Pete McCall by Pete McCall

Working with a new personal training client for the first time can sometimes feel a little awkward, but there are some simple steps you can take to help streamline the process and create a more enjoyable experience for both you and your client.

The stages of working with a new personal training client can be identified by the acronym RIPA: Rapport, Investigation, Planning and Action. The first step, rapport, is the process of establishing a relationship based on trust and open communication. It is in the second stage—investigation—where personal trainers continue to build rapport with clients while also utilizing a health-history questionnaire and preparticipation health screening to identify individuals in need of medical clearance before beginning an exercise program or before increasing the intensity, frequency and/or volume of an existing exercise program. During your client’s first session, it is necessary to review his or her health history and conduct a preparticipation health screening.

The purpose of reviewing a health history and conducting a preparticipation health screening is to identify current physical activity levels, the presence of cardiovascular and/or metabolic disease, signs and symptoms of underlying renal, cardiovascular or metabolic disease, and any possible stressors that could affect the body’s response to exercise. If a client who is beginning an exercise program presents with renal, cardiovascular or metabolic disease or symptoms of such a disease, it’s important that they receive medical clearance before participating in regular exercise. If signs and symptoms are present for clients who are already participating in regular physical activity (i.e., planned, structured activity on at least three days per week for at least 30 minutes, for at least three months), medical clearance is necessary prior to beginning a vigorous-intensity workout. Reviewing the health-history form with the client provides you with both the opportunity to ask questions related to the client’s overall health and to identify common areas of interest upon which further rapport can be established.

It is important to realize that some new personal training clients may arrive at the first training session with the expectation that they will be exercising and have the misperception that a personal trainer is actually a boot-camp instructor bent on causing physical discomfort. This means it’s important to let clients know that the first session is more of an information-gathering opportunity for you to learn about the client rather than a time to work out.

The client will, however, be moving and performing a series of assessments and movement screens, which can be an uncomfortable process for some people, especially those who are new to exercise or who are embarrassed by their lack of fitness. Here’s an idea that can save you some time and help you to establish immediate rapport with a client: Instead of conducting a movement assessment, consider putting a client through a low-intensity workout that includes all of the primary movement patterns (i.e., squatting, single-leg, pushing, pulling and rotation). This could include two to three sets of low-intensity, primarily body-weight exercises that enable you to assess the personal training client’s movement skills while also giving them the satisfaction of completing a workout. Keep in mind that the only thing separating an assessment from an exercise is the amount of information provided to a client.

When you ask a new personal training client to do a set of 10 to 12 body-weight squats, they have the perception of doing an exercise. What you are really doing, however, is watching the client move and assessing their movement quality. If it is clear that a client cannot squat well, rather than allowing them to continue, it will be necessary to regress the exercise to a movement pattern the client can safely perform. For example, a squat can easily be regressed to a floor-based glute bridge. Having a client exercise for the assessment provides you with the information you need to plan and design their exercise program, which is the planning stage of the process.

Finally, it is time to move to the action phase of coaching the new personal training client through the program you have designed in subsequent workout sessions.

To learn more about how the human body moves and how you can perform a number of different movement-based exercise assessments, consider participating in one of ACE’s live Movement-based Exercise Workshops where you will learn how to coach all of the movement patterns and design exercise programs that can help your clients to move and feel better.