Research has continually demonstrated that social support is a predictor of success in any behavior change program. You are a huge source of social support for your clients. In order to elevate their performance and strengthen their commitment to the achievement of personal fitness goals, rapport building practices are essential to your relationship building efforts.

Personal training is a personal business. It’s personal not just in the “one on one” sense, but personal in the time we take to get to know our clients beyond their physical stamina and capacity. In addition to the health history and lifestyle inventory our clients complete, the key to making their experience with you, as the trainer, personal and individualized is to build rapport with the client through meaningful connections and interactions.

By setting the example, you indirectly encourage clients to seek the same type of connection within his or her social support network.


Here are 5 ways to boost your rapport and initiate the development of a social support network.

Rapport Building Strategies

Happy Birthdays. Chances are, you have many long-term clients whom you see 2-3 times each week over the course of the year. One way to make the client feel celebrated is to remember his or her birthday. If a client’s birthday falls on a day you do not have a scheduled session, mail a card or small gift. Remember – it’s the thought that counts – not the size or expense of the gift.

Follow-Ups. It’s common for clients to share personal details with their trainers. Whenever a client shares a special event or particularly stressful experience, follow-up with him or her at the next session. Ask how it went or how the situation was resolved. Doing so shows that a) you listened to the story and b) care about the outcome. Clients want you to care about them outside of the gym.

Ask and Listen. Ask how your client’s day was or is going and LISTEN for the response. Doing so will make the client feel as if they can open up and share what’s going on. Note – this isn’t an effort to be their counselor (as that is outside the scope of your certification). This, however, is an attempt to be sensitive to what’s going on in your clients’ lives as it will directly impact their performance and energy level. Listening helps you gain trust.

Holiday Cheer. I’m not suggesting you invest in $100 gifts for each of your clients – you don’t need to. What you can do is give each one a personalized card wishing them and their family a wonderful season. Add some positive notes about their progress and growth you’ve witnessed. Clients want feedback beyond “good form” and “way to finish strong” statements. Don’t we all?

Find Common Ground. By getting to know your clients you can discover common connections that help deepen your relationship. Find out what movies your clients like or what their favorite show to binge watch on Netflix or Hulu might be. Make suggestions and share your favorites. Same goes for books and hobbies. You work with a client long enough and you’ll become friends – and you should – it’s ok to be friends and still remain professional.

There’s a certain vulnerability that comes with being a client. Their insecurities, health history, and behavioral habits are examined by someone they don’t really know in the beginning. That takes courage and the least we can do as the fitness professional is to soften the intimidation factor and prioritize building a solid and respectful relationship in addition to building an effective program.


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Erin Nitschke

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at