Teach Your Trainers the Importance of Their Body Language and Mirroring Skills

William Shakespeare once wrote, "All the world is a stage." Your gym is no exception. Every personal training session should be a dialogue between the two main characters.

One of my best clients told me he watched me train my clients and myself for two weeks before he scheduled his first training session with me.  

Every session is an audition for your trainers, both to retain their current clients and to recruit new clients. What your trainers say is important, both for the clients and for anyone within earshot. What your trainers don't say, but rather how they move, is even more important because the audience is much larger.

A personal trainer's job should be to evaluate, develop and execute an exercise prescription, along with the necessary nutrition and behavioral modifications per the scope of practice of the business. The best trainers deliver exercise prescription through seamless verbal and nonverbal communication, knowing the plan is only as good as it is adapted to and understood by the client.

The best trainers mirror their clients. If the client is seated, the trainer takes a knee. If a client is standing, the trainer also is standing. Unless the trainer is spotting the client on the bench press or a similar exercise, the trainer appears domineering if standing over a client. This could be intimidating for new clients and disengaging for current clients. Likewise, trainers have no reason to be seated, even on a stability ball, if a client is doing walking lunges, standing presses or anything else on his or her feet.

The mirroring begins at the initial consultation, in the office, with both movement and words. If the client leans forward, the trainer should lean forward. If a client sits back, the trainer should sit back. When digging deeper in determining the client's needs and goals, the trainer should use the client's words. For example, trainers shouldn't just ask, "Why is your goal important to you?" Instead, they should ask, "Why is it important for you to lose 20 pounds?"

Here are six steps you should share with your trainers to help them take center stage in your gym and to get on their clients' level:

1. Set the stage. Eliminate any props that add to your story. Lock up your cell phone. Put your meal or shake back in your cooler. Spit out your gum. Encourage your clients to do the same. They should mirror you here. Unless your clients are on-call for work or expecting a call from their kids, they have no need to be texting on the gym floor.  

2. Embrace your character. You should look the part of a trainer. Dress with pride in your work. Be able to demonstrate all of the exercises for your clients. The best athletes do not always make the best coaches, but being able to move well is necessary to set the example for your client.

3. Use your client's language. When explaining your exercise selection, a physician may want to understand the hormonal response to the movement, while a less technical person may only want to know how it will help her fit into her pre-pregnancy jeans and keep up with the kids. Refer back to your notes about your client's motivations and remind them of it when they feel challenged.

4. Stay at eye level with your client. If you are spotting a barbell squat, move with your client. With few exceptions, you should change levels with your client throughout most of the training session. You may move around your client to better assess body movement, but if your client is standing, you stand. If your client is performing a movement on the floor, take a knee.

5. Show, don't tell. Don't tell your client to perform an exercise, no matter how small, on the other side of the gym while you stay in place. Move with your client, demonstrate the exercise if needed and assess your client's movement. In the case of small group training, you should assemble the room to maintain a visual on everyone.

6. Recognize you always have an audience. This does not mean use every piece of equipment in the gym and make a lot of noise. It simply means someone is always watching and listening. You may want to reconsider discussing last night's date in your training sessions. Your next prospective client may be watching and listening nearby to assess what you know. Your program needs to make sense. Creativity is important, but only as much as it progresses your story. Select exercises with intention, and ensure clients execute them with the needed intensity.


Christine Hannon, founder of The Art of Strength, is a fitness writer and trainer based in Columbus, OH. She has worked for several national gyms and now advises small fitness businesses in Columbus on program design and communications. Hannon leverages more than a decade of classical ballet with recent powerlifting competitions to encourage women (and their husbands) to lift heavy. Hannon brings to the fitness industry her experience from Army ROTC, living abroad and working on a U.S. Senate campaign. She uses this to not only train her clients but create grassroots change and leadership for healthier corporations and communities. She puts innovation and customer experience at the forefront of her business. Hannon is a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and through Personal Training Academy Global. She can be reached at [email protected].