LO3 of Unit 6 – Instructing gym-based exercise sessions

Instructing gym-based exercise sessions

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

3.1 Carry out verbal screening with clients

3.2 Confirm the components of a planned gym-based exercise session

3.3 Instruct a safe, effective and engaging gym-based exercise session

3.4 Use effective communication methods and maintain professional standards

3.5 Establish positive working relationships with clients

3.6 Maintain professional standards whilst instructing gym-based exercise sessions

3.7 Check and confirm understanding throughout a gym-based exercise session

3.1 – 3.2
Gym Introduction: How to carry out verbal screening with clients and confirm the components of a planned gym-based exercise session

The following three areas are to be covered before starting the gym induction:

1: Verbal screening

2: Explain all the necessary health and safety information

3: State the activities to be covered and the aims and objectives of the session

Verbal screening

It’s good practice to verbally screen any person(s) attending your session if there has been a period between when the PAR-Q was initially completed, reviewed and discussed, and the session. The PAR-Q is only relevant when it is completed. Much could have happened since, which may impact the quality of exercise or the person’s ability to participate in the session. If you need to alter your plan, then knowing different exercises means you will never be at a loss for an alternative if changes need to be made. Alternatively, participants might need to be deferred or even referred, i.e. illness or injury.

Verbally screen participants by simply asking, “is there anything that I need to know that may affect the quality of the exercise you will be performing today?” You want to know from participants about a change in health status, such as an acute injury or feeling under the weather, whereby exercise may exacerbate the participants’ current state. If the participant’s response is a ‘no,’ then reiterate that if there is any exercise or activity that feels uncomfortable, they must stop and seek your assistance or advice.

Explain all the necessary health and safety information 

The next step in the initial session or induction programme is to explain all relevant health and safety information to the client before starting the session.

Ensure that the following is pointed out or covered to participants:

1: Show or point to the relevant fire exits and explain that if the fire alarm was to sound, they must leave the building via the nearest fire exit and convene at the assigned meeting point. The meeting point is often the facility car park, but it’s always pertinent to check with your facility first to be sure.

2: State the location of the first aid box and the assigned first aider. All gym facilities should have qualified personnel responsible for administering first aid when required. The first aid box is usually stored at the gym’s reception desk, with the instructor on duty often the first aider. If there is nobody on duty, press the emergency action button (if available) to alert other staff of an incident. Every fitness instructor must know how to contact emergency services when needed.

3: Check the client is wearing appropriate gym clothes and suitable footwear. Gym clothes are made from breathable fabric and designed to allow the joints to move during exercise. Footwear may differ depending on the activity. Running shoes are common in gyms; they cushion the feet for impact activities such as running long distances. They are generally not suitable for weight training exercises where there is a need for feet to be stable and in contact with the ground. Weightlifting movements such as squatting and deadlifting require less of a heel lift and a stiffer, more rigid sole. However, in some cases, raising the heel can improve the squatting technique.

4: State the location of the water fountain. Hopefully, the client has come prepared with a bottle filled with water. Exercising on hot days or long periods means drinking more water so a filled water bottle won’t last long; showing the water fountain’s whereabouts for a refill is most helpful.

What activities will be covered and the aims and objectives of the session

The final part of the session intro states to the participant(s) what they are about to do, and the session aims and objectives.

Include the following information:

1: The type of activities to be performed, i.e. CV exercises, resistance exercises and stretching

2: The benefits of CV exercises and resistance exercise, i.e. aerobic fitness and strength

3: The intensity and expected feeling of exertion

4: The components of the session such as warming up, the main session and cooling down


Finish the introduction by asking participants if they have any questions. Participants must be allowed to ask questions so they fully understand what’s required. Also, reiterate to participants that they can stop exercising at any point if an exercise feels unnaturally uncomfortable in any way and to seek your assistance -communication works both ways. If there are no questions, then it’s time to move to the programme and the warm-up component.

How to carry out a gym induction 

The gym induction is a vital first step for individuals using a new facility for the first time, especially for beginners. Its main aim is to ensure participants can use equipment safety. It usually involves being taken around the gym by an instructor, whereby participants are shown how to use and set up equipment. Gym inductions are designed to be informal and informative. Participants are usually allowed to try setting up and using the equipment themselves, all under the watchful eyes of an instructor who can give advice and correct poor technique.

There are four key aspects of a gym induction programme:

1: Services – identifying services’ locations such as the changing areas, shower rooms, toilets, lockers, water fountain.

2: Health and safety procedures – Includes participant screening (PARQ/Informed consent), how to access medical services – including first aider location and first aid box, the location of fire exists, what to do if the fire alarms sound and where to convene, and areas of the building to avoid.

3: Equipment demonstration – Instruction in using the exercise equipment by a qualified instructor, followed by a demonstration by individuals observed and given correction on technique. For experienced users, tailor the programme accordingly.  Inexperienced users need more time and consider the choice of equipment. Inductions usually include a warming-up, cooling-down section along with stretching exercise.

4: General information – Gym etiquette (i.e. placing dumbbells back in the racks after use), information on services (opening and closing) and how to book services. Advice on the next visit. Also, are there any clubs to attend, i.e. tennis or children’s clubs

By the end of the induction, individuals should feel familiar with the gym procedures and services and feel more confident using the exercise equipment.

How long is a gym induction?

Induction programmes may take 45-60 minutes; however, an induction duration may vary depending on participant numbers and the user’s level of experience. An induction course for an experienced gym user will be shorter in duration, whilst for someone new to the gym, a longer, more in-depth induction may be required.

The main component

It is the main component’s activities that stimulate physiological and structural change, as long as exercise intensity meets certain thresholds to stimulate change during recovery and adaptation. The number and type of activities depend on client circumstances such as time available to exercise, frequency of sessions, and overall health and fitness goal(s). 

During an initial induction programme, it’s good to include a demonstration and get the client to try a range of CV machines, free weight, body weight and resistance machine exercises. The aim is to show a variety of activities, develop knowledge and build confidence. 

Cooldown component 

The cooldown component can easily be neglected or seen as unimportant when, in fact, it’s integral to the client’s exercise experience. The cooldown allows for recovery from intense exercise and allows the instructor to give constructive feedback on the client’s performance. Tell the client what you thought they did well and what you would like to work on the next time you work together. You’ll also want to confirm how the exercises and session relate to their health and fitness goals. For example, a client who wants weight loss could request a programme designed to maximise the number of calories burned in the session, for example, a HIIT style session. Feedback should always be constructive and finish with allowing the client to ask questions.

To recap, the benefits of cooling down post main session:

  • A gradual lowering of exercise intensity
  • Provides an opportunity for mental and physical recovery
  • Stretching muscles post-workout returns them to a pre-exercise length.
  • A chance to provide the client with feedback on the session
  • A chance to discuss other health and fitness-related matters
  • A chance to reinforce positive messages and gain feedback from the client 


The cooldown component is the reverse of the warm-up component. CV machines are ideal for cooling down as they allow for rhythmical movements using large muscle groups. You may want to consider sitting on a bike or rowing machine, especially if there has been a heavy leg component in the main section of the workout. Start with moderate intensity and gradually lower the intensity over time. Typically, the duration of the cooldown is 5-15 minutes, including stretches. As per the warm-up component, check the exercise’s intensity using the RPE scale, talk test and heart rate if wearing a heart rate monitor. After the cooldown’s pulse-lowering phase, include stretching techniques to cover all muscle groups that have been worked in the session.

Here’s an example stretch programme covering the primary muscles groups:

  • Standing quadriceps stretch on both sides.
  • Standing hamstring stretch on both sides.
  • Standing gastrocnemius stretch on both sides.
  • Standing hip flexor stretch on both sides.
  • Standing pectoralis major stretch on both sides
  • Standing overhead tricep stretch on both sides.
  • Standing bicep stretch.
  • Standing upper back stretch. (rhomboids and trapezius muscles)
  • Standing latissimus stretch. (arms extended overhead)


If using static stretch positions, hold each stretch for at least 10-15 seconds at each joint’s anatomical limit or where the client can feel a stretch sensation in muscles being stretched. At this point, it’s good practice to ask the client where they feel the stretch and monitor the intensity of the stretch sensation. Furthermore, depending on the client’s circumstance or condition, stretches may need to be performed sitting on a bench or chair or sitting or lying on the floor. Good gym instructors can quickly adapt a session by offering alternative exercises/activities, thus meeting participants’ needs.

Ending the session

Congratulate the client for getting to the end of the workout and repeat what you would do when first meeting the client – shake their hand, use eye contact and smile. Use this time to reaffirm what the client did well and what they can expect at your next session. If there are to be any changes to the session times, confirm them with the client. Finally, ask the client if they have any final questions before they go. 

One final aspect of ending the session is to leave the environment tidy for others and to ensure all equipment used in the session is returned to its place, ready for use by other gym-goers and trainers. It’s good gym etiquette and much appreciated by other users. Finally, log or report any damaged equipment to the facility. 

Reflective practice

People sign up for health clubs or seek a personal trainer’s services because they want to improve themselves, perhaps the way they look and feel or how they perform. The same applies to gym instructors and other health care professionals. Trainers should want to do the best for their clients and deliver results. This first requires the trainer’s desire to improve and, secondly, take a closer look at what they do and how they do it. The process is called ‘reflective practice’. Reflective practice is being aware of your skill set and improving your work performance. As a result, it requires one to reflect critically on their performance and identify areas for improvement, e.g. new skills or knowledge or what could be done differently next time. Reflective practice involves the conscious effort of thinking about performance to develop a deep insight. Once you get into the habit of using reflective practice, you’ll probably find it helpful both at work and home.

What to consider: 

  • What did you do well? For example, exercises were safe; the instruction was explicit and motivating, and the client said they enjoyed the workout.
  • What could you have done better? For example, voice projection, use of teaching points.
  • What additional knowledge would have helped you? For example, how to deal with conflict situations and disagreements.
  • What additional skills would have helped you? For example, qualifications and CPD, i.e. exercise referral or kettlebell training.



  • Gain feedback from your clients and peers. 
  • Observe others in their performance and learn from them.

It’s easy to get stuck in a groove and do the same thing over and over again. The health and fitness industry is constantly evolving, and health and fitness professionals must do the same. Trainers who regularly reflect on their performance will be able to develop others and improve themselves.

Instructional skills

Instructing others in exercise technique is at the heart of the gym instructor’s role. Instructing others is a skill, and like other skills, it should be practised to get better. Instruction involves imparting knowledge to others to get them to perform the exercise using the correct technique to avoid injury and in a manner to improve performance, i.e. to get stronger or develop other fitness qualities.

Instructional skills involve the following:

  • Knowing the correct movement or shape of an exercise.
  • Demonstrating an exercise using the correct technique if able-bodied.
  • Adapting an exercise technique based on a client’s characteristics and ability. For example, having long femurs and short tibias results in learning forward when performing the squat. Instructors able to modify an exercise ensures exercises are kept safe and effective and, more importantly, meet the client’s needs.
  • Communicating using non-technical words to convey the instruction points of an exercise. For example, ‘stand tall’ instead of ‘neutral spine’. Standing tall has an external focus of attention and results in a neutral spine. Instructing a client to achieve a neutral spine is an internal focus of attention (as it’s focused on the body part’s movement) and won’t mean a lot to the client. There’s more info on external and internal cues below.
  • Motivating the client and giving praise when needed.
  • Change the tone, pitch, and volume of your voice to motivate the client to improve their performance to each set’s end.

NAMSET instructing acronym

Being able to demonstrate and instruct exercise is fundamental to becoming a gym instructor and personal trainer. The core components of your practical development are therefore practising exercise technique and instructing others in technique. Instructors can use the two-step process below to develop their practical skills:

1: Practice different exercises regularly to become natural and feel right in terms of shape and the muscles involved. 

2: Practice instructing others in the mandatory exercises.


The first step – Practice a range of exercises

The best approach to developing your technical skill is to video your performance using a smartphone and watch it back several times. Video clips should be at least 10-15 seconds long. Compare your technical performance against the exercise’s ‘technical performance model’. Make notes on what you did well and what you could improve. An instructor with excellent technical skills can identify technical errors in others and give them an excuse to strike up a conversation with a person.

You will find a list of industry-accepted exercises along with their teaching points and YouTube links at the end of this unit.

The second step – Practice instructing others 

Once you feel confident in performing a range of exercises using different equipment, it’s time to instruct others. The ‘NAMSET’ instructing acronym is explained in the table below.

1: Name the exercise or activity, i.e. back squat.

2: Area of the body worked – you can tie this parameter into the exercise benefits, i.e., strengthening the lower body muscles.

3: Primary muscle groups worked; i.e. quadriceps, adductors and glutes

4: Show the client how to do the exercise. Set the equipment up and perform a technically correct demonstration with 5 or 6 repetitions at a moderate tempo. Before your demonstration, an important aspect to consider is the client’s position concerning your demonstration. Ask the client to move to the best position to view the exercise demonstration.

5: Explain a few relevant teaching points, i.e. keep both feet flat to the floor, knees track in line with the toes, and the chest is upright so that any logo on the client’s t-shirt is visible at all times when viewed in a mirror.

6: Teach as you go. At this point, it’s your client’s turn to exercise, and you should do the following:

  • Reinforce all major teaching points as the client is performing the exercise.
  • Change the tone, pitch and volume of your voice (more on this below) to motivate the client.
  • Let the client know when they are getting to the end of the set.
  • Give positive praise during the set and after the set is completed.
  • Give an alternative or modify the exercise if necessary.
  • Ask the client how it felt and where they felt it.


The benefit of using NAMSET is that it’s simple, easy to remember and works for any exercise or activity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a CV activity, resistance exercise or stretching – NAMSET is the perfect teaching acronym. 

Again, it’s good practice for instructors to video their performance to aid their development. Shoot enough video of you instructing someone else and view it back several times. When reviewing performance, check that the following criteria have been met:

  • Name the exercise or activity.
  • Correctly identify the area of the body targeted (mention the benefits of the exercise) and the main muscle groups.
  • Perform a technically correct demonstration using an appropriate tempo.
  • Position the client to best view the demonstration. 
  • Use at least three relevant teaching points.
  • Effectively reinforce those teaching points during the client’s performance.
  • Use an appropriate teaching position to observe the client’s performance.
  • Discuss exercise modifications or give examples of alternative exercises.
  • Demonstrate safe lifting/passing/spotting technique when necessary.
  • Demonstrate motivational and supportive behaviour to encourage improved performance. 
  • Select the correct exercise intensity for the client’s current ability.


The term ‘learning’ refers to a change in a person’s capability to perform a skill or movement, resulting in a relatively permanent improvement in performance due to practice and experience.

From an instructor’s perspective, instruction and feedback are the tools you’ll use for clients to learn an entirely new exercise or to modify an existing exercise. Instructions provide the foundation for performing a specific movement. At the same time, feedback allows for correction and improvement. Once learned, the focus is on the client working towards their health and fitness goals.

When a client is learning new exercises, changes occur in the nervous system whereby the person’s movement seems smooth and sequential. These changes, of course, only happen due to regular practice. The type of instruction and the feedback given to the client dramatically influences the outcome.

Giving instructions

Instructions provide the means to improve an exercise. The basic premise is that instruction allows clients to focus their attention on a particular aspect of performance. There are two basic types of instruction:

1: Internal instructions

2: External instructions


An internal focus centres on someone’s movements, while an external focus fixates its effects or intention. Research shows that instructions directed to the intended outcome rather than on the movement themselves can be more productive. 

There are three general methods that instructors can use to direct attention in an exercise:

1: Using instructions to establish a discovery learning situation. 

2: Using instructions to focus on the result or outcome of an exercise.

3: Use instructions involving the use of imagery.


It is easy to take a very mechanical approach to instruction and focus on the body parts rather than the outcome. For example, bend the knee to 90 degrees or flex the hip. Furthermore, too many teaching points can confuse and overwhelm a client affecting exercise performance, especially when working with beginner clients.  Beginner clients often have poor awareness of how to move. Therefore, it’s essential to know when to move onto a new exercise and select exercises that a beginner client can do easily. It’s better for the client to feel like they have achieved success in their workout and leave their session feeling invigorated rather than demoralised because they couldn’t perform well in an exercise. A good example would be performing a leg press instead of a deadlift.