The ability to look and see what is there seems easy and commonplace. You’d be amazed at the number of things that people don’t see. Good personal fitness trainers miss nothing.

Why Is Observation So Important?

Why so much emphasis on one small point?

Without a good eye, you wouldn’t notice bad form. You wouldn’t notice the water on the floor that is a hazard if someone slips on it, or the guy across the room who is lifting too heavy without a spotter.

If you didn’t have good observation skills, then you’d miss the fact that your client was completely upset when she walked into the gym and her random explosion has nothing to do with you.

Take the viewpoint that you are in control of and responsible for every single thing that happens on the entire gym floor. Become that big. Now adjust your view to include everything and everyone in the area.

You’ll notice every weight that is out of place, every reckless teenager, every potential hazard, and every point of bad form in the entire gym.

People can get injured in a gym. They can also get amazingly fit.

Out of every gym that I’ve been in, the most productive ones have had at least one trainer with this viewpoint of responsibility.

A Lot of Emphasis on Something So Simple

It is kind of difficult to just decide to look at everything and take it all in.

I developed the skill by also starting out as a cleaner. Since I had to clean every surface, I became aware of every surface, every object, and the correct location for everything in the gym.

Once you’ve touched everything in the space, you’ll have an idea of what I mean about observation. You begin to look at it differently. It’s your space now.

At a minimum, if you’re working out at a new gym, you should use every single machine at least once. Spend time in the space. Use it. Make it dirty. Clean it up. Repeat.

Observing Technique

It goes without saying that you’ve got to be detailed as hell on technique.

This should be covered in whatever personal trainer certification you obtain. If it isn’t, and you’ve somehow obtained a dinky certification, then get a mentor.

I once took a CrossFit Olympic Weightlifting class with Coach Bergener and we spent most of the time watching, analyzing, watching, watching, analyzing, and watching some more.

When I was in college, we were drilled on coaching various exercises and correcting poor form.

In the CrossFit Level 2 certification, you couldn’t pass if you didn’t have laser-precise observation on form and the ability to correct it.

All of this requires a keen eye.

Observing the Person in Front of You

If the person you are training is under a severe amount of strain, you need to see that. It’s one thing to be working hard, and something entirely different when they are about to fall over.

You need to be able to observe when someone is working at their max, when they are in the zone and when they’re just taking it easy.

You also need to be able to read someone’s emotions. Putting someone through tough physical exercise can cause some funny stuff to happen emotionally. We are all truly different and these emotions manifest differently for each person.

Some get angry, some shut down completely and just work, others cry. I literally had someone cry when she worked out really hard. It was just a thing that happened. She wasn’t actually upset, and she said that she didn’t have much control over it.

We continued and she eventually gained control over it. I have a lot of respect for that woman.

Most of the emotion that people randomly come up with isn’t necessarily directed at you, the trainer. It just happens.

How Much Is Too Much Exercise?

If you’re a certified personal trainer, you’ve heard of the talk test. You get someone walking on a treadmill or stepping up and down on a step and have them talk to you. It allows you to see how much work causes them to be out of breath.

Since we have so many people with smart watches and fitness trackers, I’ll often peek in and see what their heart rate is when they aren’t working, when they are doing mild exercise, and when they are really hitting it. It helps you get a different perspective as to how hard their body is working.

Sweat. This one is obvious. You should see if they are sweating or not. Some people don’t sweat much, others sweat profusely. Not sweating could be a sign of severe dehydration. Profuse sweating could be normal for them or it could be that they are working really, really hard. I once had a friend who was Type I Diabetic and, just sitting there, he started sweating and got really cranky. Turns out his blood sugar dropped to a dangerously low level.

Balance and coordination. If your client is starting to lose coordination or their balance becomes shaky, get them on the ground immediately and put their legs up. It could be a sign that they are going to pass out. Whether it is a drop in blood pressure or blood sugars, something is off and a little time spent with legs elevated and some sugary snack (a mint to suck on or a sip of Gatorade) usually gets them back in working order. Depending on the person, a trip to the ER might be in order.

Processing All of the Information

As a personal trainer, you need to be able to take in all of this information and process it immediately. At first you have to think about it. Later it becomes instinct.

So spend some time looking at your clients. Pay attention to how hard they are breathing, their balance, how much they are sweating, whether or not their hands shake, and any other piece of information you can pick up. Hell, I used to be able to smell when some of my clients had a weekend of drinking. The gym is full of smells.


There are all sorts of potential disasters that never happen because fitness trainers observe and are in control of the gym floor. You don’t have a be a control Nazi. Just tell the teenage boys that you like to have the weights a certain way and, when they finish, to please put them back in a certain way.

If you are respectful and polite, people will listen to you. You may need to tell those boys five times, then show them how to put the weights back, then demonstrate how someone walking by could trip on them if not put back in this certain way, etc. But doing so will make a responsible gym member and those guys are valuable.

Take care of the equipment, take care of the members, take care of yourself.

Whether or not you own the gym, you better act like it when you’re on the floor. And give it the same kind of care as if you did own it.

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