Relationship builders make excellent service providers. Even if a personal trainer knows the science inside and out, it means very little if that professional is unable to build solid, trusting, and empathetic relationships with their clients. Personal training is just that – it’s personal and it has more to do with the relationships you build with those you serve than it does with the rep and set scheme you design. To be effective personal trainers, we must commit to starting at the foundational level, engaging in the art of making meaningful connections with our clients.

Here are eight solid client relationship builders to employ

  1. Be Curious. In this case, curiosity doesn’t kill the cat. When it comes to relationships with people, be curious and ask questions. If your client comes to a session wearing a shirt with a band’s name displayed – ask about it. Ask if it’s their favorite band or if they have seen them live. Also, be curious about their day. When they arrive at the session, don’t jump right into the warm-up. Engage them in a way that helps them process the reality of their day’s experiences.
  2. Be Vulnerable. Nothing unites two people more than the element of humor and the recognition of personal vulnerability – it’s what makes us all human and separates us from machines. One thing I love to do with clients is sharing my own experiences that are of the “embarrassing” variety. For example, showing up to work with my shirt inside out and backward (yes, I’ve done this). This works well if your client shares their own “hot mess” moment; it helps you both connect as the flawed humans that we all are.
  3. Listen. Clients come to sessions with their days (or nights) still attached to them. You will almost always be on the receiving end of a vent session while your client tries to process stress and events they experience. Be there. Listen empathetically. Respond with understanding and concern (without counseling). Just listen. That’s all it takes.
  4. Make it Fun. Exercise, though structured, doesn’t have to be grueling or painful (it really shouldn’t be) to be effective. Infuse fun into workouts. Gamify your approach or create a fun obstacle course to switch things up and build variety into the client experience.
  5. Take Notes. This doesn’t only refer to workout details. Keep careful records of client anecdotes. For example, if a client mentions they have a meaningful event coming up, follow-up with them to find out how it went. Note any upcoming birthdays, family events, work engagements/presentations/projects, etc. Be continually engaged in their lives.
  6. Be Authentic. Being authentic is probably the most important of these relationship builders. Share your interests, hobbies, likes, and dislikes. Invest in the relationships you develop with clients and act in ways that align with your core values (and be sure your business reflects those values).
  7. Teach. Clients love to learn new information so share openly and appropriately. For example, if you have a client who is trying new recipes with vegetables, provide some of your favorite go-to recipes. Another client might be embarking on a Yoga journey outside of their time with you – share some of your favorite videos and resources.
  8. Own Mistakes. None of us is perfect and we need to normalize that making mistakes is part of living, learning, and growing. If you make a mistake in programming or provide the wrong information, simply apologize, and move forward. Clients will appreciate your forthcoming nature and respect you more for being able to stand strong in the ownership of error.

Personal training will always have a science-based and evidence-based foundation. That is just a fact of the practice. However, to be an effective trainer, employing these relationship builders can bond you and forge a stronger connection. This will not only make your clients trust you more, but it will improve their outcomes in the work they do with you.

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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