Official Website of Sarah E. Rippel, BS, CPT, FMS

-“Thinking Outside the Box”: Client Files-

Every now and then, i’m going to share my $0.02 on how I “operate” as a Fitness Professional.  Since i’ve been an active member of several fitness industry-related forums, i’ve really come to realize, yet again, that not every Personal Trainer does things the same way.  Furthermore, there’s no “right way” or “wrong way” to do things (within reason).  

With that being said, I have MY “right way” of doing things, which doesn’t always “jive” with the ways other trainers operate.  I’ve come to form my own “system” of training over the years, and am still working on it.  I will actually always be working on it, because I feel that if one doesn’t continually evolve as a Fitness Professional, they are doomed to failure.

MY “right way” of doing things includes planning for each and every client’s workout, each and every time.  I am still perplexed at the fact that not all trainers do this.  I have known trainers who wake up and go train their clients without writing up workouts for them.  I have always felt that this is irresponsible, but then again, that’s just ME.  My main point is this:  If you are paying a “Fitness Professional” $70 of your money for an hour of your time, and are wanting to reach a goal, wouldn’t you feel a lot better if you knew they had planned ahead for your workout?  I put the term “Fitness Professional” in quotations because I do not feel it is professional for a Personal Trainer to NOT plan ahead.  My clients appreciate the fact that I do this!   Yes, I realize many of us are able to come up with workouts specific for each of our clients “on the fly,” but in MY world, the simple act of sitting down and putting the plan onto paper is just plain smart.  Not doing this makes absolutely no sense to me!

As they say, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”



I write up workouts for each and every client…each and every time. Sometimes this may mean using a recent workout and modifying it on that same workout sheet. I use the manila folders with brads at the top like doctors use. Each client has a folder. I have numerous folders for some clients b/c they have been with me so long. I don’t throw some of them away b/c I like to go back and look at past workouts. I make notes each and every time b/c a client may love a new exercise progression, may hate it, something needed to be “tweaked”, something didn’t work quite right, etc. I love my notes b/c without them, all i’d have would be just a gazillion workout writeups. The notes make them REAL and allow me to see how I thought “outside the box” during a session. Also, I make notes referencing a client’s energy level, pain, etc. I have one particular client who has low back issues and if I put together a workout that really seems to alleviate the stiffness, I make a note of this and learn from what I did. Sometimes what I feel might work in my head doesn’t seem to work in real life, and my client files reflect this. I plan for each and every session but the plan is always flexible! 

If you think about it, a client’s file is their “care plan,” and is a lot like that of an MD or a PT.  You don’t see doctors walking into an exam room without a client file in their hands!  You don’t see PT’s treating patients without referring to their file!  When all is said and done, the file serves as that patient’s treatment history.  A personal training client’s file is no different.  To me, my clients’ files are their stories…their progress…their successes…their “road map” documenting their journey from “point A” to “point B”…the proof is in the file!

Trainers, how do YOU do things?  What are your thoughts?  Non-trainers, what are your thoughts?


14 responses

  1. Mel

    Well, I can’t really comment on this because I am not even a trainer yet. Also, I only started on the road of fitness and still have soooo much to learn and to experience. BUT, how do I remember everything I learn and experience if not writing it down? And honestly, if I did something one week with a group, if I don’t have it in writing I can’t remember the next week what I have done. As you said, it is unprofessional. I used to work as a nursery school teacher many years ago and we HAD to plan every session in writing and plan any eventualities. Always making sure we are NOT unprepared and it gave us later something to reflect on. Things that worked out and things that did not work out. I like to carry this over onto my next path and hope it will serve me well.
    How can you train somebody progressively if you just pull something out of the hat each week without a plan?

    March 1, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    • Amen, Mel!
      Great points!
      Btw I still have your last email saved and plan on replying this week. Last week was nuts with work stuff!

      March 1, 2009 at 5:12 pm

  2. DDRdiva

    Even worse is what salespeople, I mean trainers, do at the big chain gyms: hand you a preprinted workout that’s been xeroxed so many times you can barely read it.

    March 1, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    • Yep. That’s how it works, most of the time. Sign up and get a “free session,” which is essentially a walkthrough of the machines in the weight room. Been there, done that…hated having to do “floor shift” as a younger trainer. It does teach you to “sell” yourself, but I always felt kinda bad because I wanted to help EVERYONE and well, a very small percentage of gym members will actually sign up for paid personal training. Gyms love to use that “free” word…I hate that word! It devalues our services as trainers. Argh. Anyhow, yes, the cookie cutter workout handouts…nothin’ like ’em, huh? Back in the day, I used our gym’s “workout log” which was a chart on cardstock…you fill in the exercises and all that jazz. I would have at least 2 different ones for each client. But to think of the lack of creativity that kind of charting allows…not my cup of tea. 🙂

      March 1, 2009 at 5:16 pm

  3. Paul

    I really should buck down on logging my workouts. I wish I had a template to follow, but I may just create one myself. The only logging I do now is for the President’s Fitness Challenege.

    March 1, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    • I have a few Xcel forms i’ve created, and can send you a few different ones if you’re interested! 🙂

      March 1, 2009 at 5:17 pm

      • Paul

        If you would be so kind :-D.

        March 1, 2009 at 6:19 pm

        • You got it!

          March 2, 2009 at 8:03 am

  4. Sarah — I’m happy to say that I do workouts just like you. I ALWAYS plan beforehand. I make sure to create a balance of old (because it feels good to have mastered a movement) and new (because that keeps interest alive and contributed to results). I write all workouts in pencil, because I may need to change things on the fly. I track what works, what doesn’t work, what is loved, what is hated, and so on. And I can’t imagine doing it any other way!

    March 1, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    • I’m happy to hear that, Leslie! 🙂 That’s exactly how it should be done!!!! Very good point about balancing out the old exercises with new ones!

      March 2, 2009 at 8:03 am

  5. Mel

    Please don’t feel rushed. I appreciate the fact that you take the time full stop because I know you are a very busy lady.
    May I be so cheeky and ask for the Xcel forms as well to have a look how the are set up? Thank you!
    Right, I am better off and do some work. Got one day left to get my written work done for the fitness trainer and in about six weeks the exam. Not looking forward to be tested in a gym setting. I probably make a toaster out of the machine because I am not a gym goer. Just don’t like them. I just wish you would live closer by. I would be broke each month 😉 , but I am sure I could learn a lot from you and ESPEICALLY outside the box. Have a good week

    March 2, 2009 at 3:30 am

    • Hey Mel!
      I’ll do my best to post more often about issues pertaining to Fitness Professionals! Also, i’ll now and then share strategies i’ve used with clients, as that kinda thing can always be helpful! I will email you all the forms I just sent Paul!
      Have a great day!

      March 2, 2009 at 8:05 am

  6. JMJ

    Good post Sarah. I always keep a file for every client as well. I keep their fitness analysis, every routine, emails, and all related paperwork along with a full calendar. I am constantly trying to educate my clients on the fitness lifestyle so I have random articles and handouts for my clients, every session. I encourage my clients to keep their own file as well for these educational materials, along with a calendar with documentation that they worked out that day, even it’s as simple as placing a checkmark on that date. It’s very powerful-about month into the program-to have the client look back at their progress of all workouts completed, we’ll look back at our calendars and I’ll say something like look at your progress-you’ve completed 16 workouts this month. For those sedentary clients that haven’t really done much, this is a powerful motivator. And yes-variety, variety, variety is key for my clients. No two routines are the same. I like to keep their bodies guessing “what’s next.” This does wonders for fitness results. And from the feedback I have had-my clients love the suspense of not knowing what routine is coming next, and it does wonder to break up the boredom of the same routine day after day.

    March 2, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    • Thanks, Jason!!!! 🙂

      I’m not surprised that you are so diligent about your clients’ files! They are a resource for us, and you are also making them a resource for your clients by having them go back through and see how far they’ve come. I, too, keep email correspondence (if needed), initial paperwork, and session tracking info in my clients’ files. I used to have a sheet specifically for tracking sessions and payments, but have found it’s just easier for me to log all that on the inside cover of the folder, beneath the initial paperwork and client info. Workouts go on the right side!

      I love what you said about variety! Again, we share similar perspectives. It seems there is one school of thought that preaches “do the same routine for X amount of weeks, then switch it up,” and there’s another that preaches variety. You and I, as well as Leslie (who commented earlier on this same post) are all for variety. I love mixing things up, and like you, i’ve found my clients love knowing they aren’t going to be bored by the same kinda thing every time. There’s always something different I bring to the table, even if that means taking a former workout and “tweaking” it by lumping all the exercises into a circuit, changing up the order, using different modalities for familiar exercises, or advancing a familiar exercise (ie: progressing from a more balanced kettlebell squat where client holds the “horns” of the kettlebell, to a squat with the kettlebell in rack position, thus creating a unilateral load). If a client loves a particular exercise, I like to notate this and will throw it into the mix more often.

      I will say that in my experience, TOO much variety isn’t always a good thing. What do I mean? Well, if i’m constantly trying to come up with entirely unique workouts for my clients each and every session, it’s kinda stressful for me. Aside from this, I feel my clients are able to progress better when the variety comes in the form of the “tweaks” I mentioned above, along with others such as: performing band exercises with band anchored at various levels, manipulating the limbs (2-arm/alt-arm/1-arm; 2-leg/staggered/1-leg stance), adjusting the tempo of the reps, adjusting rest periods between exercises, etc. Like Leslie said in her comment, she likes to fuse some of the “old” with the “new.” I’ve made things a lot easier for myself by focusing on the basic movement patterns (squat, bend, push, pull, rotate, locomotion) and then plugging in exercises suitable for the clients’ level (corrective/weak link focus phase, stabilization/integration phase, strength/hypertrophy phase, and power/metabolic phase). Once I plug in the exercises, I can apply the “tweaks” as needed. Aside from this, variety comes in the form of utilizing “non-traditional” stuff such as the 50-foot rope, focus mitts and boxing gloves, speed ladder, hurdles, jump rope, etc. When you look at things this way, it makes sense to say that if you really wanted a client to master the basics (say, for example, a bodyweight squat, pushup, split squat, recline pull, and pivot rotations with a med ball), you could take those five exercises, along with some “core” stuff like planks, side planks, and bridges, and make this rather hum-drum workout really “pop” by sprinkling in the “fun stuff.” Say you have a MWF client and have chosen this group of exercises. One week, you could use the same routine, but jazz it up a different way each day. On Monday, you could incorporate some speed ladder drills in between the exercises. On Wednesday, you could introduce your client to the focus mitts and some easy boxing sequences. On Friday, you could bring out the rope, and have your client perform various undulations after each exercise set for 15 seconds. The possibilities are endless!

      Wow! Yet another awesome comment! I’ll have you guys know that i’m diggin’ the interaction i’m able to have with y’all on here! Jason, I just might use this as another post, because you made some great points, and got me to share my “slant” yet again! Thank you!

      Yours in Health,

      March 2, 2009 at 3:20 pm

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