How to Go From CrossFit Class Coach to Top Notch Personal Training Wiz

On on one does not equal group class of one

Are you (or your CrossFit class coaches) nervous about coaching personal training sessions? 

Are you asking yourself: "How is a 1-on-1 different than a class?"

Or maybe: "How can I provide the best value as a Personal Trainer?"

I've met hundreds of CrossFit coaches who have never taught a one on one session before. Many were totally comfortable coaching a class of 10-15 people, but got sweaty palms thinking about what to do for an hour with a single individual paying a dollar a minute (or more). 

If you have limited Personal Training experience, or you are looking for some fresh ideas and tools to make your sessions better, this is the article for you!

In this article we are going to cover: 

  • Booking
  • Preparing
  • Session Theme and Customization
  • Building Relationship
  • Immediately After the Session
  • In-between Sessions
  • The Most Important Thing to Accomplish in the Session

COVID 19 / Shut down Specific: As we start to phase-in opening up our brick and mortar gyms, one of the first things coaches should be doing is working with people 1 on 1.

This is because of the requirements (and general fear), hosting classes may not be an option right away. Even if you are able to open up for limited classes, you should still make 1 on 1 sessions a priority.


Personal training sessions are important for people who can’t come to the gym 3-4 times per week because it allows you strengthen the relationship with them. It also allows them to use the equipment they don’t have at home and gives you the ability to evaluate their progress and customize their programming for when they are working out outside of the gym.

This is a guide for CrossFit Class Coaches who aren’t experienced with coaching personal training sessions.

Booking and Confirming

First, these sessions are by appointment. Make sure you are scheduling people out a week or more in advance, so you have more control over you schedule. Avoid booking more than 3-4 consecutive hours row (even if people want the slots). Put in 30 min breaks (at a minimum) every 2-3 hours so you can have some down time and prepare for the next batch of folks.

If you are working with people for their first few sessions (or if they are not regular ‘weekly’ clients), send a reminder a day or two before to get confirmation that they will be there. A simple text or email will help guarantee that you won’t be stuck with a ‘no show’. If you can use a calendar app like Google Cal, you can send them the invite and make sure they confirm (so it shows up on their calendar and they get a reminder 30 min before).

After 3-5 sessions of consistent attendance, you may consider skipping the confirmation. You do not want to ‘train’ them to expect a confirmation and rely on you to always remind them!

It is also a good idea to check up on them via Facebook or Instagram. This allows you to be ‘caught up’ with their lives (if they post often) and you can spend less time talking to them about it in the session (giving you more time to work on their goals and movement stuff).


The night before (or the morning of), review you calendar and see who is scheduled to come in. Look at your notes on each client to refresh your memory. Here are some things to look over:

  • What are their goals?
  • What are names of their family members?
  • What have they been struggling with?
  • What did you work on last time?
  • What homework did you assign them to do before this session?
  • What communications did you have with them between sessions?

Check out this video on how to use an app like Trello (a great free tool) to track clients and make this process much more efficient!

The preparation is really where you can provide the best value for folks. You want to make sure that the 30, 45, or 60 minutes, you spend with them is as efficient as possible. If you are ‘making it up as you go’ or just following the same template for everyone, people will pick up on it and not see the value of taking time out of their busy schedule to come and see you (or pay you for that matter).

The Session Theme and Customization

Thrivestry Personality and Coaching Styles simple 2.png

Check out our articles on personality styles to make sure you are approaching each session with the style that will be most appreciated by each personality type. Part 1 and Part 2

Instead of just leading them through a generic warm up, skill work, lift and/or metcon, you’ll want to customize the session to them.

Spend time talking to them about their lives and what they are struggling with (while they are warming up or doing mobility). Use this time to get to know them better and uncover potential hurdles that may be holding back their progress.

Look Feel Perform Graphic Thrivestry results diagram.png

Remember the ‘Look, Feel, Perform’ Chart they filled out? If they are looking for more ‘feel’, spend extra time on mobility and re-hab. If they are looking for more ‘look’, you may need to devote some time to talking to them about nutrition. If they are there for ‘performance’, you may need to spend extra time on skill or strength work.

Here is a video going over some templates you can use for working with people one-on-one based upon their goals:

(Learn more about the MadLab Group, experts in Professional Coaching, here)

Avoid just doing the gym’s programming for the day. Customize the session to their goals and do the specific things that they need to work on. Use the equipment and tools that aren’t conducive to class workouts. And use the techniques and tools that make you unique as a Coach!


The power of the one-on-one session to strengthen the relationship bond cannot be stated enough.

You will be spending a good amount of time teaching and encouraging, but you need to allow time to let them talk. Ask tons of questions. Demonstrate that you care about them. This IS NOT the time to talk about yourself.

For the most part, you should be like the classic bartender. Bartenders feel comfortable about discussing all manner of topics, they ask the right questions, and you never really know that much about them because they don't waste time talking about themselves... oddly enough, if you use the 'barbell' as a primary tool, you could probably call yourself a 'bartender' too!

Establish safety (a ‘judgement free’ culture). When they show a vulnerability, reciprocate with a story/experience of vulnerability that you have experienced. Create a shared purpose (that everyone at the gym is moving toward the same goals). Learn more about this by reading Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code.

Remember that deposits into the ‘relationship account’ means you can make larger withdrawals from the ‘challenge account’. The stronger the relationship, the more challenge they can handle.

This means that they’ll be more willing to get outside their comfort zone, inside and outside of the gym, with routines and habits. It means that when facing a challenge to their schedule, finances, injury, etc., they will tolerate a lot more frustration before needing assistance, demanding more value, or throwing in the towel.

Take Notes

Budget some time between sessions (or after a cluster of sessions) to update your notes for each person:

  • What did you cover?
  • What measurements did you take?
  • Did their goals or habits need adjustments?
  • What was the homework you assigned them?
  • Were there any articles or videos you were supposed to send them?
  • Were there any questions they had that you didn’t have the answer to? (that you need to research)
  • When is your next session with them? (set a reminder to book in with them)

Some of these things you can do in-session. But in most cases, it is best to save this extra work for after the session so you can give your full attention to them.

Between Sessions

Your work does not end when the session does.

After the session is over you want to make sure you are providing ample customization and accountability:

  • Send them customized workouts tailored to their goals.
  • Make sure they are doing workouts on their own (with a class or by themselves)
  • Make sure they are doing their ‘homework’ (skills, rehab, diet stuff, etc.)
  • If you haven’t heard from them in more than 3 days, send them a check-in message. Keep messaging them until you get a reply.
  • Give them shout outs and feedback online (FB, Workout Tracking App, etc.)
  • Like and comment on their posts online (gym related or not). Look at your list of clients and use the search feature on Facebook/Instagram to look them up 2-3x per week. The algorithm may not show you their posts organically.

The Most Important Thing to Accomplish…

Remember that the most important thing to accomplish in a one-on-one session is to build connection.

Classes are great for people to get good workouts in, hang out with friends, learn something new, and get pushed harder than if they worked out by themselves.

Personal training sessions are for getting customized coaching, working on weaknesses, having a sympathetic ear, and being held to a higher standard (accountability).

Great Personal Trainers are not necessarily the most technical, the most brutal, or the best cheerleaders. They connect with each person on an individual level and tailor their coaching to that person, and how they are feeling that day.

Shelter in Place / Shut Down Specific:

It is much safer (and probably more acceptable from a social and legal standpoint) to start with Personal Training Sessions with your clients before opening back up to limited sized classes. Reach out to all of your current (and past) clients and book in a time for them to come to the gym (with proper social distancing and protections in place) for a one-on-one.

If you can ‘stack’ a one-on-one once a week or every other week with every client, you’ll easily retain your members. You’ll also have the opportunity of continuing one-on-one sessions (at an additional cost) as things get rolling again if you do a great job!

Thrive on.



Please share this if you found it useful or if you think it might help someone else. 

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