What Personal Trainers Need To Know

What Personal Trainers Need To Know | EMAC Certifications

What Personal Trainers Need To Know

From exercise science to motivational coaching, what personal trainers need to know is how to apply the information. This means, it’s not about what a trainer knows about fitness if they don’t know how it works in the gym with real clients. You might be looking to become a professional personal trainer and start a fitness career. Or, you might be looking at a certification to take your workout to new levels as a fitness expert. Regardless of which category you fall into, what personal trainers need to know is the same. Here’s the first thing you should know. A fitness certification should include an online course and final exam. Both the personal training course and exam will cover six primary topic areas. These primary topic areas include anatomy and physiology, exercise science and exercise technique, fitness assessments, exercise program design, nutrition coaching, and motivation principles

Different professional personal training certifications will cover these topics. They’re widely accepted across the fitness education industry. But, how the information is delivered, in what depth, and its relevance to applications in the gym will vary drastically. For example, EMAC Certifications personal training course has a strong focus on the art of coaching others and conducting client sessions. This includes teaching the concepts of exercise and nutrition, so you can educate, motivate, and increase fitness accountability, so clients see results. 

Other certification programs, however, pride themselves on heavy scientific research that works well in clinical and controlled settings. However, the gym, group fitness classes, and online personal training are far from taking place in controllable settings. 

Therefore, here we’ll explore what personal trainers need to know in general to make the biggest impact to the majority of health and wellness needs. Then, we’ll explain how they vary from certification to certification. Lastly, we’ll explain what you need to know to train like a professional fitness trainer. 

Anatomy And Physiology

To be a certified personal trainer, you need knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Specifically, you need to know how the systems of human movement work together to function in life and in exercise. This involves a basic understanding that movement starts with a signal from the nervous system to the muscular system. Then, the muscles contract, pulling on the bones to produce joint movement from the skeletal system. Once you conceptually understand this, you next need knowledge around the muscles of the body. Specifically, you need to know the main muscles involved in movement. For example, you need to know the motions that the gluteus medius produces- hip extension and external rotation. You DON’T need to know, however, the longus capitis, for example. This deep muscle in the neck does cervical flexion and lateral flexion. Sure, it is a muscle. But, realistically, unless you’re an occupational therapist or physical therapist, this muscle will never come up in client programming or discussions.

Exercise Science And Exercise Technique

Exercise science relates to body motion and its relationship to exercise. For example, there are three planes of motion the body can move in. These are the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. These planes of motion are important because you quickly realize most exercise occurs in the sagittal plane of motion (forward and backward movement). But everyday living happens in all three planes. So, knowing the planes of motion will help you create balance in the fitness programs you develop.

You don’t need to know, however, concepts of physics like mass, matter, force, torque, and levers. Yes, these concepts RELATE to fitness and movement. But, again, they’re not relevant to the day-to-day coaching you encounter with clients. And, especially if you’re new to fitness theory, it can be overwhelming when there’s so much more applicable information to learn.

You will also need to know the muscles, muscle actions, and correct technique for the following common exercises and their variations:

Fitness Assessments

Before you can develop fitness programs for yourself or clients, you have to get a starting level. This includes medical history, lifestyle questionnaires, and other fitness client paperwork. Just as important are the fitness assessments that tell you where an individual currently is, so you can develop the best fitness plan possible. Common fitness assessments you will need to know include:

  • Biometric data like weight, BMI (body mass index), calculating body fat percentages, and circumference measurements.
  • Postural assessments like a standing static assessment to identify anterior pelvic tilts and more.
  • Dynamic flexibility assessments like an overhead squat assessment to analyze how efficiently the body moves at the major joints.
  • Cardiorespiratory assessments like a three-minute step test to determine cardio starting levels.
  • Strength assessments like a one repetition max test, so you can program the right amount of weight when you build workout programs.

These are the most common and relevant assessments in the fitness industry. However, textbooks by some certifications such as ACE Fitness will include over 100 pages just on assessments! This is too much for a new personal trainer and, realistically, you won’t have the equipment, time, or need to apply most of them. Similarly, the National Academy of Sports Medicine has over 75 pages on fitness assessments. And, if you don’t have in-depth knowledge of the origin, insertion, and eccentric function of all the muscle groups, you’ll have a tough time passing the exam. This program focuses very heavily on the overhead squat assessment. The overhead squat assessment (OHS) is very relevant and applicable for a good personal trainer. But, the emphasis some programs place on it is far more relevant if working in a physical therapy clinic rather than a gym. For study purposes, focus on the fitness assessments listed here, since they are in all programs and the most common.

Exercise Program Design

This topic is important regardless of the certification program you enroll in. This is because it’s the foundation from which you work. You’ll need to know how the body adapts and makes changes in response to exercise. This will teach you the difference between how to train a client who wants to put on muscle size versus a client who just wants to lose weight. This topic usually makes up the biggest build in a personal trainer course and certification exam. This makes sense for the traditional fitness trainer working in a commercial gym. However, a good personal trainer realizes it isn’t just about the one-hour workout a client does three to five times per week. Instead, it’s about the overall program. Further, the world of online personal training points to a focus on the coaching element, similar to what’s seen in the EMAC Certified Personal Trainer course.

Nonetheless, principles of exercise program design are critical to an aspiring personal trainer. You’ll need to know these concepts in program design:

  • General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)
  • Specificity Principle 
  • Periodization

Also, you’ll learn about the acute variables that go into each resistance training session. These are the differences that will get your clients different results based on their goals and fitness journey. The acute variables, and how you modify them, will be:

  • Repetition range
  • Number of sets
  • Volume of training
  • Rest intervals
  • Exercise selection
  • Intensity (amount of resistance)
  • Exercise tempo

Knowing how to modify each of these variables to achieve an exact goal is the marking of a fitness expert. Regardless of the personal training certification you choose, you’ll need to adjust these factors for a few primary client types:


Even though a personal trainer’s primary role is on fitness enhancement, exercise and nutrition go hand in hand. Most certification courses will devote one to two chapters on nutrition,, and they all do a good job of not going too in depth. At the same time, they provide the foundational information needed in the world of personal training. You’ll need to know the basics of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) including:

  • Structure
  • Function
  • Number of calories per gram
  • Daily intake recommendations

Knowing this helps you navigate the waters of trending diets that many clients so closely hold onto.

Motivation And Psychology

The last thing to know as a new personal trainer is the elements of motivation, behavior coaching, and psychology. Across any certification, you’ll need to know SMART goals (specific measurable, attainable, realistic, and time focused). This concept has become the norm in fitness training. You’ll also need to know the various stages of change a client (or you) might be in. This helps you determine how to work with a client, what motivates them, etc. You’ll also learn elements of behavior coaching, how to communicate, and build rapport. 

All of these elements are addressed in fitness education courses. However, they’re listed as almost an afterthought, often as a last chapter in the text. It’s also common to see a certification organization to have far fewer questions on the final exam devoted to these concepts. Usually, the weight is about 8% of the questions (compared to a larger 20% or 30% for some topics like anatomy and physiology).

However, a fitness program is only as good as the one a client can stick to. This means, all the knowledge of exercise science in the world is of no use if a client isn’t fully committed to the program. This type of commitment is only achieved as part of ongoing coaching strategies that include education, accountability, and motivation. EMAC Certifications teaches you what and how to educate clients, so they can make good lifestyle decisions. Then, you learn all about fitness motivation, including how to implement extrinsic and intrinsic motivation strategies. You’ll also learn about accountability. This is seen in the way a trainer works with the client on an ongoing basis. It provides consistency and transparency on the goals and expectations. 

When you want to learn more about fitness, the last thing you want is to get bogged down in complex topics that never show up in conversation. Instead, you want to know the secrets personal trainers know and stay motivated on your fitness journey toward success. 

In less than 30 days, you can learn the most relevant fitness education and get your EMAC Certified Personal Training credential. Then, you’ll be a certified personal trainer ready to take clients and get paid for it. Enroll in the EMAC Certified Personal Trainer course today!

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