Effective Body Language for Personal Trainers

by Al Kavadlo on March 10, 2015

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Al Kavadlo Personal Trainer Body Language

It has been said that communication is ninety percent non-verbal. Sometimes our words say one thing but our bodies tell a different story. Paying attention to your body language when you are working with your personal training or group exercise clients can cause a subtle, yet significant shift in your success as a trainer or coach. You can also get a lot of feedback from the people you train without having to get them to speak a single word if you know how to read their body language. This can be especially important when you are working with a new or prospective client.

All Hands on Deck

We often don’t realize it, but our hands and arms convey a lot to our clients. When we stand with our arms crossed, the message is “Stand back!” When it’s time for a client to get to work, this can be a good posture to take. However, if you are trying to ease someone into their session after they’ve had a stressful day at the office, an open palm gesture can be a lot friendlier and more inviting.

Al Kavadlo Personal Trainer BodyLanguage1

Hey hey hey!

Conversely, watch what happens when your client crosses their arms while you are trying to tell them something they might not want to hear. There’s a good chance it means they are getting defensive, so be careful! It’s important to be frank with your clients, but if they aren’t willing to hear you out, your words will fall on deaf ears. Conversely, when your client opens their arms and shows you their hands it is a sign that they are opening up to you. Listen carefully to what they say next.

Save your breath, she’s not listening.

Save your breath, she’s not listening.

Human Touch

When a client has achieved a new move for the first time or set a personal best, it is fun and meaningful to celebrate the occasion. Whether it’s their first pull-up or their fiftieth, don’t just tell them “Good job!” – give them a fist-bump or a high-five! Physical contact is a fantastic way to strengthen your bond as trainer and client. And don’t forget to smile!

High-five!

High-five!

Stand Up for Yourself

Unless you’re having a client do an exercise where they are lying on their back, I recommend you stand for the duration of every training session you conduct. Even when a client is lying down or in a plank position, I prefer to squat or kneel beside them rather than sit down. Sitting sends a message that you are not taking things seriously. You need to be focused and attentive the entire time when you’re training people; as soon as you take a seat, your body starts thinking it’s time to relax. It can also appear lazy to your client and other folks who may be working out in the vicinity.

I prefer to squat or kneel rather than sit down.

I prefer to squat or kneel rather than sit down.

Look ‘em in the Eye, Speak from the Heart

Eye contact is the single most important part of effective communication. When you fail to look someone in the eye while speaking to them it makes you appear unconfident, which is the last trait anyone wants in their trainer. After all, they are coming to you for your expert advice! Diverting the eyes while speaking is also a hallmark of dishonesty. Maintaining eye contact helps establish trust.

Maintaining eye contact helps establish trust.

Maintaining eye contact helps establish trust.

Furthermore, if you are looking at a clipboard, tablet or cell phone instead of your client, you are making a huge mistake. These objects act as a barrier that can prevent you from making a better personal connection with your clients. If you need to rely on a list of exercises that you have to look at in order to know what to do during the session, you might not be ready to be a professional trainer. Put down your iPad and keep your eyes on the person who is paying for your time.

Keep your eyes on the person who is paying for your time.

Keep your eyes on the person who is paying for your time.

Whether you know it or not, you convey a lot to your clients with your body. While different trainers will ultimately find what works best for them, being aware of body language can make a big difference in all your interpersonal relationships. Start paying attention to what people are telling you with these subconscious signals and you will be well on your way.

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About Al Kavadlo: Al Kavadlo is the lead instructor for Dragon Door’s Progressive Calisthenics Certification. Recognized worldwide for his amazing bodyweight feats of strength as well as his unique coaching style, Al is the author of four books, including Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics and Pushing The Limits! Total Body Strength With No Equipment. Read more about Al on his website:www.AlKavadlo.com.

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  • Frank Delventhal

    Good article Al!
    For me humor is also a nice way to make (most) people forget their “sweat”. Most people like that and it keeps them motivated. I guess if you can make your clients losen up enough to laugh, then you can get them to train too. Though sometimes I ask myself if they come for the laughter or the increase in strength and mobility. 😉
    For me it was great to see how Danny and you could spread such a positive attitude that everyone excelled in their abilities. That is something I try to achieve too, as I regard it to be beneficial for results, health and the mind.

    • Thanks, Frank! Great point about keeping the mood light and getting your clients to laugh. Keep spreading the positivity!

  • These are all awesome tips! Being raised teaching martial arts since I was 12, (and being Italian, where gestures are the language of choice!) a lot of these come naturally to me, but there were some that I didn’t even realize I should be doing!
    As always, amazing insight 🙂

    • Thanks, Nicole! Looking forward to seeing you at PCC this spring!

  • Karen Lee

    What a great article! It’s clear that training is a skill in its own right, and that it includes mastering the art of communication. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Al!

    • Thanks, Karen! There’s a lot that goes into being a good trainer! 🙂

  • Glad you brought all this up — image and presentation are so important to our clients’ and students’ experiences, if we can foster mutual respect even in our non-verbal communication then the transfer of ideas and concepts is that much more powerful. The way we stand, how we use our hands, the words we choose when communicating as a professional all have such powerful effects, whether we’re conscious of them or not. It’s all about the client/student at the end of the day, and letting them know we are there to help.

    • Well said, Adrienne. You know the deal!

  • Jerome

    You can apply all these tips with kids. It works !!!

    Simple and efficient communication. 😉

  • Keep these awesome articles coming: I look forward to a Zen Mind, Strong Body II one day my man!

    • Thanks, Coach! In about 5 years I should be ready to release another collection of articles. 🙂

  • Great tips! Seeing trainers take phone calls or text while their clients are doing reps drives me nuts. I don’t know how they make a living.

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