Your Guide to Creating a Perfect Personal Training Session for Client Retention

By Mike Watson – Two Brain Coaching One-on-one Course Mentor 

I have an amazing opportunity to work with a lot of new coaches in the Two-Brain Coaching One-on-One program. I really believe that coaches who hone their skills through one-on-one coaching are the ones who develop into the best all around coaches for your gym.  


For starters, one-on-one coaches HAVE TO do the following things to survive and thrive: 

  1. Develop relationships
  2. Program and explain the WHY. 
  3. Prioritize time and use the available time effectively to get things done.
  4. Understand their role in motivating clients and keeping them accountable. 

Let’s look at a few prep steps and then dive into actionable items! 


Every coaching session should start with a well thought out plan. You should have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and how much time you can dedicate to each aspect of the hour.

You should know how much time each aspect of your session will take and where you can buy time if things go off the rails.  Being able to pivot, adapt, or scale based on injury, illness or a late client is a valuable skill that can only be done well if there is a solid plan to start from. This is a great lesson that one-on-one coaches can easily transfer when they transition to larger group sessions. 

I really like when new coaches in the course come into one of our calls with a horror story about how things went poorly….not sadistically, but I like that they had to learn on their feet and (as long as everyone stayed safe) they learned something about their ability to pivot, adapt and learn something for next time. 


1. Show them they’re important with a great greeting: Be on time (early) and provide a great greeting that makes the client feel special. People love to hear the sound of their own names and they love to know that you’re excited to see them!  

I’ll give you a great example: as a cycling family we spend a LOT of money on bikes.  There are two bike shops in my city. Shop A is close to my house (I can walk there) and Shop B is a bit more out of the way. I’m friendly with the owners and employees at both shops and know their families well. 

When I walk into Shop A there is minimal greeting and I’m usually allowed to walk around for 5-10 minutes before being asked if I need anything.  Sometimes I have to ask for help if I have questions or haven’t found the item myself. 

When I walk into Shop B the experience is much different.  Every staff member greets me by name, they’re excited to see my son and they always offer a great cup of coffee!  

The joke amongst customers is that although the coffee is “free” it usually ends up costing hundreds or thousands of dollars! 

Most of us are good with going out of our way to visit Shop B (and spend our money there) because of the relationships that the staff build with their customers (including a great greeting to show us that we matter to them!) 

2. Points of Commonality: A huge part of relationship development is understanding what matters to someone (inside and outside the gym). Let the client know that you care about what happens in their life by following up with them about a personal detail mentioned at the last meeting (How’s their cat doing?  How did the hockey tournament go? How is wedding planning going?)

I’m old school with PT so I keep a lot of paper and pen notes – my client tracking  sheets will literally have handwritten reminders or Post-it notes specifically stating: “ask John about xyz.”

This is a simple step but it can be super helpful when you have a lot of clients or when you don’t see people often.  

Remembering the names of people’s cats, dogs and kids means more to some people than you realize!  Bonding over the other common points of commonality (Kids, food, sports, animals, cars) is an essential part of relationship building. 

3. Ask about homework.  How did the stretching or running assigned at the last meeting go?  How did it feel?  

This builds accountability and accountability builds retention!  For many clients, accountability is a much more valuable service than the sets and reps you’re prescribing them! 

If you don’t regularly ask a client about their homework it very quickly sends a message to them that this isn’t important! 

4. Ask good SEMM related questions and record the answers

For those of you who are unfamiliar with SEMM – it is the practice of asking good, regular questions about your client’s sleeping, eating, movement and management (stress), tracking their answers, and providing education to build good habits in each of these areas or “Pillars.”  I’m going to be going into depth on this at this year’s Two-Brain Summit, but I’ll give you a quick run-down here as this is a free way to add a huge level  up to the service you’re providing your clients! 

Ideally, you would have already established some general goals here.  Overall our goal is to do the Pillars of the SEMM model well and often .

Some sample goals include: 

  • SLEEP: 8 hours of quality sleep
  • EAT: real food only – the plate method works great here but isn’t for everyone, our nutrition coaches have a great visual checklist that they use to track habits in this area that works really well! 
  • MOVE: focus on quality warmups, active recovery and good posture and mechanics in activities you do outside the gym
  • MANAGE: find 10 minutes each day to focus on YOU – this can be breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, gratitude journaling or Bright Spots!

At minimum, you should be asking four simple questions here: 

  1. How did you sleep? (good, ok, bad) 
  2. How did you eat? (good, ok, bad) 
  3. How are you moving or how well did you meet your movement goals (good, ok, bad)  (this is a great chance for a coach to WATCH the athlete move instead of doing 100 other things)
  4. How is your stress management? (good, ok, bad) 

Ask these questions consistently and track the answers.  If patterns develop you can either celebrate success or provide education and accountability to develop new habits better aligned with your client’s goals. 

5. Teach or refine skills: Keep it positive and corrective! This is where you want 100% perfection on technique so keeping things fun and loose is important as this can sometimes be frustrating for the client. 

I generally try to find 1-2 actionable things for the client to focus on that will improve the movement and get us closer to perfection – especially for more complex movements like snatches, muscle ups, cleans, etc. 

6. Break out at least one short relatable scientific explanation. Not only does this show the client that you understand the WHY, it also builds a more knowledgeable, engaged  clientele.  

I’ve always been really proud of how knowledgeable our client base is at Catalyst because we’re really good at sharing our knowledge with them.  You don’t need to draw out the phospho-creatine system for them (no one wants this, believe me), but you can tell them “hey today’s efforts are short, powerful and anaerobic.  Every set we do is like lighting a gas can of ATP on fire.  We NEED to rest for at least 3 min to get that gas filled back up to around 85% so you can replicate the same intensity again!”)

7. Explain the goals and the WHY of the workout – ie. anaerobic power – and your rationale for the weight chosen (“I know you can handle more weight but I want you to keep moving at a constant, moderate/high intensity.  If you stand around staring at your bar, wishing it was lighter we’ll miss the point of today’s session.”)

A fun learning exercise to do is to take any workout and explain the WHY to three different populations or avatar groups (Fat Loss, General Fitness and Strength).

Two Brain Programming does this in the daily coaches notes for their group programming, the same type of messaging should be included in your one on one and remote coaching sessions.  

It helps to build engagement and buy-in, especially if you’re asking someone to do something they don’t necessarily want to do……

9. 3-2-1 go!  Time for the coach to get excited! Our posture changes, our voices go higher and our message becomes short and to the point! Use cues that your client can process (ie.hard on your heels, elbows up, butt down, big breath!!!!) 

10. High five, re-hydrate and Bright Spot

Any coach can say “good job” or “great work!” Heard often enough these messages can sound repetitive and easy to elicit from the coach.  I like to pick something specific to highlight from the workout that the client may not have realized they were doing.  I had a client recently who went out way too fast on a 20 min AMRAP and paid the price by dying a slow death for the final 10 minutes (we’ve all been there..)  Instead of adding to her misery I chose positivity and complimented her pushups which had been beautiful through the workout, it was obvious she had been working on them!  This changed a potentially discouraging session into a positive one and showed the client how much I had been paying attention to her hard work! 

11. Stretch and review homework challenges for the week.  Encourage contact by phone or logging workout results, answer any questions.

12. Book the next appointment, if not already scheduled.  Paired with homework, this provides another level of accountability for the client.

13. Complete the “points of commonality sandwich.” Mention something coming up in the client’s life in the next few days (“enjoy building that shed this weekend!” or “good luck with your big work meeting!”) 

15. Take notes before moving on.  If you’re a busy coach make sure you’re taking time to jot some notes down as you go, or before you move on to the next client!  As noted before, these aren’t just workout related but can also be relationship building notes and points to follow up on for accountability! 

Questions about improving your One-On-One coaching skills?  Contact Mike at or book a free intro call at:

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