How to be a good coaching client

I’ve written about how to find a good trainer. But that’s only one half of the equation.

To get the most out of your coaching or personal training experience, you have to be a good client.

It was 6:55 am on a weekday morning, many years ago. Rain sloshed down. I’d managed to find the last parking spot next to my client’s downtown house.

I knocked on my client’s door. No answer.

I knocked again. Still no answer.

I waited. Rainwater dripped down my face, soaking the print on the papers affixed to my trainer’s clipboard.

This was the days before cell phones. You couldn’t just text someone to say Where the hell are you? If you showed up and your client was MIA, you might be a little bit stumped about what to do next.

As I was thinking, the door opened. I beheld my client clad in bathrobe, bed-headed, bleary.

“Oh right,” she said. “You.”


“I kinda… It’s not gonna work this morning for me.” Her eyes were like little sideways hot dogs, a thin slash of reddened meat between two puffy eyelids. “I got in kinda late. Sorry.”

And that was that.

No training session. No money. No apology that wasn’t total bullshit.

At least I hadn’t gotten a parking ticket.

Welcome to being a personal trainer.

So you’ve hired a trainer or a coach.

Good for you! This is an important and useful first step in keeping yourself accountable, learning the basics of the lifts, and having a plan that’s tailored to your needs and goals.

Now, don’t be an asshole and cock it up.

You have to hold up your end of the bargain too. Here’s how.

Be an adult.

This probably covers about 99% of everything else I’m going to say here.

Approach your training relationship with maturity and the ability to self-regulate your own emotions.

Don’t throw tantrums like a toddler, sass the trainer like they’re your mean momma who won’t let you wear that skimpy dress out in public, or rebel against your trainer’s perceived “rules” like a teenager. Treat your trainer or coach with respect.

Have a big-person relationship to which you bring your best self, and work on it as needed.

Set clear expectations.

And then review them often.

You cannot be too direct or straightforward. Let your coach or trainer know exactly what you need, like, and expect, and ask them to do the same for you. Make sure you are both clear on what’s happening at all times.

Have grownup conversations. Be open and honest. Negotiate appropriately where needed.

Show the fuck up when you’re supposed to.

Don’t dick around, text to say Im runng l8 sory 2 minutes after the appointed hour, or worst — not show up at all.

Your trainer gets up at an ungodly hour. Or skips their own dinner so you can train after work. Or doesn’t have a social life because you want a weekend boot camp.

Contracting with a trainer to show up at a given time means you be there. And if you have to be late, you’ll realistically almost always know this well in advance. So be considerate.

Let the coach be the expert.

Don’t show up and then explain to the trainer how things are going to work. Don’t contradict all of their observations.

Shut up and listen. Entertain the possibility that your perspective on your training plan may not be 100% accurate.

Ask questions if you don’t understand. Ask questions if you want to learn more. In fact, your trainer may love the opportunity to drone on about the mechanics of glenohumeral stability.

Give important information where needed, e.g. you have had a C-section or a knee injury, aren’t feeling well that day, are a little scared of deadlifting, etc.

YOU are the expert on YOUR body. So if it hurts, or you need some adjustment, just say so. (See: Set clear expectations.)

But don’t be telling the person you hired to tell you what to do… what to do. And don’t get defensive or rebellious.

You hired that trainer because you trusted his or her expertise. (And if you don’t trust his or her expertise, why the fuck did you hire them?)

You trusted that coach to give you a systematic plan, because you know deep down that you have your own head up your ass — or simply can’t see your squat from the right angle — and need some outsider perspective.

Be willing to try.

At least try. Just a little bit.

Meet your trainer or coach halfway. It might take you some time to feel comfortable enough to go all the way. That’s fine. Go at your pace. (See: “Set clear expectations.”)

At the same time, be willing to at least attempt it. Trust your trainer or your coach. (Again, if you don’t trust them, don’t hire them.)

Be open and flexible. You might learn something — or discover something you eventually love.


Stop yacking.

Shut up and lift.

Sure, when you’re resting between sets, feel free to beak off about the weather, your local sports team, or your latest relationship fiasco.

But when it’s time to move, close your gob and get to work. Your trainer isn’t your shrink.

Have a positive attitude.

This one’s a cliché, but it’s true: Focusing on small successes and staying relatively upbeat will transform your experience.

Sure, maybe you have a crap workout or fall down or drop something on your toe. Sure, maybe the PMS demons make you cry in front of your coach. It happens. (I’ve done it. Just wave your hand in the “gimme 2 minutes” gesture while you honk into a Kleenex. Your coach will understand.)

But overall, try to approach your training or coaching relationship with a can-do spirit and a focus on little victories. Forget about the screwups. Let them go. Don’t dwell or make a big scene about how much things suck.

Show up with your game face on as much as you can.

Keep it professional.

Don’t mack on your trainer.

Unless you belong to one of those richie-rich gyms staffed by straight-for-pay funboys that basically exists to cater to the sexual desires of affluent cougars, keep your junk in your pants and your pelvic mobility where it belongs.

Remember, you aren’t your trainer’s only client, so all the sexy jokes and flirting — they have to deal with that all day long. It’s not original, it’s not cute, and they’re probably not interested in you.

Look for substance over style.

Don’t just hire your trainer or coach because s/he has a hot bod. Their hot bod can’t improve your health or performance.

If you hire a trainer only because you want to look like them or bang them, you’ll risk having a sub-standard training experience.

If you only want to look like them, you’ll get neurotic about how you don’t look like them, especially if your body is nothing like theirs. (That is, if you’re a 50-year-old Samoan, don’t chase the physique of an 18-year-old Iman.)

If you only want to bang them, see “Keep it professional”. Save yourself the cash and join Tinder.

Now, if your highly qualified, extremely skilled and personable, deeply professional and experienced strength and conditioning coach just happens to be a stone cold fox… well… what can you do. Hips back and think of England. Try not to peek discreetly at their posterior chain development too much.

Relax. Keep it simple.

Stop over-analyzing. 

Focus on the task at hand and don’t sweat the little details.

Have fun!

Smile. This is just exercise!

If your trainer/coach is a humourless pill, don’t hire them. And if you’re a humourless pill who cries or stomps around when she misses a lift, you’re going to make someone else’s day really shitty.

Whatever your specific gym performance, I assure you it is of no consequence in the real world. Lighten the fuck up.