Personal Training: It's Not Just the Weights

By creating a fitness experience for clients, you will get better financial rewards for your fitness center.

I T'S NOT THE weights. It's not the cardio. It's not how your personal trainers look - it's the trainers themselves who can make or break their client's success. Good trainers have energy and a synergy with their clients that make clients want to be around them. When clients feel better about themselves because they are with their trainer, that is a powerful attraction.

Personal training is an intangible service; the value is in the memory of the individual engaged in the event. With personal training, results are highly important, but if trainers make their clients feel like a million bucks and take excellent care of them, they will remain loyal customers long after their initial goals have been reached.

Are you still charging for personal training purely focused on the price per session? Rather than simply allowing potential clients to think about using personal training to exercise two to three times a week, open the door to new possibilities. Do your trainers serve as a resource for information on health and wellness? Outperform your competition in the way that your trainers stage an experience for their clients, not just in the way that they demonstrate a chest press. To do this, consider the stages of selling fitness offerings: selling goods, selling service or selling a "fitness experience."

Selling goods doesn't work

Fitness centers used to be able to open their doors and offer more machines and exercise options than anyone else and succeed. The typical tour simply pointed out equipment and floor space dedicated to fitness classes each week. This plan didn't work well, however, for the vast majority of people who don't like working out and lack the know-how and self-discipline to do it. They may have joined, but they didn't go, and so they didn't see results.

Selling service is better

"Get started" orientations, first-time set-ups and personal training all aim to serve members better. However, glorified floor supervisors aren't enough. Personal trainers have to be more than babysitters standing by with arms crossed counting repetitions. Savvy consumers demand it. They demand education and clarification of all the conflicting information they receive. They want to be engaged, educated and entertained.

Selling a 'fitness experience' is best

A personal touch. Consider the following scenario for a potential member: Potential member enters. Details in the sitting area that she waits in provide a welcoming atmosphere from the start. She is offered a bottle of water and escorted to a comfortable office where she's asked about her concerns and goals in a customer-focused orientation to the facility or service. After careful listening to what she wants and values, fitness center offerings are explained as an integration of her specific needs. She's shown the facility only after talking about those features that will lead to the benefits she wants. She's already a part of the scene as her tour guide leads her through how she will check in, where her children will enjoy active play, and how she can use the television screens/music to extend her exercise time and enjoyment. The tour guide considers the personality of the guest. Is she relationship-oriented or task-oriented? Does she want details or bottom line? Is she fast-paced or slow-paced? The guide responds with a style of communication closely configured to the client.

Specialized services are already offered to accommodate ever-diversifying clients. Services may feature new technology, but the experience will forever rely on a personal touch. High-quality staff is now mandatory. The level of professionalism required is heightened. But it is not enough to possess industry knowledge - staff members must be able to communicate and educate, relaying a message of caring and respect for each person.

Customization. One way to provide stepped-up serviceis to customize. Personal training, in theory, does customize the fitness service. But how do you ensure that this service does not become more about a trainer's philosophy or style than about the needs of a particular client? The steps taken during each session will be similar, but the exercise prescription, rate of progression, and the kind of motivation and the extras that touch a client and exceed their expectations will be different. Recording information beyond the PAR-Q and health history is a start. This can be done simply by including space inside a client's folder to record statements that they make that reveal the true value of training for them - clues to why now is the time and why you are the trainer. Listening for cues to personal preferences in music, food, entertainment, color, etc., also provide information for connecting with clients in a deeper way. Tracking the value of the experience also ensures that the clients' experiences will exceed their expectations.

It is important for fitness professionals to distinguish between levels of service, and to provide value-added extras that create a true experience (see Personal Training Service Performance Levels).

Share success stories

Staff members can and should share their successes with creating experiences for their clients. The enthusiasm and success will be contagious. Allow time for this at every staff meeting, or network with other professionals for ideas.

Trainers can provide movie tickets, or arrange for a spa day or other surprise for client birthdays or anniversaries. Trade-outs with various businesses allow this type of extra to be an affordable option. An easy and inexpensive option is to provide a personal moment at the end of a session with stretching or relaxing to personalized music of the client's taste, available on headphones and a personal stereo.

People skills a must

Industry professionals will continue to rely on foundations in physiology and kinesiology to deliver sound exercise programs, but will increasingly need to enhance their people-reading skills, and apply personality assessments and their own gut instincts when working with clients.

By staging an experience for clients, your trainers will own and act their parts. Short of an emergency, trainers don't take their focus off of their clients. They should be aware of their surroundings and courteous to other members, but solely focused on creating an experience that leaves a client wanting more in the way of repeat visits.

People know they need to exercise. Cutting-edge service and facilities provided to an informed public is now the challenge. Beyond that, provide the experience people seek, and you will be ahead of the curve into the future.


Cathart, J. Relationship Selling: The key to getting and keeping customers. Pergee Books, 1990.

Pine, B.J., and J.H. Gilmore. The Experience Economy, 1999.

Spector, R., and P.D. McCarthy. The Nordstrom's Way: The inside story of America's #1 Customer Service Company, Wiley, 1996.

Personal Training Service Performance Levels

Arrives when client does Waiting for client Waiting and setup
Neat, clean In uniform Meticulous
Sessions planned Written, ready to follow Laminated
Handshake, greeting Meets at front desk Experience begins at the door
Connects w/ conversation Recalls personal relevance Sends a follow-up
Thinks 'session' Things 'package' Thinks 'long-term relationship'
Quick fix Solves problem Changes lifestyle
Quiet Music Personal music
Acts as exercise specialist Acts as wellness expert Serves as a network (massage, p.t., vacation plans, sportswear, etc.)
Appointment to appointment Confirms between Emails/phones to encourage, check in and acknowledge
Knows client's exercises Knows preferences and travel needs Knows what client values about training relationship
AB Show 2023 in Baltimore
AB Show is a solution-focused event for athletics, fitness, recreation and military professionals.
Nov 1-4, 2023
Learn More
AB Show 2023
Buyer's Guide
Information on more than 3,000 companies, sorted by category. Listings are updated daily.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide