NLP Training For Personal Trainers: Definition & How It Works

NLP training for personal trainers

If you've ever thought about NLP training for personal trainers and whether it's worth it, we’re here to explain how NLP can be beneficial for your clients and why it will make the service that you offer much more effective.


Before we get straight to it, if you want to get started in the fitness industry, why not take a look at our Ofqual regulated personal trainer courses here? Or you can find this and many other fitness and yoga courses in our downloadable course prospectus.


What Is NLP?

nlp training for personal trainers

Neuro-linguistic programming is an encapsulation of the practice by which a practitioner, in this instance a PT, can change the way somebody thinks and in turn behaves in order to reach a set goal. 

It can be used in many different areas of practice, from treatment of phobias and fears to a holistic improvement in happiness. 

That being said, this theory of practice can be beneficial in the industry of personal training, where there is a heavy focus on changing the habitual behaviours and thought process of clients. 

Whether it is a relationship with food or their dislike of exercise, you can use this method to try to move their perception of exercise, food or whatever it may be into a positive light.

Richard Bandler and John Grinder were the people who came up with this theory, they essentially found the ‘pattern’ of thoughts and behaviours of successful people and decided that it was possible to replicate this ‘pattern’ in others who had a goal of success.

You should keep in mind however, that although NLP has been around for decades there has not been a substantial amount of research done into its efficacy in the way that there has for CBT, for instance. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t work, in fact there are positive conversations surrounding the outcome of NLP but you should keep an open mind.

We will talk about how NLP works a little later, but this is the basic structure of what it is and where it came from.

How Can Personal Training Clients Benefit From NLP?

nlp training for a personal trainer

NLP training for personal trainers can be beneficial for your clients due to the fact that it is all about mindset. 

The focus is on pursuing goals and even more so, staying consistent after their time with you. Arguably, it is easier for clients to lean on you for means of motivation but you as the trainer are not going to be there forever. 

NLP can help to embed this new positive mindset when viewing a healthy lifestyle meaning your clients can get healthy and stay that way. 

swish pattern for NLP

This kind of shift happens through effective communication and enforces a change on a subconscious level. To achieve this with your PT clients, your ‘training’ should go beyond the gym floor and physicality, it should be conversational and have the intention of ‘re-mapping’ the way your client thinks about their goals.

As well as reaching their goals, another way NLP can be hugely beneficial for personal training is due to the fact that it focuses on ridding the mind of limiting thoughts.

For example, if your client doesn’t truly believe that they have the ability to change, this will leak into their performance and thus, stunt their performance when it comes to reaching goals. 

If you use NLP to shift this negative mind set into a more realistic and positive one, it is much more likely that increased performance will follow. Plus, the logistics of personal training fit into each stage (also known as hierarchy) of NLP which we will talk about next.

How Does NLP Work?

nlp personal training

First, you should be aware of the ‘stages of change’ or ‘logical levels of change’ when it comes to NLP. 

These consist of 6 factors that act as stages that are relevant to the client’s life and are in need of addressing in order to facilitate real change. 

Typically, you would see these in the order that we are going to list them out in. This order is not coincidental, it is purposeful.

This list works in order of ease, in other words, the first stage is the easiest to change and as the list goes on, the difficulty increases.

Stage 1: Environment

nlp personal trainer

Environment encapsulates everything that is surrounding your client physically that can have an impact internally. A way you can grasp this concept is by picturing trying to eat clean when you’re surrounded by junk food. 

It is essentially taking the step to change the external environment in order to make this ‘new’ way of living the norm and to make it as easy as possible. 

This might mean taking a different route home so you’re not succumbed to the bright lights of fast food chains pulling you in or making a switch from the supermarket to the farmers fresh market instead so you’re greeted with organic greens instead of processed frozen foods.

Some changes don’t need to be that extreme, but that is an example of how a changeable environment can impact the ease of making a true change. 

nlp personal trainer and client benefits

Often, a more realistic change is a kitchen cupboard ‘purge’ in which case your client would reset their kitchen and replace any refined sugars, fatty foods or just all around ‘bad’ foods and replace them with more healthy and sustainable snacks. 

Apart from food, your client can change their environment in relation to the gym too. For example, maybe your client wants to go to the gym more, but finds excuses and struggles to get there. 

A solution would be to join classes with friends so they feel more compelled to show up or find a closer gym where they can walk to the gym so they don’t have any problems with public transport or traffic complications.

All of these are ways an environment can make the journey to change harder, but overcoming these with solutions is a key part of the way this NLP can catalyse positive change.

Stage 2: Behaviours

NLP for pts

This stage of NLP is considering the behaviours and thoughts of the client and how they can be changed through meaningful communication in conjunction with other stages of change. Essentially, this stage intends on changing the behaviours that are contributing to the limitations of the clients.

This relates to making actionable changes that can put your client on the right path forward toward their goals. For example, joining the gym would be a huge behaviour change for somebody who has never been.

You could think about the behaviour stage of change as what needs to change, this helps home in on more specific behaviours and actions rather than a holistic what needs to be done at the end.    

The idea is to change the thought process at the source so that the actions that follow any limiting thoughts are changed into more purposeful thoughts and inturn, resulting in more purposeful actions.

Stage 3: Capabilities and Skills

NLP stages of change

The next stage of change is called capabilities and skills, which refers to how your client can reach their goal and become successful with the capabilities and skills they client already possess.

This is also the point at which your client needs to become aware of the skills and capabilities needed in order to reach their goal, whether they possess them or not. This is when your client should start working on said skills if they don’t already have them.

This means practice. You should stress to your client that with new skills, some come easier than others meaning that they must practice, have persistence and perseverance for the more difficult ones. 

A scenario in which you might see this in the personal training industry is your client struggling to tell you if they are feeling depleted. For example, your client might be having a bad week, maybe they’re feeling stunted with no progress happening or have hit a wall when it comes to progress yet, they don’t have the confidence to tell you. 

A skill they need to develop is the confidence to actually share this and have the capability to trust that you can help them come out of the other end stronger.  

Stage 4: Beliefs and Values

NLP logical stages of change

Beliefs and values are of course subjective to each client and individual, but you may have to reinforce the correct values for the given goal. This isn’t to disregard the clients beliefs and values, but it may be necessary to show them what is important for their goal.

For example, your client may value the aesthetics of a slim body, so much so that they value this more than they do the process of getting there. Your client may want to drop a large amount of weight in a small amount of time, but of course that isn’t healthy. 

Therefore, you should reinforce that getting there safely is the most important part. You should tell them that you should concentrate on a healthy body which can take time. Valuing this over aesthetics is important for a long term and consistent change.

Stage 5: Identity 

NLP logical stages of change for clients

It is super important that you determine your clients identity, since this is going to be the reason that they respond in a particular manner or that they have thoughts that can stunt their growth. 

Essentially any self deprecating thoughts can have a huge impact on overall performance since this is the perception that your client has of themself.

This is something that you must get to the bottom of if your client has a negative perception of themselves because they could lose their motivation. If a client has a defined identity of themselves that they’re not good enough, you should really try to shift this into a more positive light to help them reach their goals.

An example that could represent such an issue needing to be addressed could be if the client made statements like:

“I’ve never been good at sport, i'm just not that kind of person”

These are changeable perceptions, not absolutes, and can be a factor into why your client isn't progressing as fast as they should be.

Stage 6: Purpose and Spirituality

NLP logical stages of change for PT clients

Finally, the 6th stage of change is called purpose and spirituality which refers to the ‘bigger picture’. You will often find this at the end of the list because this is something more complex to change than what we’re typically used to.

Things in this stage of change include factors such as:

  • Life purpose
  • Ethics
  • Morality 
  • Religion 

Since you’re acting in the centre of their belief systems, this is going to be the most difficult change. This isn’t to say you’re going to ask them to change their religion overnight or anything extreme like that, it is more referring to how particular beliefs on a spiritual level could be restricting their progress.

By encouraging your clients to be more open minded, they can be open to change in order to reach a desired goal.

For some more useful resources to improve your practice as a PT, head to our articles below:

When Should I Use NLP In My Personal Training Sessions?

how to use NLP as a pt

Now that you’re aware of what the stages of change are, we can now start to think about NLP personal training and how the two can complement each other extremely well.

Apart from the fact that you can use it, you’re probably wondering when the best stages are to implement NLP. The truth is that there are more times than one that you can use NLP, so below we have laid out the times in which it will be most effective.

You Can Utilise NLP When Setting Goals With Personal Training Clients

neurolinguistic programing for pt clients

Goals are imperative for successful fitness journeys, they give the client and you as the trainer a focus and something to work towards. NLP can really help to reach the goal in a more calculated manner. 

To explain, take a goal of “wanting to lose 5kg and improve relationship with food”. This client has set a specific goal, a SMART goal, which is great. While the SMART goal process is a brilliant way for a client to define what they want, it doesn't show you how to get there - which is where NLP comes in.

When you take this goal at face value, it seems pretty basic, but this is before you have addressed the aforementioned 6 stages of change. When you consider these stages, this goal may be more difficult for your client than you first imagined. 

This is when you can address these stages of change in order to be sure that you’re going to reach this goal for your client. 

For example, the environment. If your client wants to lose 5kg but doesn’t know how to cook the correct foods or maybe they find they just don’t have enough time, you need to address this first. 


By using NLP, this first stage of changing their environment can improve their relationship with food, and in turn, lose weight gradually.

You can use effective communication to help your client with some easy recipes that they have time to use, you could recommend that they do a cupboard purge like we spoke about earlier so they’re stocking their kitchen with the correct ingredients and are less likely to relapse into unhealthy eating habits.

This is something that you could address at the start of your sessions. You want your clients to be on track with their eating habits from the get go, so by applying this environmental change right away you’re not wasting any time.

This might happen in the onboarding process, when you’ve already got the necessary information from the consultation and Par-Q form.

Remember though, this is a form of communication that isn’t too forward and certainly not aggressive, it is supposed to be gentle and to make the client think inwards about their goals and what is potentially stopping them. 

Check ins Are A Good Time to Use NLP

NLP for personal training clientele

Regular PT check ins are another stage in which you can implement NLP as a personal trainer. This is a good time to address the likes of behaviours and check in to see how these are or are not changing. 

Once you’ve set your initial goal, it is a good idea to see if this is being pursued. In other words, is anything changing? This might take some time and it may become more prevalent in your first progress report with your client since this will probably be around the first month in.

This is when you can see where your client is heading through asking open questions such as:

What have you found about training this past month enjoyable? 

Pick out the things they’re enjoying and keep your clients happy. The more positively they feel about training, the more motivated they are going to be and thus will stay on the correct path. It becomes a real problem when clients are seeing your sessions as a chore which is why it is vitally important to check in.

It may take some encouragement during this stage too, which is when you would see the skills and capabilities stage of change become apparent. This is because after a month of seeing your client consistently, you should be able to find out things such as:

  • Areas they struggle in (e.g cardio or resistance training)
  • Dietary habits
  • Confidence

NLP for personal training clients benefits

This is a good time to address these using NLP, because if they’re struggling to find the confidence to take part in strength training when they’re alone in the gym, find how they have these skills elsewhere in their life and how they can replicate this into their environment on the gym floor.

For example, let’s say your client doesn’t take part in much sport, but is a successful business manager who often conducts presentations. You should communicate and allow them to see how these skills can carry over into the gym. 

If they have confidence in the office, bringing that out of them on the gym floor is probably easier than they think. This is how you can use NLP to manipulate these negative perceptions and make your client realise that they already obtain the skills they need to reach their goals, they just can't see it yet!

Breaking Habits is a Key Use of NLP

breaking habits with NLP

Breaking habits is a key stage to any lifestyle change. Whether it is food or exercise, there are some things that we as humans become so accustomed to that it is hard to see any other way of living. 

That being said, NLP and personal training joined together can help encourage these bad habits to be formed into new and more purposeful ones. A popular practice in NLP is called the Swish Pattern.

The swish pattern can be a really useful branch of NLP that can encourage breaking habits that serve no positive purpose in your client. Here is an example scenario that you could use as a personal trainer so you understand how the swish pattern works.

Client: Has an extreme habit of weighing themselves regularly, sometimes even more than once or twice a day.

How to combat this with the NLP swish pattern:

First, your client needs to visualise this habit, they should think about the exact situation in which they would weigh themselves and keep thinking until they reach the trigger point. This trigger point is what makes them go and step on the scales.

Secondly, now that your client has this image of their habit that they want to break in their mind, they should instead of performing said habit, replace it with something more positive. For example, instead of stepping on the scales, slip on a pair of house slippers instead. 

Thirdly, in your client's mind they need to keep these two images completely separate, side by side they should imagine the bad habit they want to break and the substitute. Then, the positive habit should swish into the bad habit imagery and imagine it shattering. 

This is something that should be done at least once a day, it is something mindful that embeds the recognition that your client has a choice.

In other words, this habit isn’t something they are forced to do, they are choosing to do it, meaning they can actually choose to do something else that is less damaging and more simple and purposeful. 

Where To Find NLP Training For Personal Trainers

swish pattern for NLP for PTs

If after understanding the benefits of this practice you feel like you want to take NLP training for personal trainers, there are some providers out there.

However, you should keep in mind that it isn’t obligatory at all, in fact, there will be many trainers who have never even heard of NLP before and have still provided their clients with great results.

Nonetheless, there is no harm in changing up the way you handle clientele with a new way of coaching. 

If you do want to get real training though, there are providers that can help you on your way. Though often any training that is available is not specifically tailored to PTs, once you have the tools, you can apply it to your coaching.

Even if you’re not trained and choose not to be, it can still be extremely helpful to research into NLP for personal training since it might be worth implementing in certain circumstances. Not all clients may require it, but it has the potential to help those who need it.


Before You Go…

Hopefully you feel more knowledgeable on NLP for your personal training clients and you can think about whether the training is for you, nonetheless, it is an interesting part of how you can help your clients reach their goals.

Don’t forget, if you want to get started in the fitness industry, why not check out our different kinds of personal training courses? Find this and many more health and fitness courses here in OriGym's downloadable course prospectus. 


Advance Your Career with OriGym...

Advance your career in the fitness industry by enquring now about a level 4 in personal training!

Written by Kimberley Mitchell


Having gained a B.A Hons degree in Media, Culture and Communications, Kimberley has gained experience in areas of web journalism, website production and marketing.

Alongside this, Kim expanded her knowledge and passion for fitness, by becoming a fully qualified fitness instructuor and personal trainer. Kim has also gained specialist qualifications in yoga, nutriton, spin and many more.

After working in the industry as a PT, Kimberley went on to study an MA in Digital Marketing and continues to expand her knowledge in the industry. Her main focus is to keep up with current trends and communications with a focus around health & fitness, writing and being creative.

Recommended Posts

7 Personal Trainer Body Language Tips

7 Personal Trainer Body Language Tips 

Using appropriate body language in personal training sessions is a huge part of building client rapport and ultimately being a successful PT …
Professional Advice On Being A Personal Trainer For MS Patients

Professional Advice On Being A Personal Trainer For MS Patients 

As a personal trainer for someone with MS, you need to take a delicate approach when crafting a bespoke workout programme. If you're …
How to Achieve Long Term Behaviour Change for Personal Training Clients

How to Achieve Long Term Behaviour Change for Personal Training Clients 

Being able to influence long term behaviour change for personal training clients is a key skill of a good PT, and arguably just as important …