynamic training sessions tailored to clients’ interests and goals. Incorporating variety into workouts, such as introducing new exercises or challenges, helps keep clients motivated and excited about their fitness journey. Trainers should also provide continuous feedback and encouragement, acknowledging clients’ efforts and progress to maintain momentum and enthusiasm.

What steps can personal trainers take to support clients’ mental health during training sessions?

Personal trainers can support clients’ mental health by creating a positive and supportive training environment that promotes overall well-being. This includes practicing active listening and empathy to understand clients’ emotional states and providing a safe space for them to express their feelings. Trainers can integrate stress-reducing techniques, such as mindfulness or relaxation exercises, into training sessions to help clients manage stress and improve mental resilience. Additionally, offering encouragement and positive reinforcement can boost clients’ confidence and self-esteem, contributing to their overall mental health and fitness journey.

Source: Wellcoaches Corporation. (2009). Coaching Psychology Manual. https://www.wellcoach.com/memberships/images/Chapter-8.pdf

Meet The Author:

Parker Franklin

Parker, IFG’s Brand Manager since 2022, began his wellness journey in 2020, leading to a significant personal transformation. He holds a journalism degree from Murray State University and started his career as an award-winning journalist in western Kentucky before transitioning into marketing and PR. At IFG, Parker is responsible for writing content, managing The Fit newsletter, and overseeing promotions and collaborations with affiliate fitness organizations.