• Chris K

5 Ways To Make Personal Training Build Autonomy & Independence





I believe coaching should be about teaching people to train by themselves.


I'm there 1-4 times a week, but both I and the client need to know they can train themself if they are required.


I've found the more autonomous you make your clients the more they enjoy the training experience.


Why Does Autonomy Make Training More Rewarding?


Over time, it allows someone to demonstrate mastery in the gym as they are the master of their own sessions.


Making good decisions means clients don't feel like they are hiring a babysitter but rather are working with someone who corrects their course if their decision-making isn't off that day.


Over time, they will tend to make better decisions within their solo training, and when you put a lot of good-decisions together, you have a high likelihood of success.


Let's go into some ways I foster autonomy in my clients:


Assigning 'Playtime' Sections In Their Program


Once a client has been training a few months I'll often program a 10-minute "arm party" where they can do whatever arm stuff they want.


Strongman competitors get "loaded carry playtime" where they can carry shit around for a while.


People who want huge glutes get "glute work of your choice."


Trusting people to make choices can be empowering however, for some it will be overwhelming. You need to build people up to it or avoid forcing them into decision-making if it isn't appropriate.


Let Them Decide On The Big Compound Lift Of The Day


People who are training to get stronger without a specific sport in mind don't need to do the exact same exercise every week. They can select a different variation of a movement each week, and they can make progress.


For clients such as this, I will let them decide on the variation of say, squat, bench, deadlift, pull-up, row, or overhead press variation that day, because, why not?


The only time you have to worry about keeping a movement being THE SAME each week is if you have a specific movement-related goal or a specific competition or sport to train for, like powerlifting or weightlifting.


Let Them Decide When To Start Wearing Supportive Equipment


Unless someone has a medical issue meaning they shouldn't wear say, a lifting belt, I will let the lifter decide when they should add supportive equipment like knee sleeves or wrist straps.


I talked about it more HERE.


I help a lifter to understand the specific benefits of a particular piece of equipment, after that, it's down to the lifter when they put the equipment on in a session or whether they start to use the particular piece of equipment at all.


I will step in if I think the client has forgotten to put the equipment on or if they are being lazy and are going for a weight they would normally do in supportive equipment, but can't be bothered to put their knee sleeves on.


I will step in if a client is close to competition. When people are close to a competition they are more likely to make stupid decisions. If one of those stupid decisions is around supportive equipment, I will step in to make a call with a view on making their decision-making better during the next competition prep.


Use Rep Ranges


In a program, I will plan rep ranges for many exercises.


For example:

  • 6-10 tricep extensions

  • 8-12 neutral grip pulldowns

  • 20-25 kettlebell swings

Using rep ranges:

  • Lets the client take it a little easier if they need to

  • They can push harder

  • Lift more and do fewer reps

  • Lift less and do more reps

  • They can perform a different amount of reps for each set if they want

A client has to make multiple decisions when faced with a rep range which is why I think it's one of the best tools for fostering autonomy.


Group Coaching


My group coaching involves a number of people working through their own plans as I split my time between them.


This allows and necessitates decision-making as I won't be there to supervise every set.


You get all the benefits of accountability without a PT watching your every move.


People often find this the ideal compromise between coaching and autonomy.


If you want to train with us you can see our group training deals HERE.


Involve The Client In As Many Decisions As Possible


My approach for fostering autonomy boils down to involving clients in as many decisions as possible.


Whether that is choosing the exercise they do, the reps they perform, or the effort they put into a session.


It's tempting to try to micro-manage every detail of a client's training but that often doesn't foster growth.


There are times when you will have to step in when a client struggles to make decisions, but this tends to be the exception rather than the rule.


There are clients who have zero interest in this process and hire you to make the decisions for them because they make enough decisions in their everyday life, they don't want to make more. that's fine.


Don't force these people in growth, as it will seem like you aren't listening to them.


For those who grow in autonomy, it makes training more rewarding, more empowering and it can carry over to more confidence in your everyday life, which can be a huge win.


By Chris Kershaw

The Heavy Metal Strength Coach




Coaching for the overthinking powerlifter and those looking to build confidence in strength training.


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