Personal Training Skills: What You Need To Succeed

Wondering if you’ve got the skills needed to be a personal trainer?

Interested in the career but not quite sure if you’re made of the right stuff?

Well, the good news is, you probably are, and the even better news is that I am going to explain in this article exactly what skills you will need in order to not just be a personal trainer, but an outstanding PT!

Sound good?

Let’s go….

skills and qualities of a personal trainer

Jumping into a career without knowing whether you have what it takes to exceed is a shortcut to failure.

Instead, let me walk you through exactly what the skills of a personal trainer are for some of the finest personal trainers in the industry. Then you can decide what skills you are super confident with, and what others might need a little work on.

Before we start getting into the skills to be a personal trainer that will make you really awesome, let’s quickly go over some of the basic knowledge you’ll need. Feel free to skip ahead to the next section if you think you already have the basics down.

Basic personal trainer knowledge

  • Anatomy
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Basic nutrition
  • Basic psychology


For you to be able to understand how to put together a first-class training program, you are going to need to know how the muscles, bones, and joints of the body work together. This is one of the first skills for a personal trainer to learn, as it’s what your business will be based around.

You don’t need to get a doctorate in this to be able to prescribe exercises, but the more knowledge you can gather, the better. It’s especially useful to understand how injuries and postural issues can be worked around or improved because you are going to come into contact with plenty of people who have medical issues that still want to train with you.

You don’t want to be turning people away or referring them to other trainers with more knowledge than you.

Exercise physiology

This is the knowledge of how the body responds to exercise. When you think of hypertrophy training for muscle size, endurance, or strength training, these can be banded under “exercise physiology”.

It’s vital that you understand the concepts behind this. Knowing that hypertrophy training should consist of three to four sets of ten to twelve reps is great, but if you want to be the best trainer that you can be, understanding why these rep ranges and sets change how the muscles respond to activity is important.

You don’t need to be a strength and conditioning coach to understand this stuff, so just knowing how the body reacts to exercise is enough to get you started.

Basic nutrition

Without knowing about nutrition, you are wasting your time becoming a PT. Understanding what foods people are eating and how they are helping or hindering them in their goals is a vital skill needed to be a personal trainer.

You can train people week in, week out, and if you give them no nutritional advice so that they can get the most of their training with you, your clients will make little to no progress.

You’ll be amazed at just how little the general public understands about nutrition, and from my own experience, just how little people understand about portion control and the body’s requirements of macro and micronutrients.

Even knowing the basics on this topic will put you streaks ahead of most people you will be talking to in a gym.

Nutrition is one of the standard personal training skills you’ll need to learn to be able to give basic advice to your clients, but unless you are looking to become a nutritionist, you will not be giving people detailed meal plans.

Basic psychology

You’re probably wondering why you’d need to learn about psychology to be a trainer, it’s about fitness, right?

Well, there’s a lot more to getting people in shape than telling them how to lift things up and put them back down again safely.

From learning the psychology behind sales techniques so you can convert people into paying customers, to understanding why people have got overweight in the first place, or how to build rapport with people to keep them as clients once you have them, there are a ton of basic psychology that can really help you get to the bottom of peoples needs and wants, which makes you much better at helping them.

Remember that when you are a trainer, you are helping people make huge changes in their lives, which isn’t always an easy thing to do. Learning how people’s minds work will make it a whole lot easier for you to succeed. You’ll probably be surprised to hear this is one of the skills needed to be a personal trainer, but you’ll be using it every day.

Now that we have the basics out the way, let’s get onto the personal trainer skills list that you’ll need to possess if you want to succeed in this tough career.

Now, the skills required to be a personal trainer

  • Confidence
  • Time management
  • Professionalism
  • Enthusiasm (even when you’re exhausted)
  • Organization
  • Understanding
  • Exercise and dietary knowledge
  • Communication
  • Friendliness
  • Marketing knowledge
  • Sales skills

1. Confidence

So why’s confidence top of the list?

Because without confidence is one of the main skills of a personal trainer! You will really struggle to be a successful personal trainer without feeling confident that you know what you’re doing and are worth every penny you ask for.

From demonstrating exercises, to answering diet and exercise-related questions and persuading people to part with their hard-earned cash. Without confidence, you will not be able to do any of these things convincingly.

If you can’t convince people, they won’t trust you and without trust, people won’t like you and if they don’t like you, they won’t buy from you.

Just before you click away, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see yourself as being the most confident person around.

No one starts off confident, you don’t just get up and start walking, do you?

You keep falling over until you get better and better and before you know it, you aren’t even thinking about it anymore.

This is the case with something like “walking the gym floor“, words that make most new PTs shudder. It sucks when you first start doing it because it’s something that’s new to you, but in time, you get used to it, your confidence builds and it actually starts to become fruitful.

That’s what confidence is all about, it’s about believing in yourself and your abilities, your knowledge of training, and that it can help another human being reach their goals.

In time, you will find the aspects of being a personal trainer that scared you the most, like sales or teaching a class full of people, will become something that you absolutely breeze through, but it takes time and self-belief.

2. Time management

skills to be a personal trainer

Not going over the allotted time for a session by even a few minutes is an art form in itself.

It can be learned, but having naturally good time management is a personal trainer skill that pays dividends.

I remember when I first started training people and I was shocked at how quickly an hour with a client goes, especially when you factor in warm-up time, stretching, and session sign-off at the end.

After you have conducted a few sessions, you will start to get a feel for how much you can get achieved within the time slot you have booked in with that client.

It is also important to keep an eye on your watch whilst your client is resting and you are chatting. You’ll be surprised how quickly that 1 min rest period accidentally turns into five minutes.

You cannot afford to run over in your sessions, and I can tell you, seeing your next client waiting for you whilst you know you still have another two exercises to go through with your current client is a terrible situation to be in.

Great time management for personal trainers is an absolute must!

3. Professionalism

It’s easy to forget that when you are a personal trainer, you are running a business. This means that in order to keep your reputation you must remain professional at all times. This is one of the skills of a personal trainer that can set you apart from the rest.

This means that you cannot have other members of the gym hearing you talk about unsavory subjects or having them hear you say anything that may make them think less of you as a trainer.

Your professionalism also comes into play when discussing client refunds or resolving complaints or difficult situations.

These events will happen, and if you behave in an unprofessional manner, such as refusing to give a refund or getting into arguments, you will quickly find your professionalism being called into question which can have serious consequences to your business.

It mostly boils down to your behavior, and certain things are just not on when training people. Flirting, saying anything sexually suggestive, using terminology that could be considered racist, all these things need to be considered when training clients.

Hopefully, you are not the sort of person that would say or think like this anyway, but it’s important to remember when you are running your business you are at work and a high level of professionalism is required at all times if you want to maintain your credibility.

4. Enthusiasm

Maintaining your enthusiasm and energy levels when you are on your seventh session of the day, you’ve been on your feet for 8 hours and you’ve not got round to eating your lunch yet is a skill in itself.

People hire a personal trainer because of their knowledge, but a lot of the time, the real selling point is the enthusiasm and fun they can bring to a training session.

Remember, you might love exercise, you might look forward to your leg session on a Tuesday, but most people see exercise as a chore that needs to be gotten out of the way.

If you can maintain your energy levels so you can make a workout fun for someone, they will love your sessions and stay with you for a long time.

If instead, you show up looking tired and struggling to keep a conversation going, your clients will quickly lose interest in training with you.

Keep those energy levels up and keep things fun!

5. Organisation

skills to be a personal trainer

Without being organized as a pt you are really going to struggle, like, seriously struggle.

There are a ton of things you need to keep on top of as a fitness instructor and they are all really important.

Here’s a quick list of things you need to be on top of at all times:

  • Times and dates of clients sessions
  • Making sure client payments have been taken
  • How far through a training program clients are
  • Recording weights and rep ranges
  • Client statistics (weight, measurements, etc)
  • Timing of sessions (how many exercises can be performed in an hour)
  • Client retention
  • Updating your own knowledge of exercise and diet prescription

There’s more than this, but I don’t want to overload you.

Being organized is incredibly important. You cannot afford to be forgetful or disorganized. once again, you are running a business, and being organized is just part of running a business properly.

You need to keep track of all your clients, where they are at in their training, their payments, and the times they are booked in for.

These are the aspects that give you a professional appearance, and if you find yourself double booking a session slot and having two people show up at once, it can happen once, but only ever let it happen once. Any more than that and you will find your clients leaving you for one who can keep on top of their diary management.

6. Understanding and patience

I hardly ever see this mentioned as a skill of a personal trainer, which I find disappointing because of how important I know it to be.

When you are a trainer, you are not just helping people exercise and lose weight. There is so much more to it than that.

Your clients could be depressed or lack self-confidence because of their health or appearance. By helping them reach their fitness goals, you can be making huge changes to their life without realizing the true impact you are having.

Not only that but during sessions, you will get times that your clients are feeling down and just not in the mood. It is up to you to inspire them and motivate them to keep going.

You must understand that not everyone is like you. Not everyone likes to exercise, not everyone is as strong as you or in as good shape as you. In fact, that’s the whole reason they are employing you.

This is the time that you need to show that you understand that what might seem like a seriously easy weight or cardio session for you, can feel horrific to somebody new to exercise.

being empathetic with your clients will make them appreciate you a whole lot more.

It’s a really important point to me, and I think my skills here are what made me so successful.

7. Exercise and dietary knowledge

I’m not going to labor this point too much, simply because it’s so painfully obvious that if you want to succeed as a trainer, you MUST have a very good knowledge of these subjects. It’s one of those personal trainer skills needed to show your clients that you actually know what you’re talking about so you can gain their trust.

People are hiring you for your knowledge, not just to count how many squats they have done.

The good news is that most people have very poor knowledge of exercise and diet, so you won’t need a doctorate to have people listen to you.

However, there will be plenty of PTs in your gym or in your local area that will have a fantastic knowledge of these aspects of training, so you will want to make sure you are fully confident in what you are explaining, prescribing, and demonstrating to your clients.

8. Communication skills

What you will not have been told when you were taking your personal training courses and qualifications, is that when you qualify, you will not only become someone that helps people reach their fitness goals, you will also become an agony aunt, confidante, phycologist and a whole bunch of other occupations you had no idea you were studying for.

This happens because, in order for you to sell training, you have to understand people, not just the words they say to you, but how a person works. You need to know what drives that particular person, what de-motivates them, what is their sense of humor like, what interests them, all these aspects are important to know.

You will be seriously surprised at just what gets discussed during the 1 min rest periods between exercises. People will tell you all about their work lives, their marriages, arguments they have had, things that have made them happy and sad. You name it, and it will have been discussed at some point between a trainer and their client.

Personal trainer communication skills are not important, they are vital for a PT or any fitness professional. As Judge Judy would say ” put your listening ears on” and make sure you are understanding how your client feels and what’s going on in their lives.

Fitness is much more than picking up weights and running on treadmills.

9. Friendliness/approachability

skills of a personal trainer

If you are naturally a miserable person (and you know who you are), then please re-consider becoming a personal trainer.

I have worked with some fantastic PTs who had great personalities. Always upbeat and happy (but not that kind of irritating forced “happy” that you see on TV presenters at 6 am on a Sunday morning).

I’m talking about genuinely good people who make it easy for a person in the gym to approach and ask a question, without feeling like they are going to be made fun of for not knowing something that may seem obvious to other people.

Being approachable is one of the easiest ways to get clients in a gym. Walking around with a stern look on your face because you want to look like one of the “tough” trainers never did any good for the careers of people I saw doing that. They usually sat around with empty diaries all day.

If you love exercise and you are getting paid to do what you love, show people how much you enjoy it and be as approachable and friendly as possible.

10. Marketing skills

Think you are going to pick up all your clients by walking around the gym on your phone all day? Maybe you might even speak to one or two people? Yeah,
good luck with that.

Marketing yourself appropriately is the key to success as a pt working in a gym or training people in their homes.

There are tons of ways that you can market your skills and services to an audience of gym members and people looking to improve their health.

You can make your own website, run Facebook ads, create marketing material that you can put up in the gym for people to see, and create training booklets that sell your services before someone even comes to your consultation sessions.

What I am getting at here, is don’t do what a lot of pt’s do, which is to take the field of dreams strategy of “build it and they will come”, they won’t. Standing around in your PT uniform at the side of the gym will not earn you clients.

Spend some time and maybe even a little money to market yourself properly and you will find yourself with a ton of people willing to pay for your services.

11. Sales skills

Sales are one of the personal trainer skills needed to succeed, but it can be tough for a few reasons.

Firstly, some people find it very difficult to ask other people for money in general.

Secondly, some people do not have confidence in their own abilities enough to feel like they can charge money for them.

Remember how we said earlier that when you are a personal trainer you are running a business? Well, what do businesses do?

They make money!

If you aren’t asking for money, you aren’t selling and you will fail, and you fail fast.

If you have not been in the situation of selling anything before (especially your own skills), I would suggest you take the time to study sales strategies and tips.

When sitting someone down after a complimentary session, you must have the full belief that they are going to buy from you. Believe in yourself and state your prices with confidence or people will not buy from you, it really is as simple as that.

Unfortunately, you can be a great or even fantastic trainer, but if you can’t sell, you can’t succeed. This is a very important skill to master.


This list is made up of some of the key personal trainer skills that you will need if you want to be a successful personal trainer.

I have personally seen people without these skills fail and people with them flourish within my time in the industry.

If you don’t currently have these skills, it’s not a problem and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t be a trainer, I would just suggest that you brush up on these skills and do a little research and studying before you embark on this career.

This article will help you to become the best personal trainer you can be, and to slingshot you ahead of a lot of other pt’s you will find in my gyms and local areas.

Now you have this advice, you can go forward and start an incredibly successful business.

Go get ’em!

If you enjoyed this article and feel it might help others, please feel free to share it or link back to it.

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Chris Walker

Chris Walker worked in the City of London as a fully qualified REP's level three personal trainer for just under ten years. He built and maintained a client base of 40 individuals and worked with several high profile clients, including actors, actresses, comedians and politicians.

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