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Trainer Tips: Get the Most from your Session

Other May 2017


Trainer Tips are infographics designed to help you, an NSCA professional, educate clients and promote your services. These member-only resources can be used for client education, motivation, and promotion.

Trainer Tips: Get the Most from your Session

Tips for a Successful Training Session

Committing to training with a personal trainer is a great step towards reaching health and fitness goals. Here are some things for clients to consider to get the most out of training sessions:

Who Does What?


One of the first steps to take when preparing to embark on a training program is to set goals. Training without goals is like driving without a destination or map. Goals not only provide an end outcome of training, they help give direction and motivation. Here are some things to consider when setting goals:

• Find the “why”

    ○ Finding the “why” behind goals gives insight into the emotional aspect of training. The “why” can be a huge motivational factor for clients who are struggling with commitment.

• Make goals S.M.A.R.T.

    ○ Specific – identify a specific, primary long-term training outcome along with short-term goals that include both process and performance goals.

          » A client has a high degree of personal control over process goals. These goals may include using proper exercise technique or bringing a positive attitude to the training session. 

          » Clients have less personal control over performance goals and may invoke a degree of internal motivation. An example of a short-term performance goal is to lose 4 lb of body fat on the way to attaining a long-term goal of 20 lb. 

    ○ Measurable – make the goal measurable. For example, saying “I want to feel better” is subjective and difficult to measure. 

    ○ Action-Oriented – the goal should encourage consistent action on behalf of the client. 

    ○ Realistic – a realistic goal should have ~50% chance of success (Kubitz, K.A., 1996) and take into consideration a client’s ability and need, as well as time constraints and resources (how often can the client exercise, what other time commitments do they have, etc.). 

    ○ Time-Bound – goals should have a specific deadline to reach, with regularly planned reassessment of short-term goals on the way to long-term goals.

The Trainer

The trainer will make the plan based off of the client’s goals, abilities, and time constraints.

The Client

The client brings the effort and attitude required for success.

The “23/1” Rule

The “23/1” rule refers to the 1 hour of the day spent in the gym and the 23 hours in the rest of the day. Even the perfect plan and perfect execution in the 1 hour per day spent in the gym can be undone by how the other 23 hours in the day are used.

Here are a few basic steps to get the most out of all 24 hours:

At the Gym (23/1)

Arrive Early

One of the first roadblocks that many clients run into is showing up on time. While showing up late to a single training session might not pose a significant problem, being consistently late to training sessions can make accomplishing long-term goals significantly more difficult. Planning to show up early allows time for life’s little surprises, like traffic or weather that can cause delays when trying to get to the gym.

Be Mentally Prepared

Using imagery, visualization, and self-talk can help increase self-efficacy and improve motivation and quality of training (Jackson, 2010). Increasing self-efficacy can be especially important for clients who are new to training.

Trust the Process

One of the most difficult aspects of training for long-term goals is trusting the process. With the increase of information readily available on the Internet, clients can easily get caught up in the program hopping madness. Clients should be reminded that long-term goals take time and consistency to accomplish. One strategy that can help clients stay committed to a program over the long-term is to have short-term goals along the way. Accomplishing short-term goals allows clients to see and feel progress and increases trust and adherence to the process.

Be Honest

New clients may be nervous about asking questions about things that seem like common sense to everyone else in the gym. Whether its acronyms on their training sheet, technique on a new exercise, or terminology used by the trainer, it is important for clients to know that it is always okay to be open and ask questions if they are unsure about an aspect of training.

Another important reason for honesty is the 23/1 rule. The trainer only has 1 hour per day to help the client in person. The other 23 hours of the day, the client is on their own. If the client can’t be honest about steps they are or are not taking towards their goals during the vast majority of the day, it can make it very difficult for the trainer to make an effective plan.

It is important for trainers to let clients know that honesty is essential to reaching their goals.

The Rest of the Day (23/1)

Plan Out the Day

This step is one of the simplest to take and can make a huge impact on a client’s ability to make progress. Clients should be encouraged to take a couple of minutes before bed and plan out the following day and set aside anything they will need:

• Gym Gear

    ○ If they are planning on training, pack appropriate shoes, clothing, and anything else they will need to have for a successful training session. 

        » This step can be particularly helpful if the client struggles with nutrition. Packing or planning out meals for the day can help them avoid making poor nutritional choices like unhealthy snacks or fast food. 

    ○ Make sure all basic daily items are easy to find in the morning. Having items like keys, wallets, and purses in an easy to find place can help avoid stressful situations early in the morning and help ensure a better start to the day.

Make Sleep a Priority

Research has shown that increasing exercise levels also increases the need for quality sleep (Kubitz, K.A., 1996). Allowing increased amounts of sleep is vital to recovery because our bodies use times of deep sleep to repair damaged tissues (Kubitz, K.A., 1996). The importance of sleep to successful training cannot be overstated.

While most people have heard the general recommendation of sleeping at least 8 hours per night, this recommendation is a general average and may not be correct for you—especially if you are exercising regularly (Kubitz, K.A., 1996). There are some simple steps that clients can take to help ensure the quality and the amount of sleep meet their needs (Walters, 2002):

• Have a routine

    ○ Try to go to bed at the same time each night

    ○ Avoid bright lights like TVs and computer monitors as you get closer to going to bed » Use this time to prepare anything that will be needed for the next day

• Find their optimal amount of sleep

    ○ A client might need more sleep if:

        » They find it easy to fall asleep when given an opportunity throughout the day

        » They feel tired most mornings

        » They find themselves trying to catch up on sleep on the weekends

• Optimize their sleep environment

    ○ Clients should make sure their sleeping environment is dark and cool

    ○ Avoid watching TV, reading, or eating in bed


1. Jackson, D., How Personal Trainers Can Use Self-Efficacy Theory to Enhance Exercise Behavior in Beginning Exercisers, Strength and Conditioning Journal, 2010. 32(3): p. 67-71.
2. Kubitz, K.A., Landers, D.M., Petruzzello, S.J., Han, M., The Effects of Acute and Chronic Exercise on Sleep: A Meta-Analytic Review. 1996. Sports Med. 21: p. 277-291.3. Walters, P.H., Sleep, the Athlete, and Performance, Strength and Conditioning Journal, 2002. 24(2): p. 17-24.

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