What Personal Trainers Will Want to Consider During a Client’s First Workout

how to structure the first training session with a new personal training client

The First Workout – Working as a Team 

Remember! Getting your client to their goals is a team effort – you and your client. You’ve already done the health screening, fitness assessments, and all the other pre-workout rituals.  Now it’s time to train.

You are NOT equal teammates, you are the fitness professional and the TEAM CAPTAIN!!! The trainer is the captain of the team and is in charge, teaching the basics from a position of authority. 

The Focus of the First Session 

Much of the time, less successful trainers will only cover goals superficially. A new client will sit across during the initial assessment and when asked about their goals will answer superficially (no details that really tell the story). You will also want to ask questions about stress management skills, the level of intensity tied to their concentration, or even the approach used for setting challenging – but at the same time – realistic goals – these are all psychological characteristics.

For most clients, these can be learned and developed. They contribute to the performance and the well-being of the client; thus we have to know more about them and keep them operating in the background of our mindset or approach if we are to make proper use of their application.

Many trainers will accept “tone-up” as a goal and move on to the next question. Go beyond “tone up” to the measurable description of what “tone up” will look like for the client. It is better to find out the motives behind their goals – what being “toned up” will do to benefit their life. You need to be able to find out detailed goals to “paint the picture” of your ability to fulfill their needs. 

Ineffective: (most common) Focusing on goals (wants) and features 

Effective: Focusing on motives (needs) and connecting them to benefits 

People don’t buy features; they buy the benefits that those features give to them. This should be the focus of the first session, finding the motives behind the client’s goal (what they NEED – this is found by asking detailed questions) and connecting them to the BENEFITS of YOU (telling the client how you will fulfill those needs). 

How to Start the First Workout 

This is the time to WOW them 


Look at the appointment as an INFORMATION GATHERING SESSION. Both the trainer and the client will receive valuable information vital to achieving results. The main focus of the appointment is to determine their GOALS and the MOTIVES behind their goals. In other words, WHY they are there. 

It might be wise to explain the process to new clients, who tend to arrive with the intention of exercising during the first meeting. This might happen, but only if time permits and if there are no limitations requiring clearance. Still, it is a lot to expect this to happen in the first meeting with a new prospective client. 

Step 1: Greeting 

  • WOW the client with your professionalism and enthusiasm
  • Nail the first impression
  • Use their full name
  • Be lively, bright, and energetic from the beginning 
  • Have all your “equipment” ready – clipboard, paperwork, assessment equipment 
  • Make proper eye contact and use a firm handshake 

Step 2: Agenda 

The first session is an information-gathering session. Take time to explain to your prospect the flow of how the first session will unfold. Explain the process of collecting physical assessments, health history, and goals. 

The first session gives the trainer the information they need to customize the ideal program for them. 

You can use statements such as, “this will allow me to develop the ideal program for you, so it is vital that we share communications both openly and honestly. How does that sound?” 

Step 3: Health History & Assessments 

Be very mindful when doing assessments – your client will know what they want, but your assessments will reveal what they truly need! Once you have identified “needs”, you can design an individualized and personalized for the client. 

Asking questions to see if there are any limitations to exercise is standard practice and part of the health history segment. This supports the idea that you care enough about your client to proceed, but only with caution in mind as well as the client’s goals, as these elements are responsible for forming the basis of your client’s program design. You MUST make this time all about the client. 

When the trainer acquires the information needed to design a safe program, you are demonstrating that you are responsible in your approach, while showing that you are goal-oriented and focused. Your client will benefit from your attention to detail as you dig into their health history. Safety also factors in here, too. Hopefully, the client will feel that you can design an exercise program that does “no further harm” to them or the conditions they are managing. 

Take detailed notes. Your client will be giving you rich information about their motives and goals; it is vital to ‘hear’ your client. Reflect back to the client what you have heard. You may also refer to other clients with similar conditions or goals that you’ve helped in the past. 

Step 4: Goals – “The Fun Part” 

Re-Emphasize The Importance of the Goal Section 

“…The more I am able to understand your unique wants and needs, the better I will be able to design a program for you to achieve your goal.” 

Integrating the Why’s and the We’s 


The trainer must show empathy. Open communication is vital. What is the benefit to the trainer? – it increases credibility and professionalism. The trainer is better equipped to create programs. As goals become more detailed, and motives established, the client will be verbalizing sensitive topics that they may not have said before. 


  • When have you ever been able to achieve what you want?
  • How does that make you feel?
  • What drives you to want this? 
  • Why now?
  • Visualize the “PERFECT YOU” – What do you look like?
  • How do you feel?
  • How does it affect your confidence, self-image, how you see yourself, etc? 

Refer to other clients and their success with similar goals. This anecdotal type of reference is useful to the client who may be wondering how you can help them with a specific condition or goal that they are wanting to meet. 


Remember to use “we” repeatedly throughout the goal section. Take copious notes. This is extremely important! Occasionally repeat back info you’ve heard them tell you – this shows you’re interested, listening, and are concerned in helping them succeed!! 

Step 5: Painting The Picture The 4 levels of Fitness 

While we may live the fitness lifestyle, our clients most likely do not – we take a lot for granted. They don’t know how or why exercise works. We need to explain to them how their body will adapt and make the changes they want – PAINT THE PICTURE!! Explain that this is an adaptation process that everyone goes through (fit or not) when their body is getting used to the “NEW” demands being placed on it. These new demands could be working out, learning a new sport, a new martial art, dancing, etc. 

When explaining, use both technical and layman’s terms. This skill relies on your ability to communicate properly with your client as well as your understanding of the 4 levels of fitness. After explaining how their body is going to adapt, paint the picture of how you (THE FITNESS PROFESSIONAL) are going to use these principles to guide them to their goals. – Lay out a general game plan. 

Step 6: Make Your Professional Recommendation 

This is not “SELLING.” If you’ve been professional and enthusiastic, the sessions should be easy to come by – they will already see the importance of training with you. Remember to connect the MOTIVES which drive the client’s goals to the BENEFITS of having you as their Trainer. 

“From what you’ve told me about (their goals) I recommend we start with 3 days a week…” 

explaining benefits of personal training

Maintaining Professionalism – YOUR big picture! 

Most of your time as a trainer is in providing client services. Your ability to effectively schedule appointments greatly impacts your success and your stress level, too. Allow yourself sufficient time between clients, while not having large blocks of unproductive time. You may discover that you need to schedule time differently for new clients, whereas some ongoing clients will regularly need additional time. You may need a longer recuperation time after certain clients. Sometimes staying within the allotted session time can be difficult when you don’t have anything else scheduled immediately after the session. While having the flexibility to extend a session might be wanted, it shouldn’t be complimentary. Be careful to respect the time boundaries of yourself and your client(s). The longer you are in practice, the more proficient you will become at judging how much time is necessary to spend with each client as well as in between sessions. 

Continuing education is also necessary for your career path. You will find ways to broaden your knowledge, particularly in the areas of interpersonal skills, product knowledge, technical skills, and business skills. Some ways to do that include reading magazines and books, taking classes, attending seminars, watching videos, and networking. 

It can be helpful to be assessed periodically. This can be done by your clients and by calling on coworkers or peers; try to encourage every client to provide feedback to you regarding their experience. It is only necessary to go through the process just once or twice per year. Feedback is essential for your professional growth. This concept can seem a bit scary – the idea of evaluation does have some ego risk involved, but how are you going to know which areas to enhance if no one tells you? Remember, knowledge is power. Since most work in this field is very individualized, it’s recommended that you obtain as many evaluations as possible to get broader, more objective feedback. Many trainers find evaluations highly beneficial. They are also a good way to get your clients more involved in their health goals. 

Getting assessed by your colleagues is essential. They can provide you with the type of technical feedback that the client probably would not know. Again, it isn’t necessary to be evaluated every time you work with your peers but do it regularly. The purpose is to support each other in achieving excellence. This can be an enjoyable and cost-effective way to grow professionally. 

Where Can You Learn More?

Be on the lookout for future articles about more ways to get an endless stream of clients for your training or coaching business. You will also want to search through the archives of our blog because there are many other articles that go into great depth about dozens of other ways to get clients.

There is always something exciting about earning a new training or coaching certification and applying that new knowledge of how you train your clients. This also helps you hit the reset button.

NESTA and Spencer Institute has been helping people like you since 1992. To date, over 65,000 people from around the world have benefited from our various certifications, programs, continuing education courses and business development systems. We are here for you now and in the future. Feel confident in your decision to work with us as you advance your knowledge and career. We are here for you each step of the way.

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That’s it for now.

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