12 Ways to be a Better Trainer or Strength Coach

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Motivation

1) Always Start Too Easy

Whenever you have a new client always start them out with easy exercises and light weights.

If you do group training have them do the easiest progression of whatever the rest of the more advanced members of the group are doing. Any nitwit can create a hard workout. That doesn’t make it effective, though.

You don’t want them struggling or getting down on themselves or thinking that your training is too hard. Nor do you want them throwing up during their first session or getting too sore from it.

2) Don’t Introduce Too Many Complicated Exercises Per Day

If you want to introduce the barbell snatch for the first time it’s probably a good idea to have the rest of the workout consist of no brainer exercises like inverted rows and glute ham raises.

Don’t pile snatches, pistol squats, divebomber pushups and Turkish Get Ups into the same workout if they’re all exercises people haven’t done before.

3) Only Give People Exercises That You Can Do Yourself

You should have tried it out first and mastered the form before you can teach it effectively or expect someone else to do it.

4) Almost Perfect Form is Usually Good Enough

When introducing a new exercise always accept “good enough” as perfect form at the beginning. As long as they aren’t going to get injured let some imperfections slip.

Why? Because nobody likes to be continually told that they are doing something wrong. It gets frustrating and they get down on themselves. Especially females.

Make small improvements over time and eventually they will get it. If they never do, as long as it’s close enough and there’s no injury risk involved I would probably let it go.

5) Say People’s Name at Least Three Times Per Workout

There’s no sweeter sound to a person than that of their own name. Don’t make up nicknames or call everyone “bro.” That’s fine after you’ve developed a relationship with them but at the beginning always say the persons first name, loudly and often.

This is especially important if you train large groups and need to yell across the room to people. If you’re like most people you forget someone’s name two seconds after you meet them. So try this little trick.

I forget exactly where I learned this but it works.

Whenever someone tells you their name immediately associate it with someone famous. Here, I’ll do it right now live on the spot.

I promise I’m going to just randomly pick names out of thin air and write down the first thing that comes to mind.

You say Billy.

I think- White Shoes Johnson. Man, that’s weird. Talk about being trapped in your old school memories.

You say Kyle.

I think- Kylie Minogue- That’s even weirder.  And embarrassing. I couldn’t think of anyone named Kyle off the top of my head so that’s what I thought of first.

You say Roger.

I think- Daltrey. “Who the fuck are you?

You say Alex.

I think Rodriguez. I’m a huge Yankees fan and even I’m not happy that his was the first name to come to mind.

You say Jimmy.

I think Walker. There’s me trapped in the 80’s again.

You say Dean.

I think Malenko. I grew up obsessed with pro wrestling.

You say Eric.

I think Estrada. Seriously?! Now this is getting disturbing.

You say Frank.

I think Rizzo. “Open ya ears, jackass!”

You say Jack.

I think Torse. Loved me some Jerky Boys.

You say Peter.

I think North. That’s right.

You say Sam.

I think Mills. Linebacker for the Saints, used to wear number 51. Why I thought of him first I haven’t the foggiest.

You say Tom.

I think Glavine. Again, very, very strange.

You say William.

I think Wallace. I’m half Scottish. And even though Mel Gibson’s insane, Braveheart’s still one of the greatest movies ever made.

In retrospect I kinda regret doing this little exercise as it gave me an unwanted look into the dark recesses of my mind. I find it a bit odd that I couldn’t think of anyone who became famous after the late ’80’s or early 90’s except for A-Rod. I’ll have to look deeper into this at another time.

The point is that by doing this it makes it way easier to remember someone’s name. And that’s very important for business.

6) Don’t Use Big Fancy, Technical Words

Nobody knows what the conjugate method is or what a brachialis is and they don’t understand terms like sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy, nor do they care.

I do my damndest to keep this site free of big words and confusing subject matter. And you guys that read this site are far more educated than the average person who is going to hire you to train them. I just know that not too many people want to read that type of stuff. So don’t force that upon your clients.

Keep it simple.

7) Make Things Competitive Sometimes

Guys thrive off competition and if you can make at least some or some parts of your workouts have a competitive element training will be more fun.

8) But Think Twice Before Doing so With Certain Females

Guys like to compete against each other. Females usually like to compete against themselves. Be careful when pitting females against each other. Make sure you know them well before doing so.

9) Guys Respond Well to Criticism. Girls Don’t. Know the Difference

You can tell a guy he’s a pussy and that your mom squats more than him and he’ll be completely okay with it. He’ll respond quite well, usually.

If you train groups of guys you can bust balls and talk about how so and so just made them look like a punk by doing ten reps with their 1RM. It motivates them.

Girls are different. There is a rare breed of them that you can do this with. I love those girls.

But a lot of the others will get down, angry or defeated. They respond best to positive feedback and support.

So while you  might be able to tell Mikey his squat looked like a car wreck you have to tell Susie that hers is looking better and she just needs to sit back a little more.

This also comes down to choosing and knowing your market. I personally only work with guys for a number of reasons. Everyone can’t be good at everything.

10) Smile and Have Fun

If you’re tired, lifeless and miserable your business will die. Try to lighten up and joke around more often.

This is sometimes hard for me in the heat of the moment during a workout because I take it very seriously if someone isn’t really giving it all they have.

If I write a diet for someone that should have packed ten pounds on them in a certain time frame yet they look the same as they did the first time I wrote it, that person slowly starts to die in my eyes. I lose interest and start to resent them.

Maybe that’s wrong but I’m being honest here.

The best thing you can do is get rid of that person or just let it go. Don’t let them bring you down; instead stay positive and focused on the people in your training program who do actually bust their ass and do what they’re supposed to do.

11) Don’t Check Your Cell Phone During a Training Session. Ever

It’s incredible to me that I have to mention this but I see it happening all the time when I’m in public gyms. Show respect to the person or people who are paying you and act like a professional. Checking your phone shows a lack of interest in what you’re doing. Keep it off when you’re training someone.

12) Keep the Workouts Short and Fairly Simple

Nobody wants to be overwhelmed by an overabundance of confusing set and rep schemes that they need an abacus to figure out.

Everyone has enough stuff overwhelming them at work and in their personal lives. The last thing they need is more of it at the gym. So keep it simple and keep the workouts limited to no more than 45 minutes.

**Shameless Plug Alert**

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This is the ultimate resource for any trainer or strength coach who wants to put together highly effective, short, simple workouts that will deliver huge results and help grow their business.

I’ll post more random tips on how to be a better trainer or strength coach some time in the future but in the meantime I’d like to read your feedback and hear your tips.


So please leave your best stuff below.


I look forward to seeing a lot of good tips from all of you.

And if you enjoyed this post could you do me a solid and hit the LIKE button?

Thanks, guys.

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50 Responses to 12 Ways to be a Better Trainer or Strength Coach

  1. Barry Gibson November 24, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    Why can’t we be that guy in the group picture?!?!? Where did that pic come from!!!?? Awesome article Jason as per usual mate!!!

  2. zach November 24, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    “Don’t Check Your Cell Phone During a Training Session. Ever.”

    Not only don’t check, don’t answer it! I once saw a guy at a big box gym training to train a client. His poor client was doing poorly form situps. His training was not only NOT watching him, he was drinking a Monster and chatting on his cell phone! Complete BS

    Great article.

  3. jeppe November 24, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    hahahahaha look at that guy in the picture WTF hehe

  4. Charles November 24, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    I agree with all of this how about we add don’t be the trainer who never warms the client up just slaps some weight on the bar and says GO!

  5. Chase Karnes November 24, 2010 at 12:32 pm #


    Great article, man! Everything you mentioned is very true.

    One thing I have noticed with some females I train, they can be just as competitive as the guys. The want to know what the other girls are deadlifting, benching, etc. It’s definitely not common, but more common than I originally thought.


    • Jason Ferruggia November 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

      @Chase Karnes: Yeah, that’s true. They’re definitely out there and you can breed that in them. I just have found that in general they’re fewer and further between and you have to introduce that element slowly with them.

  6. Chris November 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    This. was. awesome.

  7. Jason Pegg November 24, 2010 at 12:57 pm #


    Good post. I would agree with the one about starting too easy and the complicated exercise one especially. I think though that would disqualify about half of the guys in the field! Ive seen so many “strength gurus” and guys with their own branded training “systems” who have shit technique, and pass that shit technique along to their clients! To me, its a terrible thing to do, let alone publicize. I know I would feel bad for stealing clients money. Guess some guys dont.


  8. kevin valluzzi November 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    That dude in the picture is unreal! that is f’ing insane! great post jay. i always love the trainer who is eating and drinking while training his client. Or the trainer who talks on his cell phone while training someone. and lastly, and hopefully this isn’t just me, the trainer who sits down and s his cliet to do while he counts their reps! the worst part about all of this is that the client usually doesn’t say anything! do they think this is normal??? anyway, great article. always great to just hear that stuff again from time to time.

  9. Max Keirn-Whiting November 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    I agree with these. I especially like the competitive aspect being a good thing for most guys and some (but not all) women. If I were to add one it would be to not tell a client that what they have been doing before they hired you is stupid/wrong/harmful but simply tell them that the way that you are training them is different or a new approach.

  10. Kirpal November 24, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    I’m supposed to take the Can-Fit Pro (Canadian certificate) course in February. I’m working my ass off right now to get my chins and pushups in the higher rep ranges so when I show a client these exercises they can see that it’s possible to do them and get better at them. I work near so many public gyms and half the trainers look like they need a trainer. All I’ve ever seen them train their clients with are machine circuits and then 20-30 minutes on the bike at a slow pace.

    Thanks for posting this. Number 3 is the most important thing on that list as far as I’m concerned because I’ve seen trainers ask they clients to do exercises that they couldn’t perform themselves.

  11. Marcos November 24, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    I heard this one from Mike Mahler and I am sure he but it in better words but “Always end on a positive” when dealing with clients. Like a clean rep, ^ reps, faster times, less rest. It makes them want to come back for more instead of letting them get stapled to a box during a squat and now they have that in their head.

    • Jason Ferruggia November 25, 2010 at 6:24 am #

      @Marcos: Yeah, definitely agree with that one and always adhere to that rule.

      @Alyson- Thank you so much. That means a lot.

      @dougal- I like that last line.

      @Louis- I said good form is good enough on certain exercises like a pushup or inverted row or something where there is no risk of injury. And a complex, compound lift will never be perfect the first time. It won’t be perfect the first year, for most people. Hell, I’m still trying to perfect my form on certain things after 23 years. So that’s what I meant. You can let the safe exercises pass with decent form and let compound, riskier exercises pass with good form and light weights.

      @Greg- Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.

      @Brian- Having a few competitive females is awesome.

  12. Alyson November 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm #

    I’m lucky enough to have Jay as my trainer.. cant say enough good things, esp his passion for what he does! I have the utmost respect for him.. as always jay thanks for all you guys do at Renegade!!

  13. dougal November 24, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    Doesn’t matter where you live it’s the same story. Down here at the bottom of Africa you could be talking about any one of our commercial gyms.

    I agree with all of it. my clients workouts live on my i-phone so i always make it clear that I’m not texting all day.

    I also love when a new client looks at the clock at the end of a session and says “but it’s only been 30 minutes.” my reply is always “you are paying me for what’s in my head, not what’s on the clock.

    Great post Jason

  14. Dave November 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    Great post. It’s also good to remember it’s THEIR time, not ours. We have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason.

  15. Raymond - ZenMyFitness November 24, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    All those points are good …
    I’m not a trainer so from my point of view the guy or gal has to at least look the part.
    I’m mean if they don’t know how to train themselves how can they expect to train me?
    I’m a believer in you lead from the front so set an example.
    …just don’t turn up to train me with a pot belly ..

    I’ll have to try that trick with remembering names I’m hopeless at it.

  16. Louis November 24, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    I’m a trainer and I have seem some bad trainers in my day. Now I know I am not the best in the world but I know I am not the worst either. Had a coworker that would train with her clients and complain about her personal problems to them. Had a coworker who would hit on every female client and every female in the gym. I like the completely out of shape overweight do as I say not what I do trainer. Great list sorry mine was more not what to do. I agree with all but most is form no such thing as good enough. Tell client good enough on benches and shoulder presses and see how long it takes then to have shoulder issues.

  17. Greg November 24, 2010 at 2:00 pm #


    Nice article! A great list, well thought out, and clear on your reasoning. The only thing I would suggest (adding) is kind of a love-child of “Don’t Use Big Fancy, Technical Words.” and “Don’t Introduce Too Many Complicated Exercises Per Training Day” ; that is “Don’t assume your client knows.”

    You bring up a great point about using too much terminology, but I feel every trainer should be aware of the level of knowledge that could be taken for granted. An upright row, or incline DB press may be something you have known for 15 years, but the client might not. I am willing to bet that everyone training will be explaining and demonstrating the exercise, but I will throw out to add in a WIIFM (what’s in it for me). To keep clients interested in fitness/exercise (regardless if they stick with you or not), it’s important to position the benefits/value.

    Just my $.02.

    I love your articles and your view on things; I really admire your no BS approach.

  18. Brian November 24, 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    I think you make a good point on the competitive nature of males, and taking a supportive approach with females. Although when you do come across badass competitive women, pitting them together can make for some killer sessions for both the trainer and client.

  19. Grant November 24, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Hey Jason nice post,

    I would love to know how you manage your clients programs. I remember in the 3XM interview you said that you dont give them a ‘cookie cutter’ program but you rather have a system which consists of them all starting off doing the same main lift and then move onto their own thing determined by their goals and ability. So I was wondering…

    a.) Do you print off each individual program for them and have them all carry it throughout the session?

    b.) Do you hand them an empty book and tell them to copy the program down thats up on the whiteboard?

    I’m finding it hard at the moment to manage when I got muscle building and fat loss people in togther in the same group, any tip would be great

    thanks again

    • Jason Ferruggia November 25, 2010 at 6:27 am #

      @Grant: We do things differently now than we did years ago just because our whole business plan has changed and I don’t have the time to train people like I used to. We do large group training now. We have student athlete workouts, adult workouts, female workouts and everyone gets in where they fit in, so to speak. Each workout has different levels, etc. It’s a lot different than the private, semi private or group training I used to do. Although I still do a little bit of that as well.

      @Nico- That’s true.

      @Doug- True.

      @Carmen- Thanks for sharing a females perspective.

  20. Nico November 24, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    I would add something else. As a trainer I think a trainer should give all his time to his client(s) during the session and should not talk to other people in the gym. It’s OK to be polite and say “hi!” but starting a conversation with other people looks very rude to the client(s).

    I totally agree when you write about trying exercises ourselves before having other people do them. How can we teach people things when’ve never been through before?

    Thanks for sharing you thoughts, Jason.

  21. Doug Willick November 24, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    Hey Jason,

    In line with your first point. Sometimes I give a beginner in group sessions a modified exercise and they try to perform the one that they see an intermediate do. As a trainer, don’t be afraid to use your voice to tell someone to do what they were asked to do. Do it tactfully and let them know you are there for a reason, which is to let them know what they need to do, not what they decide is right.

  22. Carmen Bott November 24, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Hi Jason and company,

    Good, refreshing, to the point list. I agree what what you say about women – and I am one of those rare ones that you can ‘poke fun at’ and I will rise to the occaison, but all in all, women do prefer more positive, specific feedback. I have coached women (olympians and varsity athletes) for years and those who are really gritty and competitive can handle it. Soccer moms and the reg peeps do now respond as well. However, it is often my goal to change this in the women I train – I always tell them it is one happy day when they ‘ask’ for more load, or tell me to ‘bring it on!” Women have it inside of them; they just need it coached out because of social-cultural differences.

    So, trainers out there – I encourage you to create an environment where females clients start to ‘peacock’ a bit and know the strength that lies within them. After all, psychoogy often trumps physiology!

    Carmen Bott MSc. CSCS, RKC
    Owner http://www.humanmotion.com
    Currently 37 weeks pregnant and still training!

  23. Carmen Bott November 24, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

    PS – “Thou shall not teach what thou cannot do” ~ AMEN!

  24. Vman November 24, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    Jay, great post and some very important reminders there for the would-be and professional trainer! I have found in my experience that somewhere along the line some trainers forget about the purpose for what they are doing, it stops being about the client and becomes about them. Sure, your training and methods / results reflect on you, but if you only focus on the way you are seen by others as a trainer, the client (who pays for the results) sometimes gets forgotten or put second.

    Lots of what you mention above elludes to this point – it’s about the client, they are paying you as a professional for a service, so give them 100% undivided attention – this in itself should reflect well on you and the rest will come!

    Great post again as always Jay!!

  25. Anika November 24, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

    When designing workout routines trainers tend to concentrate on training muscles/muscle groups. First thing you should always consider is movement quality. First and foremost focus on training the movement instead of training the muscle. Train your client to move well instead of just letting their bodies survive the pattern. Once they move well, go ahead and build their strength, speed, endurance.

    Also, keep reinforcing the old saying: More isn’t better; better IS better.

  26. nick November 24, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    the fitness coach in the picture is touching the girls pussy, what a perv!LOL

  27. nick November 24, 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    and touching the asshhole:)

  28. Dean Leach November 25, 2010 at 8:32 am #

    I don’t believe that one picture! I hope those two ladies raised some hell over that DOUCHE for touching them like that.

    Great info as always, Jason. Yourself, John Roman, Nate Green, Rosstraining.com are my leaders for health/strength/fitness. Thanks for what you do, you are a great american.

  29. Vaclav Gregor November 25, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    Even though I’m not a trainer or coach, I’Ve found this article very informative. Thanks

    Vaclav Gregor

  30. Louis November 25, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    True. I just meant that I have seen a trainer let the client bench with elbows flared almost up to his ears. Thanks and I love Anika’s quote.

  31. Matt November 25, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    Thanks for a great article Jase. I know I do all of the above points however I do like the ‘start’ easy point – prob something I haven’t considered for the reason you state – Thanks! I do have plenty of improvement in my coaching and still have a stack to learn about everything as a trainer.
    I would like to add a couple of points:
    1. Along with the ‘not using your phone’, not allowing the client to have their phone within listening distance (unless they are a doctor, fireman, etc. on emergency call). Not showing you any respect if that is allowed.
    2. Maintain your posture and standard – If you believe you have a good training system and a particular client complains about your training (“too hard”, “I’m not doing that”, “do we have to do this?”, etc.), pull them aside and kindly ask them to quit complaining or not come back. A whinger brings down the training session and their mood can effect the enthusiasm of others. The loss in wage is worth it!
    Keep up the great stuff mate!

  32. Gards November 26, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    Jay, this is a little off topic but how come the renegade football strength and conditioning program is unavailable until 2011. Any chance you’re going to make it available for christmas?


  33. Sean Hyson November 26, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    Another good way to remember a name is to repeat it out loud right after you meet the person.

  34. Luke November 28, 2010 at 2:48 am #

    One great piece of advice I heard in my training was that you always want to have something left in your bag of tricks. Many trainers want to throw that much variety at their clients so quickly that the barrel soon runs dry. There are a lot of extremely effective exercises out there that are not at all flashy.

  35. Jeff November 28, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    I can’t stand it when I see trainers just talking to their clients about their night out/a-hole boy or girlfriend etc…

    They know more about their trainer’s personal life than they do about good form/nutrition/healthy lifestyle etc…

    I wish it were ethical to just walk over to this person, hand them my card, and tell them when they’re ready to actually do some work and see some results instead of wasting their time, to call me…it’s amazing what some people will shell out their hard-earned money for!!

  36. Mercy Tan December 3, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    The advices in this post is really amazing plus the owner of this blog, the admin has a great sense of humor by putting some funny pictures so that the reader will not be bored reading the whole post all the way.

  37. oli January 18, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    dude in the picture is Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the “guru” of the ashtanga yoga system/style, he died a couple of years ago. I trained with him over in Mysore, India for a few months (he had toned the groping down a bit by then).
    The yoga/guru model, which is based on unquestioning and exclusive acceptance of the guru is asking for dodgyness. Many injuries (especially busted knees) explained as “openings” and the like.
    Really enjoying the blog, lots of good basic, solid content, no BS.

  38. Tommy August 31, 2011 at 5:25 am #

    Spot on, as usual.

    The advice between male and female motivation is pure gold. I see lots of trainers try to use the same type of critique and reinforcement for both and it simply does not work. That is why, as a Coach/Trainer, you need to continually master the art of communication …get damn good at public speaking, sales, talking to strangers on the street, etc. It all helps.

  39. Jason Ferruggia October 15, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    Tommy- You are correct, sir. Good points.

  40. Alex January 22, 2012 at 4:39 am #

    You got a very good point there in terms of lack of attention trainers have with begginers..
    We all know that 90% of newcomers will leave the gym in less than 6 months, so many trainers think thay are wasting theis time..
    But if we look at it from a different perspective, do begginers leave the gym because of their lack of will power, or do they leave the gym because trainers werent able to transmit self confidence into them, or try to make theit workouts enjoyable enough ?

  41. Joey May 15, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    Loved this article! I am fortunate enough to be working for Jay at Renegade Gym and we follow these rules religiously! For other trainers out there, I would add dont give the client more than they can handle. Too many times I see trainers teaching a beginner how to back squat with like 95lbs on the bar! There is nothing wrong with having a client practice with just the barbell until they get their strength up, progress smoothly!

    Great one Jay!

  42. John Smith May 15, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Couldn’t agree more about trainers using the phone. I was being trained several years ago by a stand-in guy as the regular guy was gone on a course. He sat on his ass in the corner texting on his phone for the whole session (around 50 minutes). I handed him nearly $100 for that session which I ended up doing myself. I still remember it and ended up leaving that gym a few months after that.

  43. Heather May 15, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Great article! I like the differences you noted about training guys and girls.
    Definitely important to keep in mind!

  44. Drew February 24, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    What I’ve seen in some trainers is a lack of emotion or even just not caring. Their voice is flat, there’s no excitement or energy in what they say or how they move, and this is a huge problem. Clients need to know that you’re excited about them and their goals. They need to know that you give a shit about their improvement.

    An apathetic trainer is a pathetic trainer.

  45. Alex Zinchenko February 24, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    Nice post, Jay.

    Very good point about names. My technique is that when the person introduces himself/herself I just repeat his/her name in my mind several times. And then I try to say it at least once in conversation to remember.

    I also wanted to add that there is a certain type of people that want to squeeze you out during that session. If it’s one hour then they want EVERYTHING in that hour no matter what I think is better. I don’t let them ruin training process by giving them a bit more intensity. Just a little tip but you definitely knew that.

    Another point is punctuality. Good coaches are always on time.

    Just my 5 cents,
    – Alex