PT on the Net Research

How to Teach an Adult


As a Personal Trainer, one of our primary responsibilities is teaching others about health and fitness issues. Using the work of Dr. Virginia Griffin, you can take your adult teaching skills to new levels and communicate effectively with your clients when teaching new exercises or drills.

Assumption #1: Personal Meaning

Adult learning is enhanced when learners perceive that the learning process and its results have personal meaning to them and are relevant to their own purpose. Therefore, always present the benefit of a particular exercise, skill or program. Ensure that the benefit is relevant to their goal. For example:

"Sally, you're going to love the treadmill because it's an excellent method for reducing body fat which is one of your major goals."

"Joe, this exercise is perfect for you because it really helps improve posture and reduces your chances of developing a back injury which is very important to you."

Assumption #2: Learning Climate

Adults learn best in environments that are supportive and free from threats, and in a learning climate that fosters self-esteem, freedom of expression, acceptance of differences, and an acknowledgement that mistakes are necessary (including instructor). For example:

"Hey Joe, If I ever give you an exercise that just doesn’t feel right for your body please let me know immediately. You know your body better than anybody so please be real open with me. I can easily modify an exercise in a matter of seconds.”

"Jolene, do you remember when you first started with me how hard it was to stand on the BOSU? And now look at you. You’re doing full squats with jumps. That’s so amazing Your hard work and diligence is really paying off.”

Assumption #3: Emerging Needs and Interests

Adults learn best when learning is viewed as an evolutionary process and when the structure of a learning design can adapt to the emerging needs and interests of a maturing group. For example:

"Paul, I've been watching your technique over the last few weeks and I can see you've really mastered these exercises. I think you're ready to advance your program and try some more difficult variations of those exercises."

Assumption #4: Self Responsibility

Adult learning is enhanced when learners are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning by participating actively in the decision making, planning, and implementation of the learning activities. For example:

"Sue, what is your favorite form of aerobic activity? Ok, well we'll make walking the primary focus of your aerobic program! Now, is there any days in your weekly schedule that are just crazy and you can't imagine ever getting in a workout? Ok, well, we'll make Thursdays your rest day. Now when do you like to exercise - morning or evening? Ok, then let's schedule you in for Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6:30 am and then on the weekends I'll let you be your own trainer. You could decide to go for a bike ride or a hike or a nice long walk!"

Assumption #5: Group Settings

Adult learning is enhanced when learners can work in group settings, sharing and building on the experiences and resources of others in the group. For example, we organize programs such as group running, walking or hiking clinics and offer group fat loss programs. We organize educational lectures that participants can attend and learn about topics that are relevant to them (osteoporosis, menopause, fat loss, nutrition, back care...).

Assumption #6: Respect for Individuality

Adults learn best when they are prized and respected for their unique model of reality and their individual experiential history. For example:

"Jim, I consulted with your physiotherapist and we designed a series of exercises that are really going to address your individual muscular imbalances and help you to strengthen your back and improve your posture."

Assumption #7: Cognitive and Affective Learning

Adult learning is enhanced when learning activities are designed to appeal to both the cognitive (thinking) and affective (feeling) processes of knowing - when learners are encouraged to trust their affective responses to cognitive material, and vice versa. For example:

"Rhonda, we talked about the changes you need to make in your life to enhance fat loss. Do you think they'll work? Why haven't they worked in the past? What obstacles have you had to deal with previously? What can you do about overcoming those obstacles if they happen again?"

Assumption #8: Ongoing Evaluation and Reflection

Adults learn best when they are part of an ongoing evaluative process which includes time to reflect on their learning, to give and receive feedback, and to implement change as a result of their learning. For example:

"Gordon, we've practiced these 6 exercises for the last few weeks. I would like you to come back on Friday on your own and practice them and see how you do."

"Rick, we've been working together for the last few months. It's really important for me to know that I'm satisfying all your needs and that you're pleased with the results so far. So could you please take this feedback form home and complete it for me. I'd love to have it before our next session."

Assumption #9: Facilitator as Role Model

Adult learning is enhanced in the presence of a facilitator who is reflective, is involved in active learning projects, maintains self-esteem, acknowledges mistakes in a positive framework, values group members as co-learners, and lives a healthy lifestyle.

Walk your talk!