LO2 of Unit 5 – How to monitor and review safe and effective gym-based exercise programmes

How to monitor and review safe and effective gym-based exercise programmes

Learning outcomes
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

2.1 Explain the reasons for the deferral of exercise

2.2 Explain the importance of verbal screening and how to conduct it

2.3 Describe the exercise contraindications and fundamental safety guidelines for working with special populations

2.4 Compare various methods of monitoring exercise intensity

2.5 explain how to evaluate the effectiveness of gym-based programmes

2.6 Explain appropriate engagement with clients

2.7 Explain the value of reflective practice

The reasons for the deferral of exercise

Deferral versus referral

Deferral concerning exercise is delaying or postponing a session or workout and is usually temporary. Deferral is not the same as a “referral”. A referral is an act or process of transferring someone or something to another person. The two words are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. 

Instructors can defer exercise for many reasons and should not worry about stopping a client from participating and rescheduling them to another time.

Reasons include: 

  • Minor illness, such as a cold
  • Minor injuries such as muscle stream
  • Excessive fatigue, such as your clan being tired from overtraining or lack of sleep
  • Inappropriate personal clothing, no gym footwear or attire
  • A positive response to the PARQ, such as the client answered “yes” to one or more questions. For example, a client with high blood pressure, diabetes or has high cholesterol which may need medical clearance from a GP


Deferral from exercise may be necessary if you have any doubt or uncertainty about your client’s health. When it comes to your client’s health, it’s always best to stay on the side of caution.

Risk stratification and referral to another health care professional

What is the aim of risk stratification?

Risk stratification aims to:

1: Identify individuals who may be at risk during exercise. 

2: Write a patient-specific exercise programme and suitable activity interventions

3: Minimise the risks and maximise the benefits of exercise

4: Use as a benchmark to measure progress through regular monitoring


What are the criteria for referrals?

As recommended by the BHF Exercise Referral Toolkit, patients must meet specific eligibility criteria to be accepted as exercise referral. To meet the requirements, patients must be: 

Referral table

Refer the person to a more qualified health professional if they fall into one of four criteria:


1. Instant medical referral

  • Any diagnosed metabolic, pulmonary or cardiovascular disease
  • Signs or symptoms of a pulmonary or cardiovascular disease


2: Several measurements require special attention and potential temporary deferral:

  • High blood pressure, a current smoker and positive family history of CHD
  • Minor injuries such as sprains and strains


3: Fitness instructor doubt or uncertainty

  • Doubt or uncertainty regarding any aspect of the client’s health should always result in a referral


4: Client preference or doubt

  • If the client expresses a desire to be medically referred before starting an exercise programme, the instructor should play it safe and refer


Risk stratification table

The importance of verbal screening and how to conduct it

Screening is a necessary aspect in fitness to ensure clients are ready to exercise and that activities are explicitly programmed to their current condition and fitness abilities. Your client’s welfare is essential at all times.

Screening usually takes the form of a questionnaire called a PARQ. During the initial consultation process, the client is asked to read and complete the simple questionnaire. Within the consultation, you must decide to proceed to schedule the training sessions or a physical assessment. However, much can happen between the consultation and the first scheduled training session and, for that matter, any training sessions which may affect the planned programme of exercise. The last thing that you would want is not to consider your client’s current health. 

When to do it?

It is recommended that you verbally screen your client before starting the training session and do it before every session. Verbal screening is straightforward, involving questioning your client on how they feel that day. The client’s response allows you to know of any events or circumstances that have impacted the client’s health and wellbeing, such as illness, a muscle strain or overtiredness? A client recovering from illness may struggle with aerobic exercise and fatigue sooner than planned. A muscle strain can be made worse with specific activities, and excess fatigue makes it harder to maintain good exercise form. Each example increases injury likelihood if activities and intensity are not modified or even rescheduled to another time. 


The take-home point is that you must verbally screen your client before a training session and act in the client’s best interest and welfare.

Exercise contraindications and fundamental safety guidelines for working with special populations

Exercise contraindication

A contraindication is something that may be or is harmful. In the fitness industry, specific exercises could be contraindicated if they carry higher risks to joint structure, soft tissue, or other risks. Because the risks typically outweigh the benefits, these exercises are inappropriate for specific individuals—for example, a grade II hypertensive person lifting maximal weights. Maximal lifting involves breath-holding, which is contraindicated in hypertensives. 

There are two types of contraindications:

  • Relative contraindication means that caution should be used when prescribing specific exercises (It is acceptable to do so if the benefits outweigh the risk).
  • Absolute contraindication means that an exercise or activity is likely to cause harm or even a life-threatening situation—for example, a client with known chronic heart failure performing taxing intervals.


Of course, there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach as individuals have variability in their fitness level, health history, joint mechanics, flexibility, and goals. Although some exercises may not be appropriate, injury risk can be significantly reduced with just a slight modification.

Guidelines for special populations: Working with antenatal and postnatal women

In general, women should be encouraged to continue exercising during their pregnancy. Staying active throughout pregnancy may make pregnancy and birth more comfortable. However, it will make it easier to regain their pre-pregnancy fitness and weight. Therefore, fitness instructors must understand the physiological changes experienced during pregnancy and after birth.

General physiological changes and exercise considerations include:

Blood pressure changes – In the first trimester (0-3 months), it is normal for blood pressure to drop as blood vessels dilate to prepare the body for increased blood volume during the second and third trimesters. Women may experience dizzy spells, especially when rising from the floor. It is wise to avoid getting up and down during exercise. It is advisable to structure a series of activities in one position before moving to another, e.g., perform standing and sitting exercises, then move to the floor.

Unstable ligaments: 

Relaxin is a hormone produced by the ovaries and placenta. Its release increases ligaments’ laxity around joints (mostly the pelvis), thus reducing joint stability (ante and postnatal). Therefore, it is essential to avoid exercising or stretching at the joint’s end range position to avoid overstretching and possible injury.

Posture changes: 

There will be changes in posture as the baby grows,

resulting in the woman’s centre of mass moving forward and increasing the lumbar curve. A change in body posture affects balance, so prepare to offer alternatives to ensure greater stability and support.

Posture changes

Linea alba: 

The rectus abdominis will separate during the later stages of pregnancy along the linea alba, so care must be taken when performing exercises for the abdominals. Not all abdominal exercise will be suitable, i.e., crunches. During the second and third trimesters, pregnant women should avoid exercising while lying on their backs (supine position).


Pelvic floor weakness: 

There will be increased stress on the pelvic floor muscles due to the baby’s weight, resulting in stress incontinence. Activities that encourage pelvic floor function should be included to help with this.



Pregnant women are more at risk of overheating. In particular, the effects of heat are most hazardous when exposure occurs in the first trimester of pregnancy. Proper hydration, moderate-intensity and avoid exercising in hot climates or environments is recommended during pregnancy.


Exercise implications after pregnancy 

After a standard vaginal delivery, it is generally okay for women to return to exercise after about 6-8 weeks. In women who have delivered via a caesarean section, the recovery period is a lot longer, usually around 12 weeks before returning to exercise. Postnatal women should always be encouraged to check with their midwives or doctors before starting or recommencing exercise.


Exercise contraindications

  • Heart rate 100bpm
  • Blood pressure 180/100
  • Significant heart or lung disease
  • An incompetent cervix or cerclage
  • Carrying more than one baby and at risk of premature labour
  • Persistent second- or third- trimester bleeding
  • Placenta Previa past 26 weeks of pregnancy
  • Premature labour during your current pregnancy
  • Ruptured membranes
  • Preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension)


Warning signs of stopping exercise and see the doctor

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dyspnoea (difficult or laboured breathing) before exertion
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Preterm labour
  • Decreased foetal movement
  • Amniotic fluid leakage

Exercise prescription for the maintenance of fitness in pregnant women. 

Pregnancy guidelines


Accumulation of 30minutes a day of exercise can occur on most if not all days of the week

2-3 days/week

It can be performed on most days of the week



60–70% of maximal heart rate or 50–60% of maximal oxygen uptake appears to be appropriate for most pregnant women who do not regularly exercise before pregnancy. The upper part of these ranges can be considered for those who wish to continue maintaining fitness during pregnancy.

Individually prescribed strength training (one set of up to 12 repetitions) exercise, including multiple muscle groups.

Low weights with multiple repetitions lifted through a dynamic range of motion appear to be a safe and effective type of resistance exercise during pregnancy.

To comfort or mild stretch.



Accumulating activity in shorter exercise periods, such as 15-minute periods, may obviate concerns about thermoregulation and energy balance during exercise sessions.

1-3 sets, 10-15 reps 

Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds.


Aerobic exercise can consist of any activities that use large muscle groups in a continuous rhythmic manner. For example, activities such as walking, hiking, jogging/running, aerobic dance, swimming, cycling, rowing, cross country skiing, skating, dancing, and rope skipping.

Focus on areas that need strengthening for pregnancy, labour and parenthood, i.e. upper back

Avoid supine exercise, isometric actions and Valsalva manoeuvre.

Lower impact activities may need to be considered, especially in the second and third trimesters

Stretch warm muscles only, be gentle (relaxin), focus on areas that are stressed during pregnancy, i.e. lower back, hamstrings, chest.

Guidelines for special populations: working with older adults (50+)

Research into the effects of ageing and exercise have consistently shown that exercise provides many health benefits and that older adults should continue to stay physically active. A large part of ageing is disuse, and attitudes and beliefs of the ageing process, even mild to moderate exercise can improve health and longevity.

Physiological changes associated with ageing

Strength training can help offset age-related loss of muscle mass, which decreases by approximately 15% per decade in the sixth and seventh decade of life. Strength training is also suitable for maintaining bone density, showing a decline in males and females from the fourth decade. Women are significantly affected after the fifth- and sixth decade following menopause and generally experience a greater bone loss than men.

Aerobic and endurance training can help maintain body weight and improve various aspects of heart and lung function. Both strength and aerobic training can positively affect improving health and reducing disease likelihood.

Exercise implications for older populations – Physical activity programmes for older people should include a balance of cardiovascular, resistance and flexibility exercise.

Focus on:

  • Exercise as appropriate to age and level of fitness
  • Consideration for any medical conditions
  • Lower intensity, lower impact,
  • Promote mobility and posture
  • Include balance training
  • Strengthen areas susceptible to fracture (wrist, hip, spine)
  • Slower movements
  • fewer complex movements
  • More time for transitions.
  • Consider the use of chairs, if appropriate.


  • Three to five days a week
  • Performed two to three days per week with a rest day between sessions
  • Daily



  • Moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
  • Very light or light intensity is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults starting exercise.
  • Two to four sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power
  • For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10- 15 repetitions improve strength in middle-aged and older persons starting exercise, and 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance
  • Mild to a moderate stretch sensation



  • Strive to increase the minimum goal of 10 minutes of aerobic activity to longer stretches, as well as increasing the weekly number of minutes from 150 to 300 overtime. Examples of endurance exercises are walking, jogging, dancing and playing tennis.
  • 45-60 min
  • Adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions.
  • Complete at least one stretch for each major muscle group. 10-15 seconds per stretch.



  • Activity that does not impose excessive orthopaedic stress.
  • Water or cycle-based activity is suitable for people who cannot perform too many weight-bearing activities.
  • Running, walking, cycling, swimming
  • Adults should train each major muscle group two or three days each week using various exercises and equipment.
  • Balance exercises include strength exercises for the lower body such as back and side leg raises, and toe stands and stability exercises such as heel-to-toe walking and the stork pose (standing on one foot with arms held out to the side).
  • Activity that maintains or increases flexibility using static, sustained stretches.

ACSM Position Statement on Exercise and Older Adults

The Position Statement contains the following major conclusions:

  • Although no amount of physical activity can stop the biological ageing process, there is evidence that regular exercise can minimise the physiological effects of a sedentary lifestyle. It can also increase active life expectancy by limiting the development and progression of chronic disease and disabling conditions.
  • Ideally, exercise for healthy ageing should include aerobic, strengthening, and flexibility exercises.
  • A combination of regular aerobic and resistance training exercises is more effective in combating ageing effects than training alone.
  • Individuals at risk of falling or mobility impairment should also perform specific exercises to improve balance.
  • Although higher-intensity training programs are effective, physical activity does not need to be high-intensity to prevent chronic conditions. Exercise consistently has lasting benefits. The benefits of a single exercise session are relatively short-lived.
  • Also, the Position Statement provides evidence that exercise provides psychological benefits for older adults, including a lowered risk of dementia, and helps improve day-to-day function.

http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/news releases/2009/07/20/acsm-issues position- stand-on-exercise-and-older-adults

Guidelines for special populations: working with young people

Working with young people can be very rewarding. As many lifetime behaviours start in childhood, it is an opportunity for fitness instructors to get young people to enjoy being active from a young age. Research shows that children who are regularly active and participate in a wide range of activities are more likely to carry on into adulthood.

Another significant health benefit from being regularly active when you are young is that it affords protection from disease during adulthood, even if individuals become inactive in later life. The same is not true if individuals have been inactive as children and exercise in adulthood.

Although young people can perform the same activities as adults, fitness instructors should be aware that children and young people are not mini adults and programmes will need to be tailored to:

  • The needs of the individual
  • Goals or motivations
  • Movement skill development
  • Timing of the growth spurt
  • Level of maturity


In particular, the growth spurt can affect coordination as limbs quickly lengthen, making individuals look unsteady. Consideration must be given, or activity must be moderated (avoid high intensity and resistance and avoid heavy strength training) if any unusual pain or discomfort is felt.

Maintain hydration

The thermoregulatory system of young people is immature, and they need to pay special attention to their hydration status during exercise. Working out means they will lose water and feel hot. Instruct young people always to bring a water bottle to the gym and take regular sips of water during their workout. Not only will they stay hydrated, but it will lead to better workout performance.

Considerations for starting an exercise programme with children and adolescents

Assess the young person’s readiness to participate – The first rule of thumb is to assess the individual’s ability to participate in a structured session. Children must be cognitively developed to follow instructions and understand lifting safety requirements. Assess readiness through observation: does the child/young person treat the gym like a playground? If children are off swinging on equipment and cannot follow instructions, they are not ready. Maturity and cognitive ability vary widely between ages, and a single child can drastically change the dynamics and safety of your session.

Supervision is vital – Adequate supervision by an appropriately qualified professional is essential in reducing injury and maximising performance training.

Adequate supervision allows instructors to do the following:

  1. Monitor technique,
  2. Adjust training loads
  3. Control behaviour

Focus on technique, not numbers

Proper technique is essential. Learning fundamental lifting techniques from an early age allows young people to lift correctly before load and volume are added. Using light or no resistance, squatting, deadlifting, lunging, jumping, pressing above the head are perfected before complicated movements such as the power clean can be practised. Load, volume and intensity can be added when the required movements are demonstrated correctly. Although young people should participate in weightlifting activities, they must also master controlling their body weight. Push ups, chin-ups, and other calisthenic activities are often where exercise training should start.

Use age-appropriate training equipment

In most gyms, treadmills are designed for adult use, not suitable for young people. The saddles on gym bikes also may not adjust downwards enough to allow young people to touch the pedals effectively. When teaching young people to lift, wooden dowel rods can be an excellent place to start as they are light and give a feeling of holding a bar. When the basic movements have been practised, try a 5kg or 10kg training bar with a 25mm bar diameter to add a bit of load. Light 1.5-5kg Olympic training plates are useful, and lockjaw collars, rather than spring collars, are easy to use to secure weight. Ensure footwear with a firm sole is worn if weight training and running shoes for the treadmill.

Create the environment

To ensure workout effectiveness, personal safety and others’ safety, create the right environment, and set the engagement rules. For instance, participants must wait for the coach before starting the session, only exercise in designated areas and be respectful of other gym users.

Get qualified

This may seem like common sense, but fitness instructors should seek qualified training for children and adolescents. Qualified instructors are fully equipped to meet young people’s needs successfully.

Safety first

It’s essential that young people understand the safety requirements. Instruct young people not to do anything that might get them or anyone else hurt. ALWAYS follow the rules. When working on treadmills, always get young people to attach the safety clip to the bottom of their t-shirt and advise them to run at a speed they can control. Instruct them to stay focused and to never leave the treadmill belt running without being on it. 

The ACSM (2010) guidelines for exercise prescription for young people are outlined below.


  • Active on most if not all days of the week
  • Two to three days a week on non-consecutive days.
  • Daily



  • Moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
  • Start with low to moderate intensity and build movement skill
  • 8-15 repetitions per set
  • Mild to a moderate stretch sensation



  • Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity and 30

minutes of vigorous activity daily. Inactive and/or overweight individuals may slowly progress to 45-60 min

  • Complete at least one stretch for each major muscle group. 10-15 seconds per stretch.



  • Large muscle group activities, e.g., football, swimming, dance, running, cycling, netball, tennis
  • Bodyweight exercises or circuit-based training sessions are a great place to start
  • Resistance and weightlifting exercises are also suitable but must be supervised at all times and use the proper equipment.
  • Activity that maintains or increases flexibility using static, sustained stretches.

Guidelines for special populations: working with disabled people

Physical activity benefits for disability groups have been demonstrated in stroke victims, people with spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, amputees, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, limb amputations, mental illness, intellectual disability, and dementia. UK fitness centres and health clubs must follow the law and provide inclusion activities. The law says “reasonable adjustments” must be made to facilities and services accessible to disabled people, i.e., access points, equipment and lifts.

Fitness instructors must try to understand the limitations in clients with disabilities by being patient and empathetic and designing exercise programmes on the best available evidence whilst also taking on board the disabled person’s circumstances.

If a fitness instructor is unable to meet the specialist needs of the disabled person, it is necessary to refer them on to a specialist. Where reasonable, fitness instructors can follow the ACSM guidelines below.

Key guidelines for adults with disabilities

  • Adults with disabilities, who can get at least 150 minutes per week (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
  • Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes and should preferably be spread throughout the week.
  • Adults with disabilities can also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or high intensity as this provides additional health benefits. These activities should involve all major muscle groups and be carried out on two or more days per week.
  • When adults with disabilities cannot meet the above guidelines, they should engage in regular physical activity according to their abilities and avoid inactivity.
  • Adults with disabilities should consult their healthcare providers about the amounts and types of physical activity appropriate for their abilities.

Comparing different methods of monitoring exercise intensity

Planning a training programme involves choosing the types of exercise, i.e. free weight and machine, intensity and volume such as repetitions, sets, and rest times. Exercise intensity must meet a minimum threshold for cardiovascular and resistance exercise for adaptations to occur. However, exercise intensity should be progressive over time. Too much too soon can have unwanted consequences, such as severe DOMS and plenty of discomfort, an injury or worse. 

Suppose every gym chain has an exercise laboratory. You could measure your client’s performance with a reasonable degree of certainty. Laboratory testing can accurately measure variables such as oxygen uptake, ventilatory threshold and blood lactate levels, and strength to prescribe exercise intensity based on their data. Unfortunately, no UK gym has that capability, so you must rely on other means to monitor a client’s exercise intensity or effort levels. Several monitoring exercise methods are available and, with a little bit of practice, are easy to administer to clients, permitting instant feedback.

Ventilatory threshold (VT) 

VT is defined as the point during which pulmonary ventilation (breathing) becomes disproportionately high for oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production.

At the onset of exercise, breathing is proportional to the amount of oxygen uptake; as exercise intensity rises, so does the oxygen demand, along with a linear increase in breathing rate. Around 60-75% VO2 max; however, there will be a non-proportional increase in carbon dioxide production relative to oxygen consumption. This is easy to identify when observing the client’s exercise performance as there will be a change in focus, and it will be challenging to hold a conversation.

Most field-based methods rely on subjective feedback from the client (the client’s interpretation) and very much depend on the client understanding the sensations associated with exercise, plus understanding their capability. Also, each test has its benefits but also its limitations. Furthermore, data can differ in the same individual from session to session, so caution is advised to interpret results. For this reason, it is best to collect data (subjective and objective) from more than one test and make an educated judgement.

Subjective versus objective data

1: Subjective data is information based on personal opinions, feelings, interpretations or judgement (i.e., how hard the client feels they are exercising).

2: Objective data is information that is measurable or observable (i.e. heart rate, blood pressure).

The result is that exercise intensity can be personalised to the client’s current fitness level. Fitness instructors can use the following tests:

Insert table

Talk Test (subjective)

What’s involved

The Talk Test is a valid measure of ventilatory threshold (certainly for the treadmill and bike), with accepted exercise prescription guidelines. It was developed to be an informal, subjective method of estimating appropriate cardiorespiratory exercise intensity. The method entails maintaining an intensity of exercise at which conversation is comfortable. When an exerciser reaches an intensity at which he or she can “just barely respond in conversation,” the intensity is considered to be safe and appropriate for cardiorespiratory endurance improvement.


  • Correlates well with ventilatory threshold
  • No equipment necessary
  • Easy and straightforward to administer
  • Easy to programme exercise intensity



  • It’s not very specific

Rate of perceived exertion (subjective)

What’s involved

RPE is a perceived rating of effort scale, measuring how hard an individual feels they are working during exercise. Developed by a Scandinavian physiologist called Gunnar Borg is a 6–20-point scale and can estimate heart rate. Multiplying the Borg score by 10 gives an approximate heart rate for a particular level of activity (e.g., RPE 12 would approximate HR of 120 bpm).


  • Easy and straightforward to use
  • No equipment required
  • A visual guide of exercise intensity
  • Suitable to use with beginners
  • Valuable when HR measures of exercise intensity are inaccurate or dampened, such as in individuals on beta-blocker medication



  • Persons with little exercise experience might overestimate training intensity
  • Inexperienced people might not push themselves not far enough to reach the required training stimulus because they are afraid of the increased heart rate or discomfort that comes with training
  • There is doubt on the test-retest reliability of the established 6–20 Borg RPE scale for estimating exercise effort during progressive exercise

Heart rate monitoring (objective)

What’s involved

A heart rate monitor is a device that measures your heart rate. It consists of a transmitter attached to the chest strap and a receiver in the form of a watch.


  • When based on actual measured maximum heart rate, it’s advantageous
  • Used to establish HR training zones
  • HR data can be used to avoid overtraining



  • Requires a heart rate monitor
  • As fitness increases, the person can tolerate higher heart frequencies than before
  • Heart rate can be easily affected by other factors – i.e., weather, dehydration, anxiety and overtraining

<Insert table> Borg scale 6-20


<Insert table> Modified Borg scale 1 to 10


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<Insert table>Modified scale 1 to 10 resistance training

How to evaluate the effectiveness of gym-based programmes

Evaluating your client’s progress is critical to keep them training. Evaluations present a fantastic opportunity to discuss with your clients their progress so far. Evaluations also present the perfect opportunity to offer clients further advice on training and discuss how far the client is from or whether their goals have been accomplished.

An evaluation is an opportunity to discuss progress with clients and offer further support options.

If the instructor-client review is performed correctly, it can increase the client’s desire and motivation to adhere to their training programme. Also, evaluations identify what training is working well and what is not working so well.

Organise evaluation at least every 8-10 weeks, a bit like pit stops in a motor car race. Evaluations refresh the client’s focus and motivation, readying them for the next phase of training.

The main reasons to conduct client progress evaluations are to:

1: Review client progress they have made so far. Use non-technical language and, where possible or appropriate, use graphs and charts—relay test results with integrity and honesty.

2: Focus discussion on what went well. However, be prepared for the aspects of progress that didn’t go well and offer progress, i.e., improving exercise technique and exercise level.

3: Discuss option on overcoming barriers to exercise participation

4: Agree on actions and timeframes, finalise with the client what the next phase of training will entail and reaffirm the client’s short-, medium- and long-term goals.

When should a progress review be done?

The ideal evaluation period should be every eight to ten weeks. The reason being is that it ensures the client is accountable for their actions. It also keeps them motivated as a period between evaluations of more than eight weeks may result in a drop in client motivation as the boredom sets in.

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Engaging with members on the gym floor

Building a successful fitness career involves developing relationships with your target audience. From high-end clubs such as David Lloyd and private spas to budget chains such as PureGym and The Gym Group or even boutique gyms, they know their audience and target them exclusively to sell memberships. The chances are is that you will start your fitness career in one of these facilities as a gym instructor or personal trainer. You will be expected to improve the member experience and sell additional services such as personal training sessions. To survive, you must learn to engage with gym members. 

How to engage with gym members?

It’s easy to feel intimidated as a newly qualified instructor, especially when there are long-serving trainers and gym members with established relationships. However, engagement is a must to succeed. Engagement is the first step to developing a relationship. Developing relationships helps grow your business and sell your services. Let’s start by understanding how to build a relationship and then use it to engage with members. Fundamentally, all good relationships are built on two qualities:

1: Trust
2: Rapport

How do you develop trustworthy relationships?

Trust has several connotations; however, a simple definition concerning relationship building is ‘believing that someone is fair, honest and reliable. Trust can take time to develop but can be lost in an instant.  

Trust involves the elements of credibility, reliability, intimacy and empathy. For gym members to have trust in you, demonstrate trustworthy behaviour by actioning the following: 

1: Be reliable – be on time and consistent in your behaviour. For example, cancelling a planned training session at short notice happens. However, repeatedly cancelling sessions or being continually late for sessions will destroy your credibility.

2: Do what you say you will do and honour your promises – never say or promise anything unless you can deliver. 

3: Tell the truth – lying is a sure-fire method of breaking trust. If a member asks if you followed up with a query to management regarding a service, you forgot about? It’s tempting to lie and say yes when in the very moment. However, it’s better to admit that you totally forgot but will do it now. If you always tell the truth, you never need to remember what you have said. Lying hurts both your credibility, reliability and trust, someone has in you, so it’s not worth it.

4: Be open and approachable – be friendly and easy to talk to (take note of your body language). Inappropriate body language, such as folding your arms or legs when talking to someone, may give them the impression that you are not interested.

5: Share your knowledge – let members know your areas of expertise; however, do not make members feel that the only reason you are talking to them is to sell something. A simple solution is to offer advice on improving exercise technique—a sure-fire winner. The next time the member needs help, they will more than likely ask for you.

6: Be polite and professional at all times – For example, a gym member approaches you to complain about the showers being cold. Although this may not be your area of responsibility, take the member’s contact details, follow up with whoever is responsible and check when the showers will be fixed. Make sure you contact the member to let them know.

How to build rapport with gym members?

The ability to quickly establish a rapport with members, colleagues and peers is an invaluable fitness skill. Rapport is defined as a positive relationship between people built on mutual respect. You could say that both parties are on the same wavelength as each other.

To develop rapport action the following:

1: Make the right first impression – an excellent first impression should convey friendliness, openness and confidence. Consider how you stand, standing tall with shoulders back. Look the client in the eye but do not stare and smile. Gesture purposefully with hands and arms but no crossed arms or legs. Mirroring another person’s body language suggests that you are in harmony with them as long as it appears natural. Also, ensure you dress appropriately and wear the correct attire or uniform, clean and neatly pressed.

2: Become an active listener and listen with intent – Listen intently to what someone is saying and look them in the eye (do not stare). Let them know that you have heard them by repeating keywords or phrases (known as paraphrasing) and gesturing body movements such as hand movements and nodding your head. When you’re in a conversation, don’t just wait for your chance to talk. Listen to what the other person has to say and ask another question. People will engage with you if they feel you’re truly listening.

3: Look for connections – it’s more comfortable to talk to people who have things in common or shares similar ideas. If you think about it carefully, the gym floor is the connection or the reason you are both there. Ask members their reasons for training or what exercises they like doing. It’s a great way to start a conversation, and one question can quickly lead to another. 

4: Show respect for the other person – Mutual respect is ‘accepting each other the way they are.’ It involves being open to others’ ideas, beliefs, diversity, choices, or values. You don’t have to agree with the other person’s perspective or opinions. Still, if a good rapport is to be established, you must respect their right to hold different views. Encourage freedom of expression and don’t hasten to judge them. To show respect.


  • Have empathy for others – try to put yourself in another person’s position and see their point of view
  • Show respect for others’ opinions and roles.
  • Keep promises and honour commitments.
  • Do not undermine individuals, especially in public or in the presence of peers.
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences and beliefs.
  • Recognise the achievements, effort and hard work of others and compliment them
  • Listen carefully and remain quiet when clients or colleagues speak.
  • Be genuine in your efforts and actions, treating people as individuals rather than just a paycheque.

6: Be genuine – Honesty is the best policy when establishing a rapport with someone. Making genuine connections with people, and finding ways to help them, should be your first and foremost aims when talking to members and without personal gain. People always gravitate toward those who are genuine because they know they can trust them. Mean what they say, and if you commit, keep it.

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Gym floor

Engaging with gym members

Engaging with gym members builds relationships and walking the gym floor is the mechanism to do it. As a newly qualified instructor, walking the floor can be a daunting affair and striking up a conversation with strangers is even scarier. However, it must be done to reach your audience, build credibility and sell your services. 

Below is a list of factors to encourage better member/instructor engagement:

1: Be proactive and set targets – don’t wait for members to approach you first. Get up and actively walk the floor. You want members to see you and your skills and ask for help and answer questions. It’s easy to sit behind a desk and hide. Set yourself a target of how many people you will speak to each hour on the gym floor. For example, eight people every hour. Fitness is a numbers game!

2: Use open-ended questions – The gym floor is the instructor’s playground, full of member engagement opportunities. Having good communication skills helps breakdown barriers in conversation, and once the conversation starts, rapport starts. The best way to start any conversations is to ask open-ended questions as they require more than single-worded answers, so get members talking. 


Once you have decided who to approach, open with “What are you training for?” You will probably find that people will be eager to let you know as most people like talking about themselves. You may think that it’s easier to correct a person’s technique. However, if you have never met the person before, correcting their technique could be taken the wrong way as nobody wants to feel that they don’t know what they are doing. Correcting technique is probably fine for total beginners. Still, it may not be where you want to start the conversation for someone who has been training for a while, especially if the technique has never been picked up before or it’s coming from the new instructor on the block. However, when you ask people what they’re training for, questions about technique naturally come up. 

1: Master your trade – exercise technique and coaching cues are areas you need to be an expert in. Find out every little detail about an exercise and the factors affecting its correct performance, such as a person’s anatomy or how tight and restricted muscles affect exercise performance. Having a solution as a small tweak or stretch in the right areas can make a big difference in how an exercise is performed. It’s worth its weight in gold and sure-fire winner in becoming the go-to person in the gym for advice and training. 

2: Read the situation and spot the opportunity – Learn to read body language and recognise the signs that someone is open to conversation or if they’d instead be left alone. Someone looking around, moving tentatively from one exercise to the next, or incorrectly using the equipment is better to approach than someone with their headphones entirely focused. A poorly timed approach can disrupt the member’s training, resulting in a loss of focus. Also, once you have decided to approach someone, time your interaction. Please don’t start the conversation while the member is in the middle of their set or running treadmill intervals. The best moment is between and after sets or after someone has finished their CV.

3: Act with confidence – confidence is vital, but you don’t have to be confident to act confident. It’s natural for newly qualified gym instructors to feel insecure in approaching and speaking to gym members, as would you like someone interrupting you during your training session? 


A lack of confidence is a barrier but it’s usually a perceived barrier, not a real one. One which is built on the following assumptions:

  • People might be offhand or even rude to me.
  • You don’t know what to say or do.
  • Members don’t want to be bothered when they are training.
  • The gym instructor fears rejection.


None of the above is correct as most gym members aren’t hardened, dedicated fitness professionals or athletes headstrong and focused, but the general population. They have lives beyond the gym, struggle for time, so they come in, workout and leave again. Most are not intrinsically motivated and need help with what to do or need motivation and guidance. What’s more, is they are more likely to drop out from regular exercise, especially if they do not see results. These people would welcome interaction and communication while they are training, and they are the bulk of the members. 

The best method of building confidence is working hard at it, making mistakes, and learning from them. You don’t have to be confident to act confident. Act confident in your behaviour, your body language, and in what you say and how you say it. Be friendly and maintain eye contact while you talk to show that you’re interested in what members say and that you’re taking an active part in the conversation. Also, project a positive image by looking smart and practising your trade tools to improve your self-confidence. 

1: Stop to chat – Cleaning gym equipment comes as part of an instructor’s job role. However, don’t let that stop you from engaging with gym members. Instead of getting it all done at once, take breaks by dividing the job up to do one or two machines and then put down their cleaning equipment and interact with members for five minutes. 

2: Speak to everyone, not only to the people you know – Speaking only to the people you know, you won’t allow yourself to meet others. Remember, success is a numbers game and being cliquey won’t build your reputation. 

3: Remember names – Once you know a member’s name, remember it. People like to be remembered, such as welcoming members like long-standing regulars. “John, great to see you again. How’s that feeling this week?”

The value of reflective practice

What is self-reflection?

Self-reflection is taking action to think about your performance against a situation or circumstance in fitness. It usually means giving thought to your business direction, actions and client sessions. It involves understanding your behaviours, thoughts, attitudes, motivations, desires, and the ‘why’ behind them. 

Why should you self-reflect?

You will be coaching and educating clients for very different reasons, needs and circumstances. Self-reflection can help you recognise what you do well or why a session went to plan whilst simultaneously allowing you to consider improvements that you could make. 

Career progression involves questioning yourself as getting better means making mistakes as long as you learn from the experience and make a conscious effort to do things differently next time. Self-reflection enables you to move from just experiencing into understanding. Self-reflection is not about focusing solely on the negative; it also enables you to think about what you do well.


  • It encourages a level of self-awareness and consciousness about your performance
  • It enables you to identify areas for improvement and also areas where you are strong
  • It allows you to recognise what works and what doesn’t with clients


Trainers who do not self-reflect regularly will do what they have always done, even if things aren’t going well—essentially getting stuck in a rut. 

How do you self-reflect?

The first step is to ask yourself questions that challenge your assumptions, such as:

1: How effectively am I performing? 

2: What are my strengths, and what went well in my session?

3: What didn’t go well, and are there any areas for improvement?

4: How can I improve these areas?


Using video can be a great way to aid reflection since you can only easily view back on your performance at a later date once you have left the environment. Video gives you objective information about the session. It’s easy to forget or cherry-pick aspects of your performance, giving you an inaccurate picture of your performance. 

Other resources to help with self-reflection include peers or colleagues, such as other gym instructors, personal trainers, and developing a habit of self-reflecting will lead to a natural process of evaluation. Stay up to date with your knowledge and skills by attending continued professional development (CPD) courses.