Putting the personal back into PT

After accepting that the PT-client relationship goes both ways, personal trainer Katelyn Bartlett realised that both parties had much to gain from more open communication.

  • Being more open about yourself in response to questions from genuinely interested clients can help to 'humanise' you and create a stronger bond
  • Sharing details of your own training aspirations may actually motivate clients to work harder to achieve their own goals
  • Share information that you feel comfortable divulging, but be mindful not to overshare and make the session too much about you.

I've been a personal trainer for half a decade now. When I first started in this industry I made sure to know more about my clients than they did about me. I always directed the conversation in training sessions to make it focus on them and their lives. I’d made notes of their important upcoming events, such as their birthday, anniversary, work projects, school events or upcoming holidays. I’d learn their favourite food, restaurants, places they shop and the names of their family and best friends. I’d ask probing questions to find out as much as I could to discover what motivates them and what their pet peeves are. All of this allowed me to keep them focused on our training sessions and plan sessions that would help them reach their fitness/health goals in an enjoyable way.

As time went on, clients that I’d been training for over a year started to ask me questions about my goals and what I did at the weekend. In my mind, the client was paying for my time and knowledge to help them, not to hear about my goals or my personal activities, so I’d keep my responses short. I’d say something along the lines of ‘maintaining my health and getting a new PB’ in whatever it was I was training for at the time, whether it be running a faster 5k fun run, tackling an obstacle course or lifting heavier weights.

From private to personal

However, I came to realise that keeping my personal goals and life away from my clients didn’t enable them to see that I’m just like them and that they too could achieve the things I achieve. I shifted my focus away from being a private trainer to an approach of ‘putting the personal back into personal trainer’.

I learned to open up and start sharing – but not oversharing – more of my personal life with them. They learnt when my birthday was and when I got engaged and then married. They learnt the real details of my personal fitness goals. Sharing more about myself created a stronger bond in our client: trainer relationship and the support for achieving goals ended up going both ways. We worked together to keep each other accountable. They had always been accountable to me, but for the first time ever I found that I was also being kept on track by them.

Team support

The biggest goal I shared with my clients started three years ago when I first decided to compete in a fitness model competition. I was on the fence about competing because I’d heard about the negative impact it can have on health and hormones for females. My clients, however, were excited about the idea of me competing because they wanted to watch me transform myself and be up on stage. They encouraged me, saying they knew I could do it because I’m so strong minded.

Initially, I had my doubts as prepping for a comp requires consistency and structure when it comes to training and eating. As a personal trainer my schedule was all over the place. I’d grab a coffee, protein bar or banana bread to quickly give me energy between sessions. As a trainer, my daily schedule would often alter according to changes to my client’s availability. In a nutshell, my days were the opposite of consistency and structure!


After meeting with my comp coach, Steve Baudo, who was my original mentor back when I was studying my Cert III and Cert IV, I learnt that if I wanted to achieve my goal and win, I’d have to be clear with all my clients about my goal. This transparency would allow me to tell them, guilt-free, that I would be unavailable to train them at specific times. It gave me the confidence to block off my schedule to sit and eat a proper meal, and the time to get my own training session in each day.

With the support and encouragement of my clients I trained harder than ever before. I made sure I used the time I blocked off in my schedule to prepare my meals and eat at the scheduled times (every three hours). I shared pictures of my meals and my weekly body check-ins, video clips of me prepping my foods and energy-burning tips and tricks I learnt along the way.

A bigger 'why’

I’ve now competed in numerous regional, national and international competitions and won several of them. Each year I’ve competed I’ve been motivated and driven by my clients to be better than the previous year. When I prep for shows, it’s no longer just my own personal goal: I’m trying to win for my clients as well. Having this bigger reason ‘why’ I want to achieve my goal helps me stick to my food and training plan. Knowing my clients will ask me how my measurements went each week and having them ask me what I did regarding my food has kept me at the top of my game.

A word of warning here: when you share your own fitness goals with your clients, there is no turning back! You’re accountable now, and you need to finish what you have told them you are going to do. Clients view their personal trainers as role models, looking to us for inspiration. When they become a player in your personal goals, it can actually motivate them to work harder to achieve their own goals.

Recently my clients shared in my celebrations when I brought home gold for Australia, winning the title of WFF Ms World Pro Sports Model 2018 in Huntington Beach California. I truly felt

as though my win was a victory not only for myself and our country, but also for my clients. My new motto is ‘team work makes the dream work’ because I now believe this more than ever. It takes a team

of people behind the scenes to turn dreams into goals and goals into reality – and that’s a truth that applies equally to us as to our clients.

Katelyn Bartlett

One lunchtime Katelyn walked out of her corporate workplace in tears of frustration and found herself outside the Australian Institute of Fitness. After completing her Cert IV she turned her passion into her new career and hasn’t looked back. katalistpt.com / fb.me/katalistpt / instagram.com/katalistpt