What to expect from a Personal Training Session

Two ladies, one training the other

I had a fantastic conversation with a potential new client this week and something they said during our initial discussion stuck with me. They said: “So, how does it all work? What can I expect from a personal training session with you?” They had previously played sport but new to personal training it was a really valid question. So, with this new insight I thought I would share a little more about what you can expect from a personal training session with me.

When I first meet a client for the first time, I generally like to explain how the sessions will work. There are lots of personal trainers out there and everyone has a different style. If for example, you are looking for a sergeant major type approach I am probably not right for you. I like to explain this before we start to work together, so there are no surprises during our first session, this also remove the opportunity for nerves, sometimes starting a new exercise regime can be nerve racking.

After I tell people a bit about myself and how I came to be a personal trainer (you can read more about this here, I start by asking questions about what they are trying to achieve with their fitness to ensure we are aligned. I also like to find out if there are any exercises that they really don’t like – burpees and triceps dips come up quite a lot! I then go on to explain how I plan our sessions and discuss availability, timings and what they can expect at the end of the session. Once we agree on how many sessions per week and duration (generally this would be 30-mins, 45-mins or an hour), we can get going.

How I start my sessions

Whether the session is online or in person I let the client arrive and get settled. During which time I’m gently observing them to see if they look stressed, tired or relaxed and refreshed. I will then ask how they are feeling today, so that I can further gauge their capacity for a session. The time of year will also play a factor here eg: exercising in the heat can put unnecessary stress on the body. I tend to pitch the session differently if my clients are tired or stressed and will give lower impact options as these two states are likely to affect concentration, co-ordination and ability. In my July blog I wrote about how sleep, or lack of it can affect our exercise and the amount of stress it puts on the body. If life is overwhelming the last thing most people need is a really tough session with heavy weights or complicated moves to do.

We start our session with a warm-up across different muscle groups and mobilise the joints we will be using, to get the body read for the harder work to come. Moving the joints gently at first helps with lubrication and gently warms the muscles so that they don’t strain or tear in a way that causes an injury in the main section of the workout.

The main work out

I plan my sessions upfront so that I have time to consider the client, their goals, any restrictions they might have and their current fitness level. When I’m going to a client to work with them in their own home/ garden or in a park I bring along the equipment that we’ll need for the session. If they are an online client then I have a list of their equipment they have available to use. Planning the session around 2- 5 different bits of equipment is quite different to having a full gym available to use, which is another reason it’s important to plan up front.

If we are doing a 45 minute session I’ll plan about 12 movements that we’ll do in the session, including squatting, hinging, pulling, pushing and rotation. The main moves will cover using the big muscles in the legs, bum and back (squatting, or lunging and the hinging actions). We’ll also do moves that use shoulders, biceps, triceps, upper back, chest and then we tend to finish with our core muscles. .

The intensity of the session depends on the client, and we can use different timing patterns (slower is harder), number of repartitions, the heaviness of the weights and the range of movement we work through. If a client arrives to a session exhausted or run down then I adapt the movements to make them easier or without weights.


Sessions will generally utilise plate weights, kettlebells, dumbbells and sometimes a step. My favourite bits of kit that are a little more out of the ordinary are a TRX (suspension trainer) a gym stick, a Swiss ball and my slam balls. I use these bits of kit to add variation and interest.

Cooling down and stretching.

If we have finished a session with core work laying on a mat this is a good way to lead into our cool down, otherwise, we’ll bring the heartrate down slowly if we have been doing a cardio workout. We’ll then stretch all the muscles that the session has focused on. Holding the stretches for 15-30 seconds unless the client is especially tight somewhere in which case, we’ll hold them for 30-60 seconds.

After the workout

I plan the sessions with an intensity so that my clients might have some muscles aches the next day or the day after, but it should not be so bad that they are struggling to walk or are in pain. Not everyone wants to be pushed that hard, but if they do want to, I will give them tougher moves with heavier weights.

I hope you’ve found this a useful insightful into the way I work with my clients. If you’d like to chat more about how we might tailor your personal training session, please get in touch.

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Sara McDonnell

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