You are here: Home Blog File Personal Training Blog Why "Less is More" During Exercise Instruction

Why "Less is More" During Exercise Instruction

In this article I'm going to show you the most simple, client friendly and in my opinion, best method of getting your new personal training clients underway with resistance training exercises.

If you've ever seen a new gym member (or PT client without their trainer) looking down at their exercise program and scratching their head in confusion, chances are when you approached them to help they'd tell you one of two things: 

1.  "I can't remember which exercise this is (pointing to an exercise written on their program card)  2.  "I can't remember how to do this exercise".

Is this because these new-to-the-gym folk have poor short term memories?  Or did they not pay pay enough attention when they were first shown through their new program?  Or... could it be that they were instructed "too well" by their trainer?


Less is more

As a brand new, enthusiastic young personal trainer, full to the brim with newly acquired, knowledge and information on exercise, I was eager to impart my new found smarts to my personal training clients.  After all, I wanted to deliver value - and what better way than to bring my new clients up to speed on all of the finer details of their resistance training exercises?  What I didn't consider (at least for a while) was that many of my new clients:

  • Were brand new to the gym, resistance training and in some cases any form of regular exercise
  • Were in the process behaviour change (dropping old behaviours and establishing new)
  • Had demanding jobs, husbands, wives, kids and lots of things on their minds at any given time
  • Were not as fascinated and excited about the finer points of exercise technique as I was

So early on in my PT career, I would rattle off every point of technique I could think of during exercise instruction (often while demonstrating the exercise!) while my clients listened and nodded their heads politely.  Eventually I came to realise that more often than not I was actually making it harder for my clients to learn the exercise and retain the information.  Why?  As well as the points mentioned above:

  • People tend to remember new things more easily in clusters of three (think 1.. 2.. 3.. many)
  • While they watched me demo the exercise they also had my verbal barrage of instruction points to deal with at the same time

The result?  Information overload.  The solution?  One of our favorite concepts here at - keep it simple!


Four tips on how to keep clients "tuned in" to your exercise instruction

  1. Zip it.  That's right.  You've told client about the features of the exercise, how it will benefit them in relation to their goals and how they'll feel as result of doing it... now it's time for you to demonstrate or show the exercise with minimal or no talking.  Remember, when a new PT client is learning an exercise for the first time they take in a big chunk of info simply by watching you perform a few reps with great technique.  A verbal instruction barrage at this point only results in a confused client.  Resist the urge and focus on performing 3-5 great reps for them.
  2. Your clients turn now.  Instruct your client with three cues to get them safely in to the starting position position and then three cues to start performing the movement (tell and do)  Remember, your client has just watched you perform 3-5 great reps and is about to mimic the movement so three set up and movement cues is plenty.
  3. Only correct points of wayward technique when and if they happen.  If your client is performing the exercise really well first time - great!  Just tell them to keep doing what they're doing and reinforce the movement cues you gave them in point 2.  You can also cue breathing and neutral spine here.
  4. Once your client has performed the last rep of the set, cue them on how to exit the exercise safely (return bar to rack etc) and roll in to some CRC feedback

Here's an example of these tips in action during instruction the barbell back squat: