The true reasons personal training works (& it's not why you think)

The true reasons personal training works (& it's not why you think)
People often assume personal training is about being driven through painful workouts or benefiting from incredible motivation or being instructed in a way which results in perfect technique. While it's true all those aspects matter, to varying degrees, here are the points I've found most markedly make personal training work:


Pretty simple and no great revelation but in practice scheduling and committing to a workout matters a lot, and for most people it's the greatest challenge. There’s no other way forward with regards to significantly improving your fitness or body composition other than consistent exercise sessions accumulated over time. Intensity, exercise selection and brilliant technique will never be a substitute for turning up.

The reality as a Personal Trainer is that you are facilitating exercise for people often when they don't want to (& otherwise wouldn't) do it. This is the basis of any clients achievement.


  1. I rarely yell or need to cajole and can't really think of any magical motivational slogans I recite, yet I distinctly remember a client telling me a PT session with me is worth 2 done on his own. I think there are a few reasons why:
  2. A sustainable and professionally tailored program means people feel and see they're getting fitter- reward and progress for effort is a really significant motivator.
  3. Honestly in large part just through being there, you keep the client focused (and I'm not talking about intense, laser-like focus) to a level which results in a productive workout. Often reserves of focus are limited for busy people with responsibilities in life. You could regard focus as a bi-product of motivation but it can work the other way in that if you manage to get focused you build momentum, make progress and then establish a loop of regular action and in effect motivation.
  4. People generally respond well to encouragement, a few small words here and there keep them motoring on as well.
  5.  People typically also let themselves off the hook if left to their own devices and don't exercise as comprehensively or for as long, as in a PT session. Personal training clients get it all done and make a habit of it.
  6. A rarely mentioned, but critical part of the motivation picture is the change of identity. This is in the sense of how one views themselves. If for instance you regard yourself as a fit, athletic person you are much more likely to take actions (such as regular exercise) to fit that sense of identity. It can be easy to see how this drives other people- often in seemingly irrational ways. Over time as a person becomes fitter, they not only ingrain a routine but have that subtle changing of identity which strongly supports continued exercise adherence.


I've had clients who've had the training paid for them by a family member or spouse or other and there is never the same level of commitment to the training. They are literally not invested.

This can change with time, as it isn't rare for someone who once disliked exercise to have a shift in their motivation as they begin to see and feel results and find it less uncomfortable (& change identity as explained in point above). However. to a large extent how much someone pays for something reflects the degree to which they value it.

It isn't hard to imagine someone being on time for a 1 hour appointment they've paid $500 for! Personal Training doesn't cost that much, but the point is that part of paying is committing. Workshops that business's run to attract clients are often better attended if there's a fee- in part due to the perception it must be of value and also because people tend to want to see a return for the money forked out.


This may surprise some and is essentially the opposite of how many would imagine the Personal Training experience works. Training at an appropriate intensity matters and is something that takes knowledge and experience to get right, it's also a large part of the skill of effective exercise programming.

The excitement and enthusiasm which comes with the start of a committing to an event like a half marathon or a body transformation package or some form of other goal or resolution can actually be the killer of the formation of an exercise habit. Go too hard too soon and you invite injury and ensuing disappointment and discouragement. Effective personal training involves managing intensity initially in a way which keeps a bit in reserve and keeps clients away from the danger zone.


I noticed some middle-aged men in the park the other day and to their credit they were squeezing in a fairly intense workout in their lunch break. Most certainly the session was productive, but naturally a workout under my direction would have looked very different. There were too many stair runs, too many push ups and too many jerking sit ups for my liking.

At the same level of effort they could have been using a broader range of exercises to spread the workload more evenly throughout the body. This would not only result in better overall physical development but reduced injury risk.

My point is not that the workout was harmful or exceptionally dangerous but that comparatively a typical Personal Training session includes an array of exercises and aspects of fitness i.e. strength training, cardiovascular exercise, stability exercises and stretching. The effect is a workout which is steady in intensity, diverse, comprehensive and places limited strain on a particular joint. In short it's time effective.


On similar lines to the previous point there are no magic exercises but a knowledge of exercises that are effective and appropriate is more than useful. Further to that is the art of selecting exercises which in combination don't overload a particular muscle group nor fatigue an area excessively.

I strive to prescribe a combination of movements that cover the whole body and also enable the client to train at an effective intensity that can be maintained throughout the session, without super-human levels of drive. This is most certainly a skill that comes with experience and one of the true benefits of investing in sessions with an experienced Personal Trainer.


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