16 Tips for the Personal Trainer Practical Exam

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The second part of the personal trainer certification examination process is the practical exam (other part is the multiple-choice exam). Some organizations don’t have a practical exam so check to see if the organization you choose does (most accredited organizations do).

The practical exam is your chance to show the instructor what you know and how you would handle a real-life training session. During most practicals the instructor gives you a situation that you need to act out and then they will have you explain why you did what you did. For instance, the instructor might tell you, “You have a very old client with a hurt knee that wants to build up his functional strength, show him a beginner hamstring exercise.” Usually another student in the program will play your client as you act out the scenario.

Usually you will then have to verbally answer an assortment of questions that range from describing how to modify the exercise for a more advanced client, to listing what the main muscle groups exercised were, to listing the opposing muscle groups. Of course each organizations program is different and will vary accordingly, but the format should be relatively the same. Make sure to ask your instructor about the format of the practical and what they are inspecting. Here are 16 tips for dominating the practical exam or any training session in general:

  1. Talk, talk, talk – The more you talk and explain the exercise the better you will do (unless you are completely wrong). That being said don’t spout off nonsense, keep it related to the exercise and explaining what you know.
  2. Eye on client – During the practical make sure to stay engaged with the client. Make eye contact with them and speak to them, forget the instructor is there.
  3. Describe the exercise – First part of any training session is explaining to the client exactly what they will be doing. During the practical, explain the exercise and how it is done.
  4. Explain why you doing it and muscle groups used – After explaining the exercise, discuss with the “client” what the purpose of the exercise is and the muscle groups worked.
  5. Demonstrate the exercises – This is the point in the practical where you demonstrate to the client how to perform the exercise, tell them exactly what you are doing. Describe every detail.
  6. Have client perform exercise – Have the client do it building from the floor up (next tip)
  7. Build from the floor up – When demonstrating the exercise and when having the client do it, it’s important to remember to build from the floor up. This means start with the feet: tell them they need their feet flat on the floor, knees bent at a 90 degree angle, body straight up, head looking forward….etc. explaining exactly how the body should be positioned for that specific exercise. Once again: talk, talk, talk.
  8. Count our repetitions – As the client is performing the exercise, count of the repetitions they are on.
  9. Be encouraging and upbeat – During the practical be sure to encourage and support the client.
  10. Ask if there is any discomfort – Make sure during any training session when the client is performing the exercise ask if they are having any discomfort. If so tell them to stop the exercise immediately.
  11. Use the clients name – When encouraging the client, it is always good to use their name. This creates a bond with them, tells them you are there for them, encourages them, and lets them know you care.
  12. Ask to touch – Sometimes it’s helpful to touch a clients specific muscle group to help them understand which ones they should feel during the exercises. If you need to touch them, ask beforehand.
  13. Wrap it up – Have the client do a certain number of repetitions (count them out) and then wrap up the exercise.
  14. Take your time – During the practical take your time and remember everything you want to say. You usually have 15-20 minutes for the practical so use your time wisely.
  15. Utilize the review session to ask questions – This is very important! Use this time to ask any questions and figure out exactly what is going to be on the practical. Most of the time they will tell you exactly what they are expecting.
  16. Discuss the practical with instructor beforehand – This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip. If you ask, most of the time they are more then happy to discuss what is on the practical and what they expect and are looking for! Asking questions never hurts.

Image Credit: U.S. Army Europe Images on Flickr

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