PT on the Net Research

The Future of Personal Training


As it stands right now, we—as coaches and trainers—are not yet doing enough to help our clients achieve their goals and live better.

We’re on the right path and while it’s important to recognize that, it’s time to turn our baby steps into long strides.

In order to change our clients’ lives – to get consistent, dramatic, lasting results while giving them the tools to maintain that change and grow—we must alter our approach. And it starts with defining what we do.

Despite what it says on our business cards, we are not “personal trainers.”

No, you and I transform bodies. We use things like exercise and nutrition to change lives. And that truth is much more powerful.

Think about the last time a client came to you…

Did they want an exercise program? Chances are, the answer is no. Rarely does someone come in and say, “I’d like to do squats and push-ups.”

Yet most trainers and coaches simply write a personalized training program and take their clients through a few workouts per week, even though it’s not what the client asked for.

What 99% of clients want—and, if you listen closely, you’ll see it communicated every time they step through our front doors—is change.

They want to change their bodies from its current state to the idealized version of the “perfect body” they have in their minds. And they’re asking for your help to do it. They don’t care how they get there as long as they get there.

Think about the gravity of this request. Think about the trust they’re putting in you. Think about the pressure it puts on you to deliver that result—it’s enough to make any trainer nervous.

But it shouldn’t.

With the right tools and education, you can deliver that change. And you can do it with every single person who walks through your door. That’s the truth.

But you can’t do it by focusing on just one aspect of body transformation. You can’t do it by defining yourself as a “personal trainer.” As someone who helps people exercise with good form.

Rather, to create the most dramatic results, you need to help manage your clients’ exercise (when they’re with you), as well as their lives (when they’re not with you).

Now let’s not be naive—exercise is a crucial component of body transformation. But what is your client doing the other 165 hours of the week? They’re eating.

That’s why an exercise program is never enough to see real, honest-to-goodness body transformation. And that’s why knowing how to change the way your clients eat is the biggest advantage you can have as fitness professional.

Trust me, in five years, knowing how to help change your clients’ eating habits will be what separates the “personal trainer” from the person who changes lives. And, simple as it may sound, if you want to be the latter, you have to stop thinking of yourself as a “personal trainer” and start thinking of yourself as a “body transformation specialist.” Or, more simply, as a “life changer.”

The next step—is to learn how to coach nutrition.

Why aren’t you coaching nutrition now?

Let’s face it: most trainers don’t feel like they’re qualified to help their clients change their eating habits. Why? Well, here are the reasons most of them give:

  1. “I’m not a dietitian.” (Doesn’t matter—very few dietitians are trained in exercise nutrition anyway.)
  2. “It’s illegal to give nutrition advice.” (No, it’s not. You can’t do medical nutrition therapy, but you give advice to active, exercising people.)
  3. “That’s not my scope of practice.” (Well, why not? It certainly should be. And, in five years, it’ll have to be.)

As you can see, these responses all limit your ability to adapt and grow as a professional. And, the body transformation industry is evolving so quickly that, in the near future, there won’t be a place for the current definition of “personal trainer.”

Look how far Personal Training has come already…

A few months ago I had dinner with a friend, a highly respected physical therapist. I won’t mention his name, but he’s basically “the guy” that introduced physical therapy techniques to the fitness industry.

Because of his determination, and his techniques, trainers around the world now assess their clients’ needs with movement screens. And they keep their clients injury-free with corrective exercises.

But it wasn’t always this way. About 10 years ago, movement screens and corrective exercise were considered “outside the scope” of personal training. Sound familiar?

Back then, people were saying, “I’m not a physical therapist,” “It’s illegal to give physical therapy advice,” and “That’s not my scope of practice.”

However, that’s old news. Because nowadays, if you’re not using corrective exercise and movement screening in your practice, you’re considered irrelevant—behind the times.

So, what’s the next big thing in personal training? Of course, it’s nutrition coaching.

Now, I’m not saying that personal trainers have to go to school for 10 years to become full-fledged masters of nutritional biochemistry. Quite the contrary. Nutritional biochemists are often ill-equipped to coach nutrition too.

What I am saying is that if you hope to survive in the fitness world through the next five years, you’d better understand that nutrition coaching—the real world application of habit-based nutrition—is the “missing piece” in the body transformation puzzle.

And that’s a topic that doesn’t require an RD or a PhD to master.

But, I don’t think I know enough to do a good job.

One less-commonly cited reason for not including nutrition in the personal training environment is the most honest one: “I just don’t think I know enough to do a good job.”

I can identify with this because when I started out as a personal trainer, that’s exactly how I felt. And, 15 years ago, when I struck out to do something about it, there were only two options for learning more about nutrition.

Option 1. Higher Education

With this option, you devote your entire professional career to learning about nutrition. This means undergrad degrees, grad degrees, and attending countless seminars. Essentially, you devote 10 years of your life to becoming “the nutrition guru.”

Of course, this is the route I chose. And while I wouldn’t change it for the world, let’s be honest, I spent over $100,000 in tuition and expenses, and 10 years of my life to achieve this. Not everyone is willing and/or able to go this route.

Option 2. The Weekend Seminar

The second option includes taking a weekend “nutrition certification course” and getting a rubber stamp of approval that, frankly, doesn’t mean anything. Sure, you’ve got the “nutrition” credential. But you don’t really feel you’ve learned much.

Obviously, I think this option is a waste of time. It probably won’t make you a better “life changer.” And you’ll probably even be a little embarrassed showing off your weekend certification credential.

Option 3. Complete Nutrition Education Programs

Times have changed and the two options above are no longer the only pathways to build up a strong nutritional foundation. There are a few additional programs out there—complete nutrition education programs—that can help you take your nutritional knowledge to the next level. 

However, these programs are few and far between.  So you have to keep your head up and look for programs that teach you how to work with real, live human beings.  Humans who want to look better and feel better—who want to change their lives – but who also have loads of rationalizations and excuses preventing them from being able to change on their own. 

The good news is that they’re out there.  And that these programs represent the future of personal training.

The future of personal training has begun…

One of the things I love about the fitness industry is that it’s still young. And with youth comes optimism and a passion for growth.

That’s why I’m excited for the future of fitness. People become fitness pros because they truly want to make a positive difference in the lives of their clients.  And, for me, I love that feeling too. I love helping my coaching clients. 

But it takes a complete effort to help them. Movement coaching, corrective exercise, proper programming, nutritional improvements and, if necessary, appropriate supplementation. 

Learning to add all these tools to your toolbox will help you make the transition from personal trainer to life changer.  And, in the process, realize the career path you set out to join when you started helping people exercise in the first place.