Studying, getting certified, and obtaining continuing education credits (CECs) are all part of being a successful personal trainer. But some things can only be learned from experience…i.e., mistakes. With the help of long-time Fit Pros and NFPT staff writers Dr. Erin Nitschke, Kim Becknell Williams, and a story of my own, we want to help new and aspiring personal trainers, coaches, and fitness instructors avoid some mistakes personal trainers and fitness pros might make. Hopefully, you can laugh with us, and not at us.

My Personal Mistake

When I first got certified I hit the ground running. Applied to a few gyms and got a position as a personal trainer. I got hired at a local, privately owned gym in my hometown of Oxnard, CA. Despite having experience working out, studying hard, and passing my CPT test, and doing a number of practice sessions with friends, I was still very nervous. After a few days of onboarding, I had to demonstrate my skills by “training” my manager.

I set up a simple seven-part circuit: push, pull, legs, and core moves included. I wanted to demonstrate that I was able challenge clients but keep them safe and engaged throughout a workout. But, nervousness got the best of me and I tried to get a little “too fancy”. Trying to explain the differences between eccentric and concentric contractions, and aerobic and anaerobic systems I only managed to stumble over my words and look like a novice (which I was at the time).

The lesson here, graciously presented by my manager at the time, is that there is nothing wrong with “simple”. Educating our clients is important, but not at the risk of confusing them. Presenting ourselves as well-practiced professionals is important, but not at the risk of making mistakes. I learned that patience is a virtue, what I dont know now, I can learn, and what I do know is more than enough to provide great workouts and great service to my clients.

Dr. Erin Nitschke

A mistake that made me feel foolish during my career is a wardrobe malfunction. I was rushing to get to my gym to open at 5 a.m. We had a huge snowstorm the night before and unbeknownst to me, it knocked out the power, so I woke up about 15 minutes late. Not wanting to wake my husband in my mad dash, I got dressed in the dark…and it backfired.

I made it five hours into my shift when I noticed that not only was my t-shirt inside out AND backward (no wonder it felt like it was choking me all day) but I had on two different colored socks and the Capri leggings I was wearing sure did highlight that well. I cannot believe one of my clients didn’t say something. 

The lesson here – it doesn’t pay to rush, and also, double and triple check your appearance before interacting with other humans. Our clients can read a workout out of a book or magazine, but they choose to work out with us because we offer excitement, camaraderie, evaluation, feedback, and a sense of safety among many other things. Clean and professional trumps fancy socks (but fancy socks don’t hurt!).


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Kim Becknell Williams

Before my career blossomed I trained a client at my gym. She wasn’t a member and I wasn’t employed by the gym. The management turned their heads and allowed me to do since I was upfront about what I was doing. Since I wasn’t on their payroll, I had to take what space was available.

One night, my client and I wound up at an upstairs area overlooking loud basketball courts. Running/walking paths were marked around a circle with uneven ground. I used a corner area for weights, then we would run the short circles in between weight training.

We finished the first run to find that the stability ball, medicine balls, and bender balls had all rolled down the circled area…basically following us with the slope. Hilarious now. We spent some time rounding up the equipment, chasing balls, and dodging walkers/runners. The client had a good laugh. It’s always nice to have a client with a sense of humor. 

Two lessons here – first, humor and joy ARE important parts of a training program and relationship, as long as they are appropriate. Second, equipment care and spatial awareness matter, especially if you are working at a shared facility. Other clients’ and members’ experience matters, too. And your session will flow better when all of the right equipment, is in working order, and available to you.

Mistakes Will Happen

I hope some of the silly mistakes we made in our career give you a chuckle at the least, and help you avoid similar mistakes yourself at best. You will make your own mistakes on the way, but it’s ok. Ask your colleagues and mentors about what mistakes they have learned from in their fitness career thus far. I promise everyone will have a story! Much like our own fitness journeys, there will be successes, plateaus, and fallbacks, and yet, our persistence will pay off when we can find the lesson in it all. 


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Andrew Gavigan

Andrew Gavigan is a recognized speaker in the fitness industry, master trainer, Creator of the mostFit Core Hammer, and serves as Director of Education for Aktiv Solutions. He is a NASM and NFPT Certified Personal Trainer and Behavioral Change Specialist and has developed comprehensive fitness and exercise programs for health club & workplace wellness facilities. Andrew’s passion centers around user engagement and human behavior.