The average cost for a personal trainer is between $30 and $60 per hour, it can cost even more than that if you live in a city such as London or New York. Hiring a personal trainer has many advantages, but it is not budget-friendly. In this article, I will teach you how to be your own personal trainer.
I became a qualified personal trainer in April 2011, and have coached hundreds of people since then. I have also coached people online. So believe me when I say that hiring a personal trainer is one of the best things you can ever do.
But you can still get amazing results without a personal trainer. You just need to invest more of your time and effort into the process.
The truth is that the qualification process for most personal trainers is not particularly onerous. A brand new personal trainer is not going to know much more than your average gym enthusiast. It’s not the training that makes a good PT, it’s the experience.
Personal trainers get very good at helping all sorts of body types to improve their strength and conditioning. But you only need to learn how to train one person. You!
This gives you certain advantages. You will already know your limitations and injury history. You only have to learn how to get around those specific obstacles.
Being your own trainer is a little like being your own chef. You may end up eating the same meal, but you will need to spend time teaching yourself the skills, preparing the ingredients, and cooking the food.
Reading this article from top to bottom will not teach you how to train other people, it will just teach you how to train yourself. Even then, you will still need to gain experience through trial and error. Luckily, you will get amazing results along the way.
Remember, this guide is here to help you coach yourself, rather than become a professional! So many of the steps in this guide will be unique to your situation. While I believe that you can get amazing results using this guide, I am not going to pretend that you won’t get better results with a PT. This option just happens to be MUCH cheaper!
Are you going to sign up for a new gym? Or do you want to build out your perfect home gym? Or, if your budget is tight, would you prefer to follow a bodyweight training program? Any of these options can work, but they each have their positives and negatives:
Cards on the table, my option would be to sign up to a commercial gym. My house isn’t big enough for a really good home gym. Nor do I trust my ability to set up a squat rack safely! I’m not a fan of bodyweight workouts. It’s not that I don’t think they are effective, I just don’t enjoy doing them all that much.
The kettlebell and bodyweight combination is a great option, but I struggle to find the motivation to train at home. That’s just a personal thing though and should have no bearing on what you decide to do.
If I did have the space though, I would love to create my own perfect home gym.
If you want a quick trick to separate a good personal trainer from a bad one, then find out whether they set goals before embarking on a new training program. A good trainer will have a long discussion with you beforehand and will use that information to create specific goals. An average trainer will set goals without discussing anything, and a bad personal trainer won’t set goals at all.
You want to be the best personal trainer for yourself, so you need to set effective training goals.
The trick to creating effective training goals is to really examine what you want. For example, most people will say “I want to lose weight”, but how helpful is that? How much weight? In what timeframe?
So you get more specific. Find out how much you weigh, and estimate your current body fat percentage. In all my years as a personal trainer, I must have tried 10 different methods for estimating body fat. The best method? Surprisingly, it was typing “Body fat percentage examples: Male” into Google and comparing my physique to that of the photos.
Yes, it’s not particularly scientific, but skinfold callipers and body fat scales are really ineffective  and also expensive.
Once you have your current weight and your bodyfat estimate, you can create goals around this. Let’s say that you currently weigh 90kg and you estimate that your body fat percentage is 25%. That means that you have 67.5 kg of lean body mass (LBM) and 22.5 kg of body fat.
Most men should aim for a body fat percentage of between 18 and 20% (obviously, you can go much lower if you want). A good target would be to gain 4.5 kg of muscle and drop 4.5 kg of fat, or to drop 9 kg of fat.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on weight loss and target 9 kg of fat loss. Most experts agree that a safe fat loss target is 0.5 kg per week. This means that it should take you 18 weeks to lose 9 kg.
Your goal is now to lose 9 kg within 18 weeks at an average of 0.5 kg per week.
Now that you have your specific goal (9 kg of fat loss in 18 weeks, 0.5 kg per week) you need to plan how to hit this goal. It takes 7,700 calories to burn 1 kg of fat. To burn 9 kg that would require 69,300 calories. Which sounds like a lot, but it works out at 3,850 calories per week.
What I mean is that you need to create a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume) that is 3,850 per week or 550 calories per day. What you need to do is work out how many calories you burn per day.
If you exercise regularly, and you weigh 90 kg then your daily calorie requirements could be as high as 3,000 per day! This means that if you stick to a calorie target of 2,450 per day, you will be on track to lose 9 kg in 18 weeks.
This is just an example, and you may find that it is too complex for you. Which is totally fine. Not everyone is happy tracking calories with MyFitnessPal and tracking their calories burned using fitness trackers.
Instead, you could decide to swap a high-calorie meal with a meal replacement shake. Or increase the amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet. Drink less beer at weekends, or cut out the number of times you eat out each month.
You could also look at ways to increase your calorie burning. Exercising more regularly, walking more, joining a local tennis club (for example) or walking the dog at a brisker pace. Personal trainers will often cater their plans based on what the client is able to do.
Some clients can be given very specific advice, while others respond better to general advice (walk more, eat more kale, sleep longer etc). Decide which client you want to be (you can always change later) and use that to create your plan.
As you can see, both plans are very different, yet they are still specific and measurable. My advice to people who are new to all this would be to follow a general plan and then progress to a specific plan in the future.
Creating a training program that is a good fit for you is actually quite easy, you just need to be realistic in your planning. Don’t create 2-hour workouts when you only have 40 minutes to spare before heading off to work. Don’t follow a bodybuilding workout if you haven’t exercised properly in 12 years!
I can’t help everyone in this section, there are too many variables. But in my many years as a personal trainer, I found that most new clients had the following things in common:
So, this is the type of person that I will be talking to in this section. If you have lots of exercise knowledge and experience, then you can still benefit from this section, but feel free to skip over certain parts.
How often you train depends on your lifestyle and your goals. If you need to make big changes quickly then 1-2 times per week isn’t going to cut it. But if you have a young family, a 40+ hour per week job, and a tonne of housework then five sessions per week is unrealistic.
For most people, training four times per week is about right. Some people can only manage three, and should still get good results, but four is better. If you have a home gym, or you are following a bodyweight/kettlebell program then you could do shorter sessions more often. This is just because it is more practical to train at home.
The standard length for a workout should be around 40-60 minutes. Don’t let those old bodybuilding magazine articles fool you! If you are a beginner, then a 30-minute workout may be a good idea, you can then increase the length of your workout over time.
Of course, if you are new and spending half your time learning how to use each machine or checking videos to ensure your form is perfect, then your workout can be longer. It’s about how long you are training at medium or high intensity, not how long the workout lasts overall.
Just don’t fill your program with too many exercises and spend 90 minutes training as this will soon lead to overtraining, which has its own downsides.
Training split is a common term in the fitness and bodybuilding world, it just means how you split training your muscles across your weekly sessions. So, if you train five times per week, you may have “chest day” or “leg day”. But there are many different types of training split. Here are some examples:
There are a few more splits out there, but this gives you a good idea of the many different training splits available.
The standard advice is for beginners to follow a full-body workout, as this means that you are able to train each muscle group equally even if you end up missing a session or two. This is a great idea in theory, but as someone who has started new programs quite a few times (and coached hundreds of new clients) I have a few issues with this:
That’s not to say you can’t be successful following a full-body workout, but for the first couple of weeks, I would recommend either an upper/lower body training split, a push/pull training split, or even a body part split. Just until the DOMS subside.
Once you have been training a few weeks, a full-body, upper/lower, or push/pull split is your best bet.
This can vary from person to person, and it can really be affected by what training split you choose. But a good rule of thumb would be to perform 4-6 compound lifts (exercises that work multiple muscle groups) and 2-4 isolation lifts (exercises that work single muscle groups). For a total of 8 exercises (4 compound and 4 isolation, or, 6 compound and 2 isolation).
So, for example, a full-body workout may look something like this:
This full-body workout has four compound exercises and four isolation exercises. If you are a beginner, you may find this workout a little too long, whereas an experienced lifter may not find it long enough. Of course, the reps and sets can be adjusted, and the rest times can be changed.
This really depends on your goals, and it would be impossible for me to recommend specific rep and set numbers for every reader of this article. That would undermine the premise of being your own trainer! But here is a quick guide:
These are guidelines, not rules. You may find strength training programs out there that have high-rep sets for auxiliary exercises, and it is certainly possible to burn fat with low-rep sets (fat loss is mostly based on diet in any case). But you can start with these guidelines, and then tweak them as you gain more knowledge.
This is another aspect of training that can be influenced by your experience levels. Someone who is brand new to lifting may need to have longer rest periods as their fitness may be poor. On the other hand, a more experienced lifter may be able to train at a higher intensity so may also require a longer rest period.
There is some evidence that women require shorter rest periods than men, however, this will vary from person to person. As with reps/sets, I will give you a rough guide to how long to rest between sets, but feel free to tailor it to your specific needs:
I’m including a 4-day full-body workout program here as an example of how to create a training program. I will use this to show you my steps when creating programs. I am not telling you to copy this workout (though you are welcome to).
The whole point of this article is to teach you self-sufficiency. This program won’t suit everyone; it would be a pretty rubbish program if it did! But the way I create this program is important. That’s what I want to teach you.
So, let me talk you through this workout. I’ve started with dumbbell squats. They are amazing exercises for beginners as they teach you how to squat properly. You have to stay on your heels and keep your chest up otherwise, the dumbbell will fall over.
Seated leg curls are a great exercise for hamstrings and are easy to learn. Unlike more complicated hamstring exercises such as Romanian deadlifts, nordic curls, or even lying hamstring curls. Bodyweight lunges are a really challenging bodyweight exercise, but most beginners can master them. They are also massively underrated and will really work your quads and glutes.
Cable face pulls are a great low-impact shoulder/upper back exercise; they are the ideal warm-up for chest and back exercises and help to keep the workout volume low for a beginner. Assisted pull-up machines get a lot of hate from personal trainers, but I actually really like them. A great way to work your lats and biceps as you build strength.
The dumbbell bench press is probably the most challenging exercise on this list for beginners, and you might want to switch it for assisted dips. But many new lifters really enjoy the feel of this exercise, and it rounds off the program nicely.
The goal is to get yourself deadlifting properly, which is why a dumbbell or kettlebell deadlift is such a great exercise for beginners. It teaches correct form, it is easier for you to hold, and it only takes 20 seconds to set up.
I’ve added leg extensions because they are a great quad isolation exercise, but if you are still sore from the lunges, you may want to skip them and add in a set of lying leg curls or perhaps even some calf raises.
The upper body portion of this workout involves dips, rows, and straight arm pulldowns. This is an underrated lat exercise but can always be swapped for the traditional lat pulldown machine if you prefer. The rear delt flies are a great shoulder exercise, but the next workout will target the shoulders properly.
Leg presses are great for beginners as they require little coordination but can help to build strength quickly. I’ve added some bodyweight glute bridges as the glutes are in danger of being neglected without proper barbell squats in the program.
I’ve skipped out any chest exercises from this workout as there are two shoulder exercises. While it is possible to train chest and shoulders, I find that you get better results when splitting them up.
Consider this the bonus workout, the one that you can skip if you need the extra rest. There are some squats and leg extensions for your legs, then you have dips and chin-ups for your biceps and triceps, followed by two more classic arm exercises and a longer cardio session at the end.
You may be wondering what the difference is, so far, between someone trying to be their own personal trainer and a regular gym goer following a program. This step, right here, makes all the difference.
Analysing your own performance is a crucial step to improving your results over time. It is something that most people do not do instinctively. That’s not to say that there aren’t people in the gym who try to improve themselves. That’s basically the goal of every person there. But how you achieve this comes down to thorough analysis.
Coaching is not just about knowing how to teach people how to exercise, if it was, then personal training would have ended as a profession the day that YouTube became available on smartphones! Coaching is about finding ways to improve performance once the quick gains have ended.
Put a new person into the gym, and their bench press can double within a few weeks. This is not due to strength gains but improvements in your central nervous system, aligned with technical improvements, confidence, and competence.
Many people, during their first week, will massively underperform due to fear, poor coordination, and a lack of confidence. But as these areas develop, their bench (or whatever exercise) will increase quickly. This peaks over time, and after 12 weeks or so, an uncoached gym goer may stop seeing improvements in their performance.
This is where a coach can step in. Changing exercises to target an underperforming area. Slowing the tempo or adding in longer eccentric parts of the lift. Coaches can ask questions, and find out where a lift is going wrong.
But you can do this for yourself. In some ways, you even have an advantage because you will know your own body better than the best coach in the world.
But analysis isn’t just about workouts. It can also cover diet and weight loss/weight gain. For this, you need to be taking regular measurements and keeping track of your results.
Taking measurements before starting a fitness program is a genius move. The first thing that you want to do is weigh yourself. Your current body weight is very useful information.
There has been a lot of debate in the fitness world about whether you should weigh yourself or not. Some people have their mental health affected by a number on the scales. All I can say to this is that if that number affects your mental health, don’t weigh yourself. If the number does not impact your self-confidence etc., then please weigh yourself as the information gained can be crucial to success.
Weigh yourself first thing Monday morning. Write down the number on the scales and keep that record safe.
Next, you want to measure the circumference of your waist, your hips, your glutes, your thighs, your arms, your chest, and your neck. Take three measurements of each, and write them all down.
Finally, you want to measure your visual progress, so take two photos. One should be front-on, and one should have you standing sideways. Don’t tense your muscles, and don’t suck in your stomach. Don’t feel the need to share these photos with anyone.
You should also take measurements of your calorie intake (a rough guide) and measurements of your daily activity levels. This can be as simple as logging your food intake for a week on an app like myfitnesspal and keeping a record of your daily step count for a week.
Write both down and keep that information on hand.
When it comes to recording your measurements, you want to keep a professional detachment. As I mentioned before, if these measurements are upsetting you or stressing you out, then stop taking them. But, if you are detached from them, then taking measurements is incredibly effective.
Take your measurements at the same time each week, ideally first thing Monday morning. This helps to minimise the effects of weekly fluctuations. Even so, for the first 6 weeks, you can expect some wild results. The trick is to look at the long-term picture rather than each individual result.
You may see a lack of progress from week to week, but from month to month, the change can be impressive.
Keep a record of your daily activities (step count), your weight on the scale, progress photos, and your circumference measurements. You don’t need to keep a log of your daily calorie intake unless you find it easy to do. Just get a rough idea, and be sensible with your portion sizes and meal choices.
Splitting your training into 12-week programs is a smart idea. It gives you a good amount of time to get into amazing shape and brings structure to your goals and measurements. After 12 weeks, retake all of your measurements and properly analyse how your physique has changed.
Have you lost the weight that you wanted to? Have your biceps grown in size? By how much? What are your lifts like in the gym? Retake your progress photos and compare them to week one. Has your physique changed much?
Use the information that you have gained from this analysis to inform your next 12 weeks. If you haven’t lost weight, then do you need to reduce your calories further? Or exercise more? Or are you on the right track, and you just need more time? This will become apparent to you when you properly look at your results.
This article is not going to give you a complete breakdown of how you should diet. That is a massive subject in itself. So, I am going to draw heavily from one of my favourite studies on dieting:
“Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation”
This is a study by Alan Aragon, Eric Helms, and Peter Fitschen , and it was published in 2014. The study lays out how to get your macronutrient ratios perfect while preparing for a bodybuilding competition.
Now, the vast majority of people aren’t prepping for bodybuilding competitions, but the information is transferrable for any form of body composition changes (building muscle, burning fat). Here are the takeaway points:
The calorie deficit target should be around 0.5 kg per week for most people. If you weigh over 100 kg, then you may find that you can drop more than this. The 2.3 grams of protein target is challenging but worth attempting.
It’s important to note that your lean body weight is NOT the same as your regular body weight. You need to first estimate your body fat percentage. Check out my article on what foods bodybuilders eat to learn how to do this easily.
If you weigh 100 kg and your body fat percentage is 25, then your lean body weight is 75 kg, NOT 100 kg. You then need to multiply 75 kg by 2.3, which gives you a protein target of 173 grams per day.
Finding your calorie target is easy. Just use the Precision Nutrition calculator to give you a target.
Once you have done this, you can adjust the macros to fit your protein target and your fat target in, and your carbs make up whatever is left. After that, all you need to focus on is increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, finding lean proteins, and reducing your junk food intake.
This is an underrated aspect of fitness and weight loss, how you recover from your workouts. Many so-called fitness experts dismiss the idea that overtraining exists, but there is more than enough evidence that it does.
Training at a high intensity for many weeks at a time can lead to poor sleep, elevated cortisol levels, reduced testosterone in men, and low mood and fatigue. This can affect your mental and physical health, and it can lead to a reduction in intensity when you are in the gym.
The main ways to prevent overtraining are:
Men who may be seeing a reduction in their libido could consider taking a natural testosterone booster. Check out my article on the ten best testosterone boosters for more information.
As with most aspects of fitness, the discussion surrounding supplementation is loud and divisive. Some coaches will have you believing that progress without supplements is impossible. At the same time, others will tell you that supplements are a waste of money.
The truth is that you can train without supplements, provided your diet and lifestyle are in a good place. But, supplementation can help to improve your experience and may also help to speed up results slightly.
Just don’t use supplements as a crutch or shortcut.
I’ve already mentioned how a natural testosterone booster can help men who are overtraining by improving their sleep quality, protecting testosterone production, and reducing the effect that cortisol has on their muscles and hormones.
Fat burners can be helpful in reducing your appetite and improving your mood while you diet. They can also help to support your metabolism while you are in a calorie deficit. But they won’t lead to huge drops in body fat. Diet and exercise do the heavy lifting (pun intended) in that regard.
Pre-workout supplements can be helpful, particularly if you train very early in the morning or if you train after work and suffer from post-work fatigue.
Whey protein shakes are a great way to hit your protein targets. There are also a number of effective vegan protein shakes out there. Meal replacement shakes are a great way to either lose weight (when taken instead of a meal) or gain weight healthily (when taken as a snack between meals).
Creatine monohydrate is a fantastic supplement and is often found in pre-workouts. Personally, I would recommend taking it separately, as you benefit from daily use, and most people only take pre-workouts on training days.
Can you successfully train yourself without supplements? Yes. Do you need all of the supplements mentioned above? No. Will supplementation make your training program a little easier? Potentially, if you have the budget for it.
As you can see, there is a lot of work that is performed outside the gym. If anything, this article has probably convinced a number of readers that hiring a personal trainer is a smart decision. But, if you would rather spend your money elsewhere, this article should give you a great idea of how to be your own personal trainer.
Remember, you don’t need to get everything perfect. An imperfect training program that is performed consistently will still garner excellent results over time. Create a calorie deficit for weight loss, and a calorie surplus for weight gain and you will get the exact results you are looking for.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.