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A HFE instructor working with their client by showing an iPad tablet.
A HFE instructor working with their client by showing an iPad tablet.

Personal Training Course Subjects

8 minute read

A practical guide to what you’ll learn on your personal training course.

Most personal training courses include similar topics and subjects, especially if they are industry regulated qualifications that are backed by reputable awarding organisations like YMCA Awards and Active IQ.

In instances where these qualifications are mapped to CIMSPA’s professional standards, there will be even more uniformity and standardisation with their subjects. As the UK’s professional development body for the sport and physical activity sector, CIMSPA define what knowledge and skills PTs must have.

The main difference between industry recognised qualifications will usually be in the different assessment methods used, and the way knowledge and skills in these subjects are measured.

In this article, we’re going to guide you through some of the subjects you’ll study while training to be a personal trainer, and we’ll explain why these will be important to your future career as a professional PT.


Anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology

Any credible personal trainer qualification will place a significant emphasis on learning anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology.

To be clear, anatomy is concerned with the structure of the human body, physiology is concerned with how the body functions, and kinesiology describes how the body creates and controls movement. If you’re interested in the subject and you want to test your existing knowledge in this area, you can try one of our anatomy and physiology mock tests.

As a personal trainer, it’s essential to have a strong understanding of all these subjects because exercise is essentially controlled movement, and this movement will have different anatomical, physiological and kinesiological effects depending on the type of exercise being performed, and how well it’s performed.

By having a deep and rich understanding in these subjects, PTs can design exercise programmes that create the right training responses and adaptations without placing their clients at any unnecessary risk.

Many clients will have injuries, movement impairments, or long-term health conditions. PTs will often need to be able to recognise these and undertake additional research to better understand the condition, before designing exercise programmes which lead to positive outcomes for clients.

If you want to specialise with working with these types of clients, then you’ll probably need to complete a recognised exercise referral course. The Level 3 Diploma in Exercise Referral is one example, in addition to other exercise specialist courses available.

Without a strong understanding of anatomy, physiology and kinesiology, performing tasks like these would be impossible. It would be like trying to read a book in a foreign language.

Developing a strong subject knowledge in these areas does take time, and as such it’s best to approach these subjects in layers. For example, focus on one bodily system at a time, and master the level 2 content first before progressing to level 3.

It’s certainly not possible to become fluent in these subjects in a matter of weeks without some prior knowledge, which is why any PT course claiming you can be qualified in just a few weeks is probably questionable.

Principles of fitness training and exercise programming

Having an in-depth understanding of the different types of fitness, like the difference between strength training, endurance training, or skill-based fitness elements, is essential to qualifying as a personal trainer. This knowledge is vital when designing exercise programs, particularly when thinking about the demands placed on the body.

Similarly, there are a number of laws, or principles as we refer to them, that must be followed when designing any fitness training programme or session if it is going to be both safe and effective. If you ignore these principles, then at best your client will make no progress at all, but worse, you’ll invite injury onto them.

Consequently, having a clear comprehension of principles like progressive overload, progression, reversibility, regression, and specificity is fundamental for any personal trainer. Furthermore, they need to be creative and adaptable, and know how to apply these rules in the gym environment to meet their client’s needs.

PTs also need intimate knowledge of all the variables within a training programme. This includes knowing what the optimum frequency, intensity, type and time for training is for different people, as each client is going to have a set of different goals they are trying to achieve.

Science underpins a lot of this information, so it’s crucial that any PT develops a comprehensive understanding of these subjects in order to be competent in their role.

If you want to test your existing knowledge of this subject area, try our components and principles of fitness training mock tests.

Nutrition and healthy eating

Diet and nutrition are important components of a healthy lifestyle, and personal trainers play a big role in sharing this information with the goal of educating their clients.  As such, there is a good focus on this content in most PT qualifications.

Understanding the physiological role of different macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats and proteins will be a key part of the nutritional focus within a PT qualification, including the types of foods that contain these nutrients.

Similarly, understanding the role that different micronutrients play on health will also be quite significant. Micronutrients include both vitamins and minerals, and PTs need to understand why these nutrients are important and where they can be sourced if they are going to help their clients to maintain a healthy diet.

Dietary analysis is also something that personal trainers are often required to do, with clients often seeking a personal trainer when looking to reach goals such as weight loss. It’s important to note, however, that this should only be done with the goal of providing general feedback, advice and education to clients, and NOT providing them with a detailed meal plan.

If you want to be able to give more in-depth advice about nutrition you would need to take a nutrition course, like the Level 3 Nutrition to Support Physical Activity. There are also a range of more specific nutrition courses to support the future development of a personal trainer’s role for those that want to specialise in this area.

Most credible PT qualifications will place a reasonable emphasis on the science of healthy eating and nutrition, and again, this isn’t the sort of content that can be mastered in only a few weeks.

Understanding how other aspects of a client’s lifestyle, like their work, education, social and economic status affects their exercise and nutritional habits is also crucial if personal trainers are going to be able to effect positive change.

All of these subjects and more are delivered, both in the theory and practice, on a good PT qualification.

Consultation skills

With the sociable nature of the job, having people skills as a personal trainer is imperative. A lot of the time, you will be a stranger to the client prior to training them, so for them to be honest with you about their goals and potential insecurities can be quite a challenge.

Being able to connect with clients, put them at ease and make them feel relaxed enough to share sensitive information about their health history, exercise habits and future goals and aspirations is a skill that is taught on most good PT qualifications.

Mastering how to use techniques like body language, tone of voice, motivational interviewing, and different styles of questions to create more trust and rapport between you and the client is definitely essential if you want to succeed.

Many students think that when they start out they will be able to do this with ease, and usually discover that this isn’t the case without some good training and practice.

Teaching and motivational strategies

Being able to deliver engaging, uplifting and motivational sessions to clients in a way that keeps the activity both safe and effective is crucial for any PT. After all, this is what they tend to spend most of their working day doing.

Teaching and motivating clients isn’t just about demonstrating exercises and counting reps. When clients are under physical stress during exercise, their technique is likely to falter and their ability to process and retain information is impaired.

So, personal trainers need to know how to communicate effectively with their clients while they are exercising, reinforce good technique, and correct it promptly when required. At the same time, they also need to deliver positive words of encouragement and feedback to keep them focused.

If you’re doing all this right, there usually isn’t enough time to count reps!

For more trainee personal trainers, developing these skills takes a lot of practice and it’s an area that needs to be mastered in order to succeed in the industry.

It’s these skills, and many more that we focus on developing during our PT qualifications, that make the most successful personal trainers alongside other essential technical information. We hope that this has given you a good flavour of the sorts of things you’d learn in any good personal trainer qualification.

Of course, a career in the fitness industry is a career which requires continual learning and development. As such, once you’re qualified, you may wish to become a specialist instructor by adding more advanced training and qualifications to your portfolio. Whether it’s becoming a body transformation coach, or strength and conditioning for athletes, there’s no shortage of specialist training and qualifications you can complete to increase both your influence and earning potential.

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