The Truth About What Makes a Good Personal Trainer Part 3: Defining What Makes a Good Personal Trainer

In the first part of this series, I debunked the common myths about how to spot a bad personal trainer. In part two, I discussed common myths about what qualifies as a good personal trainer. In this, the third and final installment to this series, I’m going to cover the qualities that define a good personal trainer.

What Is a Personal Trainer?

Before we can get into what qualities make for a good personal trainer, we must first define what it means to be a fitness professional. Sure, you might want to say that a personal trainer provides motivation and inspiration for people to exercise. As I’ve said before, “Exercise is medicine, but people are much more willing to take their medicine when it tastes good.”

In short, being a fitness professional means you’re in the business of relationships; you’re not going to get very far as a personal trainer unless people like being around you, you are relatable, communicate well, and they enjoy the environment and experience you provide.

That said, just having a relatable personality is not simply what makes for a good personal trainer. It’s not just about how you motivate people; it’s also about what you’re motivating them to do in the first place. This is where the technical aspect of exercise prescription plays a critical role. The technical side of being a fitness professional seems to be the most misunderstood and under-recognized, and the reason and motivation behind this article.

Put simply, from the technical side of the profession, a fitness professional is (supposed to be) an exercise prescription expert. Let’s unpack this a bit.

What Does It Mean to Be an Exercise Prescription Expert?

You see, many people, including many fitness professionals, think that simply knowing a wide variety of exercise variations and how to properly perform/coach them is what makes for a great personal trainer. Those elements are certainly part of the job, but if that is all you as a fitness professional bring to the table, there’s nothing that separates you from the everyday exercise enthusiast who has memorized how to perform a variety of exercises because they’ve spent a great deal of time watching exercise videos online and reading exercise articles, magazines, and books. You must possess more expertise if you want to provide real value beyond the advice of an experienced exercise enthusiast.

Put simply, being an exercise prescription expert involves having expertise in:

  • The individualization of exercises
  • The application of exercises
  • The organization and prioritization of exercises

In other words, what separates a great trainer from a not-so-great one, or a great trainer from an exercise enthusiast is:

  • Knowing what exercises not to do based on one’s individual ability, physiological framework, medical profile, etc.
  • Knowing how to utilize, prioritize, and organize the exercises used, (program design) based on creating a training stimulus to maximize the specific adaption(s) one is looking to achieve.

The ability to do these things comes from having expertise in analyzing exercises based on the universal principles of training (e.g., specificity, overload, etc.) and biomechanics.

Exercise Memorizer Versus Exercise Analyzer

I said in Part 2 of this series, “Many trainers and coaches will look at a training program and say it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ simply because it does or does not use certain exercises or fit into the given training model they are biased toward; clearly demonstrating that they are putting training methods before training principles.” This is the view of the exercise memorizer.

On the other hand, the exercise analyzer holds no such allegiance to a given training method or a fanaticism about certain types of exercises (barbell exercises, kettlebell exercises, stability ball exercises, etc.). When you have a grasp of universal training principles, you have a clear understanding that 1) certain training methods are best for certain goals, and not one method is best for all goals. And, 2) unless you’re competing in a weightlifting-oriented sport, there is no particular exercise that any athlete or gym-goer must do in order to improve. There are only training principles that must be adhered to, and there’s a wide variety of exercise applications and variations that allow athletes and fitness enthusiasts to adhere to principles in order to achieve their goals.

The exercise memorizer is caught up with what an “expert” or athlete says and does with certain exercises whereas the exercise analyzer understands the reality that resistance exercise is just a way to put force across joints. That’s it! When you understand this, you quickly see that no particular exercise has magical powers because barbells, dumbbells, cables, machines, and bands are all just different tools that allow us to apply force across joints.

In short, a great trainer is very bad at fanaticizing about certain exercises, and really good at analyzing all exercises! Possessing a high level of exercise prescription expertise is not determined by memorizing a bunch of exercises or following a specific training model; it is determined by how well you utilize the universal principles of training.

A great trainer today will have the same qualities as a great trainer will have 10, 20, 50 and 100+ years from now because the universal principles of training (e.g., specificity, overload, etc.) and biomechanics never go out-of-date.

Nick’s Toronto One-Day Mentorship on June 2, 2017.

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Nick’s Upcoming Live Events

Teaching at the Strong Summit on May 27-28, 2017 in Toronto, ON, Canada.

Teaching a PreCon and conference class at the Annual CPTN Conference on June 2-3, 2017 in Toronto, ON, Canada.

Teaching a two-day Personal Training workshop on July 15-16, 2017 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. (Contact Dan:

Teaching a one-day Personal Training seminar on August 26, 2017 in Sweden. (Contact Isa:

Teaching at the AFPT Fitness Convention on September 1-3, 2017 in Oslo, Norway.

Teaching at the Elite Fitness and Performance Summit on September 14-16, 2017 in Chicago, IL.

Teaching a two-day Personal Training workshop on September 23-24, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Contact Serkan:

Teaching a private two-day Personal Training mentorship program on September 28-29, 2017 in Dubai. (Contact Ian: )

Teaching a one-day Personal Training seminar on September 30, 2017 in Dubai. (Contact Ian:

Teaching at that Nor-Cal Fitness Summit on October 13-15, 2017 in San Francisco, CA.

Teaching at the NSCA Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference on December 1-2, 2017 in Aston, PA.

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